Analysis: Makeup continues its slowdown

Pascale Ruchon

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Analysis:  Makeup continues its slowdown

© Sasha Marro

Women are wearing less makeup, a trend observed in 2019 that is likely to persevere in light of the coronavirus crisis. Until now, the factors driving this slowdown were related more to the environment than to the economy. From no makeup to cleaner, healthier formulas: will the natural trend continue? Much remains up in the air for this struggling market.

It doesn’t take a financial analyst to predict that covid-19 is likely to cause a retraction in the makeup market. Mandatory closures of perfumeries and other stores considered non-essential throughout the world in early 2020 will weigh heavily on the numbers. And it’s no use hoping that online sales will recoup the expected losses; when a third of the global population is required to shelter at home, few are wearing mascara. In fact, some women had already stopped wearing it before the crisis hit. While the current situation may bolster certain trends that have been emerging in recent years, we may see a new trend developing: no makeup. This movement, with self-proclaimed feminist roots, has seen celebrities appearing bare faced on social media, proudly flaunting undereye circles and pale lips.

After a period of healthy growth, in 2019 the prestige makeup market began its significant decline in the US and Europe, according to NPD, which points to changes in consumption habits as possible explanations. “In the US, 24% of women say they wear less makeup, compared to 11% who say they wear more,” notes Larissa Jensen, vice president and industry advisor for the market-research firm. “In addition, the trend towards ‘casualization’ has led women to give up foundation, lipstick and eyeshadow for a more natural look based on tinted moisturizer and lip gloss.”

Good for the skin, good for the planet

The increase in remote working has encouraged this phenomenon, while shelter-at-home orders, combined with the obligation to work from home for a long period of time, may intensify it. Either way, ‘natural’ is having a moment. “After the rise of bloggers making tutorials for full-blown makeup, we’re seeing a trend towards much lighter application, without layering. This also helps prevent overconsumption. We’re seeing streamlined use, for example in the choice of multi-function or all-in-one products,” remarks Mathilde Lion, head of the European beauty market division at NPD. Enough with excess! This new motto, linked to increased awareness of environmental concerns, has influenced behavior in a market considered to be frivolous. That being said, the market had already begun to take a serious and ethical approach to cosmetic formulas, striving for products that are both good for the skin and don’t harm the environment.

The industry is committed to this approach, says Sandra Maguarian, director of the MakeUp In trade fairs. “The trend for makeup-skincare will be the theme for the next MakeUp in Paris fair (editor’s note: the June show, cancelled due to the health crisis, will be replaced by a digital platform), and we’re launching a new exhibition in London on the theme of Clean Beauty that will also cover makeup. These trends are all connected by the consumer demand that products be transparent and live up to their promises,” she notes.

Hybrid products based on a blend of pigments and active ingredients are now a given in luxury brand formulas. First used in foundations and lip products, they’re now being applied to eyes: mascaras claim to strengthen lashes, such as Mad Eyes by Guerlain and Diorshow, and for the first time, Dior is enriching its famous five color eyeshadow palettes with treatment-quality ingredients. The natural trend is coming to the fore both in tone-on-tone and nude palettes, and in formulas free of controversial chemical ingredients. Products exhibiting these qualities include one of Guerlain’s star product’s last year, its L’Essentiel foundation, made of 97% natural ingredients, and also the Les Beiges line by Chanel. No doubt the sector still has much room for growth in the “natural care” niche.

Glamour lives on

Does this signal that makeup has lost its festive glow? Not according to product development consultant Daniel Saclier. “Women may be wearing less makeup during the day, but they still use it when they go out at night, when ‘bright red’ is still a requirement. Consumers have also continued to spend on makeup, attracted by products with high added value. The high-end market is made up of three segments: prestige, luxury, and ultra-luxury, which is giving it a boost. Newcomers like La Bouche Rouge adopted a premium positioning from the start, which may have spurred major brands to launch or relaunch more refined product lines.” According to NPD, the lip segment resisted declining sales in Europe in 2019, boosted by new launches, including Rouge Pur Couture The Slim by Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel’s Rouge Coco Flash and Dior Addict Stellar Shine. It appears to be an inexhaustible source of glamour.

It’s hardly insignificant, then, that Hermès chose to enter the makeup realm with just one lipstick, conceiving it as a beautiful object based on the brand’s criteria: crafted, aesthetically contemporary, and reloadable. No one will be throwing this lipstick away! Indeed, the concept of a premium lipstick often comes to life via original packaging. Guerlain was inspired by the idea of precious gemstones for new reloadable cases for its Rouge G collection. Jimmy Choo has also taken a glam approach to its first foray into makeup (Interparfums): sporting a sophisticated design, the small, limited-edition line was launched exclusively at Harrods in London in March 2020, as planned.

The brand is not alone in maintaining product launches during the coronavirus crisis. Paul & Joe, for example, launched a limited-edition line full of fantasy and unwavering optimism in France in early May. With the products already manufactured, many brands’ summer lines have also gone ahead with their launches. That being said, a number of product developments have been slowed, postponed, or even canceled. It’s going to take some time for the makeup industry to reorganize—if only because the heart of the global makeup industry is located in northern Italy, the very region of Europe hit hardest by the virus.

As for when purchasing rates will pick up, that depends on the extent of the economic crisis. However, it is well known that even during wartime, women continue to wear makeup. Followers of the no-makeup movement encouraging women to ‘let it all hang out’ aren’t the only voices being heard. There’s been an increase in tutorials explaining how to make oneself look good on a laptop screen; between video conferences and virtual cocktails, maintaining a social image is still relevant. But mandatory mask-wearing raises another question: will we forgo lipstick and focus on eye makeup, as do veiled women in the Middle East? It may not be such a trivial question.

This article originally appeared in the summer 2020 edition of our sister publication Formes de Luxe.

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