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How the Coronavirus Changed the Beauty Industry

Shoppers' focus on self-care and corporate social responsibility are here to stay, experts said.

The coronavirus pandemic has altered the beauty and shopping habits of many consumers, who have spent the last year cutting their own hair, filing their own nails and performing other odd grooming tasks at home.

Some initiatives that have gained traction over the past year, including an increased focus on self-care and corporate social responsibility, are here to stay, experts said. But others — especially the DIY haircuts — are not.

“No one really wants to run around with a raggedy head of hair,” said Neil Saunders, managing director at GlobalData Retail.

As more and more people become vaccinated, many are expected to seek out services, including facials, hair coloring, manicures, pedicures and brow offerings. Self-care is expected to evolve as people find themselves with more social engagements and less time for pampering. And hygiene, which has been top of mind during the pandemic, will play a major factor going forward in both the personal care and sampling arenas, experts agreed.

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There have also been major developments in the beauty sphere that are expected to forever change the industry, including the increasing democratization of beauty, acceleration of e-commerce and purpose as a cornerstone of brand building.

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This past year saw two major retail partnerships: Ulta Beauty and Target, and Sephora and Kohl’s. Those deals each bring higher-end items into lower-priced ecosystems, and are seen as moves toward democratization.

And while those partnerships have major IRL shopping in mind, consumers will continue to shop online, experts say. E-commerce accelerated during the pandemic, and is expected to continue to play a major role in sales going forward.

Here are the beauty and shopping trends that experts predict will outlast the pandemic.


Beauty marketers had been peddling skin care as self-care for years, but that concept hit the mainstream during the COVID-19 pandemic as consumers increasingly added beauty rituals into their wellness routines. Going forward, the concept is expected to endure, but evolve to be less materialistic.

“There’s a movement toward natural and clean beauty. People are focusing on things you can see outside the mask, so it’s getting back to having clean and healthy hair, it’s getting back to taking care of your skin,” said Mousumi Behari, an e-commerce expert at Avionos.

In terms of wellness, an evolution is also underway, said futurist Lucie Greene.

“The idea of spending a fortune on all these luxury boutique on-demand classes and supplements and refillable bottles and weird ingestible products…it’s a very Millennial, yuppie idea, a very luxury idea, of wellness,” Greene said.

And it’s on its way out, along with performative wellness, in favor of a more holistic approach.

“[There is] a desire for more simplified wellness, where you can walk, where you’re in nature, and where you’re doing it as much for your mental health as anything,” Greene said. “It’s become more elemental — good food, fresh air, time with family, community. There’s been a great paring back.”

“Outdoors oriented personal care will continue to grow,” she added, including SPFs and barrier creams.


Early in the pandemic, retailers pulled testers from stores and consumers stocked up on soap, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies and bleach. Experts predict the need for hygiene — both in terms of in-store trial and in personal care products — will linger long after the pandemic. Unilever’s Dove, for example, has ramped up marketing for Anti-Bacterial Body Wash.

“There’s been a trend of hygiene and self-care that has expanded,” said Cecilia Gates, chief executive officer of Gates Creative. “During the pandemic we launched an oral beauty brand for Colgate for Gen Z.”

Gates predicted a “hangover effect” from COVID-19 when it comes to consumers and testers. “Do I want to be testing and trying things that I know a million other people have touched?” she said. “How can we get more innovative with sample programs?”

Hygiene will extend into payments, as well, noted Greene. “You’re going to see a lot more voice activation, contactless, BioID payments,” she said.

Corporate Social Responsibility

The heightened focus on diversity and inclusion that followed the killing of George Floyd in May is here to stay, experts said. Beauty brands are tasked with examining equity and inclusion in their organizations as consumers continue to spend with companies that align with their values.

“A lot of what we saw in the news over the last year was corporate America being a lot more performative. Now it’s time for them to actually double down and create opportunity,” Behari said. “We’re seeing some retailers do that,” she said, ticking off Target and Sephora.


While consumers spent the early days of the pandemic buying packaged goods, habits shifted midway through with an eye toward sustainability. Experts said coming out of the pandemic, consumers will be increasingly focused on sustainable shopping, paying attention to product packaging, but also reconsidering buying volumes.

“In the beginning of the pandemic, sustainability was a huge thing because things were scarce. It made people think, ‘should I be using all this plastic? Should I be using all this water?'” Gates said. “People had to get really survivalist in the beginning, and that type of thing carries over — you reflect on how much we did waste, or how much we overconsumed.”

Gates is seeing beauty brands look into postconsumer recycled plastics or recycling ocean plastics, or refillable options. “I don’t think people want to go back to being wasteful,” she said.

“That’s a permanent shift,” agreed Saunders. “We’ll see a lot more effort around promoting sustainability and sustainable packaging.”

Consumers want to make sure products they use “don’t destroy the environment,” or have workers in “terrible factory conditions,” Behari said.


Store shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic caused many shoppers to head online for beauty purchases, driving a massive uptick in e-commerce sales. That prompted companies to provide better online shopping assistance and try-on tools as a means to help customers find the right products.

Those tools helped to propel growth for brands like home hair-color business Madison Reed. “There has been a huge amount of innovation in how to deliver these services at home with online tutorials,” Greene said.

Livestreaming is also here to say, Saunders said. “Just from the supply point of view, there will be a lot more retailers out there experimenting with livestreaming,” he noted, ticking off Walmart and Nordstrom.


Beauty retailers are rethinking testers with hygiene in mind. And even though more shoppers are expected to stay online, IRL beauty shopping is expected to rebound somewhat.

“Everyone’s going to want that experience again because we haven’t had it,” Gates said.

“It’s going to be more showrooming,” said Greene. “There’s still value in going to stores from the point of view of seeing fabrications, that’s still a barrier that online really can’t replicate.”

Experiences will remain important, Greene said, but transactions may migrate online. “The more interesting new brands you can’t even go into a physical shop and buy,” she said.

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