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Beauty’s Most Powerful Brands in 2020

Beauty Inc ranks the most powerful and relevant beauty brands of 2020.

The Established Players

CeraVe: L’Oréal’s Active Cosmetics business is one of its fastest growing, and within the portfolio, CeraVe stands out as a key performer. Acquired in 2017 as part of a $1.3 billion deal with Valeant Pharmaceuticals (AcneFree and Ambi were also part of the package), CeraVe is having a strong year: At a time when all eyes are on hand health, it leads the mass market in the hand and body lotion segment, posting a 34 percent increase year-to-date, according to data from IRI. Sales are equally as strong in the facial categories, where CeraVe facial cleansers have jumped 57 percent (edging out cult favorite Cetaphil) and moisturizers have grown 49 percent, moving ahead of perennial leader Neutrogena to nab the top spot in the category.

Dove: Dove has always led the way when it comes to being purpose-driven, and during the first half of 2020, its leadership position shone through. Already an ardent supporter of racial justice — last year’s Crown Campaign helped effect legislation in California, New York and New Jersey barring race-based hair discrimination (Virginia, Colorado and Washington have since joined on) — the brand extended its community outreach and involvement in the wake of the coronavirus crisis and the Black Lives Matter moment even more. The impact of that was seen in Unilever’s first-half results: Despite challenging market conditions, Dove remained resilient, with mid-single-digit growth.

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E.l.f.: Talk about going from meh to wow. Just a few years ago, E.l.f. was struggling and sales were declining. But a team that recognized the power of TikTok early on created an OMG moment, creating a campaign on the platform that garnered more than 4.4 billion views, which translated into a double-digit sales increase and catapulted the brand to cult status for Gen Z. The brand, now a top-five mass player, according to Nielsen, ended its fiscal year on a high note, posting a 6 percent increase in sales and announcing a partnership with superstar Alicia Keys for a new beauty brand.

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Estée Lauder: The grand dame of beauty is as relevant as ever, particularly as consumers flock to known and trusted brands during the coronavirus crisis. Driven by hero products like Advanced Night Repair and a quick pivot to digital strategies, Lauder has posted double-digit gains in a global market wracked with uncertainty. The brand was also actively involved in community efforts, both as part of parent company Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. efforts and on its own accord, donating 2 million surgical masks to frontline workers in New York City.

Kiehl’s: Since its inception as a pharmacy back in 1851 in New York City, Kiehl’s has always been known for its service. Fast forward 100-plus years, and that philosophy helped it become one of the most nimble brands to navigate the early days of the pandemic. As stores closed, the brand quickly pivoted to online consultations, resulting in conversion rates about 10 points higher than the normal chat. Also one of the first mainstream brands to reformulate its hero products to be clean, Kiehl’s continued its issue advocacy and adapted to the times — as with its virtual dance party to celebrate Pride Month.

Lancôme: With top-five positioning in the cornerstone categories of prestige beauty — makeup, skin care and fragrance — the powerhouse prestige brand epitomizes French savoir-faire globally. After opening a flagship on Paris’ Avenue des Champs-Élysées late last year harnessing technology to create a truly customized experience for consumers, the brand pivoted quickly during the pandemic, creating virtual experience second to none. Along with sister brand L’Oréal Paris, Lancôme took the top two positions in Tmall’s June 18 shopping day promotion, while its skin-care division helped boost sales in the challenged North American market.

L’Oréal Paris: With size comes responsibility, something L’Oréal Paris’ new president, Delphine Viguier, has demonstrated she understands. As the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum, L’Oréal announced its support early, but was called out by transgender model Munroe Bergdorf, who was fired as a brand spokesperson after speaking publicly about racism after a white supremacy demonstration in 2017. Viguer reached out to Bergdorf, admitting regret at how the situation was handled and naming her to a role on the DEI Board that L’Oréal established in the U.K. That call to action is echoed in everything from L’Oréal’s product lineup, where skin-care sales have soared, to its message of personal empowerment.

