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The popular economic phenomenon known as the lipstick effect has helped beauty brands survive economic crises in the past. Will it come to our rescue during this global pandemic?
It is a universally observed truth that the ongoing health crisis and the corresponding lockdown hasn’t been kind on the economy, and beauty brands are no exception. With delivery timelines and supply chains thrown into disorder during an extended period of complete shutdown, bruised balance sheets are now looking to recuperate as the country begins to unlock in a phased manner.
Hope comes in the form of the “lipstick effect”, demonstrated during previous economic slowdowns—the humble lipstick has earned clout as the go-to purchase for cash-strapped consumers looking for a cost-effective pick-me-up on tough days.
But given the unique nature of the health crisis, will makeup persevere through the pandemic? Our pursuit of answers led us to the founders and stakeholders maneuvering the levers of the beauty industry from behind the scenes. Here’s what we learned.
What is the lipstick effect?
Smita Baishakhia, head of cosmetology at MyGlamm, explains that the term originated from previous economic crises when lipstick sales defied the recession with accelerated growth. “During an economic downturn, a consumer tends to spend on reasonably-priced, feel-good indulgences that can uplift their morale without causing a big dent in their pocket. When faced with a short-term financial crisis, instead of spending on a luxury watch, a consumer chooses to spend on luxury makeup. They want to treat themselves to something that lets them momentarily forget their larger financial problems.”
Tanya Vasunia, psychologist and published researcher, views the lipstick effect as an intriguing crossover between economy and psychology. “When resources are limited, we strive to keep homeostasis,” she explains. “Recently, a client of mine spoke about the day she lost her job in advertising due to the economic downturn and how she went out and bought herself a beauty product that made her feel better. So, while we may have to refrain from spending on larger items, by purchasing smaller luxury items, we still hold on to the idea that things haven’t changed as much and that we still have some element of control,” she adds.
The increasing popularity of makeup under lockdown
All dressed up and nowhere to go… With the world gripped in an unprecedented state of lockdown and shelter-in-place orders issued by the government, the sudden restriction in social movement did little to curb the role that makeup plays in our everyday routines. However, the onset of the Zoom era has seen colour cosmetics witness a sharp spike in interest. Baishakhia confirms, “We are seeing a rising trend in bolder, brighter makeup on video calls for multiple reasons—they stand out onscreen even if the resolution is poor and serve as an easy, one-step way to add an instant dash of freshness and brightness to your face.”
Samir Modi, founder and managing director of Colorbar, also chalks up the increased momentum of makeup to habitual routines. He says, “The women of today know how to play to their strengths and they love using makeup to express how those strengths make them feel.” For someone who is used to having one in their pocket or handbag at all times, a simple tube of lip colour can offer a sense of normalcy during turbulent times.
The good news doesn’t end there. Vasunia believes that the domino effect of looking good can actually make one feel better about themselves. “Makeup gives the illusion of perfection and interestingly, appearing put-together can actually make one feel put-together as it inspires trust from the opposite person. Another client recently recounted how she started sleeping better after her favourite night serum arrived.
She was then complimented by her partner on her appearance the next day and this, in turn, motivated her to work out. This positive knock-on effect is not uncommon. The simple act of swiping on a line of kohl or putting on lipstick has translated into increased motivation and improved moods for my clients,” explains the Mumbai-based psychologist.
While the classic lipstick has stood the test of time, the ongoing health crisis is unique, as the mandatory use of face masks has curtailed the visibility of lip colours. Modi foresees eye makeup witnessing a consequent rise in interest instead. He says, “Since face masks have been made compulsory, more women will adapt to eye makeup artistry with greater enthusiasm before stepping out, and this category will be growing significantly. We have also seen a rise in non-smudging lipsticks that don’t transfer on to face masks.”
How the pandemic has changed our approach to skincare
Four months down the line, colour cosmetics are now sharing the spotlight with skincare and at-home beauty rituals. Vasunia reiterates that when the lockdown first began, people clung on to the idea that this would be over soon. However, as time has passed, a distinct behavioural shift has come into play. She says “As a society, we went from doing thirty-day fitness challenges to less intense workouts, we shifted from being master chefs to mindful eaters. Essentially, we went from trying to beat the lockdown to understanding that this is not a race, but a marathon and this has caused a shift of consciousness and corresponding re-evaluation of priorities.”
The latter has inspired a fresh approach to skincare, affirms Siddharth Somaiya, founder of Organic Riot. He has discovered that consumer demand is now tilting in favour of problem-solving skin serums as opposed to maintenance products. “The beauty of skincare is that it is potentially more permanent than makeup. If you work on a skincare routine, you can reduce your need to ‘conceal your flaws’, so to speak.