For years, it’s felt like the business of beauty has been unstoppable. Conglomerates insatiably cannibalised startups, social media became a beauty-based money-making platform and landfills overflowed with plastic waste generated by the industry.
But, for those on the inside, the landscape was starting to change. In 2018, the UK beauty industry experienced slower growth*, with consumers going on a ‘drastic beauty diet’, due to an increasing ‘spend less, waste less’ mentality. Then in 2020 came coronavirus, hitting fast-forward on the emerging trends, and changing the way we do beauty dramatically, possibly forever and – potentially – for the better.
Online sales surged, with beauty retailer LookFantastic seeing a 200% increase in customer sign-ups following lockdown. At first, there was the panic. ‘The first wave of Covid-19 brought a focus on basics,’ says Alexia Inge, co-founder of digital beauty retailer Cult Beauty. ‘This meant sellouts for some brands, and a huge boost for categories such as soap and hand wash.’ Unsurprisingly, Cult Beauty’s ‘relaxation and stress-relieving’ category also blew up by a whopping 317%.
But, as lockdown continued, our mindset evolved. Habits shifted. We rabidly started buying things we never knew we needed: hair dye, face masks and vitamin C supplements – sales of which went up by an explosive 550% as we looked to up our immunity. And priorities changed.
At a time when nurses can’t even access hand sanitiser, do we really need a seven-step skincare regime? With companies teetering on the brink, shouldn’t we be supporting independents? Can I save money and learn DIY beauty practices? Are these products even good for me? Even when total normality returns, the landscape will remain altered by what we’ve been through. Of course, production lines will pump out newness, and shop door counters will click-click-click with customers returning. But perhaps some of the lockdown-induced habits – buying less, buying better, making do – will become the new norm.
INVEST IN HEROIC BEAUTY
Social responsibility was already on the agenda –with brands boasting about recycled packaging or sustainable ingredients –but companies took it up a gear when Covid-19 hit. Independent brands including Pai Skincare, Tan-Luxe and Oskia took on the hand sanitiser shortage by using their labs to produce and distribute bottles to essential workers.
Miller Harris and Herbal Essentials partnered with AgeUK to support over-70s. Miller Harris donated its entire stock of soap to the charity; Herbal Essentials donated £5 from every £20 order, split with theNational Emergencies Trust to help those on the frontline.
L’Occitane – which made 70,000 litres of sanitiser, as well as offering NHS staff free hand cream – has seen a difference in consumer engagement: ‘We had an overwhelming response to our support for frontline workers,’ explains Head of Marketing UK & Ireland, Agathe Leroux. ‘Online sales have increased significantly versus 2019, too.’
It’s no surprise that, as consumers, we’re happy to support brands doing their bit. But once things go back to normal, will we remember who stepped up, and shop accordingly? The fact that L’Occitane has more plans to expand its charity initiatives –by teaming up with UNICEF, Plastic Odyssey and Last Christmas – shows that brands are betting we will.
EMBRACE MINIMALIST SKINCARE
Hands up who’s found that, as products ran out over lockdown, their skin – far from protesting – actually improved?
It could be because four serums a night and daily masks aren’t good for your skin. ‘Skin likes simplicity,’ says Dr Anita Sturnham, skin specialist and founder of skincare brand Decree. ‘It doesn’t enjoy being overloaded.’ Most issues she sees in her clinics are as a result of using the wrong products order stabilising ingredients.
This enforced product diet means we’re looking for more multitasking beauty products. Sturnham’s advice is to look for products ‘that deliver more than one benefit with each use’. Cleansers that contain AHAs to exfoliate, serums with multiple benefits in one. This is the ethos behind Augustinus Bader. The promise? That its one face cream (‘The Cream’) –full of antioxidants, amino acids and vitamins – negates your need for additional serum. Even ELLE Beauty Director Katy is a convert.
‘One-der’ products are also now readily available for your hair and body, in products such as Hershesons Almost Everything Cream (preps, conditions, texturises) and Biossance Squalane Oil, a vegan hydrator for skin and hair.
MASTER THE ZOOM FACE
Along with lockdown came a new era of video conference calls. Cue staring at blurry images of our own faces, and a realisation that we need a new look. While our go-to gleaming skin and pared-back make-up is perfect for the high-definition Instagram selfie, on a fuzzy video call, you’re little more than a talking blob. We need make-up to define features, and have rediscovered the delight of a slightly heavier hand.
