Call it an extreme makeover for your medicine cabinet. Stylish iterations of traditionally unattractive personal-care products are increasingly in demand, particularly among image-conscious Millennials.
Products like toothpaste, razors, toothbrushes and personal lubricant were once seen as functional necessities — bought when a consumer ran out, and usually purchased on sale with little thought given to aesthetics or formulation.
Fueled by wellness culture, consumer demand for transparency, the rise of individualism and the Millennial desire to craft the ideal identity on Instagram, personal-care items are now considered lifestyle products, to be chosen with the same thoughtfulness one might devote to a new pair of shoes or table lamp.
“When I started my career 28 years ago, personal care was more function than form,” said Esi Eggleston Bracey, executive vice president and chief operating officer, beauty personal care for Unilever in North America. “The appetite of people has changed — no one wants to use the same thing. They expect a higher level of experience.”
Not long ago, Marvis toothpastes and Aesop hand washes were among some of the only niche options for consumers looking to curate a stylish bathroom counter. Now there are a multitude of options across a variety of price points and distribution channels. Within the past year, a new wave of personal care brands has cropped up touting sophisticated packaging and better-for-you formulations.
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In the direct-to-consumer space, there is sustainable deodorant brand Corpus and upscale body-care brand Nécessaire — both launched in November and are branching out to wider retail distribution at retailers such as Goop, Violet Grey, Barneys New York and Nordstrom. Each brand touts luxurious fragrances, clean formulations and price points that fall well above the drugstore average — Corpus deodorants are $22, and Nécessaire’s body wash and lotions are $25. Another example is Israeli men’s grooming brand Maapilim, which sells high-end, natural, men’s grooming products sourced from the Mediterranean coasts. In November, Maapilim raised $4 million of funding in a Series A round. The brand’s rose-gold safety razor, $52, is marketed as unisex and sold at Goop and Neiman Marcus. Even Lenny Kravitz is in on the action — the rock star is also a cofounder of the upscale vegan oral-care line, Twice, which launched in October. Twice Early Bird and Twilight premium toothpastes (one is for morning and the other for night) retail for $18.99 each on smiletwice.com.
It’s not just the high end of the market that is seeing a proliferation in chic razors and lotions. Consumer giants such as Unilever and Procter & Gamble have taken note of shifting consumer expectations and have expanded and revamped their own personal-care assortments to meet the growing demand for more elevated everyday items. This month, P&G introduced Joy, a Walmart exclusive shaving brand by Gilette. Joy’s Millennial pink razors and cheeky packaging resemble the direct-to-consumer brands that have crept into the women’s shave market in the last year, Billie and Flamingo, offering cute and affordable hair-removal products. The trend has even extended to laundry and home-cleaning products. In January, Unilever revealed its acquisition of eco-conscious luxury laundry brand The Laundress. The company refers to its detergents as “shampoos.”
Personal care is “one of those areas that is ripe for disruption,” said Shannon Curtin, founder of The Beauty Boutique Group and a former mass retail executive. “It hasn’t been tapped into before — the big brands have held the [market share] for so long. We’re at the tipping point of more indie personal-care brands flooding the market.”
The elevation of the personal-care category is indicative of a shift in consumer thinking, driven by wellness culture and social media. Young consumers in particular — Instagram-ready at all times and ingredient-conscious — are primed to spend more time thinking about (and spend more money on) items that were once considered a little boring and basic.
“There’s a whole value play happening in the [personal-care] category,” said Cecilia Gates, founder and creative director of Gates Creative. “Consumers have an appetite for things they think are better for them and look better. If it’s something they use every day, why not invest more?”
This is the sentiment that drove Nick Axelrod and Randi Christiansen to create Nécessaire, which sells personal lubricant alongside its body washes and lotions. The brand’s body care is enriched with facial skin-care ingredients like vitamins and peptides, and scented with luxurious fragrances such as sandalwood and eucalyptus. There are also fragrance-free iterations for those concerned with irritated skin.
Axelrod, an editorial veteran (including at WWD), and Christiansen, a former marketing and strategy executive at The Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., saw an opportunity to create a personal-care brand that would resonate with their peers, based on their own sensibilities.
