A skintillating switch

And for some, it comes down to finally indulging in self-care, redefining beauty basics in the process of moving from mere cosmetics to wellness.
For representational purposes
For representational purposes

CHENNAI: You’re sure to have seen a number of soap/face wash/ shampoo ads with a typical template — a young woman battling the dangers of sunlight, dust and smoke, rushing home to save her skin/hair from pollution only to find that there’s a product for it. It’s starting to feel a little like that in real life, isn’t it? Only, that all-powerful product seems to have come in the form of this pandemic-influenced lockdown. Even as the fight against the novel virus rages on, some of us find ourselves at an odd intersection of watching our lives being pushed into unprecedented routines and wanting to make the best of this change.

And for some, it comes down to finally indulging in self-care, redefining beauty basics in the process of moving from mere cosmetics to wellness. For Kavya Kumar, whose routine relied on minimalism, this change mostly translated into a break from the usual grind. Not having to step out of the house or show up for work (beyond the occasional online dance lessons she was handling) meant she could allow herself to catch up on skincare like never before. “I use primer, CC cream, compact, kajal and lip balm when I step out for work or with friends. Full-fledged make-up was for photo and dance shoots. When the lockdown kicked in, I wanted to pay attention to my skin. So I started with face masks,” she says.

Going the green way
From aloe gel to chemical-free shampoo, Sandhya* finds herself hunting down organic products. She is now looking for cold-pressed oil and neem combs to add to her arsenal. Chithra Vijayakumar, who had slowly been weaning herself off her cosmetic dependency, managed to dive into the wellness regime in the months of work-from-home luxury. “I cannot remember the last time I picked up a lipstick and dabbed it on my lips. It’s all lip balms now. I’ve even unfollowed some of my favourite social media influencers who post dedicated make-up videos.

It’s all skincare now. I ordered a bunch of skincare products last month. I’ve even started this regime of “no blow drying-no straightening” to stay away from all purely “aesthetic-driven-but-notactually- good-for-you” things from my vanity drawers,” she explains. Sringa Syam, bridal and creative make-up artist, has also picked up on the trend. “Now that we’re staying at home, the need for make-up has reduced greatly. People are finding the time to take care of their skin. While on the one hand people are making a lot of online purchases, they are also aware about the money they are spending on it,” she says.

Brands rebrand
While Sringa brings up conscious purchasing from a monetary standpoint, brands have picked up on the consumers’ awareness of the ‘natural movement’. Pritesh Asher, cofounder of Juicy Chemistry, says that there’s heightened awareness among consumers of the kind of chemicals in everyday skincare products. “They see the kind of issues that come with long-term association with regular toxins. There has been quite a shift in the purchasing pattern we see for skincare and personal care products. Juicy Chemistry is generally in the ‘natural space’, specialising in organic skincare products.

We’ve seen a huge jump in terms of consumers coming on to our site and placing orders for shampoos, bars and facial care products. Earth Rhythm has also seen its business grow rapidly since the pandemic. Its founder Harini Sivakumar reveals that they have done the highest amount of business since they launched in 2018. It comes down to people having more time to take care of themselves, she suggests. “Because of this virus, the stress is on better personal hygiene. I think that personal care industry is the only one that’s doing well right now,” she remarks.

While Pritesh credits consumer awareness for his brand doing well, Harini pegs it on customers being confused about what they want. “They don’t exactly know what an organic or natural skincare product is. They just want something safe. Besides, people are more into zero-waste lifestyle; they want to be rid of plastics, reduce their carbon footprint. With our products, we work on minimising the carbon footprint — we have shampoo bars where you finish using the product, you leave no trace of it. People want to use these kind of products and why not if it can give you the same efficacy as a branded shampoo? That has caught people’s attention. And having that with an ecocertified tag gives them the confidence in the brand,” she explains. Pritesh and Harini, however, are confident that this trend is no fad but here to stay. “The dynamics we’re looking at is not temporary.

Once people move to this phase, they are more likely to stay there. The forecast for the next few years is that the personal care domain will have a lot of stress and emphasis. While even before the pandemic, the industry was leading in market dynamics, it’s only going to be more so in the coming years,” she offers. Pritesh takes to numbers to say why. “The size of the skincare and personal care industry is Rs 965 billion. It’s growing at a rate of 5 per cent year on year. In this, the natural and organic category is growing by 17 per cent. This has been a trend over the past couple of years anyway,” he explains.

Changing trends
Despite what the numbers say, it may not be as simple as that, suggests Deep Lalvani, chairperson of Ador Multi Products and founder of its project Sublime Life (curator of cruelty and toxin-free beauty products). With different arms of his company not just curating organic beauty brands but also manufacturing beauty products for other brands, Ador Multi Products seems to have a good view of several sections of the industry. “Let’s be honest, the make-up industry as a category is much larger than skincare in India. But the growth in skincare is much faster.

