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The new beauty rules: Beauty routines disrupted

Technology & Data

The new beauty rules: Beauty routines disrupted


This article is the second in a four-part series by Carat, examining the beauty industry. Read part one here

As COVID-19 disrupted lives in every way imaginable, beauty consumers reassessed the role of the category in their routines, rethinking what was important, what to keep, what to cut and what would help them cope. This part of the series takes a deep dive into how disruption has shaped the beauty buying habits of people in a post-2020 world.


As make-up sales struggled in 2020, there was a surge in interest for skincare.

Several factors drove people to focus on skin, as they found themselves (and their faces) experiencing entirely new conditions including:

  • Stress-induced breakouts: as an ‘unprecedented’ pandemic upended our lives and challenged our state of mind our skin suffered the consequences. 
  • Maskne: the prolonged usage of protective face masks, particularly in markets like Melbourne where it was compulsory, led to a rise in ‘maskne’. 
  • Screen time scrutiny: as Zoom calls became our default form of communication, people spent more time staring at their reflections than ever before, with the harsh light of laptop screens highlighting skin imperfections 
  • Stay at home orders: social distancing measures and stay at home orders meant less human contact and reduced utility for makeup, with people redirecting their dollars into skin care. 

Searches for products like serum surged, with Vitamin C, hyaluronic acid and retinol serums all experiencing a 20-40 percent increase in search volume.

A growing cohort of ‘skin-fluencers’ also fed into this appetite for skincare, particularly among a younger demographic. On TikTok, influencers like Hyram Yarbro, who grew his following from 100,000 to over 6 million across 2020, are gaining attention through honest skincare reviews and authentic product recommendations

@skincarebyhyram##AD Nizoral shampoo- but for scalp care! ✨ ##skincarebyhyram ##sponsored ##hairtips ##scalp ##dandrufffree ##dandruff♬ original sound – Hyram

Although skincare wasn’t the only category to experience COVID growth. Nail and hair care also saw a surge and is a trend expected to endure. While some customers may continue to care for their hair and nails at home, most have returned to salons. In contrast, skincare has been trending upwards for years, a trend accelerated by the pandemic and new consumer habits.


Up until now, hand care was almost an afterthought, in 2020 it became essential and in 2021 it remains a beauty staple beyond just hygiene. To fight the spread of contagion, people began washing and sanitising their hands at a higher frequency. Sales of hand wash and sanitiser skyrocketed as consumers stripped supermarket shelves. But others were after a more premium experience, particularly as some began experiencing negative side-effects from too much hand washing (dry and irritated ‘pandemic hands’). Sales of prestige and luxury hand soaps spiked significantly and hand sanitiser itself became a beauty product. 


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A post shared by by Humankind (@byhumankind)

More premium options flooded the market and many of these products sold out within 24 hours. Entirely new brands launched to capitalise on the trend, including French brand Merci Handy (stocked locally by Mecca Brands). This trend has highlighted existing brands like Touchland who emphasise that hand hygiene should be well designed, cool and convenient. Longstanding brands also launched new products, with By Humankind releasing a moisturising hand sanitiser and L’Occitane launching a new hand purifying gel. Demand extended beyond sanitisers to hand creams, with big players in hand care like L’Occitane seeing increased demand, which they expect to continue well into 2021. 

Beauty therapy

COVID-19 convinced people that beauty (and personal care) is more than skin deep. In a period when their mental health was under heightened pressure, people turned to the category for self-care and comfort more than ever before. Brands responded, empowering customers to prioritise their mental health, through purposeful initiatives, innovative products and soothing processes that not only put mental health at the top of the agenda but helped them cope. 

Beauty brands began expanding into mental health initiatives, bringing brand purpose to life in tangible and impactful ways. Selena Gomez’s beauty brand launched in late 2020 with mental health as a key pillar. The brand created the Rare Impact Fund with ambitions to raise $100 million over 10 years to support mental health services in underserved communities. 

On October 10, 2020, World Mental Health Day, Gomez called on other beauty companies to also make the pledge, prompting Maybelline New York, Wander Beauty, Drunk Elephant, Benefit Cosmetics, Herbivore Botanicals, E.l.f. Cosmetics, Jouer, Milk Makeup and First Aid Beauty to join the cause. On the same day, Maybelline announced the Brave Together Initiative, dedicated to breaking down stigma around anxiety and depression, with a particular focus on Gen Z. Over the next five years, the brand will donate $10million to mental health organisations.