“We’re profoundly interested in what we put in our bodies and we’re overinvesting in going to Whole Foods and Erewhon — we read ingredient labels, we see people doing juice cleanses and extreme workouts,” said Christiansen.
Added Axelrod, “There was a disconnect when it came to all the personal-care items we could buy — we didn’t have the option [to be discerning.] We’re demanding with our workouts and food we buy — we wanted a brand where all our products could live up to a demanding consumer.”
Four months after launch, the brand is said to be doing well. Though Nécessaire’s price points are higher than the standard drugstore body wash, there has been little price resistance around them, the founders said (though WWD observed one Instagram commenter asking if the brand would ever do a sale). “The consumer is seeing the choice as being worth it,” said Christiansen. “Who thought people would pay $35 for SoulCycle or $7 for a matcha? It’s an investment — ‘I believe that this is important for me and an investment [in] me.’”
Corpus founder J.P. Mastey agreed that it is older Millennials — particularly women in their late twenties to mid-thirties — who are driving his upscale natural deodorant business.
“Older Millennials are searching for identity — that generation doesn’t seem to identify with anything their parents did,” said Mastey, who once owned the men’s grooming brand Baxter of California before selling it to L’Oréal in 2012. “Now in the age of Instagram, you can share a picture and tell anyone, ‘This is what I’m all about. I’m part of Camp Glossier or I want the best the market can offer, so I only use Le Labo and Byredo.’ Brands allow people to choose who they are — the products you choose can say a lot about who you are and what you want to be.”
Hello is a modernized oral-care brand that sells on-trend toothpastes and toothbrushes — its new superpaste toothpastes, $6.99, are formulated with ingredients such as hemp seed oil and natural dragon fruit. It also sells a popular line of activated charcoal products, including mouthwash and floss. The brand is sold in Walmart and Target, and is set to more than double distribution this year — this month it is entering all Whole Foods doors, and last month rolled out to 15,800 Dollar General stores. “The category has woken up,” said founder and ceo Craig Dubitsky, who was an early investor in Method. “Six years ago, people weren’t paying attention to what they brushed their teeth with.”
In January, Unilever unveiled a profusion of products and brands under its newly named beauty personal-care category, once known as just “personal care.”
Among them are new elevated deodorant formats — Dove Dry Serum Antiperspirant, an incubated brand called Dr. Sweat that makes clinical-strength, prescription-strength wipes sold on Amazon, and Dove 0 Percent, its first aluminum-free deodorant. Love Beauty and Planet, Unilever’s sustainable beauty brand, branched into home products with its Love Home and Planet Line, which includes argan oil and coconut water-infused cleaning sprays, laundry detergents and a dry shampoo for clothing. “Experiential bath and shower” is a big thing across the company’s portfolio — for those wanting something more sophisticated than Dove soap, there’s now Dove Body Wash Mousse With Rose Oil, $5.99. The product can also be used as a shave cream.
“You [used to] think of personal care as from the neck down and beauty from the neck up — we’re seeing this blurring. There’s beauty through all the experiences,” said Bracey.
The company has moved away from thinking about creating only masterbrands with hero products, like Dove and its signature bar of soap (even that has been remarketed as the Beauty Bar), she said. In the past year, Unilever has incubated and launched into the market several beauty and personal-care brands — ApotheCare Essentials, Love Beauty and Planet, Skinsei, Dr. Sweat and The Good Stuff, to name a few. The point is to deliver on trends quickly, test new distribution channels, bring speed to the overall organization and ideally find some brands that stick around for the long haul. The result is an influx of new and differentiated product into the marketplace at present for consumers to choose from.
While personal care’s transformation may be driven by a Millennial mind-set, Bracey, a mother of two Gen Z children herself, sees the same thinking among the youngest consumer set, who consider skin and body care to be synonymous with self care.
“With younger consumers, they’ll swap deodorant. Can you imagine?” said Bracey. “They’re sharing an experience of trying a product and it’s how they interact with each other. It’s the way they connect socially and that same dynamic as facial skin care — it’s discovery and a part of the currency of new treats to take care of yourself with.”