Unable to visit their hair stylists, aestheticians, hair braiders or nail technicians for much of this year, many people began D.I.Y.-ing their beauty routines. At-home haircuts and dye jobs boomed. Online shopping took center stage.
“How we saw this manifest in beauty was with hair color, nail care specifically, facial exfoliators and facial devices that tone your skin,” said Larissa Jensen, the vice president and beauty industry adviser at the NPD Group, a market research company. “Consumers were bringing the spa into their homes.”
And the longer people spent on videoconferences, the more they confronted flaws in their own faces, prompting a “slow burn” demand for skin care products that started in June, Ms. Jensen said.
Kate Oldham, the senior vice president of beauty, jewelry and home products at Saks Fifth Avenue, said that “spending so much time at home has led to an interesting shift in our customers’ shopping habits. While certain elements of this shift are understandable, like the increase we have seen in candles and home fragrance, others have been more surprising. For example, we have seen a dramatic increase of sales across our fragrance category that has been consistent since the beginning of the pandemic, and shows no sign of softening.”
Monica Arnaudo, the chief merchandising officer at Ulta, noted that certain beauty product sales coincided with different chapters of the pandemic.
“Now what they are doing is that because they are taking more time to themselves, they are adding more steps to their routine, the other area customers are leaning in on is serums,” Ms. Arnaudo said. “Anti-aging, brightening or vitamin C serums are selling probably because many now are saving time, because they don’t have the commute.”
Below, some of this year’s high points in beauty.
Jumbo-size shampoo and conditioner
In March, when hair appointments were abruptly canceled, Ulta’s customers hoarded cleansing products in a pandemic prep panic.
“Very early on we saw a lot of traction in what we call people stocking up on their beauty essentials,” Ms. Arnaudo said. “March through April, our guests were stocking up on shampoo and conditioner and hand sanitizers that we could not keep in stock.”
Bath and body care
As weeks passed, the stress of working from home — or being out of work — became more pressing. People tried to care for themselves more intently to quell their anxieties, with bubbles and lotions.
“Sixty-three percent of our beauty enthusiasts link beauty and wellness with really combating stress,” Ms. Arnaudo said. “All of our bath and body categories cleared as people leaned in to taking care of themselves.”
Nata Dvir, the senior vice president and general business manager for beauty at Macy’s, said: “What we started to see in mid-April was a shift into more of that self-care. We saw some trending ingredients, like vitamin C, was really good for us. We are thinking about that as just people wanting to kind of refresh, and vitamin C tends to make you look really energized and fresh.”
Masks and serums
As people found themselves with more time on their hands, many decided to look to do something about the faces that were spending so much time staring into computer cameras. In May facial products sold briskly at Ulta, Saks Fifth Avenue and Macy’s.
“Masking was good,” Ms. Dvir said.
Because people are taking more time at home, Ms. Arnaudo said of customers, they are adding steps to their routine. “Another area they are leaning in on is serums,” she said. “Anti-aging, brightening or vitamin C.”
In June, retailers noticed that their customers were buying makeup again. This time, they only wanted it for the part of their face visible while wearing masks.
“The reality is when it came to makeup, people were thinking of it differently because of face coverings,” Ms. Arnaudo said. “We saw a lot of traction in all of the products along the brow area: lashes, mascaras and eye shadows.”
“Makeup has not since June — when stores started to opening up — recovered,” Ms. Jensen said. “It’s a depressed category — however, eyes have been the best. Lipsticks have been the biggest drag.” (So much for the discredited but widely cited “lipstick index” as an economic indicator.)
Fragrances and home scents
Fragrance sales were up in June at Macy’s, Ms. Dvir said, probably because of Father’s Day. But perhaps surprisingly, they have stayed steady as people seek the feelings, comfort and nostalgia evoked by scent. “It has been a category that in the industry we’ve all been really curious about because it’s been a category that has been strong throughout the pandemic,” she said.
Ms. Jensen said that other growth in the category was more predictable, like reed diffusers and other room enhancements. “Candles have been on fire, no pun intended.” she said. “I don’t know about you but in the last few months I’ve become a candle fanatic!” (We do manage the candle fan club.)
For those who set their hair coloring appointments for the year in January, going nine months without meant a reckoning with their roots. Some were bold enough to do it themselves and follow the directions on the back of a box of hair dye, and brands like Madison Reed and eSalon were ready to meet demand.
Ms. Jensen thinks this could be a trend that survives the pandemic. “Hair dye continues to do well,” she said. “Some people think, ‘You know what, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I don’t have to go as much and I can save some money.’”
Money better spent ordering in.
Hands and feet
At the beginning of the pandemic nail technicians began to post tutorials on how to remove gel nail polish, a sturdy substance that must be removed by buffing the nail and soaking it in acetone. Then came the foot peels. And the press-on nails.
“Customers gravitated toward nail care because they were obviously doing their own manicures and pedicures,” Ms. Arnaudo said, adding that 69 percent of Ulta’s customers, in a survey, reported doing their own nails.
At-home facial devices that provide treatments like microdermabrasion, dermaplaning and microcurrent facials saw an increase in sales.
At Saks Fifth Avenue two of the highest selling facial devices were the Dermaflash Dermapore Pore Extractor & Serum Infuser, a device that purports to unclog pores and allow for deeper penetration of skin care products, and the NuFace Trinity Facial Toning Device Set, a device that stimulates the skin with a soft microcurrent to tone it.
“The trend of self-care, combined with a lack of in-person services, helped propel skin care and tools for at-home treatments such as NuFace and Dermaflash,” Ms. Oldham said.
Ms. Jensen said, “Facial devices that tone your skin like dermaplaning have been popular because consumers could not get to the spa.”
As if we needed reminding.