The beauty industry is poised for a rush on lipstick and gloss now that the CDC has mostly lifted mask mandates

  • Mask mandates during the pandemic made it challenging to wear lipstick or lip gloss. 
  • But with the new CDC guidelines, the beauty industry is expecting a lift in lipstick sales.
  • Consumers are “going to be ready to celebrate,” NPD Groups’ Larissa Jensen told Insider.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

After being largely neglected for over a year, lipstick, lip liner, and gloss are about to see a resurgence. 

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that fully vaccinated people in the US may stop wearing masks in most places. It’s led to several states lifting their mask mandates and retailers across the US dropping mask requirements for customers and employees. 

The changing mask rule will have major implications for a society that’s largely adjusted to COVID-19 precautions over the last year. But it’s also expected to make waves in the beauty industry, which has experienced slumping sales throughout the pandemic.

Now, for the first time since early 2020, we can start wearing lipstick again. 

“This big announcement from the CDC … that, I think, is a game-changer,” Larissa Jensen, vice president and beauty industry advisor at market research firm NPD Group, told Insider. 

Sales of lip products plummeted during the pandemic

Woman applying lipstick with mask

Yifan Ding/Getty Images

The last year has been a challenging one for anyone who likes to wear lip color or gloss. If you’re wearing your mask properly, it’s almost a given that whatever you put on your lips will eventually end up on the inside of your mask, smeared on your face, or both. 

That issue has translated into slumping sales for lip products, which took a dive almost immediately when the pandemic hit: During the month ending on April 11, 2020, Amazon saw sales of “lip care and color” dip 15% and saw prices decline by 28%, according to data compiled by McKinsey & Company.

As mask mandates stayed in place throughout the beginning of 2021, the category has continued to decline. According to NPD’s data — which includes sales of brands sold at department stores or stores like Sephora and Ulta, but excludes drugstore beauty brands — total sales of lip products were down 24% in the first quarter of 2021.

While products like lip gloss and lip treatments are seeing a smaller dip, lipstick has seen a steep decline: Sales of traditional lipstick were down 32% in the first quarter — with one caveat.

“Matte lipsticks started to gain share almost immediately as soon as mask mandates took hold,” Jensen said. “If you think about it, matte lipsticks are the ones that are less likely to rub off on your mask and they stay on your lip.”

Read more: ‘Women want brands to tell them that they’re doing the right thing’: How Black-owned cosmetics brand Mented defied a lipstick-sale slump during COVID-19 to post record numbers

Jensen said the dip in lip product sales can be directly tied to the mask mandate, as it was the worst-performing makeup category. Eye makeup performed the strongest last year, since the eyes were the only part of the face visible over masks — in fact, sales of eye makeup surged 204% year-over-year from April to June 2020, data analytics firm Kantar found. 

But overall, makeup was hit hard during a year when people barely left the house. High-end makeup sales declined 34% in 2020, Jensen said.

“Makeup is very highly tied, and beauty is as well, to usage occasions,” she said. “So without going to work, going out to eat, going to events, there were no usage occasions.” 

A growing sense of optimism

KKW Beauty lipsticks at Ulta

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for ULTA Beauty / KKW Beauty

But that may be about to change. Jensen said the industry had been expecting an uptick in makeup sales prior to the new guidelines as more Americans became vaccinated in the weather warmed up in many parts of the US. Now, with the mask mandate mostly lifted, consumers are going to want to not only look good again, but refresh makeup they probably haven’t touched in over a year — which could translate to positive growth for stores like Ulta and Sephora. 

An Ulta spokesperson told Insider that the company doesn’t share category sales outside of its quarterly earnings, but said that the company has seen “a growing sense of optimism among our guests — which creates a lot of possibilities for beauty.” 

“We anticipate the passion for skincare and haircare will remain stable and we’re seeing makeup continue to see positive momentum,” the spokesperson said. 

A spokesperson for Sephora declined to comment. 

Jensen said that while NPD doesn’t share data about specific brands or companies that are expected to see a boost in the coming months, the company has seen growth in the first quarter among brands that are exclusive to one or two retailers — Kim Kardashian’s makeup and fragrance lines, for example, are only sold online and at Ulta; Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty is only available online and at Sephora. 

The industry has started to see a slight recovery in 2021: In the first quarter of the year, makeup sales are down only 9% compared to the same quarter last year. Jensen said she expects that once weddings resume, cities like New York reopen, and travel reignites, we’ll see spending ramp back up “in a big way.” 

“I really do believe this, that as this mask mandate lifts, we’re going to see some big momentum coming out of the makeup category in 2021 into 2022,” Jensen said. “You’re going to have the consumer that’s going to be ready to celebrate — ‘We made it out! I don’t have to wear a mask anymore!’ I think it could be indicative of definitely hopeful signs.”

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