The world has carried on buying skin-care and hair-care products during the pandemic, but make-up and scent sales plummeted. And with shops closed during lockdowns, buyers turned to e-commerce. But what is the future for beauty products? We asked 4,700 consumers on three continents.

Beauty was a USD320 billion-a-year global business in 2019, but after decades of unbroken growth averaging 4 per cent, the pandemic saw sales fall almost 10 per cent in 2020.

To find how buying patterns may evolve, in October and November we surveyed 4,700 consumers across three of the largest markets: the US, mainland China and France. They included all ages and a wide variety of backgrounds, education and incomes, but our sample was skewed to 18 to 34 year-olds on lower to average earnings.

Lockdowns and travel restrictions limited buying opportunities at beauty stores and duty-free shops while reducing occasions for using cosmetics, fragrances and sun care. But a rising internet-savvy young population using social-media sites meant e-commerce grew rapidly into an important sales channel.

Recent years have seen a rebalancing of growth from colour cosmetics towards skin care as consumers prioritise health and wellness. The pandemic accelerated that trend.

Our questions concentrated on four product categories and found 42 per cent of consumers using less make-up during the pandemic and 34 per cent cutting back on scent with just 19 per cent and 17 per cent increasing their usage. However, the 22 per cent reducing hair-care products were outweighed by 27 per cent increasing usage, and only 14 per cent decreased skin-care items while 39 per cent are using more.

When consumers are using more of a product, their main reason is self-care. When they use less, it is lack of mobility but wearing masks also makes make-up less necessary. Financial worries hardly registered.

E-commerce was the only channel through which consumers are buying more. Except in France, direct sales declined, especially in department stores. Younger consumers and mainland Chinese are the most enthusiastic purchasers – the French the least.

Although Chinese buyers are most concerned about the environment and sustainability, such issues are low down the list of reasons not to purchase. Chinese consumers liked seeking out better new products.

In hair care and skin care, most expect higher usage to continue. New habits in the self-care categories seem set to persist in a post-pandemic world but the drop in make-up and fragrance consumption could be temporary even if a small balance of respondents expect to use less of these categories in future.

For France and the US, a noticeably greater proportion of higher-income consumers – EUR60,000 or USD80,000 – increased consumption across all product categories, with high earners expecting to buy even more in future.

First published 1 December 2020.

Would you like to find out more? Click here to read the full report (you must be a subscriber to HSBC Global Research).

Disclosure and disclaimer

More, collapsed
From reaction to action – responsiveness and resilience in a pandemic
Good corporate cybersecurity hygiene and building cyber resilience
Join the conversation?

Join our Linkedin group to get an unparalleled view of macro and microeconomic events and trends from a bank that is a leader in both developed and emerging markets.