MAC: MAC’s credo has always been all ages, all races, all welcome, and that message is more resonant now than ever. The OG indie brand, now owned by the Estée Lauder Cos., has one of the most diverse teams of any brand in the company, and also one of the biggest hearts. Last year it hit more than $500 million in donations to AIDS-related causes as part of its Viva Glam campaign, and this year it was an early responder to the COVID-19 crisis as well. At a time when the makeup market overall is challenged, MAC — the top makeup brand in the U.S., according to The NPD Group — is reinventing its go-to-market methods under global creative director Drew Elliott and global chief marketing officer Ukonwa Ojo, launching everything from small-batch drops to collabs with the likes of Teyana Taylor.

Nest Fragrances: During quarantine, the home category was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise challenged fragrance market, and leading the way with a strong performance was Nest Fragrances, according to data from NPD. The brand has spent the last few years diversifying into personal care as well as home products, all the while driving its core candle category. Lit indeed.

OGX: Despite tough competition, OGX has held on to the top spot in mass market shampoo and conditioner sales for the 12 months ending June 14, according to data from IRI. The brand, which Johnson & Johnson acquired in 2016 for a reported $3.3 billion, has continued to operate with the agility of an indie, quickly adapting to prevailing ingredient and social media trends (see Mermaid Moisture, developed in conjunction with influencer Kandee Johnson) while driving its hero stockkeeping units simultaneously.

Olay: From ingredients like retinol to issues such as sustainability, Olay has positioned itself at the forefront of premium mass skin care. Last year, it was the first major player to introduce refillable pods for its Regenerist Whips franchise, and mobilized quickly to help frontline workers during COVID-19, creating and donating 1,000 special skin-care kits and formulating a Hand Healing Serum that proved so effective it will be commercialized later this year.

Sally Hansen: Coty-owned Sally Hansen may be one of the heritage brands of the nail industry, but it has a habit of disrupting the category and bringing meaningful innovation to the mass market. Nail has been a bright spot in mass market color cosmetics — up almost 25 percent year-to-date for the period ending June 14, according to data from IRI. Driving that growth — the DIY trend, as well as launches like Good.Kind.Pure, Sally Hansen’s plant-based, vegan, 16-free nail polish line that launched earlier this year.

Shea Moisture: Shea Moisture founder Richelieu Dennis pioneered the concept of community commerce, and the brand, now owned by Unilever, continues to push hard on purpose. Prior to the acceleration of the Black Lives Matter movement this year, the brand launched a $1 million fund to support entrepreneurs of color, and after, it committed another $100,000 to activists working toward social change. Parent-company Sundial Brands is one of the few beauty giants with a Black female ceo — Cara Sabin. And the products continue to fly off the shelves: According to data from IRI, Shea Moisture’s hair conditioner business has increased 20 percent year-to-date, more than double the category growth and almost triple that of category leader OGX.

Tom Ford Beauty: Tom Ford is looking to become the first big designer mega beauty brand of the 21st century and a pandemic isn’t going to stop him. The brand has risen 40 ranks in the past five years, and is today the 25th largest beauty brand globally. Now a full-fledged beauty house with fragrance, makeup and skin care, Ford is looking to lead the way in redefining a luxury beauty experience for the modern age.

Vital Proteins: Supplements are one of the fastest-growing categories in the $4.2 trillion wellness category, and Vital Proteins, a pioneer in collagen-based ingestibles, has led the way in connecting inner health and outer beauty. Its dominance hasn’t gone unnoticed by the investor community, either. In a time when wellness companies are top of mind for the M&A set, Vital Proteins was one of the first to be snapped up, with Nestlé Health Science agreeing to buy a majority stake in the firm.

