It's 2015, and Instagram feeds and glossy magazine pages alike can't fit all the bottles bursting out of skin-care cabinets without zooming way back. The #shelfie is a guaranteed "like" machine, and the only thing better than row upon row of serums, creams, and cleansers is color-coordinated serums, creams, and cleansers. Fast forward to today's reality, and things are... different. Gen Z—and the market that they will create by demand—is not chasing the luster of a beautiful bottle, but the results of a streamlined routine that works.
According to Fullscreen, a social content company that looks at trends, the beauty conversations that are happening this year follow this same narrative. Based on social listening insights (in which Fullscreen uses Netbase to analyze social mentions across Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, and Reddit) from the past 12 months, "skin care that has less steps" has surged 107 percent on social media versus "skin care that has more steps." Similarly, "minimalist skin care" is seeing a 31 percent increase in social media mentions, while "maximalist skin care" has shown a 15-percent dip. Why the paring back of beauty routines? After years of a focus on excess, Gen Z shoppers are instead looking only at what they need and to skin-health professions for proof of what works.
A focus on the essentials will dominate beauty conversations
The desire to edit skin-care routines down to the minimum amount of necessary steps falls in line with dermatologist recommendations. Skin experts continually hum their advice to the tune of less-is-more, suggesting a bare-bones routine of only "The Big Four" most important products—cleanser, serum, moisturizer, sunscreen—is the gold standard. It seems that this intel is being heard loud and clear. According to the 2020 Women's Facial Skincare Consumer Report, just issued by the trend-reporting NPD Group, women in the U.S. use an average of five facial skin-care products daily.
Even on Reddit, where the SkincareAddiction sub-thread has 1.2 million members providing honest feedback about everything skin-care-related, beauty enthusiasts are increasingly asking for tips on how to cut back on their crowded routines. Within that community, mentions of "basic routines" are up 43 percent from April to August of this year compared to the same time period last year. And there's an entire community called MinimalistBeauty, which has seen more postings (a 59 percent increase) in July over June. So, when you look at consumer behavior, the frenzied collecting of vessels filled with skin-perfecting serums and creams has been replaced by a quality-over-quantity philosophy.
"There is this rise of 'essentialism' that has people asking what they really, truly need," says Mukta Chowdhary, senior director, strategy and cultural forecasting at Fullscreen. "At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw people cocooning and taking time to do a 12-step routine. What we're seeing right now is that people are decluttering and taking a more minimalistic lifestyle." All of this newfound time spent at home has created a "hyper-awareness of all the things that we don't need," she says.
During the COVID-19 quarantine, there's more time to look at all of the things that take up space, which is sparking a reckoning with materialism at large. "There's a minimalism trend happening, where we're really evaluating where we spend our money," says Daniela Ciocan, founder of Unfiltered Experience and founder and CEO of Access Beauty Insiders. According to a survey conducted in August by Fullscreen, she's right: 70 percent of 18-to-37-year-olds say that the pandemic has made them pay more attention to what is "essential" in society, while 64 percent of the same age group associate the world "essential" to non-material things in 2020, versus material things in 2019.
The rise of the expert influencer
At present, Gen Z has the most beauty buying power, and they're looking for pared-down routines because they're turning to a new class of influencers for advice: dermatologists and in-the-know skin experts. According to a survey of over 1,000 Americans by RetailMeNot, Gen Z is spending more than any other generation on cosmetics, which proves that these are the shoppers that beauty brands are keeping tabs on.
Not so long ago, YouTube and Instagram beauty influencers dubbed skin-care products as buzzy, and without having to say much else, their followers listened and purchased; however, that's beginning to shift. "We've seen the rise of influencers in [the beauty industry], and that was predominately how people would find out about beauty products," says Chowdhary. "They're beauty enthusiasts, but they're not educated in beauty. [Now] the voice of the specialist and of scientists, who truly know how to use these products, is on the rise." That's why you're seeing an increasing number of dermatologists and estheticians becoming more social media savvy, morphing into influencers in their own right. "Consumers want to know the truth about what they're putting on their skin and how to use it properly," says Ciocan.
As pros take back the buzz, it's worth noting that their product picks aren't always the ones with the most beautiful bottles. Perhaps the most visible display of this was on TikTok: When skin-care specialist Hyram recommended CeraVe products to his 7 million-plus fans, the drugstore-beloved brand went viral with a new generation of skin-care enthusiasts. While dermatologists and beauty editors have long favored CeraVe because it's loaded with the ceramides needed to have a well-functioning skin barrier, the tactile, generic packaging doesn't exactly make for a supreme shelfie.
This turn away from pretty packaging towards a more minimalist, realistic skin-care routine says loads about the generation that makes up 40 percent of the consumer base. If Millennials were all about the crowded shelfie, Gen Z is set on an edited skin-care routine, which has already made an impact on launches from big-name beauty brands.
The future of skin care
If you look at the new items on the shelves, skin-care products are either multitasking wonders that do five things in one or that focus on one science-backed active ingredient (à la practically every product by The Ordinary). That's because the young consumer is heeding the advice of dermatologist influencers like Shereene Idriss, MD, a dermatologist whose regular #PillowTalkDerm beauty chats divulge skin-care advice (her followers have increased from 160K in January to over 218K now), or Insta-famous estheticians like Joanna Czech, who treats the complexions of A-list celebs and has over 131K followers on Instagram.
"Moving forward, beauty will be more about paring down your routine and using products that are multi-purpose and that do more," says Chowdhary. Since skin backfires with issues like inflammation, irritation, or breakouts if it's overloaded with ingredients, more beauty brands are introducing simplistic and streamlined skin-care routines. The launch of Fenty Skin by Rihanna this summer featured a well-edited three-step regimen, and plenty of other companies are following suit to simplify routines (like the new Honest Beauty Complete Calm Kit and the Seiso JBeauty four-part skin barrier repair regimen).
This all isn't to say that the skin-care industry is quieting down—it's merely becoming smarter and more efficient. "The beauty consumer is going to recalibrate their skin-care routines to really find out what's essential in order to feel good and have your skin feel good as well," says Chowdhary. "People just want their skin to be healthy." And if that means much less crowded beauty cabinets, so be it.
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