A new face for makeup

Even in tough times, people still indulge in the small pleasures of life – beauty purchases often being high on the list. The ‘lipstick index’ became the measure of this theory when sales bloomed during an early-2000s recession.
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Face masks – a lipstick killer if there ever was one – have turned the lipstick index on its head. Plus, product-trialling in shops, which is vital for makeup sales, was no longer an option. Consumer interest instead shifted to wellness, leading to a boom in natural skincare, essential oils and anything that brought people comfort. China, one of the first countries to reopen retailer doors, reported excruciatingly slow regrowth for beauty sales.  

Yet while the old-school beauty-hall model is struggling, there are still some opportunities for indie brands in growing niches.

• Hybrid products. ‘Streamlined beauty is continuing to become prominent as consumers crave time saving,’ according to beauty brand consultancy The Red Tree. Multifunctional products are popping up, from the likes of SAIE, Uoma and MAKETHEMAKE, which straddle skincare and beauty. Tinted moisturisers in particular – skincare injected with a drop of colour – is a category that's picking up steam. 

• The eyes have it. As lipstick took a tumble, eye makeup – mascaras, eyeshadows and eyeliners – soared. In South Korea, sales of eye makeup jumped by nearly 52% from last year. 

• New buying patterns. Without makeup trials, cosmetics brands have returned to offering free or low-cost samples and smaller product formats. Gone are the days of customers using the same sample pot – instead, brands are investing in single-use glass packaging, motion-activated testers and virtual try-ons

• Everyday experts. Alongside trialling, lots of customers relied on beauty and skincare specialists for recommendations – but now they’re crowdsourcing recommendations from fellow buyers. Beauty-focused social network AGORA launched late last year in response to consumers wanting recommendations from real people. 

Ultimately, what the lipstick index symbolises – that consumers do buy into small luxuries during a crisis – still holds water, regardless of whether it’s lipstick we’re tracking or, as Estée Lauder's CEO has predicted, moisturiser.

A version of this article was published in the Courier Weekly newsletter. For more useful stories, tips, tricks and simply good advice, sign up here.

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