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We’re detectives when it comes to whether our granola contains gluten, but historically we’ve been ignorant to what products we lather ourselves with. The Clean Beauty movement of yesteryear saw buzzwords like ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ appear across skincare advertisements, as we collectively sulked over to our bathroom cabinet and began to question what actually is in that 10-years-younger-in-10-days night cream we’ve been using every night? 

While a lot of brands emerged from this trend victoriously authentic, it wasn’t without the clean-washing by major brands who wanted a piece of the organic-pie. A disillusionment arose of what truly was classified as ‘organic’, and with little regulation, consumers began to question what it was they were putting on their skin. 

 

The, Ahem, Pandemic.

No conversation is immune to the mention of COVID-19. About every industry has had their own tale of challenges and triumph in their individual confrontations with this global pandemic. But most notably, was the beauty sector’s seismic shift from makeup to skincare.

Confined to our homes, staying in birthed a never-before-seen wellness epidemic — routines became rituals, and consumers began looking to preserve healthy skin rather than spend time and money on covering it up. This long-term, proactive approach to beauty is a unique opportunity for brands to create long-lasting engagement with their consumers by solidifying brand values and evolving beyond their historic one-dimensional category into a space of purpose and intention. 

In 2020, consumers were less inclined to part with their cash due to such economic uncertainty. Instead, they indulged in the appropriately-named “Lipstick Effect” phenomenon — that is, spending their dollars on smaller luxuries, such as beauty. Sadly, this wasn’t the case for makeup, as working from home and our lack of social engagements became the new norm. L’Oreal reported 14% decline in global beauty sales in the first half of the year, with professional beauty, makeup and fragrance sales all experiencing a 25% decline (source). It’s not all bad news, as emerging technology is allowing the personalisation of products and services, such as virtual try-on sessions where artification intelligence (AI) can select the perfect foundation match. With a generation craving deeper connections, personalisation tools can foster a relationship of integrity and accountability between brand and consumer that is far and few from our world of social distancing.

“The beauty category, while not recession proof, has fared better than many other discretionary categories in economic downturns, reflecting the relatively low price point and the connection with the product… engagement with the beauty category remains strong, despite the uncertainty many guests are experiencing today” Mary Dillion, CEO of Ulta Beauty.

 

Skintellectualism

As people became increasingly educated about active ingredients and formulations, a new consumer emerged — the Skintellect. With research, they discovered that some ingredients, albeit natural, aren’t good and some synthetic ingredients, aren’t entirely bad. The veil of mystery historically held up by the beauty industry dissipated, as trade secrets became marketing tactics to promote efficacy and trust (with the consumer as the ultimate beneficiary). The nitty-gritty details of what ingredients are included, or left out, where they are sourced, and which scientific professionals have endorsed them, has created distinct value to post-pandemic consumers.The selfie-generation has grown up, and brands must accommodate for authenticity in order to sustain a loyal following. 

Conversations of science are now part of our daily diet when it comes to content consumption. The majority are listening to, and trusting, science more than ever. This merit has translated into the beauty industry, as consumers begin to care less about luxury packaging and are persuaded more by testing, transparency and efficacy (source). That’s not to say that branding in the skincare sector is obsolete — in fact, it’s now more important than ever for brands to maintain resonance in an increasingly saturated market. The success lies in strategy, not aesthetics, and brands must utilise consumer insights to future-proof their audience for the next #trending skincare innovation (or more frighteningly, next major global crisis?).

 

Beauty is no longer a topical application

As macro uncertainty continues to prevail, consumers are now embracing alternative medicine treatments as a way to incorporate wellness into their routines and combat stress (source). This New Age of personal wellness, highly endorsed by Gen Z, sees a profound focus on spirituality and a realignment of values. While physical hygiene continues to run rampant, an increased awareness of emotional and mental hygiene has emerged — predicted to affect not just the beauty industry, but food, interiors and clothing (source). Consumers don’t want to just look good, they want to feel good. 

The global ingestible beauty market is now worth $217 billion (and climbing), according to CB Insights. The evidence is on our doorstep, with local success stories The Beauty Chef, Mukti and Love Beauty Foods hard to ignore. Consumers are now expecting brands to provide a holistic solution — one that not only captures real innovation, but genuine inclusivity. 

Smack Bang worked with wellness entrepreneur Keira Rumble on the development of her modern beauty brand Habitual Beauty, forging the conventional skincare regime into the practice of mindfulness (see the full case study here). Promoting a real radiance that is born from within, the approach to inside-out beauty has been swiftly embraced by the Australian market, with a massive uptake in its sales of their beauty-promoting collagen powder since its launch in July.

Coined as ‘functional’ food and beverages, their results can extend beyond improving the appearance of skin — some even offer mood-altering or psychedelic enhancements. Its profoundness translating to our digital experiences – functional Mushroom store Rainbo allows their customers to filter their shopping experience by mood. 

While 70% of the ingestible beauty market consists of powders and concentrates, innovations on delivery are emerging in the form of waters, bars, sparkling teas, meal kits — even vape pens (source). So long as ‘Collagen’, ‘Peptides’ and ‘Adaptogens’ are integrated into our daily vocabulary, science will continue to be a part of the conversation surrounding beauty. 

 

So, what does the future hold?

Moving up the ranks is sustainable skincare. While recyclable packaging is commendable — and a feat for Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) — it could now almost be seen as tokenistic, as planet-conscious consumers are looking for brands to flex their innovation muscle. 

Exciting things are happening in the world of refillables — Skincare brands are asking their consumers to purchase refill pouches, return their empties for re-use, or top-up at a refill station. Waterless Beauty continues to make waves — brands offering their product in concentrated forms to their consumers as research illuminates that most companies are creating products with 95% water and 5% active ingredients. Bang-for-your-buck for big corp, but a massive bummer for our carbon footprint as we continue to freight such a (widely) accessible, and naturally occurring, resource. Jenni Middleton, the director of beauty trends at WGSN, suggests biotechnology could be the answer. “We have to ask ourselves: Is it right to use a tiny bit of this plant and throw the rest away — all to create a serum? Or should we find a more sustainable way of creating that active ingredient?”. Only time will tell.

 

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