The Big Picture
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.
"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.” Nyakio Grieco, Founder of Nyakio Beauty and Thirteen Lune
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 Gross, SkinMedica, Shani 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).
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.
Simplified Skin Kits Prove That Less Is More
Ask a dermatologist which products you need for healthy skin, and you’ll be able to count them on one hand. But for consumers, it’s been hard to resist the siren call of a beautiful shelfie, and so “more is more” (more products, more steps) has been the dominating beauty aesthetic for the past few years.
In 2020, however, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Americans to think about their health in a new way—prioritizing habits that are truly good for them over ones that just look good to others. “A focus on health over Insta-worthy aesthetics has slowed down beauty-hype culture,” says Clare Varga, head of beauty at trend forecasting firm WGSN. And as a result, consumers are finally ready to listen to what the experts have been telling them all along and “focus more on functional, high-performance and results-driven products,” Varga says. In the coming year, we’ll see skin-care brands lean into this “quality over quantity” approach, delivering targeted, step-based skin sets that serve up the essentials in a single purchase.
The launches started in the final months of 2020, with Elta MD’s three-step Skin Recovery System, Nudeskin’s four-step regimen, and Six Gldn’s new line designed to “cut through the excess” with a back-to-basics, five-step kit. Looking ahead, get ready for a new system from celeb esthetician Joanna Czech, and a just-released three-step skin-care system from Alo Yoga that’s meant to simplify your post workout regimen.
Next year we’ll also see brands repackaging their existing products into easier-to-use kits, like Fenty Beauty’s new four-step morning and evening routines, Drunk Elephant’s issue-specific sets (targeting dullness, skin laxity, and uneven texture), and Dermstore’s “Problem/Solution” systems which include products from multiple brands that aid in hydration, anti-aging, and fighting acne.
“People come to me, and I have a little prescription pad, and I'm like: ‘This is what you need,’” says Chaneve Jeanniton, MD, the Brooklyn-based oculofacial plastic surgeon and founder of epi.logic skin-care line, who tipped us off to this trend. “They hold onto that and they take a photo and you can see there's a sense of satisfaction in having a plan.” Simplified, easy-to-follow routines, whether from the brain of a dermatologist or in a pre-boxed kit, will take the guesswork out of taking care of our complexions and help all of us step up our skin care in 2021.
Trend Photo: Drunk Elephant
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Black-Owned Beauty Brands Are Finally Getting More Funding
If you’d visited a major retailer back in January, chances are you wouldn’t have seen many beauty brands founded by Black people. Finances have a lot to do with this: Not only are Black entrepreneurs twice as likely to be rejected for bank loans to help scale their businesses, but companies owned by Black women—beauty brands included—have traditionally received only 0.2 percent of venture capital funds. (In comparison, women-owned startups in general receive around 3 percent of investment dollars.) But in 2021, fueled by a growing consumer demand, beauty brands founded by Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) are set to claim a greater share of funding and shelf space than ever before, with increased attention to Black-founded brands.
The rush of investment in BIPOC-owned beauty brands started this summer, and we’ll continue to see its impact in the year to come. In June 2020—as millions of Americans protested the wrongful deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor—Glossier launched a grant initiative pumping $500,000 into 16 Black-owned beauty brands, including skin-care line epi.logic and premium extensions brand Melanj Hair. Around the same time, entrepreneur and activist Aurora James asked retailers to dedicate 15 percent of their shelf space to Black-owned brands. Since then Blue Mercury, Bloomingdales, and Sephora joined the cause.
Sephora is working toward this benchmark through Accelerate, a women’s mentorship and funding program that’s pivoting to exclusively focus on BIPOC-founded brands in 2021. Rauvan Dulay, Sephora’s vice president of merchandising business development and strategy, says the retailer plans to double the number of Black-owned and founded brands at Sephora by summer 2021. “With Sephora investing in so many new up-and-coming brands through its Accelerate program and the 15 Percent Pledge, we are effectively putting millions of dollars back into the Black community,” says James, founder of the 15 Percent Pledge and luxury accessories brand Brother Vellies. She hopes to see retailers like Target, Whole Foods, and Walmart join the Pledge in 2021.
Textured hair care brand Bread Beauty Supply launched at Sephora in July through Accelerate, bringing the retailer's tally of Black-owned brands from seven to eight. Maeva Heim, founder of Bread, believes that the momentum will continue in 2021: “I myself have witnessed investors talk about passing on a brand which they've then revisited [in 2020],” she says. “So as long as that continues, and as long as we see more investors not forget about what we're doing and what's happening, I think we're in good stead.”
What’s more, expect to see a whole new wave of BIPOC-owned beauty brands making their debut in the coming year, thanks to new business development programs like Black Apothecary Office (BAO). A Black-owned accelerator offering mentorship and funding for Black- and Latinx-owned beauty, wellness, and telehealth businesses, BAO will host its first group at the top of 2021. “Right now is the best time for us to be able to bring [our work] to the forefront, allowing people to be able to create and build their brands,” says Brianna Wise, co-founder of BAO.
Though the industry is taking steps in the right direction, it needs continued pressure to keep moving forward. In some respects, corporate commitment to inclusivity is already starting to wane: A study by Eyecue Insights found that after a spike of darker skin tones in beauty brand Instagram posts in June, representation has fallen back to previous levels, with under 15 percent of posts featuring dark skin tones. This year showed the beauty industry that it can no longer sideline the BIPOC community without getting called out. In 2021 and beyond, continued pressure on major retailers and investors will allow Black-owned and founded brands to start getting the support and funding they deserve.
