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What Beauty and Wellness Trends Will Survive the Pandemic?

Consumers are prioritizing safety, efficacy and looking good in a mask.

Between a global pandemic and looming recession, consumers are starting to shift priorities when it comes to shopping for beauty.

As U.S. retailers begin to reopen and beauty sales begin to pick back up after a 14 percent dip in the first quarter due to coronavirus-induced closures, experts are seeing consumers spend on products based on safety, efficacy, and looking good within the confines of a face mask. These trends are only expected to accelerate as the U.S. continues to reopen despite the absence of a proven treatment or vaccine. 

Wellness-promoting products are expected to be in especially high demand as consumers come out of quarantine, from supplements to functional food and beverages. 

“We’ve been buying Campbell’s Soup and Kraft to fill out pantries, and after this, the consumer is going to care about what goes in and on the body,” says Franklin Isacson, managing partner at Coefficient Capital, a venture capital fund that specializes in consumer products. 

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A renewed focus on health is also expected, says Isacson, who adds that he doesn’t expect the demand for hand sanitizer and antibacterial handwashes that promise maximum efficacy to waver anytime soon. 

“You’re seeing people stockpile Clorox and leave the green cleaners on the shelf. There’s a bigger focus on ingredients [that are potent and proven to work],” Isacson says.

Sanitation will be a top-of-mind for consumers who may have previously prioritized natural ingredients.

“For the last few years there’s been this fetishization of natural,” says Lucie Greene, futurist and founder of Light Years consultancy. “With all the [purchasing] of disinfectant from traditional CPGs [during the stockpiling periods], I wonder if there’s been this swing back to norm-core chemicals and science-based personal care. If you’re a natural brand, you’re really going to have to reinforce your efficacy when it comes to sterilization and cleaning.”

Still, consumers do want ingredients that are first and foremost considered to be safe and nontoxic, says Larissa Jensen, beauty industry analyst at The NPD Group, which in the first quarter tracked clean skin-care as up 11 percent, one of the industry’s only bright spots in the midst of the pandemic. “Consumers consider clean to be equivalent to safety, it’s top of mind for everybody and something that will remain important and if anything will only accelerate.” 

“Healthy spaces” are also part of a pandemic and post-pandemic consumer beauty and wellness routine, Greene says. Anything that promotes well-being in the home, from scented candles to water and air-purifiers is fair game. “This idea of wellness and atmosphere in the home, more of a holistic approach, has already [been] broached by technologies,” she says. “There are more devices and products aimed at bringing a sense of well-being to the home, [for instance] fragrance juke boxes that sync with your mood, lights to sync with your circadian rhythm. Water purity was [trending before COVID-19] and has only accelerated—making sure your water is the healthiest and has everything filtered out of it.” 

When it comes to wellness products, the affordability factor will be paramount, especially in a slumping economy with record unemployment levels. “Consumers are going to be more price sensitive,” Isacson says. “Any functional claims that are made—let’s say you’re an ingestible brand saying your products boost immunity. Consumers are going to want to know if your product can really do that [before buying].”

High retail price points in a saturated market like vitamins and supplements are enough to give investors pause, he notes, especially in the run-up to a recession. “An $80 supplement that claims to firm up skin? We might think twice [before investing].”

Traditional categories like makeup and fragrance have seen steep sales dips as consumers with remote jobs—and disposable income—stay home during the pandemic. But certain categories are starting to rebound as the country slowly reopens. Eye makeup grew 5 percent in the four weeks ending May 30, driven by eyebrow products, eyeliner, false lashes and mascara, according to NPD, a jump most experts predicted would happen as consumers continue to don face masks. 

While the fashion industry has certainly seized the chic face mask opportunity—it seems every mass market retailer and independent designer is selling one—Greene thinks there’s an opportunity for beauty to counter the “mask-ne” effect, if brands can act quickly. “There’s going to be new capabilities built into face masks—skin care or some kind of moisturizing property,” she says. “The next layer of premiumization will be the Shiseido or La Mer of face masks.”