This week, I’m looking at the road to recovery for makeup.

Finally, the U.S. mask mandates are off … well, at least for those who are vaccinated. It’s a moment that all U.S. citizens have likely been dreaming of since March 2020. But for beauty executives, it gives real hope for a makeup comeback. Makeup sales had slowed pre-pandemic, and that trend only accelerated over the last 15 months. Save for clean color and eye makeup sales, heroes like lipstick and full-face foundation were down for the count. But now makeup brands are eager for a facelift.

Last month, Hermes introduced its Rosy Lip Enhancer lip product, as well as blush for the first time, suggesting that women will want a buildable look for summer. Even Lady Gaga’s Haus Labs, which is known for a glamorous proposition, moved toward a no-makeup makeup offering with its launch of a PhD Hybrid Lip Oil Stain in April. And perhaps the most famous influencer-turned-beauty founder Huda Kattan is also betting on a summer glow with her aptly-named franchise, GloWish that launches on June 1. Made up of a Multidew Skin Tint and Bronzing Powder with corresponding brushes, the line is meant to offer a lighter makeup look for the Huda Beauty consumer.

The decline during the pandemic was a struggle for many companies, but we managed it pretty well compared to the industry… With that, we definitely saw a resurgence [of makeup]; we’re specifically seeing interest in formula and format innovation across all makeup categories, especially complexion. We think it’s because so many people were investing in their skin so much that they were then looking to complement it with a little foundation for an easy, natural-looking glow-up,” said Kattan. 

Kattan credits the Huda Beauty community for driving the departure from a more “done” look. “It’s all about staying close to your community, listening to them and delivering,” she said. “GloWish, is a testament to that. It’s our latest extension of our ever-growing complexion offering. GloWish was partially created from consumers begging for a lighter-coverage foundation paired with my newly found confidence in my skin.”

Haus Laboratories’ PhD Hybrid Lip Oil Stain is another example of shifting with the consumer. “We think the return to makeup looks will be widely varied, ingredient-first solution, with everyone doubling down on what they discovered and dug into last year,” said CMO Kelly Coller. “The consumer who perhaps swapped out some makeup for skincare, is very interested in high-performing ingredients and will continue to be looking for that. We agree consumers are looking for performance, product and formula-first brands for long-term loyalty.”

Sarah Willersdorf, partner and leader of Boston Consulting Group’s luxury, fashion and beauty practice believes this “skinication” of makeup is going to make color cosmetics bounce back in a bigger way than expected. “If we start with the U.S., all the market data says skincare, hair care, men’s grooming and even sun care are going to be buoyant, and color is actually going to be at best flat. But my perspective is that because clean is gaining momentum in color cosmetics and skin-color [hybrids] are growing, we are going to see a boost overall in makeup,” she said.

Google data also points to a makeup comeback.

According to the company’s first-quarter 2021 U.S. Beauty Insights Report, the beauty category saw 8% year-over-year growth to 246 million generic searches. Hair care, hair color, men’s products and makeup drove that win; makeup specifically accounted for 16% of the searches in the quarter and saw 19% year-over-year growth. Surprisingly, top terms within color cosmetics were “colorful eye palette,” “eye liner,” “brow lamination,” “blush” and even, “lipstick red.” These terms seem to be in line with L’Oréal chairman and CEO Jean-Paul Agon’s comments in February: “One day Covid will be gone… people will be happy to go out again, to celebrate, to socialize — and it will be like the famous roaring ‘20s — this will be the fiesta of makeup and fragrances.”

As if right on time, L’Oréal’s Lancôme moved up its big lipstick launch of the year to May. “We welcome the return to glamour,” said Anncy Rowe, svp of Marketing at Lancôme USA. She added the brand’s L’Absolu Rouge Drama Ink Liquid Lipstick has been “well-received.”

“The collection has thirteen shades so there is something for everyone, whether you are easing back into color or want to go bold. It also has long-wear and easy application technology, which is a big selling point with the return of makeup. Consumers still want multi-use, multi-benefit products and easy application to keep up with their busy lifestyle.”

Maybelline’s global director of trends Dominica Baird also believes long-lasting product will be a key selling point for customers, especially for those who are on the fence about dropping their mask behavior entirely. “We are entering a transitional phase where people are putting on their masks and taking them off several times throughout the day. Products need to stay on under the mask. This is really necessitating transfer-proof, long-wearing products,” she said.

From Willersdorf’s perspective as consumers start going out more frequently, more shoppers will simply want to shop. Alongside new luxury fashion and accessory purchases, she believes that prestige beauty brands that have a fashion arm like Hermes will fare best. “Color cosmetics is always the entry price point into some of these luxury, prestige brands, and some of these brands have become technically strong in color like Giorgio Armani,” she said.