The Established Players
The Established Players hitandrun/WWD

The Independent Spirits

Amika: From its inception, Brooklyn-based Amika has incorporated today’s key values into its brand ethos — clean, cruelty-free formulas, a focus on sustainable packaging, and products that don’t segregate by race, gender or hair type — all wrapped up in bright, eye-catching designs. The brand has also proven itself adept at straddling the professional and retail sectors — distribution includes salons and Sephora — and is not only in NPD’s top 10 list of best-selling prestige hair-care brands, but also one of the top three fastest growing.

Beautycounter: The coronavirus has accelerated the concern among consumers about what goes in and on their bodies, leading to a resurgence of clean beauty. Category pioneer Beautycounter is well positioned to capitalize on the interest, with a diversified retail base and a leadership position when it comes to advocating for a more regulated cosmetics industry landscape. Founder Gregg Renfrew is one of the most visible people on Capitol Hill advocating for cosmetics reform. Still, the brand has been called out on social media for racist practices in its corporate culture, with leadership admitting its missteps and a commitment to increase diversity in key positions.

Briogeo: Founder Nancy Twine pioneered the skinfication of hair and was an early mover in superfoods when she created Briogeo in 2013. The VMG-backed brand, a darling at Sephora, has been steadily expanding into other areas of wellness, too — such as ingestibles. Briogeo continues to capitalize on its strength in hair, too, launching an enviable number of products that go on to be heroes both online and off.

Charlotte Tilbury: Is there any brand other than Charlotte Tilbury that could score a billion-dollar deal in the midst of a global pandemic? The line — as electric as its namesake founder — signed a deal with Puig in June, in a deal pegged at 1.2 billion pounds. No wonder the price was so high. The makeup and skin-care brand was the top market share gainer in the prestige makeup market in the U.S. for year to date 2020, according to NPD, and also a favorite among influencers, racking up almost $100 in EMV according to Tribe Dynamics.

Deciem/The Ordinary: Deciem’s The Ordinary is the top market share gainer in the prestige skin-care market, year to date, according to NPD. Considering the category, the competition — and the circumstances — that is quite a feat. Credit an agile culture, one that was able to pivot quickly when stores closed due to the coronavirus, with Deciem becoming one of the first brands to transition to virtual consultations online and drive an e-commerce explosion.

Diptyque: Candles have burned bright during the coronavirus crisis, and Paris-based Diptyque continues to soar as a leader in the home fragrance category. The brand is growing at more than 25 percent annually, driven by international expansion as well as new categories, like skin care. Its hero products are also benefiting — Baies is a cross-generational bestseller that retailers expect to continue its strength into the upcoming holiday selling season.

Drunk Elephant: A pioneer in the clean beauty movement and now part of the Shiseido empire, Drunk Elephant has gone from category challenger to the platonic ideal of a modern brand. Sales passed the $100 million mark last year, and the momentum continues, from entries into hot new categories (hair) to geographies (China). Look for that to escalate as Shiseido taps into its global expertise to drive the brand to even greater heights.

Fenty Beauty: Over the last few years, superstar Rihanna has proved she’s one of the most successful musicians turned entrepreneurs. Her first venture, Fenty Beauty, launched in 2017, set a new standard for diversity and inclusivity with its 40-shade range of foundations — a direction that both new and established brands have followed. Next came lingerie, then fashion and now, skin-care. Now more than ever, Fenty is a force to be reckoned with.

Glossier: Glossier’s response to the coronavirus crisis and BLM embodied what makes it so resonant with Millennials. Throughout COVID-19, it was transparent in its communications, whether announcing its payment plan for employees or furlough structure; it responded equally as quickly to the BLM movement, donating $1 million to organizations fighting racial injustice and in grants to Black-owned businesses. And in terms of products — Glossier has been at the forefront of skin care as makeup. The juggernaut shows no signs of slowing.

Huda Beauty: Huda and Mona Kattan are building a brand for the ages. Ranked the world’s most in-demand brand for the first quarter of 2020 by Cosmetify, Huda has almost twice as many social media followers than any other brand and is the most mentioned brand on Instagram, with 24 million hashtags for the first quarter alone. No wonder its fans are legions: Huda’s employee base is among the most reflective of the overall population of any brand, with 13 percent Black employees, above the industry average and in line with the adult American population.

