While sustainability has been a hot topic in recent years, the outbreak of the virus has fanned the flames and accelerated its relevance to the top of everyone’s mind.
In October 2020, Shiseido announced the launch of a global sustainability initiative, Sustainable Beauty Actions (SBAS), to solidify its commitment to environmental health.
L’Oréal’s travel retail division has also placed more emphasis on sustainability by ensuring the eco-friendliness of its pop-up store designs.
Siddharth Somaiya, CEO of sustainable beauty brand Organic Riot, believes ensuring sustainability was the only way forward for the industry and consumers.
“COVID-19 has given people time to think about their impact on the world. It has given people the luxury of time, time which we rarely had to step back and observe ourselves. I think it is extremely important to have had this experience to know how we should not act anymore. I think sustainability is going to be at the forefront of change in all industries.”
Somaiya cautioned that cosmetic companies must look at all aspects of sustainability ‘from farm-to-face’.
“Sustainability is a very complex and nuanced thought process with no silver bullet. As brands we will all have to pick and choose what to do and what not to do. And I think it is in these choices and decisions where brands set themselves apart from one another.”
With Organic Riot, Somaiya explained that the brand aims to be holistically sustainable.
“As a conscious brand, we have the opportunity to push the boundaries of sustainability at every step of our process – from purchase of renewable based raw materials, to using 100% recycled and recyclable packaging materials.”
The brand also adopts a circular approach to it packaging to ensure a low waste footprint.
“The goal for me as a brand owner is to look at circularity and how we can reduce waste and not only that, use waste so as to close the loop for recycling. As they say recycling goods are only valuable if someone buys recycled products. So, as a brand we have a company-wide mandate to only buy recycled tubes and recycled outer boxes,” said Somaiya.
Furthermore, Somaiya expects the eco-consciousness to drive the increasing awareness of the value of minimalism.
“It is time to rethink all aspects of consumerism and what effect we have on the world around us. So much of what we do affects the world around us in many indirect ways.”
He noted that one of the brand’s goals is to declutter the consumer’s skin care routines.
“Our lives today have become very complex we’ve barely had time for ourselves. Skincare doesn’t help this, everything is so complicated, with so many products solving so many issues. But you don’t need too many more products to look your best.”
Essential skin care
In the midst of the pandemic, beauty consumers have discovered a renewed interest in skin care driven by the need to improve their overall skin health and boost their well-being.
Despite the impact of COVID-19 and cities lockdown, health and beauty retailer Watsons has observed a year-on-year consumption increase of sensitive skin and acne care products across APAC.
Watsons believes that increased stress during this period has contributed to the demand for skin care.
“When we are under high level of stress, it affects our skin barrier functions to repair itself and makes our skin dull and tired looking,” said Susanna Yuen, head of exclusive brands, Watsons International.
Furthermore, the prolonged use of protective face masks has resulted in a rise in acne mechanica, also known as maskne.
“Sensitive skin indeed is one of the major concerns for beauty consumers due to extended wear of hygienic mask. The common skin irritations in COVID-19 face mask era are facial redness, trapped moisture and blackheads and acne resulted from pore-clogging by excessive sebum. As stress and use of face masks will be unavoidable, more consumers will try to manage these conditions,” said Yuen.
As result of this, the health and beauty retailer and manufacturer believes it will see an overall demand for ‘essential’ skin care products.
Yuen defines such skin care products as those that are gentle, hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic to soothe uncomfortable symptoms like dryness and itching.
At the same time, consumers expect these products to keep skin hydrated and protect skin against acne.
“We believe beauty consumers will also look for skin care products to enhance skin’s barrier function and boost own defence system from external factors by consuming more healthy foods to strengthen immune system and improve overall skin health.”
Yuen said the firm expects this attitude towards skin care to become part of the ‘new normal’ in a post-COVID world, not just among female consumers, but male consumers as well.
“Men may have severe acne-prone skin conditions than female as they tend to have larger pores, oilier skin and sweat more. We noticed increasing number of male consumers have shopped dermocosmetics products in the past year as high as 32% growth in Malaysia and double-digit percentage growth in Hong Kong and Thailand.”
To keep up with demand, Watsons launched the M.A.S.K. campaign which promotes an essential skin care routine which can keep skin healthy and free of maskne.
Hand care premiumisation
At the start of the outbreak, demand for hand sanitisers skyrocketed, with manufacturers such as Shiseido, LVMH and L’Occitane moving to fulfil the demand.
In the aftermath of the greater need for frequent hand washing and sanitiser, hand care products are expected to evolve to meet consumer needs.
“Hand care is definitely one of the top concerns right now. Especially when the recommended methods of hand hygiene such as frequent washing with soap and water, and use of alcohol-based hand sanitisers, lead to dry and sensitive skin on the hands,” said Coreenna Ong, co-founder and director of research and development of Singapore-based firm Recherche Skincare.