This was the trend for the past year and it’s been completely accelerated since COVID; I see that trend continuing at least till March 2021. And yes, make-up will be a lot slower in terms of growth and innovation over the next nine months. At Sublime Life, we are more skincare-focused. We do sell make-up, we realise it’s an important part of our portfolio but a lot of our communication and marketing is more skincare-centred. Within the make-up category, lip care is not something we’ll push actively at this moment. Eye care is a little more feasible; things like foundation, pigment-related products will still get the push,” he details. With the Indian consumer looking at minimising the number of products they use and searching for environmentfriendly alternatives (however small this segment may be), we may soon be looking at brands in the beauty industry making the switch and reformulating what’s better for the environment and consumer, he opines.

While price has always been a big deterrent against people readily going the organic way, more demand for them might help influence that, it seems. At least, to an extent, says Deep. “It’s very hard to get an organic product which will compete with a Maybelline Kajal price. But as people make that switch, pricing is coming down. We’re seeing that in certain segments within this space. For example, bath and body products from big FMCG brands that come with parabens and sulphates, a 200 ml bottle is sold for Rs 50 and Rs 80. The organic, non-sulphate, non-paraben products are still not at that price point. But five years ago, a product of the same size was being sold for say Rs 600; whereas today, it’s down to about Rs 300,” he explains.

Convenience matters
While the trend seems to be pointing at a gradual move towards healthier practices, it might all just come down to a matter of convenience, say some. When the lockdown is removed and things limp back to normalcy, people might just find supplements for their skincare instead of the elaborate routines they adopted during this period of relative hibernation, suggests Janani D Rogger, make-up artist. “Even if it’s something as simple as a curd pack or kadala maavu (gram flour) mask, it’s time-consuming. We will always look for easier alternatives to take care of our skin. And there’s also a certain amount of pleasure that comes with purchasing cosmetics.

People who have been deprived of it will want to taste it once things settle down,” she says. Saumya R Chawla, columnist and writer, points out that people are creatures of comfort and habit, and so will find a way back to their routine. “For a majority, wellness is not a sustainable habit. Besides, we’re used to seeing ourselves in a certain way, using a certain set of products, and we’re likely to go back to that when things return to ‘normalcy’,” she says. In fact, there are some who hold on to these practices even if it means lipstick that’s masked and nail paint in double- gloved hands.

After all, we’ve had enough experience in the area of concealed beauty — comes with years of wearing beautiful bras that (almost) never see the light of day. “My friends in Europe who have started working again say they leave the bottom half of their face bare (as it’s covered in a mask). But where do you draw the line? As much as this period offers a respite from our usual routine, there are lighter products we can try. Like a lip balm or gloss (thankfully gloss isn’t as sticky and yucky as it used to be 10 years ago) instead of your smudge-proof liquid lipstick that requires high maintenance,” she offers.

Do it your way
Then, we have some like Bhargavii Mani, who insist on taking matters into their own hands and DIYing their way out of the cosmetics-skincare debate. “I’ve significantly reduced the amount of chemicals I use on my body and gone one step further to make my own creams and lip balms (besides using store-bought organic ones). My shopping cart for a while has been filled with organic aloe vera gel, coldpressed organic oils, essential oils and medicated oils. My body wash has gone back to good old homemade powder mixes,” she lists. There seems to be a section of women picking up these effort- laden paths to self-care, be it in choosing shikakai as bath scrub or preparing their own flax seed gel for those with curly hair.

“Even commercially sold aloe vera gel costs around Rs 300. When I make my cream with aloe vera and essential oils, it works out to Rs 3,000. But it is my face cream and body cream, and it’s going to last for four months. Whereas a regular moisturiser is Rs 750, which will last for only a month and has a load of chemicals. These are choices people will have to make; and the effort you need to put into it,” she elaborates. Cosmetics Business, a giant in the world of beauty industry news, in December 2019 predicted five global beauty trends for the year 2020. It talked about minimalistic consumption, to shift from the ‘natural movement’ to bioengineered ingredients, social sustainability, positive packaging, the Gen Z influence by means of personal expression determining consumption trends, and the future of data-driven, personalised solutions. What was not on the list was a pandemic and everything it brought along. Even as we script a new normal, here’s to the beauty and wellness industry following suit. *Name changed

Talking numbers, Pritesh Asher of Juicy Chemistry says, “The size of the skincare and personal care industry is Rs 965 billion. It’s growing at a rate of 5 per cent year on year. In this, the natural and
organic category is growing by 17 per cent. This has been a trend over the past couple of years anyway.”

As the world battles a pandemic, people confined to the safety of their homes find that they finally have the time to indulge in self-care and wellness. As consumers script a new trend, beauty brands look at an evolving business and the challenges ahead.

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