The beleaguered nail category is showing signs of life.
This story first appeared in the October 7, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
At least for the nail-care category. Care-oriented products are poised to revitalize both nail beds and sales in the prestige nail market. For people who have been sucking the life out of their fingertips with repeat gel nail polish applications and damaging removals, vitamin-enriched polishes, cuticle oils and removers seem to be the answer to dry, brittle nails — at least between gel appointments.
The idea of healthy nails fits neatly in with the better-for-you movement happening broadly across the consumer segment — from healthy foods to natural skin care. Aside from nixing the chemicals considered toxic that were formerly found in nail varnish, like formaldehyde, the varieties hitting the market today are frequently enriched with vitamins and other substances meant to strengthen the nail. They’re coming alongside things like moisturizers, cuticle oils and other non-polish products that are also geared toward nail health.
“It’s something that the consumer is really looking for as their nails get shot” from salons that rush and improperly remove gel polish, said Deborah Lippmann, manicurist to the stars and founder of the namesake nail brand.
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“Gels have a value because they last longer,” said Wendy Liebmann, chief executive officer of WSL Strategic Retail, a retail consulting firm with a specialty in consumer insights. “But they also have an impact. So, what’s the counterpoint to that? You swing to the kinds of things that make sure your nails stay healthy.”
While gel polish may shoulder the burden of blame for nail damage and the ensuing broadening in outlook, that category is here to stay, experts agree, and its popularity is opening the window for further growth within nail care.
Data shows it is a small but growing category. In the U.S. prestige nail market, nail care brought in $6 million for the 12 months ended May 30, up 5 percent from the previous year, according to data from The NPD Group. Base and top coats also posted a 3 percent gain during that period, to $5.9 million, while color enamel declined 15 percent to $35.9 million.
“One of the things is the corrective,” Liebmann continued. “How do I correct what I’ve been doing to my nails for the past few years?”
“When you look at the data right now, for the first time in history gel polish has taken over the nail polish category in share,” said Carina Breda, vice president of marketing for Orly. “Now we see damage on the nail. That changed behavior from a consumer perspective to oh my gosh — we need something from our nails.
“We sat down a year ago and said there is something changing the market, something changing in the behavior,” Breda said. “The consumer is looking for help.”
So the team at Orly — which is already known for its nail treatments — sat down to come up with a plan to correct nail damage with color. “So far, we have a lot of treatments in the portfolio, and on the market, but how would it be if we could offer a treatment with a corresponding color and a bigger assortment,” Breda said. The result was the Orly Breathable Treatment + Color line, which contains Argan Oil, Pro-Vitamin B5 and Vitamin C.
Dr.’s Remedy, a nail enamel brand priced at $17, is formulated with garlic bulb extract, tea tree oil, wheat protein and Vitamins C and E. The products, sold primarily in the physician channel, were created after one of the founding podiatrists’ wives was looking to avoid certain chemicals when she was pregnant.
“I decided to make something that was free of those [chemicals] and was enriched with other ingredients that we felt could be healthy for a nail,” said Adam Cirlincione, one of the brand founders. “We started making about 1,000 bottles at a time and now we make 10,000 bottles at a time,” he said. “Our scale has certainly increased as it is accepted by people that learn more about it, but when we were initially designing it, we thought it would be hard to compete against a Revlon or a larger company.”
New beauty company Context is poised to release an acetone-free nail polish remover, according to founder David Arbuthnot. The soy-based remover is enriched with Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Vitamin E, scented with an essential grapefruit oil and set for a late October launch date, according to Arbuthnot. The $20 product comes as a complement to Context’s line of vegan, cruelty-free and five-free nail polishes. “It not only removes the nail polish, but it will also moisturize your nail,” he said.
When growing nail brand Adesse launched in 2011, it was with a 12-free, cruelty-free, vegan polish formula. “We included in the line an antiaging nail treatment because a lot of people are having a lot of issues with their nails being damaged from gels and acrylics,” said founder Suzanne Roberta, who also said that nail masks are in the works.
Hand- and foot-care brand Margaret Dabbs London has also started a U.S. expansion, bringing its product line of things like a Professional Foot File and Intensive Treatment Foot Oil to the American market. The business has also launched its $22 nail polishes, which are enriched with Vitamin E, in the U.S.
“When [customers] are into skin care, they’re also all about care, care, care, not only on your face” said Jin Soon, manicurist and salon owner. “Whatever the needs are for your face goes to your body also….Everything is about moisturizing — face, body, nails, hands. People say your nail beds are dead so we cannot do anything about it, but your nails need to be moisturized as well. Think about the old wooden furniture when you oil it — same idea.”
Lippmann has been ahead of the trend for years, incorporating care in her enamels and other products. “My whole philosophy of the brand is to continue to find formulas that are more and more healthy….We recently launched our Gel Lab Pro formula…it gives you that super plump feeling you get with a gel manicure without putting your hands in a machine,” Lippmann said. Her brand makes products like the $20 It’s a Miracle Intense Cuticle Therapy Oil, which contains a handful of different types of oils and Vitamin E, and for $24, The Cure, a nourishing cuticle repair cream.
While nail-care products are responsible for a bit of growth in the prestige nail category, overall, gains aren’t coming quickly, according to NPD analyst Karen Grant. In nail, the next growth spurt will come when multiple areas converge and fill the need for long-wearing, healthy and breathable formulas, Grant said. “It’s those types of things that the category will need to say why prestige, and why it matters,” she said. “When the science can catch up with what the needs are, that’s definitely an opportunity.”