Ong added that this condition has been coined ‘pandemic hands’ and that it was becoming an increasing concern among consumers.
In May 2020, the brand launched a multi-functional hand care product that fulfils the demand for sanitising and moisturising to meet the pressing concerns of pandemic hands.
André Hoffmann, vice chairman of L’Occitane International told us that the firm has also seen a demand for products like hand creams.
As such, the company developed a new hand purifying gel and Hoffman said it would continue developing new products to keep up with this demand.
“COVID-19 has led consumers to re-discover the premium hand care products that we are known for — we expect this trend to be sustained post-COVID-19 both online and offline as our physical stores around the world begin to re-open,” said Hoffman.
Ong believes we will continue to see demand for more sophisticated hand care products as we move into the new year.
“We are not sure when we will see an end to this pandemic. Frequent hand washing with use of hand sanitisers is not going to be kind on the skin, especially in cold, dry winter. Hence, we feel there will be increasing demand for hand care products that would address these issues in the coming months well into 2021.”
In the past few years, companies like L’Oréal and Shiseido have been investing in technology such as virtual try-on tools powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR).
However, the industry could not have anticipated how essential such digital tools would become as a result of lockdowns, store closures and hygiene concerns.
This year, beauty brands and retailers raced to blur the lines between physical retail with digital, accelerating trends that were emerging even prior to the pandemic.
For instance, the live streaming format has helped to push cosmetics sales forward during the retail closures for cosmetic brands and retailers.
Firms like L’Oréal even mobilised its brick-and-mortar beauty advisors to reach out to consumers via live streaming.
“We have asked some of our beauty advisors to do live streaming because they are more ‘real’. In some markets, we even get better results from them than celebrities even,” said Karan Kansal, eCommerce director, APAC, for L’Oréal’s consumer products division.
However, Kansal stressed that even though many brands been successful with live streaming in China, a replication of that success in other markets is not certain.
“Livestreaming is definitely a big feature all e-commerce platforms are pushing, but not everything translates very well outside of China. This could be a big game-changer post-COVID, but I think the jury on this might still be out on this.”
Jacek Brozda head of ventures and new business at Beiersdorf Korea, noted that he has also seen the live commerce effect in Korea and Japan.
Brozda, who is also the co-founder of NIVEA Accelerator, NX, believes this digital acceleration also represents an opportunity for beauty start-ups.
“Change is an opportunity for start-ups… As technological change happens on so many verticals simultaneously, the best way to capture opportunities is to embody a mindset of open innovation and partnership – even beyond the conventional borders of the beauty industry.”
He highlighted the efforts of NX alumnus LYLC Inc, a Korea-based firm that leverages on its direct-to-consumer (D2C) business model to develop products based on the accumulated consumer data.
Moving forward, Brozda expects to see the beauty industry continue to evolve digitally.
“Technology will continue to stretch the boundaries of beauty innovation in the next five years, especially in terms of personalisation. We will see new front-end innovations, like personalised cosmetics, AI-enabled skin analytics, virtual shopping assistants and so on.”
He added: “We will also see fundamental innovation in the back-end, with automated factories, 3D-printing, customised small-batches, as well as blockchain technology in our supply chain.”
In the past few years, we have seen a small but growing trend of supporting a local brand, which has been accelerated greatly because of the pandemic.
The demand for local brands is being driven by the logistical issues due to COVID-19 related border restrictions, as well as a desire to support local business.
In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, Australian mother and baby care brand Aromababy has observed that consumers were placing more importance on supporting local brands.
“Consumers seem to be more aware than ever before, of what actually constitutes a locally produced item, asking questions of packaging origin and even ingredient sourcing,” said Catherine Cervasio, founder of Aromababy.
Cervasio noted that the restrictions imposed on import and export due to COVID-19 have caused both manufacturers and consumers to look for local alternatives.
However, she has also observed a more ‘unified approach’ in supporting local or smaller brands.
“[They want] brands which offer not only a point of difference on shelves but also tick many of the boxes that matter to consumers right now.”
For instance, the brand’s consumers are growing increasingly concerned about sustainability issues, which is also contributing to their decision to buy locally-made products.
“It's common that the packaging is imported into Australia and its often, at a cost greater than the contents of the bottles or jars themselves. When importing packaging not only are we adding to the carbon footprint – we are importing 'empty space' which at the end of the day,” said Cervasio.
Cervaso believes that the challenges brought about the pandemic forced a change in purchasing habits, which she believes will continue into the new year.
“We are already experiencing retailers and consumers alike wanting to more strongly support local – seeking out brands such as ours, which offer both domestic production and packaging, and in the process, bolster local employment which is critical to economic recovery.”