Walk into any department store - what's the first thing you see? Well, it's not so much what you see as what you smell: The main entrance of most mall department stores (in the US, and here in Israel too) is where you'll find the perfumes and cosmetics. Why? Probably because it makes the place smell nice, putting you in a mellow mood to part with your cash. Stores invest a great deal in their cosmetics department, because, among other reasons, they're a good deal for retailers; the markup is about 50 percent, and the wholesaler usually takes back items that don't sell - as opposed to clothing, which the store has to mark down to get rid of. So, the more cosmetics stores can sell, the more pure profit they can garner. Which explains why the cosmetic department is always giving away some freebie or other - umbrellas in the winter and beach bags in the summer. And, at any time of year, you'll find a helpful "fashion consultant" who will help you pick out the perfect makeup package for yourself, or that "special someone." But those helpful cosmetic-counter ladies may soon be a thing of the past, thanks to the EZ-Face system, with its "virtual mirror," that lets you see yourself as you could be. "It's the ultimate 'try before you buy' system, letting you see exactly what you'll look like when you apply the product you're considering," says Ruth Gal, who along with her partner, Rami Orpaz, created EZ-Face, where she now serves as vice-president for marketing. "Our unique system is the only one that really gives you an idea of what you're investing in when you buy a product" she says. You can try on clothes to your heart's content, but makeup samples are just that - and it's hard to tell from the store demonstration whether the product in question really matches your skin tone, face structure or general features, despite what the salesperson behind the counter tells you. The EZ-Face kiosk system consists of a digital camera that takes your photo on the spot and applies virtual versions of available cosmetics, letting you see exactly what to expect after you buy. EZ-Face kiosks are found in Israel in a number of Super-Pharm branches, and consist of patented, powerful morphing and virtualization software, combined with a super-sensitive camera and a high-quality video display. "Makeup often changes the features in a very subtle way, so the colors and display must be extremely accurate for the system to be effective," says Gal. "Ours is the only system, for example, that can color hair in natural shades, complete with highlights." EZ-Face has been around since 2000, and currently has about 25 employees at its Ramat Gan development center. The company started out by producing an Internet application, now licensed by some of the biggest names in cosmetics (check out http://www.lorealparis.co.uk http://www.lorealparis.co.uk/> , and click on the "Beauty Confidential" link for an example). The company got into store kiosks several years ago; last week, EZ-Face introduced a new, faster version of its system, allowing users to identify "need areas" and apply products to any area of the face within seconds. Super-Pharm is just the beginning, says Gal. "We have several deals for placement of our kiosks in retail stores in the pipeline," the former accountant says, and the growing company is expanding its workforce to keep up with the demand. Besides being the perfect addition to the cosmetics department of high-line cosmetics and department stores, Gal says, EZ-Face was made to order for large discount stores that want to grab a part of the cosmetics market, but need to keep costs down for their thriftier clientele. "With an EZ-Face kiosk, a large discount retailer, like Wal-Mart, can demonstrate cosmetics for their customers without hiring a large staff of salespeople," she says. And, Gal says, more customers are likely to try EZ-Face than an actual, open product, for health reasons. "People are much more reluctant nowadays to allow a stranger to apply anything to their bodies, not knowing where or on whom the applicator or the product was used before. With EZ-Face, customers get a hygienic way to actually try out cosmetics, getting a full picture of what the product will do for them, without having to fear potential health problems inherent in the application," she said. Feedback from customers has been only positive, Gal says, and the next big project for the privately held company is a cellphone application. "The on-line applications allow you to upload a photo or even use your Web cam to apply cosmetics on-line," she says. "But with a cellphone and a camera, you'll be able to use EZ-Face anytime and anywhere," allowing more retailers and service providers in a wider array of venues to take advantage of EZ-Face. And EZ-Face isn't just for the ladies; men, imagine being able to see what your hair is going to look like before the barber goes too far - and it's too late. Now that's what I call real progress!