Maybelline has also launched a digital platform with mental health advice from experts, a text line to provide free and confidential counselling services, and has partnered with The Center for Global Mental Health at Columbia University, to compile a global report focused on anxiety and depression in Gen Z women. It is a move true to the brand’s values and purpose

Other beauty brands are taking their pledge to mental health beyond their brand purpose and designing products with mental wellbeing benefits front of mind. In 2020, The Nue Co launched a product specifically designed to benefit mental health on a molecular level. Forest Lungs is a fragrance designed to recreate the healing effect of nature, something the wellness industry has been promoting for years with initiatives like forest bathing. The fragrance replicates phytoncides, which are molecular compounds produced by trees. These compounds are credited with stress and anxiety reduction, along with boosting the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps the body rest and relax. 

FOREST LUNGS fuses olfactory chemistry and patented technology to replicate the molecular compounds produced in forests…

Posted by The Nue Co. on Thursday, November 19, 2020


While many turned away from makeup as the pandemic confined us to our houses, there was a cohort that turned to colour cosmetics for comfort. According to Dr. Stewart Shankman, chief of psychology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, applying makeup can be a transformative act of self-care: “This COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented time of uncertainty and uncontrollability. So, people putting makeup on will give them a sense of control given what’s going on outside is uncontrollable… it helps their sense of well-being.”

2020 was also the year that baths started trending. As people started to invest in their own wellbeing to counter the mental impacts of COVID-19, bathing rituals reached new popularity. On Pinterest alone, ‘spiritual bath cleansing’ experienced 180 percent year-on-year growth in search volume with ‘deep soaking tub’ experiencing 145 percent year-on-year growth.

Beauty, reframed

As our interactions were mediated through screens or from behind masks, our faces were entirely reframed, and our beauty routines adapted. With our faces front and centre (and reflected back at us) through endless hours of back-to-back video calls, beauty looks that translated well on screen came into focus. We pivoted our old routines to adopt looks that worked well on video. Moving away from a full face of foundation, and embracing a bold lip or strong brow. Brands like Sugar Cosmetics launched a ‘work from home kit’ to get consumers ready for a video meeting quickly. 

Publishers from Vogue to Allure capitalised on the trend, publishing series of ‘How to look your virtual best’ editorial, with product recommendations from brow gel and eye serum to bold lips and blush. With easing lockdowns meaning a return to the office, industry experts are predicting ongoing and broader adoption of remote and flexible working, meaning video calls, and video ready beauty, are here to stay. 

Increased screen time has also heightened our awareness of the impact of blue light on not only our eyes but also our skin. Interest in blue light skin care has surged, with a 46 percent increase in search volume across the last 12 months and skyrocketing sales for brands who specialise in blue light blocking. Coola, a sun care brand offering multiple blue light products, saw week-on-week sales double on Amazon and quadruple on their own website. 

Even when we stepped out from behind our screens, protective face masks were mandatory in various public settings, putting more focus on the eyes and brows than ever before. In skincare, brands focused on product launches targeted to the eye area, with customers snapping up new offerings to market, like Peace Out’s Retinol Eye Stick which achieved 6x the brand’s revenue projections in its first month. However, the trend gained real strength in cosmetics. While COVID hit cosmetics hard, in the US, eye makeup was the most profitable segment in cosmetics in 2020, with sales revenue of $1.96 billion. 

Sephora saw growth in lash and brow categories as people prioritised ‘above the mask beauty’. Other industry insiders saw consumers embrace bolder and brighter colours for eyes and brows, with Pinterest even coining the term ‘Rainbrows’ for the bold new looks. While masks may not have been mandatory everywhere, global trends towards eye makeup and eye care will still have an impact locally. Particularly as brow and eye beauty dominate runways across the biggest global fashion weeks, including the spring/ summer 2021 collections. 


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A post shared by HUDA KATTAN (@hudabeauty)

Eyebrows were the focus of spring/summer 2021 from Pat McGrath’s Miu Miu makeup looks complete with lines shaved into brows, to Peter Philips defined, ‘90s-esque brows’ at Acne Studios.  For fall, it was all about bold eyes, with Pat McGrath crafting bright pink and blue winged eyes for Versace, and the Giambattista Valli catwalk coming to life with bold blue, yellow, purple and black ringed eyes inspired by pansies. 

After an uncertain year for beauty brands, one thing is certain, in 2021: it’s all about the eye.


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