‘If wearing red lipstick felt like too much for staying at home before, now it’s the solution to looking immediately put together for your Zoom meeting,’ says ELLE Digital Beauty Editor George Driver. The British Beauty Council adds: ‘Eye products are seeing growth in sales – as we take to Zoom, we’re preparing our faces in a different way. Eyes are taking centre stage.’ We might have been wearing pyjama bottoms but, shoulders up, it’s business as usual.
These are your Zoom make-up essentials...
1.If anything says: ‘I’ve got my shit together’, it’s an expertly applied smoky eye. Forget messing around with individual eye shadows, Victoria Beckham Beauty’s luxe new palette of warm golden shades has everything you need in one compact.
2. The upside of not having meetings IRL? You only need your lipstick to last for the length of a video call. Opt for a more-nourishing formula that gives a pop of colour on your laptop screen. Tom Ford Lip Color Cream in Scarlet Rouge does the job.
3. Groomed brows are the number one way to frame your features and ensure you look good, even on the shoddiest WiFi connection. Comb Suqqu’s genius Volume Eyebrow Mascara, through your arches to add instant thickness and a temporary tint, now that visiting the brow bar isn’t an option.
4. And as holidays in sunnier climes became a concept of the past, we’ve turned to self-tan, cheating a UV-enhanced complexion. Blend Chanel’s iconic bronzing cream into cheeks and across your nose for an instant hit of ‘just came back from Santorini’ sun. For a more long-term bronze boost, add James Read’s genius tan drops to your daily SPF.
WORK IT FROM HOME
Not only does lockdown mean no sweaty commutes or face-to-face meetings,
it also – sadly, for so many business owners – means no in-salon maintenance. We’ve been left to our own devices to trim, maintain and tan.
When the option of popping along to your monthly facial appointment was suddenly taken away, we all had to learn to get creative at home and brush up on our own beautician skills. ‘Sales of masks, treatments, high-tech beauty tools and facialist tools went up by 100%,’ says Alexia Inge, on the boom in ‘self-care’ beauty. ‘And hair masks and treatments rose by 185% compared to the same time last year.’
At-home hair-cutting and dyeing divided the hairdressing community: with some encouraging by posting how-to videos and some insisting people should wait to get back into the hands of their pros. But not even the risk of a dodgy dye job could put people off, and celebrity hair colourist JoshWood – who has a range of at-home dyes – has seen his kit sales surge by 130%.
Being forced to be our own beauty therapists has also made us rethink how much help we actually do need going forward. For ELLE Beauty Director Katy Young, a decades-long habit has been broken. ‘I cannot imagine booking in for weekly manicures anymore,’she says. ‘Tending to my own nails while I watch my favourite boxset feels like a better use of my time, and gives me such joy. Rushing around and getting stressed by trying to fit in some pampering feels like an oxymoronic practice that’s best left in the past.’
DE-STRESS ON THE DAILY
Fact: life during a global pandemic is stressful, to say the least. And when you can’t physically attend your weekly restorative yoga session or check in with a friend, it can feel even more overwhelming for your mental health.
So we’ve adapted to the world of digital wellbeing. ‘Live views on Instagram have more than doubled in the UK over the past month – whether that’s Chessie King and her daily ‘Dis-Dancing’ or @mentalhealthmates hosting Lives to talk about what we can do to support each other,’ says Georgia Kelly at Instagram Partnerships.
Moving to online classes could be an insight into the future of fitness as a whole. No more insecurities about other people judging you, no travelling to and from classes and, in the majority of cases, a more affordable option.
London-based wellbeing and yoga studio Re:Mind is one of many brands foreseeing
a lasting change in how its community engages. ‘We received an incredible amount of positive feedback for moving classes online. We felt so much connection to people tuning in – from the US to Bali,’ says founder Yulia Kovaleva. ‘The livestream element provides a fuller experience than a recorded session, and is something we’ll continue, no matter what the future looks like.’
It’s difficult for anyone to know precisely how Covid-19 will change our lives long-term, but we can see that our habits have already changed, and how fast it’s happened. ‘I think the biggest surprise for me is how quickly everything has changed, and how it is almost unimaginable to think that things will be the same again,’ says Alexia Inge. In the beauty world, it’s made us reconsider priorities: how much things cost, how necessary they are.
And how precious time is.
*Source: Euromonitor International
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