Trend Photo: Stocksy / Ivan Gener
Pandemic Personal-Care Products Are Designed To Meet Unprecedented Needs
“Many products and trends are born out of necessity,” says Monica Arnaudo, chief merchandising officer of Ulta Beauty. And in 2021, we’ll see the rise of a whole new category of beauty products aimed at solving the skin-care woes brought forth from the mainstays in our COVID-19 lifestyles: increased hand-washing, face masks (not the moisturizing kind), and days spent entirely indoors.
"Hand washing has become a more frequent part of our skin routine for obvious reasons. Like the rest of us, the skin barrier wasn’t ready for all of this," says Mona Gohara, MD, a New Haven, CT dermatologist. "As we cleanse we strip away essential lipids and proteins that comprise our moisture barrier." To counteract this, luxury beauty brands like Nécessaire, Augustinus Bader, Hanacure, Kate Mcleod, and Ouai have all launched skin-friendly soaps, sanitizers, and creams since the onset of the pandemic. In 2021, expect even more products for your hands formulated with the ingredients usually reserved for your face: Pai Skincare just released a hand “serum,” YesTo is launching a hand cream infused with avocado oil and hyaluronic acid, and Linné Botanicals will offer a vitamin E-rich “Nurture Balm” that’s gentle enough to be used on your hands, body, and face.
“Maskne” (mask-bred acne) entered the lexicon along with the pandemic, with mentions of the issue on the popular r/skincareaddiction subreddit spiking 400 percent in July and continuing to rise since then. The increase in new products targeting “mask face” has been just as swift: Masque Bar released a first-of-its-kind sheet mask designed to be worn under your PPE mask, Untamed Humans developed a mask-relief mist, and Dr. Barbara Sturm launched a maskne set that includes four irritation-fighting products. At the same time, there’s been a massive uptick in products featuring the ingredient niacinamide, which dermatologists regularly recommend to fight acne. The Ordinary launched its 100% Niacinamide Powder in August; IT Cosmetics will release its new niacinamide-infused retinol cream that soothes skin irritation and acne at the same time in December; and First Aid Beauty’s Niacinamide Dark Spot Serum will hit the market in January to help fend off the marks our maskne’s left behind.
Finally, our increased time indoors and in front of screens has brands pivoting to create blue-light defense products—in January, J.Lo Beauty is launching with an SPF product that’s meant to combat UV damage indoors and outside. Treating the long-term effects of blue light (think hyperpigmentation, collagen degradation and free radical damage) is also a new priority for brands: Cellular MD just launched with a line of products that repairs the DNA damage brought on by blue light, and in February, Goodhabit will release its Rescue Me Rest + Reset Mask and Moisturizer, which is designed to reverse signs of blue light damage.
SPF brands are also getting in on the blue-light fighting game. Elta MD, will also launch a vitamin C-spiked SPF, and Colorescience will launch a new pigmented, liquid sunscreen in May that’s meant to prevent damage and repair skin using antioxidants.
“COVID-19 isn’t going away any time soon, so our 2021 skin-care routines will undoubtedly have to help us protect our hands from constant disinfecting, fight maskne, and defend against blue light from our never-ending zoom sessions,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, a New York City dermatologist. “The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life as we know it, and that includes our skin-care routines.”
Trend Photo: Studio Firma
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Plastic-Free Beauty Is About To Do a Solid for the Environment
“Plastic is a serious issue in the beauty and personal-care industry,” says Luana Bumachar, vice president of innovation at Grove Collaborative, an online marketplace of sustainable home and beauty products. “There are over 120 billion plastic units created per year globally and 91 percent of that is not being recycled.” To solve this plastic problem, beauty brands are thinking outside the bottle. In 2021, you’ll be able to create an entirely plastic-free shower routine, thanks to the launch of new and improved shampoos, lotions, and skin-care products in bar form from brands like Peach, Love Beauty Planet, Ethique, and more.
“We've seen the rise of bar products because they offer a more sustainable approach,” says Annie Johnstone, analyst at WGSN Beauty. “They can be formulated in solid formats, creating a zero-waste product with zero packaging.” Citing data from Nielsen, Bumachar says that sales in the bar category have grown 150 percent year over year.
New-to-2020 solid shampoos and conditioners from Shambar and Superzero use the same hair- and skin-friendly ingredients you’re used to seeing in your bottles, like coconut-derived surfactants, panthenol, and glycerin. Next year, KMS will launch a shampoo bar, sold in salons, while drugstore behemoth Garnier plans to do the same at mass, joining brands like Love Beauty and Planet, which have been helping people lower their plastic consumption with bar shampoos since 2019. "Consumers are increasingly mindful of their choices and their consumption, even within beauty and personal care," says Sonika Malhotra, Love Beauty and Planet co-founder and global brand director. "Through innovative technologies from our formulas to packaging, we aim to make choices big and small that help you be a little more mindful while continuing to enjoy your beauty rituals."
In 2021, however, the biggest innovations in the plastic-free category will be for products used outside the shower.In January, Freeman Beauty is launching a line of cleansing face “mask bars” that target specific concerns like acne and hydration. Superzero is bringing its first hair styler to market: a frizz-fighting bar that’s meant to be smoothed over dry strands. Mirage—a just-launched brand that makes hair-washing tablets you use by crushing in the palm of your hand and then sudsing up—is also eyeing expansion into skin and body products. And Peach, similarly, confirmed it will move into new categories of plastic-free and water-free formulations outside soap and shampoo—though they’re not saying how just yet.
Soap bottles have been around for 60 years, so it's high time that the packaging of our personal care products innovated to help solve the growing plastics crisis we've built, one shampoo at a time. Because as Bumachar puts it: “The issues are not new. What is different right now is the consumer is ready for a change.” And in 2021, we’ll see that change on their countertops, without having to sacrifice for the sake of our skin and hair.
Trend Photo: Stocksy / Tatjana Zlatkovic