The COVID pandemic has been an extreme time for the beauty industry. People have whipsawed between feeling nearly invisible to being super-exposed: Masks covered half of our faces for much of the last 18 months — and, after a brief hiatus, the Delta variant means they’re back — while our looks have moved front-and-center during work and social videoconferences.
This dichotomy, per Mary Bemis, editorial director of Insider’s Guide to Spas, who has been an expert on spas for more than 30 years, has meant tough times for some parts of the retail cosmetics industry and a boon for medi-spas (spas that have a medical program operated under the supervision of a licensed health care professional) and plastic-surgery providers.
“The global beauty industry (comprising skin care, color cosmetics, hair care, fragrances, and personal care) has been shocked by the COVID-19 crisis,” according to a McKinsey & Company report. The report also says, “we saw a drop in beauty-industry revenues of 20 to 30 percent in 2020.”
“While brick-and-mortar drugstores and mass-market and grocery stores remained open [in the early days of the pandemic], their customer traffic and revenues have plummeted,” The McKinsey & Company report goes on to explain.
“Even the most optimistic of us could see the writing on the wall. No amount of increase in online traffic could make up for the sudden loss of offline sales,” said Peter B. Lee, CEO and co-founder of Orora Skin Science, Inc.
The numbers reflect the reality of many at the start of the pandemic: The quick pick-me-up that a new lipstick or foundation has long provided consumers was pointless if one was wearing a mask in public and unable to leave home, so most people spent less time on grooming and makeup application.
But the pandemic also had a number of other unintended consequences for other segments of the beauty industry. The rise of Zoom and other videoconferencing platforms soon changed people’s perspectives on the need to look good. People were gazing at a video image of themselves all day, and many decided on topical fixes (laser treatments, Botox, tooth-whitening, and many others were a good idea).
The Zoom Effect
Dr. Mark McKenna, CMO of OVME, a medical aesthetic studio chain, says, “The Zoom effect is absolutely real. Women and men around the country are essentially staring at their digital reflections throughout the day. Also, the bottoms-up angle utilized by most video call participants combined with poor ambient lighting tends to create unflattering shadows that highlight our worst features — wrinkling, facial volume loss, and under-eye hollows.”
The more extreme fixes offered by medi-spas, and plastic surgeons are reflected in increased COVID-era numbers, according to the two plastic surgeons we spoke to. “We have seen a 30% increase in plastic surgery nationwide during the pandemic, including at my practice,” says Beverly Hills–based plastic surgeon Dr. Rady Rahban. “The number one reason is the Zoom effect. Next, as a result of the pandemic, people are wearing masks which can allow them to heal from facial surgery and at the same time be covered up. Number three, people have saved a lot of money that they haven’t spent on vacation and other luxury items like entertainment which they can now put towards plastic surgery.”
Dr. McKenna explains, “We’ve seen extremely robust total company and same-store sales growth year over year. Cosmetic dermatology services can only be administered by expertly trained medical professionals and, as opposed to over-the-counter skincare, are not readily available in-home.”
“People want to look their absolute best on Zoom and other platforms,” agrees Mary Bemis. “People today are more experimental, more apt to dabble in medical procedures, and are drawn to medi-spas because — as they are more paranoid than ever about germs — they know that these facilities are sanitized. Also, having an M.D. on staff really increases trust, and some medi-spas even offer COVID vaccines.”