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What Will Beauty Look Like in a Post-Pandemic World?

The pandemic has affected all of us, individually and collectively. It will likely change the world as we know it forever, including the beauty world. Going to salons and spas, shopping for cosmetics, beauty trends, and beauty brands will all be impacted. So what can we expect moving forward? We spoke to experts in every single category of beauty to find out how the industry will shift in the short-term and what evolutions they predict will last. Here’s what we learned. 

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The Future of Salons, Spas, and Treatments

Your hair, nail, skin, and spa appointments of tomorrow will be cleaner, safer, more personalized. That said, they also require a bit of prep work and may skip luxuries of the past (like magazines, coffee, and possibly even blow drying). Here are some of the changes you’ll see. 

A reinvigorated approach to sanitation 

“In the past, procedures around sanitation didn’t always get the focus that they should have. Now it will become a nonnegotiable part of the daily routine,” says Alan Murphy, CEO of Barbicide, who provided stylists around the world with a complimentary COVID-19 certification course. (You might notice that your hairstylist proudly shares this certification on social media or at their work space.) Nigella Miller, founder of Nigella Hair Studio in Brooklyn, NY, opted into the Barbicide Certification. “It gave me a chance to brush up on the sanitization rules I learned a while back in cosmetology school, and to learn some new things that were much more focused on coronavirus and viruses in general.” 

“You will see 100% attention to the sanitation and disinfection guidelines that are a part of our industry expectation,” explains Michelle D’Allaird-Brenner, CIDESCO Diplomat and owner of the Aesthetic Science Institute. “The clientele will be different because of this experience. They’ll be much more aware of what barbers and stylists are doing. Did they wash their hands? Is the work area clean?,” Murphy adds. “Professionals will have to be more diligent for those clients that are concerned,” notes D’Allaird-Brenner. Several of the business owners we spoke with mentioned that there may also be hand-washing stations or touchless hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the space as an added precaution.  

Pre-appointment consults via phone or video chat 

Consultations will likely go virtual, occurring prior to the appointment, according to Rachel Bodt, a celebrity colorist in NYC. This will help keep appointments within their designated time slot (since salons will be aiming to prevent client overlap), prevent unnecessary contact, and also help solve the communication issues that arise when both parties are wearing masks and reading lips in a noisy salon isn’t possible, explains Jacob Khan, Goldwell Partnering Artist and salon owner in Atlanta (which re-opened on May 5th). “It also gives us a chance to catch up, as we usually would in the salon,” Bodt adds. “I’m super excited about virtual consultations,” says Sam Divine, owner of Society salon in Los Angeles. “It gives our guests plenty of time to talk through all their ideas and gives our team the opportunity to plan out the best course of action.”

You can skip the lobby and head straight to the chair

Waiting rooms, magazines to browse, and complimentary beverages will be obsolete, at least temporarily. Clients will either get a call or text once their stylist has finished cleaning their station and is ready to see them, according to Aspen Rae, a PRAVANA Collective Platform Artist and owner of Carson & Co. Salon in Denver (which re-opened on May 9th). This means you’ll likely be asked to hang outside or in your car until your beauty pro is ready for you. In place of the usual coffee service or sparkling waters offered, you’ll be encouraged to bring your own refreshments, explains Rachel Bodt. It might be a bummer not to have glossy pages to flip through during your service, but salons and spas are finding creative ways to fill that void. “When each guest arrives at our salon, they’ll receive a text message with links to thoughtfully curated articles selected by our team,” says DiVine of Society. Similarly, when you leave, most salons and spas will adopt a cashless system, handling all payments electronically. 

Everyone will wear PPE

You can expect the staff to be decked out in masks, gloves, and more, sometimes branded with the business’ colors and logo, and expect that they’ll likely ask you to wear the same (mainly masks) whenever possible. For example, at SB Skin, a facial studio in NYC, guests obviously won’t be able to wear masks while receiving skincare treatments, but the staff will wear masks, gloves, and will leverage debacterializing steps within their treatments like polarized light, high frequency, and infrared sauna. “Our state has asked us to wear both masks and face shields," says James Corbett, owner of James Corbett Studio in NYC. "We’re stocked with both and are ready to go.” 

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Streamlined scheduling and more 1:1 time with your beauty pro

Between the strain of added PPE (both changing it between clients and working with it on), the time it takes to execute extra sanitation and safety precautions, and mindfully limiting the number of clients in each business, so scheduling will evolve. “Wearing masks and other protective gear affects the comfort of the stylist, so we added buffer times between appointments so they can take a step outside, have a drink of water, and breathe some fresh air before taking another client," says Rae of Carson & Co hair salon. Salons might be open more days per week for longer hours each day to ensure that everyone is able to make an appointment. “I’m planning to open up seven days a week and rotate people out on different days and different shifts, so everyone has recovery time,” explains Corbett. “We’ll only be able to see one client at a time, which, for a smaller boutique space means two or three in the studio, max,” says Shamara Bondaroff, owner of SB Skin. A major benefit of this: Less wait time during your appointment and more focused time with your professional. “We are taking this as an opportunity to upgrade our level of service, providing a completely one-on-one experience for each client, no longer double or triple booking. I told my staff, ‘Remember all those times that you wished you had an extra 15 minutes to let a toner sit, or fine tune a haircut? Well, now you do!’,” says Khan. 

