The outlook is still rosy for prestige beauty, according to The NPD Group Inc.

NPD’s most recent Pulse report revealed that the month of September alone brought in $895 million in prestige beauty sales, with increases across each category. Total beauty gained 6 percent, with fragrance (which represents 24 percent of prestige-beauty sales) up 5 percent, skin care (36 percent of sales) up 6 percent and color cosmetics (40 percent of sales) up 7 percent.

“It’s a steady climb since 2011,” said Karen Grant, NPD’s vice president and global beauty industry analyst. “Each category is growing at about the same rate. It’s steady, upward growth.”

Although the numbers aren’t as high as the double-digit increases observed in 2011, Grant says it’s good news that they are still on the rise.

“Growth is slowing, but it’s still very positive,” said Grant, adding that the upcoming presidential election may temporarily affect sales figures, but all in all, she believed it would do little to slow prestige’s overall momentum. “We are looking at a positive fourth quarter.”

Grant noted that year-to-date (January through September) total prestige beauty sales reached $6.8 million, an increase of 9 percent from the same time last year. During that period, fragrance gained 7 percent, color grew by 8 percent and skin care increased by 11 percent.

“Skin care is still vibrant, and we are seeing strength coming out of antiaging products, as well as advanced complexion products like brightening and BB creams, as engines of growth,” said Grant, naming Estée Lauder and Clinique as the current market leaders. “Devices like Clarisonic are helping to reshape the approach to skin care and shift from line and wrinkle to tone, texture and health of the skin.”

Grant added that NPD has identified a trend toward “preparatory products” that prime and ready skin to absorb ingredients.

“What we are watching is the fact that products geared towards setting the baseline for your skin are getting more attention,” said Grant, who named masks, cleansers and core moisturizers as products gaining traction. “Now it’s more about, ‘Did you prep your skin for everything else?’ ”

Another skin-care trend Grant noted was the rise of “blended brands,” which fuse the clinical ingredients and applications with natural ones. Grand named Kiehl’s, La Mer and Origins as brands that have been successfully playing in the hybrid space.

“To spend a premium price on beauty — even in skin care, where prices are among the highest — may seem like a lot. But when you think of filling your gas tank for a month, it’s not that bad,” said Grant. “With other [luxury items], you’re talking hundreds or thousands, and beauty lasts more than a season, so it’s in a sweet spot.”

As far as makeup, Grant said hybrid lip products like YSL’s Rouge Pur Couture Vernis a Levres and Clinique Chubby Sticks have been doing well, as have eye-definition products like liners.

“Nail is still explosive, with a lot of room for growth,” said Grant, adding that cosmetics kits with two or more products packaged together were also on the rise.

As for fragrance, Grant said brands like Creed, Tom Ford, Prada and Jimmy Choo have been making waves, which she attributes to the aspirational element associated with high-end and designer names. “Though [sold at] a premium price, they are within reach of even a younger woman who wants to treat herself or give it as a gift,” she said.

Looking forward to the upcoming gift-giving season, Grant said, “Holiday will be positive, but maybe not as robust as last year, which had double-digit growth. We expect it will be positive but maybe in the single digits.”

Grant noted the numbers indicate that the prestige market is outpacing mass almost across the board.
Grant said that during the height of the recession consumers were not so much trading down as they were  trading less. She added that today, “when [shoppers] do buy, they buy what matters and what is really worth it to them. This has been to the benefit of prestige beauty.”