“We think heading out of this pandemic, we will see people become more experimental again with makeup and be bolder with color,” said Rowe.

Still, “glamour” might look different in the second half of 2021. “We are living through some of the most disruptive societal changes in history right now — culturally, technologically.  This has definitely had an effect on beauty trends and consumers; attitudes towards beauty in general. I think ‘glamour’ will be defined differently, where people are celebrating and amplifying their individual natural beauty to feel their most glamorous,” said Sandra Main, Bobbi Brown’s global brand president. While Main believes “there will always be special moments when people will want to feel special, glamorous and more polished,” shoppers will do this in a way that “enhances their natural features.” In her opinion, covering up is out.

Bobbi Brown Cosmetics’ No. best selling product during Covid was its Vitamin Enriched Face Base that is a moisturizer and primer in-one. “It has seen double-digit growth during this time as the consumer has placed high value on quality skin care solutions that can be used to prep under makeup or alone for a healthy glow,” said Main.

Elizabeth Miller, Bloomingdale’s vp and divisional merchandise manager for cosmetics, thinks this skin through line will carry through summer and into fall. “Make-up behavior shifted during the pandemic to a no-make-up make-up look with a focus on skincare and achieving that sought-after, perfect glow. This fall, we’ll see a return to utilizing more make-up in one’s rotation. There will certainly be an appetite for it, as I’ve been hearing how customers are interested in beauty consultations and all-new make-up, considering some of their current products are a year-old,” she said. Bloomingdale’s is expecting beauty’s return to glamour to come back in full force during the holiday season.

Still, others contend that makeup is not going to go back to its “Instagram Face” days period. Divya Gugnani, cofounder and CEO of Wander Beauty, said “I don’t think that we’re going to have a raging comeback for makeup. I genuinely believe that consumer behavior has shifted.”

Wander Beauty sells both makeup and skincare and while it has always favored a more natural expression of the former, Gugnani said the brand’s skincare growth has sustained well into this year, namely instant pick-me-ups like its undereye treatments and Vitamin C. The brand’s makeup heroes remain in the complexion and mascara category. Gugnani said recently she is seeing consumers gravitate toward lighter formulas like its Nude Illusion Liquid Foundation. “People are mixing it with their favorite moisturizer or face oil and to give themselves a more sheer finish or using it as a concealer because it has a great applicator built into it. That fresh-faced makeup look isn’t going away,” she said.

“Skin first” was certainly Glossier’s M.O. this last year.

Ali Weiss, Glossier svp of marketing said the brand grew across all categories in 2020, with strong performance in body and skincare. The body category more than tripled year over year, and April 2020 was the brand’s biggest skincare sales month ever, outside of the holiday season, she said. But its latest launch was the Ultralip lip tint, or what the Glossier team has been calling the “cashmere sweatpants of lipsticks.”

“It has the sheen of a gloss, the buildable color of a tint and the moisture of a balm — and the formula includes ingredients like our exclusive blend of hyaluronic acid for added skincare benefits,” said Weiss. “It’s also extremely comfortable to wear, which is great for those who are transitioning back into wearing lipstick or makeup more generally.” Weiss add that Ultralip had the second biggest makeup launch day in terms of revenue, and has been Glossier’s biggest lip launch to date.

Luckily, there is hope for both the “glamour” and the “natural” camps, according to Larissa Jensen, NPD vp and industry advisor of beauty. “You are going to have people that come out of this lockdown, and have been taking great care of their skin and say ‘I don’t need all that makeup. I’m just going to put on a little tinted moisturizer, mascara and brow and be done,” Jensen said. “And you’re going to have those people who are ready to celebrate and they’re going to go crazy because they’ve been sitting at home for over a year. They’re going to need new makeup.”

Kate Oldham Saks svp and gmm of beauty, jewelry and home agrees that both trends will take shape this summer. “We’re seeing two divergent beauty trends: vibrant pops of color for lips and eyes for an updated take on a glamorous look and a warm, peachy glow [that] is a step up from the natural makeup look,” she said.

Though lipstick remains the most challenged makeup category, Jensen said even during the mask-wearing last year, matte lipsticks grew share because they were longer lasting and didn’t rub off as much. Lip gloss, meanwhile continues to “blow lipcolor out of the water,” she said.

Still, makeup remains the largest category of the U.S. beauty market — and the U.S. leads in terms of vaccinations and fewer Covid cases, so if color cosmetics is going to return anywhere, it should be here. “Skincare is definitely capturing share and growing, but if we are talking about the growth of the whole beauty market, we need makeup to thrive,” said Jensen.

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