The Mane Choice: Former nurse Courtney Adeleye founded her brand, The Mane Choice, with $500 and a vision that is as relevant today as it was then. All-natural products that enable women to embrace their textured hair, rather than grapple with myriad chemical processes to try to tame it. Since launching, Adeleye has created product lines for every major mass retailer, from Target to Sally Beauty, selling in more than 60,000 doors. As Adeleye has grown, she has also given back, setting up the Generational Advantage Fund to help other female entrepreneurs build successful companies. She’s also focused on the next generation with the Senior Success Mentorship, a program designed to mentor Black women ages 16 to 19.

Milk Makeup: A favorite of Gen Z and Millennials alike, the New York-based brand is riding high thanks to its Kush franchise of hemp-based products, its Instagram-friendly ethos and and innovative products (hello sticks) that are perfectly in step with what its user base is looking for. Milk continues to expand its community of influencers, up 16 percent year-over-year, according to data from Tribe Dynamics, and it also had one of the five highest EMV-driving hashtags for the first half of the year with #StudioFam.

Moon Juice: Brand founder Amanda Chantal Bacon is a marketing genius (her Sex Dust became an instant classic), who has cemented her place at the forefront of the wellness industry by understanding what Millennials are truly looking for in a new-age beauty brand. She’s consistently on the cutting edge of what’s next. No wonder customers and competitors would gladly follow her to the moon — and back.

Olaplex: The hottest product in the hottest category. Prestige hair is booming, and much of the growth is being driven by Olaplex, the top market share gainer for the first half of the year in hair care, according to data from NPD. The business, which was acquired by private equity firm Advent International in a deal valued at $1 billion, also quickly pivoted to provide relief for salon owners, donating $150,000 to professionals in need and setting up an affiliate program that generated close to $400,000 in commissions.

Tatcha: Founded by Vicky Tsia a decade ago, Tatcha has cracked the top 10 in beauty’s most competitive category, ranking ninth in prestige skin care for the first half of the year, according to data from NPD. From product formulations to promotions — hello Animal Crossing — founder Vicky Tsai has her finger on the pulse of what drives women to buy. No wonder Unilever bought the brand for an estimated $500 million.

The Independent Spirits
The Independent Spirits hitandrun/WWD


The Emerging Powerhouses

Augustinus Bader: With a well-connected cofounder on the one hand, and a brilliant scientist who applied his groundbreaking stem cell technology on the other, it’s little wonder that Augustinus Bader has reached cult status in record time. The brand is building on its initial success, with a well-timed cadence of launches, from a collab with Victoria Beckham Beauty to a body cream to hand sanitizer, 60,000 bottles of which were donated to frontline workers. The strategy is working: Since launch, Bader has been growing at about 200 percent, a rate which has dropped slightly — about 20 percent — but still outpacing the industry overall.

DP Hue: Even before the coronavirus crisis, DP Hue was on fire, with an ever-growing roster of hero products and an innovative DTC model that aided salon owners. During the pandemic, the brand moved quickly to answer the call for effective at-home hair color options, serving both consumers and its community by upping the commission on sales it offered to stylists.

Dr Barbara Sturm: Barbara Sturm has built one of the fastest-growing brands in skin care by being consistently ahead of the curve, in everything from science to social media. In an age of hero products, her brand is full of them. At a time when brands are being criticized for not addressing the needs of diverse consumers, Sturm was one of the first to create products targeting pigmented skin.

Golde: Started in Brooklyn in 2017 by Trinity Mouzon Wofford and her business partner and fiancé Issey Kobori, the all-natural superfood-slash- skin-care brand. From the beginning, Wofford’s vision was to make wellness more accessible, and the brand is sold today in about 120 stores, including Sephora, Urban Outfitters and Goop. Its growth in the first half of the year has been significant, too. In the month of June alone, Golde exceeded its entire revenue for 2019, and the brand went from 20,000 Instagram followers to more than 80,000 in just a few weeks.

