See Ya, Shelfie: Here’s How the Beauty Industry Will Pivot in 2021 To Meet Our Concerns

All parts of wellness had a shake up this year—how we work out, what we eat, the products we put on our faces, the way we rest—and the reverberations of those changes will be felt into 2021 and beyond. Here's how the innovations born of this year will usher us into the future.

This year has been a tough one, but as a result of some of its challenges, the beauty industry has been forced to confront areas where it has previously fallen short, particularly in relation to diversity, sustainability, and accessibility. “In 2021, I think that we're going to see two things happen,” says Sharon Chuter, founder of Pull Up for Change and Uoma Beauty. “We're going to see people's lifestyles change and become simpler, and people are going to care more about issues than they have ever cared before.”

To Chuter’s point, issues that are, and will continue to be, deeply important for many Americans are diversity, representation, and inclusion within the beauty industry. “‘Good skin’ is a luxury and status symbol in this country, and communities of color have been left behind,” says Caroline Robinson, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Chicago. Next year, brands are making strides to correct this: Unilever-backed Melé will release six new products that are formulated for melanin-rich skin; a brand-new line called Eadem, which has already launched a content platform highlighting women of color, will debut a curated collection of skin-care products; and Thirteen Lune, a just-launched e-commerce site that sells products from brands founded by folks who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), will add new creators to its docket.

A surge in funding for Black-owned beauty brands is another step towards a more diverse and inclusive future for the beauty industry. In June, Glossier launched a grant initiative to pump $500,000 into 16 Black-owned beauty brands; and in the new year, we’ll meet the second class of Clean Beauty Summer School, which provides mentoring to new Black-owned brand founders and a $10,000 stipend to one winning brand. "The buying power and the talent that exists within the Black community can no longer be a second thought within the industry—it needs to be prioritized,” says Nyakio Grieco, founder of Nyakio Beauty and Thirteen Lune. “Beauty is universal, and the beauty industry has such an incredible opportunity to unify through its power by getting behind Black-founded brands.” But the onus can’t be on Black-founded brands alone; the entire industry, to borrow Chuter’s term, needs to pull up by hiring more BIPOC in positions of power and creating products that work for all skin tones and hair types.

In addition to a rise in values-based buying, the simplified lifestyle many have adopted will also influence the skin-care industry in 2021. As customers get savvier about what exactly their skin needs, they will buy fewer but more effective products. “Patients are asking really smart questions and are a lot smarter about ingredients and what to use...I think it's definitely changed the landscape quite a bit,” says Michelle Henry, MD, a New York City dermatologist.

This move away from shelfies full of products is a pivot in the industry, and the streamlined approach is hugely beneficial for the environment (less waste, for the win!) and our skin. Because, over the past few years, says Kavita Mariwalla, MD, a dermatologist in West Islip, New York, we’ve been "using many more products, at-home devices, and many more ingredients than ever before. Add that to a lot of Insta-information that is often false, and the result is a population with more sensitized skin.”

The logic follows that if you’re going to use fewer products, each needs to work harder to achieve the results you want, and the industry has seized this opportunity to give educated beauty buyers what they want. Derm- and esthetician-backed brands like Dr. Dennis GrossSkinMedicaShani Darden, and EltaMD have been hot on this trail for years, and next year, a new crop will join them. In 2021, Joanna Czech, the world’s most name-checked esthetician, plans to release five skin-care products: “[The line] is about simplicity, and the most important things––not 17 steps,” she says. We have it on good authority that she won’t be alone (though we can’t say just yet who’ll be joining her).

To keep up with issue-oriented, ingredient-savvy customers, brands will continue to innovate in new ways that merge utility and science with style and fun. Bubble, a just-launched, neon-packaged skin-care brand for Gen Z, is centering science in its formulations by having ingredients vetted by a panel that includes a clinical herbalist, a chemist, a dermatologist, and an esthetician. Meanwhile, buzzy new tools will vie to make everyday products even more effective. Take Droplette, a device that turns derm-backed ingredients into a micromist that can help penetrate 20 cell layers deep. And Opulus, the brainchild of the Clarisonic founder Robb Akridge, PhD, will reinvent skin care altogether with a high-tech new device that takes a solid form of your fave skin-care ingredients and melts it down into a cream when you’re ready to use it—think, Keurig for skin care.

So while beauty may look different this year—”day” and “night” routines (let alone red lipstick!) hardly feel necessary when we never leave our homes—it remains a reflection of who we are and what we’re going through. In 2021, it’s our responsibility to leverage the lessons of 2020 so that we can build an industry that prioritizes diversity, sustainability, and science. “It is no one person's job to keep brands accountable. It is all of our jobs,” says Chuter.

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