Keeping Up Appearances: Why the Beauty Industry Can No Longer Ignore Inclusion

graphic of a crowd of people

By Tom Morris, Trends Analyst, GWI

The beauty industry is making a fast recovery, but the same can’t necessarily be said of its consumers. Concealed by the pandemic, new routines, behaviors, and attitudes are redefining the landscape.

As part of our annual trends report, Connecting the Dots, we took a deep dive into the lives of beauty buyers this past year, and how 2022 will offer new opportunities — and challenges — alike.

The Lockdown “Groom-Boom”

In Q1 2020, 18% of consumers purchased skincare products every month — behind the likes of makeup/cosmetics (23%). As of Q2 2021, consumers now consider both as important as one another.

A closer look, however, revealed that it wasn’t just beauty enthusiasts who were driving this trend. For some audiences (males in particular) this was a long time coming.

Since 2018, beauty and cosmetics have proven the fastest-growing interest among male consumers — climbing 23% in this timeframe.

Male interest in beauty has exploded in APAC markets such as China, Australia and Indonesia, but impressive growth in North America and Europe also, shows this is truly a global trend.

The bottom line here is that the pandemic challenged what we know about the industry’s target audiences. Male interest in beauty/cosmetics climbed in early 2020, when much of the world was in some form of lockdown, while female interest showed early signs of stagnation.

Avoiding the Decline

Between Q3 2018 and Q4 2020, the number of males who purchased personal care items every month had grown 10%.

But this is a time-sensitive trend, and brands have left themselves work to do if they’re to keep pace — the simple truth is that enthusiasm for buying beauty products is beginning to slow down.

As of Q3 2021, the number of male consumers who purchased personal care products each month has fallen 7% since Q4 2020.

There are several possible explanations for this. For one, there’s always the possibility that there simply aren’t enough products available for some audiences.

As new beauty audiences were brought into the spotlight, purchase behaviors failed to match their level of interest — the onus is now on marketers to change this. Brands urgently need to match this enthusiasm with product variety to avoid a similar pattern of decline witnessed among female consumers.

There’s also a sense that some brands aren’t doing enough to challenge existing concerns within the industry. Stigma toward male consumers buying beauty/cosmetic products, for example, is a very real concern and brands have a role to play in changing this — instead of leaving it up to social media users.

Or challenger brands.

With the recent launch of Harry Styles’ beauty line, Pleasing, the singer joins a growing list of celebrity-owned beauty brands (including the likes of Machine Gun Kelly and Pharrell Wiliams) that offer unisex products, catering specifically to the rise of inclusive beauty.

Different ethnicities need to be front-of-mind, too. Scrutiny toward a lack of products suited to darker skin tones is nothing new but an added emphasis on racial representation has only further highlighted this problem — particularly in the wake of global protests in 2020.

Fostering Inclusion

So what changes do consumers want to see?

For the most part, people have made changes to their beauty/skincare preferences by ditching the glam and simplifying things a little.

A quarter of consumers say this, with other leading changes to do with buying more products that maintain natural beauty as opposed to enhancing it.

With time on their hands to become more acquainted (or, in some cases, unacquainted) with beauty products, consumers had a chance to find their own look; to “be themselves”.

Some workplaces are already loosening dress codes to relieve some of the pressures that existed pre-COVID — an example of how expression and uniqueness can be promoted in the future.

But there’s still work to do.

The number of consumers who say beauty standards are changing for the better sits at 19%, and brands can help to raise this — by listening to what consumers want and adapting their messaging to ensure beauty standards are inclusive of all types.

Just 1 in 5 of those who purchased any beauty products in the last month say they feel represented in the advertising they see, falling to as low as 13% among LGBTIQA+ consumers in this group.

In response, marketers can be more considerate in their casting on the whole; featuring models with disabilities, skin conditions, different sizes, or just ones who look like regular people to expand their appeal among disengaged audiences.

Even the word “normal” can be polarizing — prompting several brands to remove the word entirely from packaging. The same can be said for “gender-specific” products; it’s time to reflect on what male or female products really look like, using unisex labels more often.

The bottom line

People don’t necessarily look at beauty products in the same way they used to, granting new opportunities for brands and doing away with pre-COVID challenges.

This means drafting campaigns that speak to everyone; leveling the playing field through tailormade products, and utilizing campaigns that highlight everyone’s individuality.

Let’s be clear; beauty standards won’t change overnight, but enthusiasm for these kinds of products can.