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Makeup Redux: Pent-Up Demand Brings Much-Needed Boost

November 17, 2021 Faye Brookman
November 17, 2021
Sarah Pflug via Burst

It appears the makeup business is starting its climb back.

From financial reports from top brands to details gleaned from retailers in the trenches, it is apparent consumers are returning to eye, lip, and face products. The pent-up demand brings a much-needed boost to the largest sector of the beauty industry—one that was already in a decline even before COVID-19.

Skincare moved to the front burner during quarantine, pushing out cosmetics, especially after people saw their images on Zoom calls. Skincare is still strong but flattening out. Instead, there is evidence of a desire to refresh makeup (even if only digitally), according to retailers, brands, and financial analysts interviewed by Beauty Matter.

“Makeup is coming back,” said Olivier Zimmer, co-founder of SPATE, using Google Search data as a basis. Search interest was already on the decline in 2019 and was low in 2020, but has been spiking in 2021.

The resurgence is coming from both mass and class environments. Musab Balbale, Merchandising Vice President of Beauty at Walmart, sees interest coming back to life in all beauty and personal care categories, including ones that were previously hidden under masks. “As people return to some semblance of ‘normal,’ we are seeing increased interest in beauty and products like lipstick and foundation,” he says.

Ulta Beauty released its first trend report gleaned from its consumer data. Makeup products are part of the predictions, albeit products for more natural looks like freckles and skin/foundation hybrids. Monica Arnaudo, Chief Merchandising Officer for Ulta Beauty, also noted interest at the other end of the spectrum in bold expressions interpreted through vibrant eyebrow and eye makeup.

BrandShare’s Colleen McGovern, Senior Vice President of Experience Partnerships, says there is growing interest in makeup through participation in its retail beauty boxes—another positive sign.

From the brand end, Coty showed some of its best results in its consumer division since 2016, according to its most recent quarterly report. The company’s clean makeup initiatives have put Cover Girl back on the map and staved off shelf footage edits, according to Andrew Stanleick, Executive Vice President, Coty Americas.

Jefferies equity analyst Stephanie Wissink calls Coty’s latest quarter a “strong start to an important growth year.” Cover Girl, she reports, is back to share gains and Sally Hansen is above 2019 levels.

Revlon is even showing signs of revival after several years of struggle, boosted by Almay and collabs such as Revlon x Megan Thee Stallion palettes, according to its latest financials.

E.l.f., one of the few brands whose makeup continued to flourish during the pandemic, continues to nab market share. Chief Executive Officer Tarang Amin singles out makeup products including primers, concealers, and brow products as high on shopper’s lists. E.l.f.’s Big Mood Mascara attracted shoppers to the brand.

Estée Lauder saw makeup sales leap 20% in its first quarter ended September 30, still off from before the pandemic, but headed in the right direction. Among the pacesetters: Estée Lauder’s Double Wear and Futurist Foundation, Double Sheer Long-Wear Foundation, and Pure Color Whipped Matte Lip color. MAC also saw building demand for face and eye products, the company said.

Shiseido Americas’ overall sales jumped more than 35%, fueled by recovery in the cosmetics market for the first 9 months of the year, the company said.

“Skincare and makeup have always had this pendulum that one is good when the other is not—the pendulum is swinging back to makeup.”
By Olivier Zimmer, co-founder, SPATE

IRI data reflects the positive trajectory. For the 52 weeks ended October 31, 2021, in multi-outlet doors, every category with the exception of lip posted gains. Eye was up 9.6%, facial rose 0.7% (a small but notable gain), and nail sales jumped 3.4%. With the exception of nail, all of those categories were in the red throughout most of 2020 and the first half of 2021. Lip sales were only off by 1.7% versus as much as declines of 37% last year for the same period.

Specific subsegments showing dynamic gains include: eyeliner (up 11.9%), eye combos (jumping almost 16%), concealer (up 12.2%), lip liner (escalating 16%), and artificial nails (continuing dramatic gains from the past year with sales expanding 14.5%).

