Models once walked the runway in uniform beauty looks,
but in recent seasons, backstage makeup artists and hairstylists have stepped away from the tools, products and highfalutin creative inspiration — letting each individual stay true to her own features and style.

Skin care is definitely back.

If the fact that the category has enough buzz to generate a viral anti-skin-care backlash — entitled “The Skincare Con” and posted on online publication The Outline on Tuesday — didn’t confirm it, the NPD Group sure has. Prestige skin care reached $5.6 billion in sales in the U.S. for 2017, up 9 percent year-over-year.

According to NPD Group executive director and beauty industry analyst Larissa Jensen, skin care was a driving force behind the total prestige beauty category’s 6 percent gain in 2017, to $17.7 billion.

“Skin care is not only outpacing makeup, it’s also bringing in more volume,” Jensen said.

For skin care, a big part of the growth is coming from the turnaround of moisturizers, according to Jensen. “Big categories had been soft or declining, so when you look at what’s been happening in the past year, there’s been a turnaround in moisturizer,” she said, which makes up roughly 20 percent of all prestige skin-care sales. Launches and a language shift — “it’s less ‘fix your wrinkles’ and more ‘take care of yourself'” — have propelled the category forward, Jensen said.

Natural products remain a “big contributor to the growth,” Jensen said, as do brands with limited distribution strategies. Eye treatment products and age specialist products also grew, she noted.

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Skin care also benefits from being the beauty category most closely tied in with the wellness macro trend, she said.

While the turnaround in moisturizer prompted a lot of the category’s growth, so did smaller segments, like masks, up 32 percent, exfoliators, up 12 percent and cleansers, up 6 percent.

That concept — small categories driving overall sales — is one that translates widely across beauty, Jensen noted. “As an example, in skin care you’ve got masks, exfoliators and essences,” she said. “In makeup, you have…’other face’ [products] — setting spray, mists, things like that.”

While skin-care’s turnaround may be a bigger story, makeup remains the larger category, posting $8.1 billion in sales, up 6 percent from the prior-year. Foundation was up 7 percent, eye shadow was up 13 percent and bronzers, highlighters and glow products were up as well, according to NPD. Face primers were up 17 percent, concealer was up 10 percent, eyebrow makeup was up 7 percent and lip color was up 2 percent.

“Brands that have product ranges that have a broader foundation range tend to do better in terms of sales,” Jensen said. “That’s an important conversation we’re having within makeup.”

Eye shadow numbers are up because of palettes, Jensen said, which don’t necessarily give users a fully personalized experience but do allow consumers to customize their looks.

“What’s happening in eye shadow is there’s this turn to value,” Jensen said. “The things we’re seeing growing within makeup are eye shadow palettes and minis — smaller sizes are doing really well. It’s like, ‘I don’t want to spend the whole price, let me try a smaller size and see if I like it.'”

Makeup numbers also appear to be slowing down because there are channels outside of what NPD tracks where consumers are shopping more and more.

“The other thing impacting the [makeup] slowdown…is there’s so much fragmentation in the market,” Jensen said. “There are so many places where consumers can now get their products…most impactful is the online-only businesses.’

Fragrance, which Jensen said had been “chugging along” through most of 2017, spiked in the last week of the year as people shopped for last-minute holiday gifts.

“I think every man in the U.S. ran out and bought a fragrance for their wife or girlfriend — it was dramatic,” Jensen said. “The volume that came in that last week was more than five times the size of the volume of any other week during the holiday period.”

Overall, fragrance was up 4 percent for 2017 to $4 billion, driven by natural and artisanal fragrances, which were up 32 percent and 14 percent, respectively. The home fragrance market is also “on fire,” according to Jensen, posting $80.4 million in sales for the year, up from $44.4 million for 2014. Candles, up 56 percent, and home fragrance gift sets, up 165 percent, also contributed to growth.

At the end of the day, the beauty category’s growth is linked to the proliferation of selfies, Jensen noted.

“The whole concept of how consumers are seeing out experiences — my theory is that when you’re going out and having those experiences, you want to capture them…and you’re putting yourself in the picture,” Jensen said. “You’re going to want to look good in that.”

Skin care and makeup formulations are key things to watch in 2018, Jensen said.

“As we become more Instagram-focused, you want formulations and products and packaging to really stand out as you’re scrolling,” Jensen said. “It’s affecting product development in some ways.…It’s becoming more than standing out on the shelf but also standing out on the scroll.”