How does a global pandemic transform the beauty industry? Let us count the ways

With salons closed for much of the year and restrictions on social distancing giving little reason to get dolled up, our relationship with beauty reached a kind of existential crisis in 2020. What, and who, were we doing all of this for? And who do we become when gel nails, balayage and cheekbone fillers no longer play the same role in our self-perceptions or the images we choose to paint?

Hairy and poorly-groomed, we were forced to look ourselves in the mirror and reassess what beauty really means to us, and to society. Or, perhaps more importantly, we questioned the value of routines we once thought were critical and began to gravitate towards ones with a less superficial purpose.

Jenni Middleton, beauty director at industry trend forecasting company WGSN, says: “Beauty has taken on a role beyond the aesthetic. It’s no longer just about a style or a look. It’s taking on a role as a healer, soother and protector.”

We look at a few of the ways we’ve embraced beauty to find comfort, escape and consistency in uncertain times.

Tatler Asia
Above Image: Julia Noni/Trunk Archive

1. More mid-day breaks

Typically, our skincare routines bookended our days; in the morning, we cleansed and put our face on, and in the evening, we took off the day’s make-up and prepared for bed. But in all of the life that goes on in between, we rarely stopped to take stock of what was going on in and around our skin—like dehydration, and exposure to pollution, UV rays, blue light and other stressors.

The more people began working from home, placing them mere steps from the bedroom to the virtual boardroom, the more skincare and self-care became ways to break up the day, be it a zesty afternoon shower or a simple cleansing routine.

“Beauty can be a tool not just to prep for sleep, but for prepping us for a relaxing evening or an invigorating workout when we’re doing all of that in the same space,” says Middleton. 

2. Using tech in beauty

It’s like Cher Horowitz’s iconic high-tech closet in Clueless, but for your face. As an eerie hush echoes through department stores and Sephoras around the world, beauty brands are coming up with creative ways to bring the in-store experience to people’s homes—or, more specifically, to their hands—by way of augmented reality.

Brands like Chanel, MAC, OPI and Redken have embraced virtual try-ons, which offer customers a contactless yet realistic way to see themselves in every shade and swatch of make-up, as well as hair and nail colours. Natasha Moor, a Hong Kong-based make-up artist and founder of Natasha Moor Cosmetics, says: “I believe people have gravitated towards beauty during this period of uncertainty because of its transformative power on how you feel. There are endless possibilities with virtual try-ons, and more opportunities to forge one-on-one relationships with the wider community, be it through a website, app or Instagram filter.”

Skincare brands—such as La Roche-Posay and Shiseido—delve even deeper into tech’s potential in the beauty sphere, using artificial intelligence and algorithms to remotely analyse skin and offer personalised suggestions.

3. At-home rituals

We’ve found sanctity in at-home rituals. Tiffany Masterson, the founder of skincare brand Drunk Elephant, has said that throughout her time in lockdown, “Self-care has been lighting a candle, taking a bath, getting cosy in soft pajamas and watching a murder mystery.”

Of course, there was an onslaught of guerrilla beauty appointments, with contacts for manicurists and masseuses who do home visits being traded like black-market goods. But those adhering to safety measures took matters into their own hands, investing in salon- and spa-quality products for a dose of escapism at home.

From May through to July, Google Trends showed that searches for “at-home spa day” and “spa starter kit” rose by a slick 900 per cent and 700 per cent, respectively, worldwide. Says Middleton, “We can’t go to our favourite holiday destinations anymore, but we can unscrew that cap, take a sniff of that product and be transported.”

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