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According to Circana, 2023 sales of lip treatments are up 58% year-over-year to $207.9 million. In the 18 months since Hailey Bieber’s Rhode launched, it has surpassed the million-sold mark on its Peptide Lip Treatment, a $16 lip balm fortified with peptides. Of course, this means the brand has sold at least $16 million worth of the lip balm. Rhode, however, is far from the only brand to be making a small fortune on lip products. For brands that launched into the lip category or expanded an existing lip category this year, the rewards were plentiful.
Interestingly, the lip products that excelled this year were not lipsticks or the matte liquid lip products of 2016. Instead, they included balms, glosses and oils, all of which provided some kind of skin care benefit or true lip nourishment.
According to Spate, which measures beauty industry data by Google search terms, the lip-care category currently amasses over 769,000 average monthly searches, reflecting an 18.9% year-over-over growth. The year’s top search terms in the category included “Dior lip oil,” “Laneige lip mask,” “Chapstick,” “lip oil,” “Rare Beauty lip oil” and “Summer Fridays lip oil.” Related trends seeing the most year-over-year growth included “peptide lip treatment,” which increased by 134.5%; “lip oil,” up by 40.5%; “lip butter,” up by 31%; “overnight lip mask,” up 27.2%; and “lip sunscreen,” up 23.4%.
Summer Fridays, the skin-care brand launched by influencers Marianna Hewitt and Lauren Ireland in 2018, launched its Lip Butter Balm in 2020. The original flavor — a clear, untinted product — was Vanilla. Quickly, it realized it had a hit on its hands and began to expand the franchise. Currently, it sells seven flavors of the $24 “LBB,” and all but one are sold out on Sephora.com. The brand has found that its customers treat them like collectibles. As such, it launched limited-edition shades and sets this year for the holidays — an Iced Coffee flavor launched, exclusively as part of a kit, in October.
“They all deliver just a little bit of a different skin-tone-based tint … for whatever your mood happens to be,” said Kimberley Natale, president of Summer Fridays. “We hear a lot from our community that people are buying multiples, including of the same shade, so they can have one by their bedside, one in their car, one in their office and one in their bag.” They also frequently repurchase the product, she said.
“Lip-care products form an essential part of the everyday skin-care routine,” Natale said, noting the conventional skin-care wisdom that the skin on our lips is particularly susceptible to dryness and the elements. “It makes sense that today’s educated customers are looking for formulas that [both] deliver skin-care benefits and look beautiful.” For its part, Summer Fridays’ Lip Butter Balms feature ingredients including Shea butter and murumuru seed butter, she said. According to Natale, they work to “soften the skin, provide shine … and cushiony hydration without feeling sticky.”
Natale declined to provide specifics about the brand’s lip-category sales, but shared that they saw triple-digit growth in 2023. One Lip Butter Balm is sold every eight seconds, she said. The brand is sold at Sephora and Revolve and on its own website in the U.S.; as well as at Sephora in Canada, the E.U. and the Middle East; Cult Beauty and Space NK in the U.K.; and Mecca in Australia and New Zealand.
Natale said the LBB product has helped the brand to bring in new customers who then discover and shop the brand at large.
Six-year-old Lawless has also seen recent, significant success in the lip category. After launching with a focus on “clean” makeup and subsequently entering Sephora in 2018, a January 2021 lip product launch changed the trajectory of the brand. The $26 Forget The Filler Lip-Plumping Line-Smoothing Gloss, introduced in one clear shade called Rosy Outlook, became the brand’s hero based on immediate popularity. Its development was inspired by an ingredient dubbed Maxi-Lip, which was clinically proven to plump lips. “If we’re putting [a product] on our lips all day anyway, we might as well be increasing volume and treating it like skin care,” said Annie Lawless, founder of Lawless.
“It wasn’t even a splashy launch,” she said. “I remember getting our Sephora sales reports from that first week, and our jaws were just on the floor. … And then we ordered more. We just could not keep up.” Lawless recalled.
Since then, Forget The Filler has become a full-blown franchise. The original Smoothing Gloss now comes in 17 shades and three sizes, ranging from a mini for $15 to a “value size” for $38 — the latter was launched in response to customer demand, Lawless said. Rosy Outlook remains the best-seller.
