When the pandemic hit in March 2020, it felt like all the colour and joy drained out of the world, leaving nothing but grey-scale gloom. Deprived of our regular routines and activities, we sought solace in simple things like baking, gardening and beauty rituals. A bright lipstick for a Zoom call, a citrusy spritz to start the day, a relaxing soak to ease into the evening… These all became tiny but much needed doses of dopamine.
Colour cosmetics took a hard hit in 2020 — with makeup sales down 33 percent — but people didn’t abandon beauty entirely. For some, makeup became a reminder of their pre-pandemic lives, and for others, it held the promise of better days ahead. Beauty became a connective thread, and brands took note, adjusting their product offerings to reflect a new mission of spreading joy. Some new brands even launched during the pandemic, with the goal of lifting spirits.
In February, Kulfi made its debut with a colourful offering of kajal (kohl) eyeliners. “Joy is a central pillar of our brand identity,” shares founder Priyanka Ganjoo. The word “kulfi” refers to a sweet South Asian frozen dessert. “I reflected on the moments I felt happiest growing up: eating kulfi on superhot summer days in Delhi. That sweetness and joy is exactly what I want to embody with the brand.” This infectiously sunny ethos has inspired customers to play with Kulfi’s vibrant kajals and share their looks on social media. For Ganjoo, the goal was to make beauty feel like a playground.
Filipino-Canadian makeup artist Joanna E. (@joannadoesmakeup_) has also embraced beauty’s joyful side, using it as a grounding ritual during uncertain times. She has brushed up on makeup techniques, experimented with graphic eye looks and dialed up on punchy neon hues. And she even participated in a social media collaboration called #meriendamakeup with fellow Filipinx creators that was started by @makeupjeanneish. The idea was to create fun and colourful beauty looks inspired by Filipino dessert snacks like halo-halo and buko pandan. Not only did it give her a chance to play with shades, textures and materials but it also connected her to her culture and the beauty community across the globe.
Beyond makeup, aromatherapy has been another respite. “Consumers have turned to beauty for comfort during the pandemic, sourcing products to soothe and heal skin as well as help with sleep and wellness,” says Jenni Middleton, director of beauty at global trend forecaster WGSN. For beauty pioneer Susanne Langmuir, who’s best known for launching Bite Beauty, which she sold in 2014, the pandemic inspired her next venture. “It changed the way we work, the way we live and our connection to our friends and family,” she explains. She wanted to address “the overriding sense of perpetual anxiety” with the powerful benefits of aromatherapy. LIXR is a collection of lip products that combines mood-boosting olfactory benefits with organic aromatics, some of which are sourced from her own 20-hectare organic farm in Ontario. The clear and tinted lip masks aren’t just moisturizing; they’re also formulated to be soothing and pleasurable to use. In a world where protective masks might be around for a while, the idea was to inspire calm and happiness — with the help of uplifting notes like peppermint, eucalyptus, grapefruit and lemon balm — while we’re wearing face coverings.
French brand Officine Universelle Buly harnesses the mood-boosting powers of aromatherapy with scented stickers. Featuring peppermint and eucalyptus notes, they can be worn as patches on your face mask.
The demand for fragrances hasn’t diminished either, despite our being unable to walk into a bricks-and-mortar store and experience a scent before buying it. Experts chalk up the category’s unexpected success to the desire for comfort and connection. “We have definitely seen people opt for comforting fragrances that reduce their stress or make them feel good,” says Middleton. The home scents category grew by 10 percent in 2020, and The NPD Group reports that consumers spent 6 percent more on fragrances (on average) compared to 2019.
Some fragrances are even a reflection of our anxiety-fuelled times. Byredo’s aptly named Mixed Emotions is an olfactive pulse check on the general mood, featuring reassuring and comforting notes like maté, sweet cassis and black tea.
As we take the tentative first steps toward a post-pandemic world, there are all kinds of predictions about what the beauty industry will look like. In Canada, beauty sales have shown the first signs of an increase — by 3 percent as early as March — since November 2020, according to The NPD Group. And WGSN has a bright outlook for the future of colour cosmetics, predicting that rich gemstone hues such as “Lazuli Blue,” “Dark Oak,” “Galactic Teal” and “Orchid Flower” will be in demand because they “speak to optimism and opulence and are reassuring in their luxury and comfort.”
While makeup sales are projected to rise, skincare minimalism has also taken hold, with people seeking a pared-down routine. The way forward could very well be a combination of both. The future may be uncertain, but it’s likely that we’ll continue to find joy in beauty. As beauty journalist Sali Hughes wrote in her column for The Guardian, “When the country is finally vaccinated, I plan to roll naked in Chanel No. 5 and red lipstick.”