Coronavirus has forced much of the UK indoors. So how will the beauty market manage when there’s no reason to get dolled up?

Alexa Chung has grown a beard. Kevin Hart has gone grey. Naomi Campbell has donned rubber gloves and Bella Hadid’s pout is behind a mask. Beauty is on the backseat in celeb Instagram feeds, though Chung hasn’t yet shared pictures of the beard she says she’s cultivating in quarantine.

Beauty, surely, is the last thing on most minds in lockdown Britain. We’re not just lacking inspiration from the celebs, we’ve also lost a key reason for making ourselves presentable: getting ready for work or school. A quarter of all personal care occasions are for this reason. The closure of schools and workplaces in response to coronavirus puts 224.4 million weekly occasions at risk [Kantar].

So, is the face of the British workforce changing into something more akin to the above? Will made-up, moisturised skin, clean hair and natty clothes for the office give way to pyjamas, blemishes and birds-nest hairdos? And will the pandemic have a lasting impact on Britain’s beauty routines?

“The category was already up against some pretty strong headwinds,” says Kantar strategic insight director Matthew Maxwell, pointing to the take-home sales performance of beauty & suncare products for 2019. Overall value sales fell 1.6% with 18.9 million (4%) fewer packs sold.

“The main challenge will be the impact of more people working from home. The average person who works from home more than once a week will have 11 fewer occasions per week in which they use personal care products. Cosmetics is most impacted by that. We calculate there’ll be 100 million fewer occasions (applying mascara, lipstick, etc) in three weeks of lockdown. That will impact sales.”

“We calculate there’ll be 100 million fewer occasions in three weeks of lockdown”

As Maxwell points out, that comes against an already tough backdrop for the supermarket beauty aisles. Their cosmetics sales slumped 5.8% on volumes down 8.9% in 2019 [Nielsen 52 w/e 7 September] and most of the major personal care categories suffered significant declines.

This is partly down to shifts in the retail mix, as discounters and bargain stores steal sales of essential personal care items with knock-down prices. Plus, online sales of health & beauty products grew 20.6% year on year in 2019 [CapGemini/IMRG].

Another factor is lifestyle changes. Because home working didn’t just begin with the coronavirus. Between 2008 and 2018, the number of Brits working from home grew by 74.4% [ONS]. This coincided with falling use of many personal care and beauty products. For example, occasions when women shaved their underarms or legs in the six months to September 2019 were down 21.6% and 12.1% respectively versus the same period in 2015.

“Typical working from home trends that we’ve seen in the past do demonstrate a slowing down in sales of personal care items such as deodorants and shampoo, as people feel less of a need to maintain as high a standard of personal hygiene when they are working from home,” says Nielsen thought leadership manager Katrina Bishop.

Now, the enforced isolation of coronavirus is speeding up that effect. Volume sales of cosmetics dipped 8.3% in the four weeks ending 14 March, according to Nielsen.

At the same time, there are uplifts in other areas. The crisis has pushed more people into the supermarkets - store trips grew 25% month on month [Kantar w/e 17 March 2020]. And certain health and beauty items are on the panic buying list. “What we’re seeing with the shopping trends around Covid-19 are that consumers have been stocking up on certain products,” adds Bishop.

It will come as no surprise that hand sanitiser and liquid soap were in high demand - respective sales grew 706% and 175% [Nielsen 52 w/e 14 March 2020] - but so too were items such as body moisturiser (up 22.3%), lip balm (up 30.1%) and hand cream (up 65%).

That moisturisers saw such a spike makes sense. “We’re seeing greater levels of interest in our hand cream as frequent handwashing dries out skin,” says Nick Tulloch, founder of Zoetic, manufacturer of CBD-infused skincare products. “We’re also seeing interest in our facial drops. We speculate that may be because spending a long time indoors with the central heating on dries out our skin.”

“Typical working from home trends show a slowing down in sales of personal care items”

There has been a particular spike in online sales of these products as supermarket shelves are stripped bare and consumers veer towards home deliveries. Ego Pharmaceuticals, the Melbourne-based manufacturer of dermatological products named a ‘critical’ ally in the Australian government’s fight against coronavirus, saw visits to the UK site for its QV Skincare brand more than double in the week lockdown was imposed.

“As the prime minister encourages people to stay at home and supermarkets ration essential supplies, we expect to see more online orders of QV Gentle Wash, especially amongst those struggling with frequent handwashing, due to its suitability for dry and irritated skin,” says UK manager David Halliday.

Practical products such as these are the ones booming at this time. That L’Oréal, Diageo, Pernod Ricard, Louis Vuitton, Givenchy brand owner LVMH and others are devoting vast swathes of manufacturing capacity to producing hand gels suggest that, for now at least, concepts like luxury are out. Indeed, higher-end skin products like Super Facialist are down.

But there are still opportunities for brands to offer added value. “We’ve seen a real boom in natural and moisturising ingredients to combat dry skin,” says Jennifer Wood, CEO of natural oil supplier O&3. “We’re seeing brands using natural ingredients well-known for their antibacterial properties. Ingredients such as aloe vera and tea tree oil are recognised for their antibacterial and antiseptic effects, as well as being kind and hydrating to the skin.”

Wood expects recent events to accelerate trends that were already shaping the beauty industry. “We’ve identified a growing trend in beauty & personal care for nutrient-dense ‘superfood’ ingredients, such as blueberry butter, spinach seed oil, avocado oil and jojoba oil,” she says.

“In the food industry, superfood products offer health benefits beyond simple nutritional value and cosmetics brands are beginning to apply a more holistic approach to skin products. Consumers are looking for products to feel better, rather than solely to improve their appearance. We expect to see more superfood beauty products becoming available over coming weeks and months.”

Ethical products

The rise of CBD products from brands such as Zoetic and Love Hemp, which manufactures CBD-infused cellulose face masks and body salve, provides more evidence of the ‘holistic approach’ Wood describes.

Ethical products may also benefit from this change in mindset as the crisis evokes a compassionate response - evidenced by the more than 700,000 NHS volunteers that signed up to help fight Covid-19 in less than a week in mid-March.

“I feel this will have a positive impact on ethical and sustainable products,” says Lucy Buckingham, founder of organic skincare brand Lucy Bee. “There’s already an increase in interest in brands and businesses that are doing good for the world in terms of the traceability and ethics of products.”

Essentially, the pandemic will have a ‘lipstick effect’, but not the kind we are used to seeing. “Products associated with physical and mental health will be sought after during and after the outbreak,” says business psychologist Zana Busby. “Expensive cosmetics won’t be so popular.”

So, the message is: expect a lipstick effect, but don’t expect to sell more lipstick.