Since the pandemic has corralled everyone in their homes, skincare has become the new low-cost indulgence. The money we once frittered away on Pret lunches and after work drinks we now squander on serums, and the time we used to spend with our faces pressed into someone’s armpit on the Victoria line we now use to double cleanse and moisturise. According to the research group Mintel, the number of Brits using moisturiser rose from 60 percent in 2019 to 67 percent this year, while 18 percent of skincare users said they spent longer on their routines and 14 percent had used more facial treatment products such as face masks. We were already a nation of skincare junkies (British women spent £1.18 billion on skincare last year), but it seems the pandemic has given us all the more reason to indulge in our obsession.
“There has been a lot of stress and anxiety this year due to Covid and job losses, and a lot of my patients who have pre-existing skin conditions such as acne or rosacea have found that their skin condition has flared up over recent months. There's no doubt that's partly related to stress because stress can drive chronic inflammatory skin conditions,” explains consultant dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto. “Then there are people who don’t necessarily have any primary skin conditions but have been enquiring about anti-ageing treatments for the first time because they’re spending so much time on zoom, which has affected their perception of their skin.”
As if it wasn’t bad enough having to stare at your Zoom reflection all day, the pandemic has brought a deluge of new skin concerns with it, from ‘maskne’ (face mask-induced acne) to ‘Covid-face’ (a dull complexion caused by more time indoors), so it’s no surprise that sales of skincare have sky-rocketed this year. Online retailer Cult Beauty’s skincare sales have risen by 118 percent this year compared to last, with brands such as the Dr Dennis Gross, Paula’s Choice and The Inkey List most in demand.
Then there’s the self-care aspect too: as we look for ways to de-stress and for distractions from endless doomscrolling, having a skincare routine allows us to carve out a little time to focus on ourselves. “Our skincare routines have become more ritualistic and broader in their remit,” concurs Alexia Inge, co-founder of Cult Beauty. “Consumers are starting to rate how products make them feel as much as how they make them look.”
With the forced closure of beauty salons and spas, more of us turned to DIY beauty treatments to bring the spa home. “Manual tools such as gua sha and crystal face rollers were already on the rise as people put a greater focus on self-care and wellness, but this has been accelerated by the pandemic,” says Clare Varga, head of beauty at trend-forecasting agency WGSN. At Cult Beauty, sales of skincare tools have risen by 151 percent since last year, with products such as the NuFace Mini Facial Toning Device and the Déesse Professional LED Mask leading the way (despite its hefty £1,680 price tag).
Beauty salons such as the London skincare clinic Pfeffer Sal have also found new ways to adapt, by offering virtual consultations and massage masterclasses to teach clients how to recreate a spa-quality facial at home. “It’s allowed us to stay connected with our clients and to look after them as well as keep our team engaged,” says Andrea Pfeffer, founder of Pfeffer Sal. In addition to the virtual al consultations, they also launched ‘at-home facial kits’ with products designed to target specific skin concerns that customers could order to their door. “We’ve had a lot of new clients and I think they’ve really enjoyed being able to do the virtual experience from the comfort of their own home,” says Pfeffer. “Also it’s really pampering. It’s a nice, indulgent thing to do as opposed to a big, hot sweaty workout that you’re hurting from.”
Of course, we can’t discuss skincare in 2020 without giving a nod to the stratospheric rise of TikTok this year, which has seen its number of UK users soar from 5.4 million in January to 12.9 million in April. Thanks to the slew of skinfluencers offering candid product reviews and skincare tips, TikTok has become the go-to platform for skincare obsessives in 2020. Today, the skincare hashtag has over 22.8 billion views, revealing our insatiable appetite for skincare content.
The clout of skinfluencers like @skincarebyhyram and @dermangelo is such that their endorsement of CeraVe – a 15-year-old high-street skincare brand with nondescript, un-instagrammable packaging – has resulted in it becoming one of the most coveted brands of 2020, particularly among younger consumers: Boots reported a 459 percent increase in sales of its CeraVe range in July.
As we become more conscious of our consumption in general, ditching plastic straws and buying fewer clothes, have we also turned a corner in our attitude towards skincare? It’s no secret that the beauty industry is responsible for producing copious amounts of plastic waste (about 120 billion units globally) and in the context of a global pandemic and climate change, posting a photo of shelves groaning under the weight of all our lotions and potions suddenly seems a little distasteful.
“A focus on health over insta-worthy aesthetics has slowed down beauty hype-culture with consumers focusing more on results-driven products,” says Varga. “Also environmental concerns are driving a ‘buy less but better’ mentality and a push back against brands that purposely encourage over-consumption.”
According to a survey carried out by the environmental charity Hubbub, one in seven people have recently changed to a more environmentally friendly cosmetic brand and 59 percent are willing to refill their beauty or grooming products, suggesting that the pandemic might spell the death knell for the shelfie. “It’s definitely a consideration in terms of the products I am willing to feature,” says photographer and skinfluencer Emma Hoareau. “I’ve been trying to use products that can be recycled fully and repurposing glass jars as vases - and I always take my products to be recycled at TerraCycle.”