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Clarisonic Adds RFID to Its Skin-Cleansing System

The company's Smart Profile product uses HF passive tags and readers to automatically adjust the settings of the motorized handheld unit, and to alert a user when a brush head needs to be replaced.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 30, 2015

Clarisonic, a division of L'Oreal, is employing high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz RFID technology to enable its motorized Smart Profile skin-cleansing device to communicate with a brush head installed in the unit, and to determine when that brush requires replacement. The company made the Smart Profile available to dermatologists and spa operators in May 2014, and began offering it through beauty products company Sephora in November, with full commercial availability commencing in January of this year.

The company offers a number of different motorized handheld units that are fitted with rotating brush heads, which work in conjunction with cleansers and other skin-care products sold by Clarisonic. Following each treatment, a user detaches and cleans the brush head, and then reattaches it once he or she is ready for the next use. A brush head is intended for use only a specific number of times; on average, Clarisonic advises, brushes should ideally be replaced every three months, though this does not always happen in the real world.

The Smart Profile system uses RFID to identify which type of brush head is attached to the handle, and to monitor how many minutes that brush head has been used.
Clarisonic sought an automated solution because of its customers' tendency to use a brush long past its recommended replacement date. This habit can not only prove unhygienic, but also result in a revenue loss for the company, since it sells the replacement brushes. The firm put together an advanced research group in 2012 and began testing possible solutions.

To automatically track how many times a brush head is used, and to then alert the consumer, the company required a non-contact system that could tolerate the water to which the brushes are exposed. With that in mind, says Scott Straka, Clarisonic's director of electrical engineering, the firm opted for radio frequency identification. The company tested not only high-frequency RFID technology, but also low-frequency (LF) and ultrahigh-frequency (UHF), before ultimately selecting an HF solution.

The advantages of HF technology, according to the company, included the low cost of readers, as well as the ability to incorporate an appropriately sized reader antenna into the device's handle and provide the best read range for the application. (UHF's read range would have been too long and would capture other tags in the area, while LF would have been too short). Clarisonic considered HF RFID systems complying with the ISO 14443 standard—more typically used with Near Field Communication (NFC) readers, such as in smartphones—as well as others that complied with the ISO 15693 standard. Ultimately, the company opted for ISO 15693 because it offered a longer read range of the two standards, ensuring that a tag embedded in a brush could still be interrogated by a reader built into the motorized device, even if they were located several centimeters apart.

Clarisonic then hired a company to design and build the system into the handle and brush, and to create the necessary firmware stored in the handle's electronic components. The firm opted to incorporate a reader made with an STMicroelectronics CR95 HF reader chip and integrated with a Renesas RL78-G13 processor that manages firmware and communicates with the reader using a universal asynchronous receiver/transmitter (UART) interface.

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