NPD Group data also reflects the uptick in prestige beauty. In the third quarter of 2021, US prestige makeup sales jumped 24% to $1.7 billion sparked by purchases of blush, bronzers, highlighters, and tinted moisturizers. Even products “below the mask” like lipstick and lip gloss performed well. Fragrance sales continue to expand, up 36% in the quarter. Larissa Jensen, beauty industry advisor, NPD Group, said these results mean that “we are seeing glimmers of normal life return.”

Zimmer offers further evidence that intent to buy is mushrooming. Research from Google searches through September 2021 offer a glimpse into the future.

The consumer post-COVID is shifting its searches. In the beginning of the pandemic, interest in beauty was not top of mind. By April, consumers were locked down with more time to explore routines, and interest in skincare spiked in 2020. “It was an amazing year for skincare,” Zimmer said. Going into 2021, however, skincare interest is dipping.

Does that open the door for makeup? There was a net gain in consumer search interest in several makeup areas such as tinted foundations, lipstick, lip plumpers, liner, foundation, and eyebrow products. “Skincare and makeup have always had this pendulum that one is good when the other is not—the pendulum is swinging back to makeup,” he said. Based on recent trends, it seems this is a movement here to stay.

Consumers are embracing lipstick, he said, especially as masks come off. Social media trends keep interest on the rise regarding eye products—particularly as consumers experiment with bold colors. Searches for looks in makeup are also on an incline, including bright and colorful applications. TikTok is driving interest in vibrant looks, Zimmer said. Also sparking sales are fashions inspired by the 1980s.

Sarah Jindal, Associate Director—Global Beauty and Personal Care at Mintel, echoed the interest she’s seeing in bringing back the fun to makeup. The full impact will emerge in the next five years, she predicted. Many compare the next few years to the Roaring Twenties following the Depression. During this time, Jindal said we can expect to see more breaking of boundaries—not just in shades, but in other areas including gender fluidity and self-expression.

Jindal saluted indie brands for bringing innovation to the industry, delivering products with new benefit claims, new formats, new usage occasions, and inclusivity.

Despite a slowdown over the past 18 months, the introduction of new products only dropped from 46% to 42%. There is big growth is items that are better for the world, such as those that are certified vegan. Lip product launches continued strong even under masks—mostly likely due to consumers’ desire to add hydration to chapped lips. Innovations in the segment included demi-permanent and long-wearing, Jindal said. “We’re seeing a lot of renovation and that is rethinking what we’ve been doing… not starting from scratch,” Jindal added. “That could even just be adjusting your marketing.”

One of the biggest movements is “indoor and outdoor” makeup. What people wear at home for Zoom or FaceTime differs from what makeup they apply to go out. Jindal said, “We’ve seen people with a full glam for Zoom but leave the house with a completely different look.” That’s spawned a bevy of products curated especially for use on camera such as Hourglass Cosmetics’ Ambient Lighting Palette. There are also fertile opportunities for consumers who are employing digital experimentation rather than buying products. Augmented-reality tools allow people to try looks that could ignite purchase conversion, she said.

One reason for surge in beauty interest, Jindal said, is data suggesting beauty routines foster a sense of normalcy.

There are opportunities for brands to create more products fusing foundation and skincare—in fact, 42% of women wish makeup could benefit skin, Mintel reports.

Beauty Barrage’s 300 brand ambassadors out in the field report consumers are ready to be taught beauty tricks again. The salesforce said 74% of shoppers buy after a demonstration. Makeup is the number-one category they say shoppers are looking for at 29%, outstripping skin at 26%. Testers are back—95% of the retailers Beauty Barrage reported from have them in place.

There are two issues still impeding color cosmetics, experts suggested. Wissink questioned if the fusion of color and skincare will reduce the number of items in shopping baskets. And, she added, there have been “microbursts” of color category sales surges, but at this point not enough to push the entire category into growth mode. “What is needed to pull the makeup category is enough spend across the little categories,” she said.

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