In January 2022, a year after the first Forget the Filler product launch, Lawless rolled out the $22 Forget The Filler Overnight Lip-Plumping Mask, which now comes in four flavors. And in February of this year, it launched the $26 Forget The Filler Lip-Plumping Line-Smooth Tinted Balm Stick. Its most pigmented product in the franchise, it comes in clear and six colored shades. In August, the Forget The Filler collection expanded beyond lips as the brand made its first foray into skin care with the $52 Forget the Filler Skin-Plumping Line-Smoothing Moisturizer + Makeup Primer.
As a whole, the Forget The Filler franchise now accounts for 60% of Lawless’s business. The franchise has been a vehicle for new customer acquisition for the brand, which has consistently seen triple-digit year-over-year growth since its launch. Customers frequently buy multiple shades of Forget The Filler products and frequently replenish, Lawless said.
Lawless believes the franchise’s name has contributed to its quick success. “Filler is such a hot thing. And in the last few years, there’s been filler fatigue. People are getting tired of the ‘Instagram Face,’ because people are going too far. So now, [they] are looking for other ways to get the same type of effect,” she said.
She also owed the success to the products’ ingredient story. Maxi-Lip does not cause the burning, tingling sensation that’s common among other plumping glosses and balms, allowing it to fill a white space in the market. According to Lawless, it is clinically proven to improve lips’ condition by 100%, improve lip softness and comfort by 70%, improve lip hydration by 60%, increase lip volume by 40%, and reduce lip folds by 29%.
“Post-Covid, many people who were at home and not wearing makeup have switched their focus to skin care and self-care,” she said. She noted that, while people are going out again, their makeup remains stripped down.
Lip balms, in particular, speak to a need the consumer has for things that feel wearable, comfortable and hydrating, Lawless said. “They’re effortless, easy and affordable, plus they tie your full face together and add some life and vitality.”
Yet another reason for the continued success of the lip category is that it’s an easy category for customers to experiment in. “It’s such an easy conversion SKU,” Lawless said. “It’s a low commitment. It’s not a foundation or a $60 powder, or something people feel scared to try from a brand that they haven’t tried before.”
InnBeauty Project, which carries a full range of skin care, from cleansers to retinol serums and exfoliating toners, also saw success in the lip category, through its TikTok-popular $17 Glaze Lip Oil. “Our Lip Glazes are consistently our top organically mentioned product on TikTok and Instagram, and a top [sales] performer both on our DTC [site] and at Sephora,” said InnBeauty Project co-founder Alisa Metzger. “In 2023, we’ve seen an all-time high in demand for our Lip Glaze. Over a third of new customers on our site purchase at least one Glaze flavor and come back for more flavors soon after.” This holiday season, the brand has sold two Lip Glazes per minute. In November, it debuted a holiday set of two limited-edition Lip Glaze flavors in collaboration with the prebiotic soda Poppi.
For its part, The Inkey List entered the lip category in August with the $12.99 Tripeptide Plumping Lip Balm — making it yet another brand using peptides in a lip product. It became the skin-care brand’s best-selling launch with its longest-ever waitlist. It exceeded all of the brand’s forecasts and now sells one every 35 seconds.
A final example showing the power of a hydrating lip balm in 2023 comes from Naturium, the affordable mega-brand acquired by E.l.f. Beauty in August.
“We’ve seen many different brands launch popular lip balms with skin-friendly ingredients over the years,” said Susan Yara, founder of Naturium. “Just like we’ve seen the rise in makeup with skin-care benefits, now people realize they can get smooth, nourished lips that also have a little color and mega shine. That’s why our Phyto-Glow Lip Balm ($10) has gone viral on social media so many times.”
The franchise’s Café Collection, which includes four nude shades, sold out in less than a week and accumulated an 8,500-person waitlist for its restock. A set of all four shades in the collection can be purchased on Naturium’s DTC site for $40, but is currently sold out. The brand has seen a 317% growth in gross lip sales year-over-year.
Lip balms, glosses, oils — whatever you call them — are here to stay.