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Lip Is the Worst Hit Category in Beauty in 2020, Yet Launches Abound

Mask-proof, matte and products with skin care benefits are the focus.

When it comes to the lip category, there’s not much to smile about.

“The bottom line is that lip in 2020 was the worst hit category in the worst hit category,” said Larissa Jensen, vice president of beauty and industry adviser at the NPD Group.

Makeup suffered the most last year, down 34 percent overall year-over-year, according to the market research company. In comparison, skin care declined 11 percent and fragrance was down by 8 percent, while hair grew 7 percent. And within makeup — encompassing face, eye and lip products — lip was down by 41 percent.

And yet, early 2021 has seen an influx of lip launches. In March and April alone, there were about two-dozen new lines introduced by major beauty brands.

From luxury to mass, the likes of Chanel, Hermès, Too Faced, Westman Atelier and Lady Gaga’s Haus Laboratories have released news in lip this year. And when the “Lizzie McGuire” and ColourPop collaboration dropped, it included gloss — of course — while Jen Atkin’s first cosmetic line, a partnership with E.l.f., featured a duo-sided matte lipstick and liner combo. The majority of recent product launches are, in fact, largely matte formulations — and mask-proof — or infused with skin care benefits.

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“Matte was really big for a while, back when Kylie [Jenner] had her first launch of lip kits, and everybody was going for the matte look,” Jensen said. “Then, it kind of tapered off a little bit. But what was interesting is that as soon as mask mandates took hold last year, we started to see a rise in dollar share of matte lipsticks, and that’s really because these are the lipsticks that have the better staying power under your mask.”

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Dior released 11 colors — neutrals to reds — as part of its “Rouge Dior Forever Liquid” collection, a highly pigmented, matte and transfer-resistant line of liquid lipsticks, while NYX Professional Makeup introduced a $9 “Lip Lingerie XXL Matte Lipstick,” which comes in 24 shades made for long-wear. It, too, is transfer proof.

“I think for us it was really about reading our consumer reviews and seeing the performance of our lip category,” said Yasmin Dastmalchi, senior vice president of marketing at NYX Professional Makeup. The new launch was always in the pipeline, she stressed, and partly inspired by the “strong growth” the brand saw with previous releases in 2020, including the “Shine Loud High Shine Lip Color” — a vegan gloss that promises to be non-sticky yet have “long wear” and “no transfer wear” that came out toward the end of the year.

“The new technology not only delivered on what we always do which is amazing color payoff and shine, but it’s the mask-proof piece that was what consumers didn’t know they needed or wanted,” Dastmalchi said.

Meanwhile, most other brands used technology to focus on skin care.

Makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury, for one, launched six shades of her $34 “Tinted Love Lip and Cheek Tint,” made with vitamin E and hyaluronic acid, and Avon showcased 10 shades of its $22 “Cashmere Essence Lipcream,” which has a bio-retinol core. The brand says it’s the first of its kind to hit the U.S. market.

“We were noticing that products that had more of a skin care benefit storyline definitely were outshining the rest,” said Avon’s color marketing director, Eva Lau.

The company, which works with brand representatives nationwide, examined what resonated most with customers in various markets.

“Cashmere Essence Lipcream” — a vegan product, made with meadowfoam seed oil, vitamin E and plant-based ingredients targeting antiaging — “outperformed”  sales expectations by 41 percent, said Lau. The forecasting department compared it to similar launches while taking into account market conditions, and the brand plans to release more in lip this year, including a vitamin C lip mask and lip scrub, both out on May 26.

“A lot of competitors have been holding back on their innovations during the whole COVID-19 period,” Lau added. “We actually took a very different approach. We embraced the environment and said to ourselves, ‘Everyone is probably going to be pulling back on their launches and their innovations, and in order to really stand apart, we should be doing something different.’”

It’s safe to assume that companies pushed back their launches amid the pandemic, noted Jensen. And research shows that beauty launches are up in 2021 compared to 2020.

“Right now, if you start to look at weekly sales, you’re seeing crazy triple-digit gains across every single category,” said Jensen.

But it’s misleading, she added: “We’re looking at a very unusual year…You’re up against a time in 2020 where we’re starting to have some lockdowns, and it was also a very challenging time with launches. Brands weren’t really coming out with launches, so, of course, you’re going to see growth.”

When comparing 2021 to 2019, a more realistic measurement, overall launches are down, she added, including in lip. There are less lipstick releases, especially, however, the category is seeing an uptick in products with “treatments” — cosmetics and skin care hybrids.

Luxury clean makeup brand Roén released its “Kiss My Liquid Lip Balm Shimmer,” a gloss with the benefits of a balm, about a year ago in April 2020.

“Ironically, it was in the pipeline,” said Tiffany Thurston Scott, cofounder of Roén — which was launched in 2019. “It seems like, obviously, a little bit of a nervous time to launch something, but we did have it in the pipeline. We had formulated it well before launch. And it did better than expected. I really attribute it to the formula.”

The brand just introduced three new shades to the line, at $26 each.

“We were getting a tremendous amount of feedback from people during the pandemic,” Scott continued. “Everybody was saying, ‘Look, we’re dying for more colors.’”

Though it’s been a challenging time for the lip category due to COVID-19 for obvious reasons (“You’re covering your mouth and also makeup is very highly tied to usage occasions like going out, which is something that we didn’t do last year,” said Jensen), events have turned around recently, which will impact the market.

“I think we’re just starting to get ramped up,” she said. “I think this is going to be a great year for the industry, because in the U.S. especially, you’re starting to see a turnaround in terms of the consumer sentiment and case counts going down.”