Heretic: Clean fragrance pioneer (and Gwyneth Paltrow pal) Douglas Little is a little naughty and a lot creative. (Who else would create a candle called “This Smells Like My Vagina”?) But he’s also translated buzz into business, and looks set to expand his clean beauty brand into new areas, including color, sooner rather later.

Juvia’s Place: Ulta execs rave about Juvia’s place and why not — it ticks all of the boxes: highly pigmented shades, clean formulations and a passionate founder who has tapped into the vibrancy of Africa to create a clear positioning for her brand. Sales are growing and so is its social media presence. Tribe Dynamics reports the brand outperformed the top 10 color brands for the first half of 2020, with its Shade Stick foundations proving especially popular with influencers.

Kosas: Despite a very tough makeup market, Kosas is surging. The clean makeup brand founded by Sheena Yaitanes is as popular with celebs such as Paltrow and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and its Tinted Face Oil was one of the most popular products on social media, according to Tribe Dynamics. The brand, a pioneer of the makeup-as-skin-care movement, has just launched its first actual skin care product: Chemistry Deodorant, an AHA-based serum format. Consider it a cult in the making.

Mented: Harvard business school graduates KJ Miller and Amanda Johnson bonded over their inability to find the perfect nude lipstick. They decided to create it themselves. Turns out they weren’t alone in their quest. Mented (short for pigmented), the line they launched in 2017, has been a hit with consumers, too, branching out from lipstick into a full-fledged color cosmetics line sold online, at Macy’s and on QVC and HSN. Sales are said to be soaring.

Florence by Mills: Millie Bobby Brown launched her beauty brand last year at the tender age of 15 with the conviction that she knew what her fellow Gen Zers are looking for when it comes to self care. From Snapchat filters to Swimming Under the Eyes Gel Pads, she nailed it, parlaying her popularity into a thriving beauty brand that’s a bona fide hit with its target demo.

My Black Is Beautiful: Procter & Gamble brought its My Black Is Beautiful to life with a product line introduced last June. Even before the Black Lives Matter movement gained critical mass following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, P&G was committed to diversifying the brands in its portfolio. This launch enables it to continue its work with purpose-driven brands, while also operating with the agility of an indie as it looks to incubate and bring to market more brands.

Peace Out: From pimple patches to retail superstar, this young indie brand has quadrupled retail sales in three short years, and will surpass the $20 million mark this year. A key player in a hot category — acne — the brand has also just launched its first non-patch product.

Scotch Porter: Founder Calvin Quallis launched his brand after he noticed a dearth of products for Black men’s beards. He’s since expanded into a full-fledged grooming line, all the while growing and maintaining market share in the competitive facial market and parlaying the coronavirus-beard trend into solid growth.

Shani Darden: Where Darden goes, others follow. The aesthetician for many of Hollywood’s most famous faces, she’s an equally good formulator, adeptly building on the popularity of her cult favorite Retinol Reform to drive one of the fastest growing skin-care brands in the market.

Sol de Janeiro: Bottom’s up! The body-care powerhouse that taps into the spirit (and ingredients) of Brazil has quickly branched out from its signature Bum Bum Cream into hair care, fragrance, sun and shower. In this age of self-care, who couldn’t use a smile in their daily routine?

Summer Fridays: Slow and steady wins the race. Rather than a frenetic launch calendar to capitalize on their avid follower base, influencers Marianna Hewitt and Lauren Gores Ireland have methodically built their beauty-based lifestyle brand one launch at a time. Retail sales are said to be in the $20 million range — not bad for a brand with six sku’s — a figure sure to increase with recently named ceo, John Heffner (formerly known as Drybar) on board.

The Emerging Powerhouses
The Emerging Powerhouses hitandrun/WWD