NPD Group had some good news for the beauty business. Recent cosmetics industry sales in the prestige sector in U.S. department stores and in China both scored increased gains.

In U.S. department stores, total prestige beauty sales for March posted a dollar increase of 15 percent, over the same period last year, to $945.9 million. This marks a sharp improvement over February’s 11 percent gain, or $777.7 million.

In March, skin care showed the highest gain in dollars, up 23 percent, while color cosmetics improved by 11 percent and fragrance increased by nine percent over March 2011.

For the first quarter (January through March 2012) sales of total prestige beauty amounted to $2.3 billion, which is an increase of 14 percent from last year, with skin care up 19 percent, makeup up 10 percent and fragrance up 11 percent.

In China, the total prestige beauty category — including skin care, makeup and fragrance sold in the top 10 cities of mainland China — increased by 21 percent last year as compared to 2010. Leading the growth were the skin care and color cosmetics categories, up 23 and 17 percent, respectively.

All categories of skin care showed improvements, with face essence (up 25 percent) and moisturizer (up 21 percent), generating nearly half of sales in the segment. In addition, antiaging products produced half of skin care sales, posting a robust growth of nearly 27 percent in 2011, as compared to 2010. Hydrating and whitening skin care were also drivers for category growth.

The face segment, led by foundation (up 24 percent) and base formulas (up 30 percent) designed to lighten and impart smoothness, captured 59 percent of the dollar share for all of prestige makeup. Lip products (up 26.5 percent) also contributed to growth, with lipstick (up 31 percent) and lip gloss (up 22 percent) leading the charge.

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