Prestige skincare: A market reboots

Marion Baschet-Vernet

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Prestige skincare: A market reboots

After a “bad patch” due to lockdowns and store closures, the prestige skincare market seems to have a bright future ahead. To captivate a new generation of millennial consumers, brands are prioritizing high-tech, clean, and natural formulas that come in increasingly environmentally friendly packaging.

After a drop in sales due to the Covid-19 pandemic, prestige skincare brands should see a healthy return to growth. “The sector suffered greatly from lockdowns and store closures, as well as the absence of international tourists, especially Chinese buyers, which negatively impacted the ultraprestige sector,” Mathilde Lion, Beauty Europe Industry Expert for the NPD Group explained to Formes de Luxe last spring. The first signs of recovery are being felt, although the sector isn’t completely in the clear yet. “By late November 2021, market value had increased by 4% in Europe, which is still 15% below activity for reference year 2019,” she says. “The most dynamic categories are prestige haircare and fragrance—ahead of skincare."

The same trend was seen in France, where the skincare market saw its value increase 8%, which is slower than the global selective market (15%), but still recorded unit growth of 22%, just three points below the 2019 level.”

An energy… of sorts

Prestige skincare may have lost some of its glow, but it hasn’t lost its energy. “In Europe, 1,000 new references were launched in 2021, compared with 750 the previous year,” says Lion. Last year, France witnessed a 34% increase in product launches, led by Double Sérum 75ml and Extra Firming Energy by Clarins, and "vegan" solution Peeling by The Ordinary. The rise of mid-market brands like The Ordinary, which hit the top-10 ranking this year, continues to reshape a market dominated by large, historic brands like Clarins, Clinique, and Lancôme. They, in turn, push back by capitalizing on their leading technical and high-performance product lines.

Last November, for example, Valmont released La Quintessence des Glaciers, an “exceptional” treatment regimen made up of the brand's three Elixir des Glaciers collections, Précieuse, Majestueuse, and Merveilleuse. “We wanted to produce a limited-edition series of 500 units priced at €3,500 each,” comments Agnès Teffaud, International PR Manager for the Valmont Group. To maintain proximity with its clientele, Valmont is pursuing a strategy of flagship stores; the most recent opened in New York in December and in Madrid in early February 2022. Like other major brands, Valmont set up a call-in service during the pandemic so clients would have access to remote consultations and advice.

With duty-free sales out of the picture during the pandemic, e-commerce picked up pace, leading to an increase in the sector’s online revenue. “[Early 2022], the BtoC channel accounted for 31% of prestige skincare sales in Europe, compared with 16% in 2019,” says Lion. Yet significant disparities exist : 56% in the UK, 42% in Germany, and 21% in France (compared with 10% two years ago).

New “at home” well-being rituals

The pandemic has clearly driven new trends in purchasing habits and use that see luxury reentering the beauty routine. “Premium brands have never generated so much desire,” observes Virginie Couturaud, Director of Scientific Communication for Parfums Christian Dior. According to Ifop, this desirability grew 8% worldwide in 2021, with pronounced growth in Europe (+7.5%) and Asia (+5.8%). Concerns over health influence purchases of premium products, considered to be “a guarantee of quality, safety, and health benefits,” she notes. This explains why wellbeing rituals are having a moment, with consumers focusing on at-home treatments of the home spa variety. “The gestures associated with body treatments are regaining popularity in Europe and France (+14%) after years of decline in selective distribution,” says NPD’s Lion.

In Europe, suncare is making a strong comeback (+9%) after a dim year, as are promotional coffrets (+6%). The skincare segments performing best include exfoliants (+17% and stable for the last two years), makeup removers (+11%), and serums (+7%). Sensitive skincare has also gotten a boost, thanks to widespread mask wearing. “In France, revenue from treatments for blemish-prone skin doubled in 2021, and the sector has sustained doubledigit growth for the last three years,” she says. In 2020, Valmont released its Purity line, which incorporates playful textures like mousse, gel, and bubbles to teach younger women how to correctly clean their skin. “Women’s relationship with their skin has greatly changed. It’s important to recreate stimulation through massages and complementary products,” adds Couturaud. This is where beauty tech can be used to intensify skincare. For example, the Open Eye applicator, part of the Concentré Yeux line by Dior Prestige, delivers a massage using eleven double-rotating pearls to activate micro-circulation and increase product effectiveness.

High-tech formulas & proven benefits

In the hyper-luxury niche, consumers are said to trust historic brands with natural beauty claims. In 2022, Guerlain is boosting the “sensorial” aspect of its Crème Orchidée Impériale with a 96% natural formula. Between environmental guidelines and a demand for natural and safe active ingredients, formula specifications are becoming increasingly strict. Science, inspired by the medical field and studies of the microbiome and diet, also contributes to developing more targeted clinical and cosmeceutical products. This presents challenges to suppliers, such as finding a replacement for controversial silicone while maintaining the same sensory experience. “Currently our goal is to use 90% natural active ingredients in all of our formulas,” says Nathalie Dessirier, marketing director at MS Beautilab, which had to review its catalog of active ingredients in the space of several months. Most important, it seems, is having a patented high-tech complex with proven effectiveness, a form of scientific expertise emphasized by all premium skincare brands. Examples include Dior Prestige, which highlights the use of rose sap in its Advanced Serum; the brand claims that the sap is four times as effective as retinoic acid in terms of epidermal differentiation, cohesion, and hydration. Chanel is promoting its star ingredient, red camelia in its new skincare line, Chanel No.1. The formulas incorporate the extract to preserve the cellular vitality of millennial skins and contain up to 97% natural ingredients—an important milestone for the brand.

MS Beautilab is another example on the Asian market. The brand is working on a collection of eight high-end blister packs combining hyaluronic and polyglutamic acids using its ChronoPower+ technology to deliver “instantaneous, long-lasting hydration”. It is also studying a new well-being treatment that combines neuroscience and emotions to “reproduce and even go beyond the sensory experience of the spa to influence the consumer’s mood,” says Dessirier.

Charting a course to sustainability

When it comes to packaging, eco-design is making inroads into ultra-premium skincare. The pandemic played a role in raising environmental awareness, and the risk of a boycott is real: 85% of consumers say they would stop buying a brand if it acted unethically (Ifop 2021). And this applies to luxury beauty as well: 45% of consumer in China, 46% in France, and 40% in the US made this claim. While luxury packaging in Asia has largely retained its premium image in the form of gold or silver packs, European brands are turning to greener vision of luxury that foes away with plastic caps and embraces more sustainable materials like glass and, increasingly, refill and airless systems. Last October, MS Beautilab launched a fermented formula blending camellia oil and postbiotics, in a refillable airless bottle, a lightweight glass dropper, and refillable jars. For its No.1 line, Chanel opted for caps made of Sulapac injected with camelia seed shells, paired with recycled or bio-sourced packaging including lightweighted glass and natural inks. In April, Valmont will release a skincare line with millennials in mind, in FSC cardboard and what it says are entirely recyclable materials (glass, sleeve, pump, etc.).

There is also strong demand from brands for anhydrous and solid products. “This translates into skincare that contains less water (to reduce the carbon footprint of transport) or no water, in the case of oil- and wax-based formulas,” explains Dessirier. “We are designing treatments, masks, serums, and makeup removers in solid formats. We are continuing to test this new, disruptive formula in terms of sensory experience, gestures, and performance.” Analysts say this robust trend will grow in the months and years to come.

This article was first published in Formes de Luxe's spring 2022 issue.

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