Beauty, like every other industry, became a pinball bouncing against the paddles of consumer fears, whims and resolutions over the last eight months. Some of the downward effects were predictable, but certain products and trends also emerged from the dust of obscurity and became supernovas overnight.
Broadly speaking, consumer spending did nosedive for a while, but by July, people were spending back to the same levels recorded the year before according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. With restaurants, gyms, bars and most events minimized, what were people spending their money on? The beauty industry, for example, saw a 25% decline in the last six months. Notable categories that slumped included lip products, as masks rendered them both meaningless and messy; fragrance, as we still lack a smell-o-vision app for Zoom; and color products for the face (see also, masks, lack of social events). Beauty chains like Ulta and Sephora suffered billions of dollars in losses. As numbers rolled in, it was clear that consumers were still spending but had shifted their dollars away from the traditional bread-and-butter beauty items. One such trend came from the already hot skin care category, with brands pushing self-care and niche products, which may have been too specific and tedious for our over-scheduled, harried lives before we were collectively shut down.
Initially, demand for all things involving hair cutting, dying and removal skyrocketed as salons were forced to close. But as the months passed, the landscape changed. Like Peloton, the high-tech, multi-thousand dollar interactive cardio equipment, which saw triple-digit growth over the last six months, high-end skin care devices also experienced a similar surge.
Products like NuFace, a $325 hand-held device which sends microcurrents through the skin and promises to lift, tone and smooth skin, experienced triple-digit increases since March. An in-home LED light therapy mask by celebrity dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross sold for $435 and sold out multiple times on sites like Violet Grey. Likewise, time-intensive tools like jade rollers, Gua Sha scrapers and lymphatic drainage paddles multiplied in the market in response to demand, as well as earning millions of views on tutorials on platforms like YouTube.
Add to that the continually developing market for specialty hand sanitizers from fragrance companies like D.S. & Durga and rinse-free hand wash from perfumier Byredo, and a new culture was born. We have seen far fewer people, in person, for many months, yet the desire to feel pretty and kept never abates, it just expresses itself in puffs and rivulets.
These trends during our current weird times are lightly suggestive of the “lipstick index,” a theory formed by Leonard Lauder, the now chairman emeritus of beauty and cosmetic behemoth Estee Lauder. The term was coined in the early 2000s when Lauder noticed that in the face of an economic recession, sales of lipstick rose. Supposedly, it indicated that when women faced uncertain times, they turned to inexpensive beauty products, such as lipstick, as an indulgence while steering clear of larger purchases.
Clearly the spending patterns have less to do with money this time around, but the behavior of unconsciously trying a new mascara to quell a visceral anxiety or inputting a new skin care routine to fill the gaps in productivity still rings true. Grooming, self-care and the prettying of ourselves may just be built into our DNA as humans, even if it is just for half of our faces.