How the pandemic changed the beauty industry

The global beauty industry generates $500 billion in sales a year. Yet, for the past two years we have been in a pandemic, and whilst the end thankfully appears in sight, the pandemic has changed most of us in ways that will stay with us. Before the pandemic, the beauty industry was at a peak. Makeup videos were addictively watched, influencers convinced us to buy our 20th eyeshadow palette, and we all had places or events which required dressing up. Yet, in a time of economic downfall and isolation, our spending habits changed and we did not need to consume beauty products they way we perhaps did before.


Makeup products generally became a thing of the past during Covid-19.  Facemasks covered half of our complexions and work from home became the new lifestyle, so we did not need to maintain the level of ‘professionalism’ to which many women feel pressured to conform, and we used less makeup in the morning because we did not need to wake up as early to get ready for the day. Lipstick sales declined by more than 70%, because the rare times we did leave the house, our lips were covered by PPE. People opted for online food shopping instead of the in-person experience, which resulted in a £180m hit to sales of cheaper lipsticks and eyeshadows bought absentmindedly alongside groceries in supermarkets. However, not every makeup product declined in usage and sales during the pandemic. Our lips and faces were perpetually covered during isolation, but one feature was always on show – the eyes. In China, Alibaba reported eye makeup sales increased 150%, month over month by the end of February 2020. In South Korea, eye makeup sales increase by 51.8% in March 2020. Brighter eyeshadows featured in mundane places such as Sainsbury’s, and eyeliner and mascara were used to look polished in Zoom meetings. Elrod says: “During this time when masks are part of our daily routine, our eyes are an even more powerful form of personal expression than they were before,” and the eye-makeup sales only proves his point. Experimentation and accentuation became the focus for the past 2 years. Despite lockdown reaching an end now, women have become accustomed to not feeling the need to wear makeup and embrace the effortless look which does not require hours of editorial, heavy makeup. So, whilst the beauty industry is on the rise again, the products we consume are different, as lighter products are opted for due to efficiency and comfort.


Spas and salons all faced closures during the pandemic meaning people who regularly got their nails done professionally had to learn to do it themselves. Press on nails, nail wraps, and nail varnishes rose in popularity. The shift to home-working allowed people to regain time – time spent on getting ready and commuting to and from work was no longer a necessity. With this regained time, we had the ability to spend hours pampering ourselves and giving ourselves little mood boosts in order to maintain positivity. Whilst some jumped on the re-opening of old favourite salons and spas, others calculated the added expense on getting nails professionally painted and opted for the home-spa lifestyle instead.


While makeup sales declined overall, skincare sales had the opposite effect. The ditching of complexion makeup products encouraged a lot of consumers to take care of their face. By not wearing makeup, people turned to skincare products in order to feel more confident and boosted. CeraVe “practically doubled in size”, according to the division president, Myriam Cohen-Welgryn, which is no surprise due to the clean, fragrance-free persona surrounding this specific brand. People had the time to learn about skincare and educate themselves on what ingredients should and should not be purchased. By shifting consumer habits to being largely online, it became easier to compare product ingredient lists and spend longer lingering on a product. Consumers also brought the spa treatment service to their door, and the search for blue light-blocking skincare grew by 46% between August 2019 and August 2020. The shift to home-working also contributed to this, as people spent more time on zoom-calls and looking at screens.


Despite the pandemic being over, the focus on skincare and light makeup contrasts the trend of over-consumption of heavy makeup products before Covid-19 ever struck. During lockdown, we learnt to embrace effortless, natural, inexpensive grooming habits. With lockdown being over, many consumers learnt that they did not miss spending money to get professional treatments after learning to master the skills themselves. Makeup brands have had to adapt to the new consumer mindset and embrace the shift towards skincare focus. Whilst isolation is over, the beauty trends that resulted in not needing to leave the house have continued to have an impact on consumer habits.

Featured image: Unsplash with license. 

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