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A New Paradigm in Skin Care

Contact Author Jacqueline Clarke, Diagonal Reports
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  • Skin care will remain the category in beauty, but future consumer spending on skin care will be distributed differently than today.
  • Consumers’ skin care spending will include solutions that were imported from and originated outside the legacy beauty box, including medicine, wellness and technology.
  • Those new solutions are what have driven growth in skin care sales.
  • New solutions have also created a new paradigm of skin care as “care and maintenance,” rather than as cosmetic. Consumer skin care behavior is as much a “health care” regime as a beauty regime.

“Women see beauty as being part of their definition of health. Women talk a lot about feeling good and looking good.” —Helena Foulkes, Executive Vice President, CVS Health

Skin care takes from $3 to $6 of every $10 spent on beauty. It is both the largest and best-performing beauty category globally. Skin care is the dominant category in the crucial developing and mature markets that will continue to drive category growth in the next decade.

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Further reading: U.S. Skin Care Market to Reach Nearly $11 Billion in 2018

Consumers are, and will continue to be, more heavily invested in skin care than in any other beauty category. Skin care currently accounts for one third of the global beauty spend. But this market share doubles in many of the key “emerging” markets—most famously, China—rising to more than 60% of beauty spending. 

Previously: Anti-aging Trends and Challenges

However, future consumers will be spending their money differently than consumers do today or did in the past. New spending will characterize behavior not just in newer/emerging markets, but also in the legacy markets—the United States and Europe—that formerly dominated beauty spending.

New Rituals Expand and Diversify the Market

Skin care exhibits the most profound changes in consumer expectations and behavior—relative to other beauty categories. The changes in behavior reflect the dramatic expansion (and diversification) of not just the content, but also the very scope, of the skin care market.

To simplify the narrative, even 10 years ago the skin care market rested on a simple three step facial routine for the majority of people: cleanse, tone and moisturize. In effect, moisturizers were the only one true skin “care” product and accounted for 50% of skin category sales.

More complex skin routines were, in the main, limited to niche consumer segments—chief among them, older, and more affluent, adult females. But the past 10 years have seen a total overhaul and transformation of routines.

Complex skin care regimes are now commonplace and widespread across many consumer segments. They involve multiple steps and employ more than three products. Furthermore, consumers’ regimes and needs are now highly, if not hyper-, segmented by skin problem, age, ethnicity, geography and price point.

Two of the many newcomers to the skin care category and routines, sun protection and anti-ageing, have achieved almost universal penetration. These categories show how the scope of skin care and maintenance has expanded consumer spending and established new routines as a lifelong project for billions of people around the world.

Sun care is now the first major lifelong beauty routine, starting in infancy. Anti-ageing is the next (almost) lifelong routine. For significant numbers of consumers, anti-ageing routines start in the mid-30s, if not before. This is about 10 to 15 years earlier than was the case just a decade ago.

This new skin care behavior is global. In very different parts of the world skin care category experts, interviewed by Diagonal Reports, observe the same phenomenon: the willingness of women (and many men) to increase their investment of time and money in skin care.

Why Habits Change the Argument

Consumers adopted new regimes because they could (because these already existed) and because new regimes effectively solved their key skin care concerns, prominent among them anti-ageing. In effect, consumers created new mega markets over the last decade when they adopted a series of innovations.

These include new materials and formulations (e.g., Botox, peels, etc.); new platforms and technologies such as dermal injectables, cell renewal and energy-based devices (e.g., laser, light, ultra sound, radio frequency); and new medicalized protocols, from non-invasive face lifts to facial recontouring (e.g., liposuction).

The new skin care met the needs of a rising generation of consumers, the ageing baby boomers, who created a new agenda in skin care—delaying and reducing the signs of skin ageing. Innovations made that rejuvenation accessible and affordable to many millions of women.

The ageing baby boomers may not command the same degree of media attention they did a few years ago, but they are still key spenders in the market. Indeed, it was demand from baby boomers that explains the consumer acceptance of a new type of skin care treatment provider, spas and medi-spas.

The spas first introduced millions of women to the very latest in high-tech skin care and concepts such as natural skin care and skin care as wellness, or beauty from within.

“What does skin care look like in the world of cosmetic procedures, today?”

—John Demsey, President, Estée Lauder Companies

Innovations Working Through the Market

Innovations will continue to reverberate within and shape the skin care product market long into the future. They have reconfigured beauty because they have been adopted at every point along the skin care pathway: in self-care—DIY at home—and professional care. Cleansing brushes, microdermabrasions and superfacials are increasingly familiar to skin care consumers in all segments.

Innovations also reconfigure skin care because legacy formulators (the traditional beauty brands and houses) must compete with them if they are to survive. These innovations have become the benchmark for aesthetic outcomes for the wider population.

Legacy formulators must compete effectively by delivering solutions that consumers believe to be at least as good as medical solutions. The traditional beauty model, or what Charles Revson called “hope in a jar,” has come under tremendous pressure as a result. This will continue for the foreseeable future.

New Culture, New Standards

The new skin care culture has profoundly changed consumers’ expectations. In this new world, the cord which once joined the cosmetic to skin care has been cut. They are now becoming distinct entities.

The separation of skin care from the realm of the cosmetic requires a strategic response from marketers because consumers judge skin care by different sets of standards than they did in the past. The new skin care (i.e., the medicalized) sells a new message that is being communicated over a new media.

The message is that skin care delivers results, and the claims being made must be substantiated with reference to science and clinical trials.

The legacy skin care paradigm was very different. It was that of the cosmetic world. In contrast to the medical, the cosmetic paradigm makes no claims about results. Revson’s aphorism about cosmetics, “hope in a jar,” became famous because it acknowledges that it is the buyer who fills the jar with promise. More recently, A.G. Lafley, Chairman and CEO of P&G, has said: “Beauty is the great industry of promises made and never kept...”

The key implication of medical skin care is that it makes the marketing strategy of “hope in a jar” untenable. Medical skin care must substantiate any claims it makes, if only because substantiation is what makes a product medical.