Wearing masks and other protective gear affects the comfort of the stylist, so we added buffer times between appointments so they can take a step outside, have a drink of water, and breathe some fresh air before taking another client. —Rae of Carson & Co

And the days of spontaneous beauty treatments might be behind us for good. “Moving forward, most salons will be by appointment only so we can make sure there’s enough space between people, and prevent overlap,” explains Nails Inc. consulting manicurist, Lisa Logan, who owns The Nail Suite in NYC. “It won’t affect my salon, as we’ve always been appointment only. But a lot of people are used to just being able to walk in and get what they want, when they want it. So it might be an adjustment at first for some.” 

Blow-drys may not be guaranteed 

Since COVID-19 is known to spread through droplets, there is much debate about whether or not blow drying (or anything that circulates recycled air, like hand dryers at nail salons and even ceiling fans) is safe. The state of Connecticut initially prohibited blow dryers, but a week later, changed their policy. So whether or not you’ll be able to get a blow-dry at the end of your service (or place your freshly painted nails under a drying fan), is really up to the state’s rule and/or the salon’s point of view and/or what you are comfortable with. “We are trying to limit blow drying to mostly color services temporarily,” says Khan. “We were doing a lot of dry cutting before so it hasn’t been a difficult change.” And some salons have creative solutions in the event that blow-drying isn’t permitted or that clients prefer not to dry. “We’re creating a very specific menu of braids, buns, and other updos," says Corbett. "Instead of saying you can’t have this, we want to offer them an alternative and say, you can have this. This way they can still leave looking polished,”

Other health-focused measures 

Many of the salons and spas we spoke to will be checking the temperatures (with touch-less thermometers) of their staff, their guests, or both. All will have chairs at least six feet apart from each other. There may be acrylic dividers or some kind of partition between you and other guests. “We’ve added partitions between manicure stations and drapes along our pedicure bench as an extra precaution, even though guests will be spaced safely apart,” shares Logan of The Nail Suite. 

You might be asked to sign a waiver stating you’re aware of the risk of COVID-19 contagion. Many will stop cancellation fees, as they don’t want guests to hesitate about cancelling when they’re sick. Some salons will require that you get tested for past infection (antibodies), current infection, or both. “We have the opportunity to motivate people to be accountable for their health,” says Miller of Nigella Hair Studio. “I’m asking clients to send in their antibody test results a week before their service. If you have antibodies, then you can come in. If you don’t have antibodies, I ask that they have the COVID test two days before the actual service. I take my health and my clients' health seriously and I want everyone to do the same. I can’t risk staff and everyone else that comes in because someone wasn’t being cautious.”

You might even hear about new Chief Health Officer positions at chain beauty salons and studios. Natasha Cornstein, CEO of Blushington, learned about this idea during a brainstorming meeting with other industry leaders, and realized that in this new post-pandemic world, it would be incredibly valuable to have a healthcare professional on the team to keep their things as safe as possible and to plan ahead in the event of a future health crisis.

We have the opportunity to motivate people to be accountable for their health. —Miller of Nigella Hair Studio

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The Future of Shopping for Cosmetics

Will we ever be able to leisurely browse the aisles of a beauty store again? Yes. Will we get to test formulas and swatch shades from communal samples? Probably not. What’s next in beauty buying: New, improved online shopping and subscriptions, safer brick and mortar experiences that work to reimagine the offline experience, and a whole lot of skincare and eye makeup. Here’s what the experts shared.  

Online and in-store retail will evolve

If you head over to Sephora and Ulta’s websites, you can view their comprehensive re-opening plans. In summary: Limited occupancy, strict disinfecting regimens, no testers, limited or no services (Sephora is suspending services for now, Ulta will continue where they were previously available, by appointment only and with heightened safety protocols), team wellness checks (like taking their temperatures twice a shift), masks for staff and guests, and contactless payment. 

You might also notice the layouts looking a bit different. “We’re all re-thinking the physical footprint of our stores. What is the safest and most hygienic footprint?,” explains Cornstein of Blushington. She also noted that she and industry peers have discussed pre-arrival consultations so that all recommended products can be pulled ahead of time, preventing any extraneous movement. 

