How will the pandemic change the face of beauty

“Because eyeshadow is too mainstream,” said Kareena Kapoor Khan in the caption of a recent Instagram post that showed her minus make-up. Free of cosmetics, her face showed minor imperfections. But her skin glowed and she looked completely the diva she is. 

Right now, at this time of lockdown, anyone who appears on your feed with full make-up is bound to look out of place; you might also believe that such pictures show bad taste. But will this low-key look continue once the lockdown has been lifted?

A clean sweep

‘Clean beauty’ relates to any product that uses organic, natural, pure and sustainable ingredients. Its popularity has been growing steadily for a while. Celebrity make-up artist Namrata Soni says, “People have become more and more conscious about the things they use.”

The sudden pause that the lockdown has created in our lives has also made us think about how we treat nature and so a move towards clean beauty is almost predictable. All global reports have shown that while sales of many beauty products have taken a hit during lockdown, the sales of clean beauty products have been on the upswing in the past few weeks. India, with its tradition of Ayurveda, has an in-built affinity towards herbs, flora and fauna in beauty rituals.

Vivek Sahni, founder and CEO of Kama Ayurveda confirms the trend. “Our communication on social media has seen an increase in engagement. As a result of staying home and reading, people have begun taking care of their health to build immunity. Immunity has become a buzzword. The use of chemical-free products, ones that are pure and authentic, is a natural outcome of this trend.”

Jessica Jayne, who runs the clean beauty brand Pahadi Local, has noted an uptake in clean beauty products as well as everything associated with wellness. Customers have been happy to make prepaid purchases despite knowing there could be considerable delay in delivery, she observes. 

“One of the biggest reasons for new customer acquisition is being able to convince them that our skincare products are less harmful to our skin and to the environment,” says Jayne. Pull facewash, which is a lake sediment salt, has proven to be Pahadi Local’s star product at this time. “Maybe that’s because salt is also assumed to be a wellness product,” explains Jayne. The product also doubles as a soft exfoliator, adding to its charm. Beauty rituals, such as the 10-step Korean skincare regime, had reached a painstaking extreme and things were getting out of hand.

The fragrance market has been “strongly” impacted by this trend towards natural products. Bengaluru-based Ally Matthan, a leading Indian perfumer, points out, “There is a perceived consumer shift from ‘wellness’ to ‘well-being’ and our offering must reflect these values. Fragrance has always played a critical role and in these times, the instant lift a good perfume offers is deeply appreciated. Of the roughly 3,000 fragrance ingredients available, our palate must be reduced to non-volatile compounds. Volatile compounds may cause instant gratification but they are also hazardous to your health in the long-term – they cause respiratory problems and skin issues apart from being subtle hormone disruptors as they are as toxic as car fumes.”

Skin deep

Staying at home means we are more make-up free than usual, and the feel and look of natural skin has become more important than ever. Forest Essentials’ chief managing director Mira Kulkarni says, “As there is no requirement for make-up, the lockdown is enabling people to finally be comfortable in their own skin.” 

The lockdown has not only turned us into chefs, it has also turned us into kitchen beauticians. This is not surprising, given that we have a centuries-old tradition of elaborate home remedies for skincare and we have the time to practice them.

The luxury of time will, of course, ebb as we go back to “a new normal,” so Delhi-based Dr Kiran Lohia, who runs the skin, aesthetic and wellness clinic, Isyaderm, is ready for her clients “to come back in droves.” She says #nofilter will be in demand now that laser hair removal is one of the most missed treatments and she also believes that invasive treatments like botox and fillers will take the backseat for now and “high performance skincare and home care devices will definitely be preferred over expensive cosmetics.” 

Homegrown beauty company Colorbar is planning to launch two new skincare lines. The company’s founder and director Samir Modi says, “We are also evaluating clean beauty for the colour cosmetics section. More and more consumers have been demanding products that are natural and dermatologically and ophthalmologically tested.” This move is being called ‘skinvestment’ by those in the business. 

Behind the mask

Wearing masks will be part of the foreseeable future and they are not friendly to heavy make-up, in particular lipstick. This is why, in cultures where veils are routinely worn, eye make-up has always been of prime importance. Dubai based Huda Kattan, probably the most well-known beauty influencer in the region, just launched Legit Lashes Mascara under her brand Huda Beauty, which, she says, “creates dramatic sexy lashes quicker than you can say, ‘Are those real?’”

Most beauty experts agree that, going forward, mascara and kajal (Colorbar’s Modi points out that already 94 per cent of Indian women use kajal) will play an important role. But women are not going to turn their back on rosy lips. “I don’t think women will stop wearing lipsticks,” says Soni. “But I do think eyeliners and soft kohl eyes will make an entrance. Someone should invent a transparent mask and all the women will wear the lip colours they love.” 

With Zoom calls becoming  part of every working woman’s life, we will want that coat of lippy, but perhaps colours will be more subtle. Soni believes some of the important make-up products to use right now are the ones with skin benefits, like primers and tinted moisturisers. Influencer Scherezade Shroff sees masks becoming a bit like socks – we will match them to our looks. The mask will just become an extension of the make-up ritual.

The new game face

Economists have predicted that markets, after this pandemic, will be worse hit than after the 1929 Great Crash. It took the Western world over three years to recover from that. But the 1930s are often called ‘The Golden Age’ as glamour came into the forefront (think of Hollywood sirens Jean Harlow and Greta Garbo or closer home, Fearless Nadia). After months of wearing a mask, women might crave full-on glamour. 

What makes the 2020 different from 1929 is that we were already marching towards a more natural look before the pandemic. According to Colorbar, 37 per cent of women in west India, 16 per cent in the south, 28 per cent in the north and 33 per cent in the east were already looking for natural make-up. Says Shroff, “Having been make-up free for so long it will be hard to go back to a full face Kim K sort of vibe.”

Even social media, which has in many ways encouraged the use of bold and beautiful colours, is toning things down. Popular beauty influencer and author of the best-selling book, Roots to Radiance Nikita Upadhyay says, “What makes me happy is that my followers genuinely want to work on their skin concerns rather than use concealers.” 

So there will be a new balance and, of course, the whole point of make-up is to be able to play around with looks – when in the mood, there is nothing wrong with getting your Lady Gaga on! 

Hair too has become a playground for colour. During lockdown, it has become a style statement to flaunt your grey. But in countries like France, as soon as the restrictions were lifted, the first place many women headed to was the salon. Creative director of B:Blunt and stylist to many celebrities Avan Contractor thinks that when lockdown lifts in India, women will at first want low-maintenance cuts and colour. But she adds, “I do feel a majority would want to look and feel good after the forced lockdown and thus get their hair back in good shape and their colour looking fresh.”

Shroff, in fact, coloured both her own and her mom’s hair with an at-home kit “out of boredom,” so perhaps a niche set of women will express joy through their tresses. As they say, hair always grows out.

(Author bio: Dubai-based fashion journalist Sujata Assomull is also an author and an advocate of mindful fashion. She was the launch editor of Harper’s Bazaar India.)

From HT Brunch,May 24, 2020

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