Is Makeup Dead?

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Recently I received an email about Becca Cosmetics’ upcoming makeup launches, and I immediately emailed the brand publicist back: “I’m confused,” I wrote. “I thought Estée Lauder was shutting Becca down?”

Covid Casualty

After assuring me that that was in fact the case – that EL Companies had indeed pulled the plug on the 20-year-old brand, which it acquired in 2016 and was best-known for its Champagne Pop liquid highlighter – the publicist said that it’s business as usual until September, when Becca officially goes bye-bye.

Why shutter a perfectly solid, beloved, decades-old makeup brand with 3.8 Instagram followers, you ask? In a word: Covid.

[callout]Younger women can bounce between being obsessed with makeup one year and forgoing it altogether the next. Older women who want to look pulled-together and on top of their games really can’t get away with that.[/callout]

Without question, these are weird, unsettling times for beauty – especially the color slice of the business, which has been thoroughly hammered by the pandemic. And with every glimmer of hope we start to feel about a return to “normal” life, pockets of fresh outbreaks and new strains of the virus surface. It’s hard not to look at our expanding wardrobes of face masks and think, “Do we ever get to burn these things?”

Less Is More

While most women probably felt at least some measure of makeup “freedom” at the beginning of the shift to working from home – yay! no foundation! – as we blow past the one year mark, many of us are starting to pine for a reason to return to our more elaborate concealer, blush and lipstick routines. Sure, we do our eyes – like, really do our eyes: liner, mascara, brow tint — before springing our masked selves on the public. But all the other cosmetic bells and whistles? Not so much.

Makeup’s Rough Ride: The Recent Numbers

 So just how far has the makeup category plummeted in the U.S. in the past 18 months or so? According to NPD, in prestige, it dropped 34 percent in 2020. Not surprisingly, the mask-unfriendly lip segment experienced the biggest drop – a whopping 49 percent plunge as compared to 2019. That’s out of an overall prestige beauty sector decline of 19 percent, from $19.9 billion to $16.1 billion.

One could argue that a chief reason for the cratering in prestige makeup sales is the temporary closure of many department stores due to Covid. But that negates the facts that A) prestige skincare, particularly pricey devices and luxe bodycare, is booming right now, and B) department stores have struggled to keep makeup junkies engaged for at least a decade, i.e., long before the pandemic hit. Between the rise of social media makeup juggernauts like Huda Kattan and Jeffree Star who have their own lines, and the sheer dominance of less-expensive D2C brands like Glossier and ColourPop, prestige makeup sold in brick and mortar has not had an easy go of it for quite some time.

Widening the scope of this topic to include mass makeup, is there real cause to be genuinely worried that this category, which was red-hot just a few years ago when contouring and caterpillar brows were bonafide things, will never bounce back? I don’t believe that for a second. Still…

 Maybe It’s Time to Market to Women Who Actually Need Makeup

 I’m in my 50s, I live in Florida and I spend oodles of time hanging out at my members-only racquet club. In other words, if you ever needed someone to closely observe the slam-dunk perfect demographic for makeup in its native habitat, I’m your (wo)man.

While I’m not saying my tennis pals play their matches with a face full of foundation, blush, eyeshadow, etc. (though some definitely do), there’s no way they’re showing up at our many evening social events without spending some quality time with their cosmetics bag first. If anything, they go the extra mile to show the other members just how different – and great – they look when they’re off the court.

Younger women can bounce between being obsessed with makeup one year and forgoing it altogether the next. Older women who want to look pulled-together and on top of their games really can’t get away with that. If I’m aiming for polished, even when I’m just hanging around the house with my husband and daughter, I need to break out my stash. A little tinted moisturizer, concealer, blush, liner. I was never much of lipstick junkie before Covid, and I’m even less so now. But everything else? Bring it on.

With all the recent hand wringing about the death of makeup among millennials and Gen Z, I would just like to remind everyone that there are veritable fleets of women who still want and need this stuff, but they may have been born before 1980. So consciously targeting older women is one idea I have for giving the makeup category a shot in the arm. Here are a few more.

Action Steps

While the world continues to machete through the pandemic forest, there are both short- and long-term ways to boost a bottom line in the makeup category.

  1. Actively market mask-friendly makeup. We know now that masks aren’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future. (Even those who’ve received their “jabs” are urged to wear them in public.) Own this, and weave it into both new ultra-hypoallergenic, smudge-proof formulas as well as packaging and copy. While a brand’s entire range needn’t be redirected, at least allocate a few dedicated SKUs. It makes zero sense to pretend the pandemic is over when it isn’t.
  2. Consider new texture plays. While the literal “lipstick index” hasn’t held in the past year (the idea, posited by Leonard Lauder during the recession of the early Aughts, that women will always spring for the “affordable luxury” of a new lipstick during tough economic times), the desire to color one’s lips is alive and well, especially among Boomers and Gen X. Long-lasting lip stains make a face pop on Zoom, and they can also stand up to a short encounter with a mask. For millennials and Gen Z, Day Glo eye colors with glossy textures – a nod to the HBO hit “Euphoria” – are having a moment.
  3. Pump the treatment benefits. Given how “unessential” makeup has been deemed during the pandemic – and how hot skincare is – this is the moment to power up on treatment ingredients. MAC Lightful C + Coral Grass Tinted Crème and Ilia Super Serum Skin Tint SPF 40 are great examples of taking a lightweight, mask-friendly makeup staple – tinted moisturizer – and blasting it with skincare ingredients. Now that we’re streamlining our routines, every SKU should do double duty.
  4.  Think psychographics rather than demographics. It doesn’t feel especially modern or directional to me to be a cosmetics brand solely aimed at one particular age group. Personally, I’m equally interested in what my 15-year-old daughter and super hip 57-year-old influencer Janet “Grateful Gardenia” Gunn have in their makeup bags. Focus on a vibe and a lifestyle, and instead of trying to narrow the parameters of what’s considered cool, consider embracing a big-tent ethos instead. Haven’t you heard? It’s all about inclusivity.

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