While this caution is understandable, it certainly takes away some of the magic of shopping for beauty. “The enjoyment of a makeup store is so tactile and so personal,” says Marcelo Camberos, CEO and co-founder of Ipsy. “Without being able to touch and feel, companies will really need to reinvent themselves,” Camberos adds. So how can these brick and mortar shops bring back the “kid-in-a-candy-store” feeling? They’re still figuring that out, but it is top of mind. “The very things that make Glossier retail so special—the crowds, the lines, the experience of being together—are also the reasons why we have an added responsibility to our community. We’re challenging ourselves to reimagine the offline experience for this moment and beyond, and we’re hard at work finding new ways to inspire joy and bring people together, safely,” explains Emily Weiss, CEO and founder of Glossier. “Since day one, we’ve been a digital-first company, and even in ‘normal’ times, the vast majority of our sales happen online. That doesn’t diminish the role of retail: it elevates it. As shopping for beauty online becomes the norm—and this period is certainly accelerating that trend—retail gets to be about so much more than just procurement: it’s about human connection,” Weiss adds.

And even while online shopping prevails (Camberos shared that Ipsy has seen increased demand in every category of the business), experts share that there is room to take inspiration from in-store experience, and be more helpful, more thoughtful, and more personalized. 

"We want to send you products that are specifically good for your skin, understand how your skin reacts to some products, and keep gathering these insights so that you get what’s best for you,” Camberos explains. And he notes that while physical retail comes with education and salespeople to guide you, better web product innovation, personalization, and a wider assortment or products can provide an equally supportive, delightful, tailored-to-you experience. 

Skincare and eye makeup will outperform 

In recent weeks, sales of skincare products surpassed makeup sales for the first time ever. Camberos and Cornstein confirm that the demand for skincare at Ipsy and Blushington is incredibly high, likely due to the need for self-care during a challenging time. 

Their prediction for the next category spike: Eye and brow products. “A large measure will be driven by the adoption of wearing masks,” Cornstein explains. “We’ll see a shift from lips and complexion, which usually perform best, to eyebrows and shadow palettes.” Makeup artists agree (more on that later!), since nearly everything but your eyes and brows will be hidden beneath a mask. “I definitely think that’s the next wave,” Camberos adds. “Once we’re going out again and wearing masks to work, people will get creative with eye makeup. We’re always looking for ways to express ourselves.”  

We’ll see a shift from lips and complexion, which usually perform best, to eyebrows and shadow palettes. —Natasha Cornstein of Blushington

A focus on value (even with luxury brands)

“Consumers are going to think twice about how and where they spend their money as a result of this crisis,” says Bondaroff of SB Skin. So does that mean that brands might look into making their cosmetics more affordable? “I think every brand is wondering right now: How do we make our products a little bit more accessible?,” explains Camberos. “While high end brands may never do a 70% off sale, they can create a one-off fragrance that’s a lower price-point than usual or offer a skincare duo that’s only available online and is a little more accessible. Everyone is looking at how to become recession-proof in a way that preserves their brand integrity,” he adds. 

Bringing the salon experience home will continue

Felipe Chacon, an economist and spokesperson for Square shared that ‘kits’ from beauty and personal care businesses tripled in sales during the pandemic. Facial kits were ranked the highest, followed by hair color kits. “Even as mandated restrictions are relaxed, as long as the virus lingers as a health threat, many clients will remain cautious about resuming their beauty routines. This being the case, we anticipate seeing these persist for the foreseeable future,” Chacon explains. 

James Corbett spent most of his quarantine whipping up at-home color kits. While he initially started this as a solution for his current clients that couldn’t physically come into his salon, he ended up creating kits for old clients who moved away, and eventually, a broader network of family and friends that expanded internationally. “The real challenge with single process color is the formula, not the application. So I create and mail them the ‘ingredients’, send them video education to guide them, and offer phone or Facetime support if they need it," he explains. "It’s been a really good thing for people, and I’d like to continue even once the salon is re-opened.” 

Manicurists at The Nail Suite offered an innovative at-home nail option too. “I was heartbroken when my staff weren’t able to come to work and make an income when the salon closed,” shares Logan, owner of The Nail Suite. “So I told them, head into the salon, grab whatever supplies you need, and create custom press-ons and stickers for your clients. And they were able to get really creative with it.” 

Will we ever be able to leisurely browse the aisles of a beauty store again? Yes. Will we get to test formulas and swatch shades from communal samples? Probably not.

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The Future of Trends

Beauty and fashion trends are notoriously influenced by cultural events. Think: free-flowing hair and flower-inspired makeup worn in the 1960s by those protesting the war. Or, dark brown lipstick and Kool Aid hair in the 90s. So surely this global experience will sway the tides of our upcoming beauty trends, right? Here, hair, nail, and makeup pros break down what we can expect to be in style, post-pandemic. 

Lived-in color and low maintenance hairstyles

“A lot of people are not hating their roots as much as they thought they would,” shares NYC colorist Rachel Bodt. “And just like going to the grocery store, we might think, if we went into lockdown again tomorrow, would I have everything I need?" That mentality, plus feeling more confident with re-growth will have a lot of people leaning more natural than usual with their hair color. “The undone look gives you flexibility with your timeline, and saves you money in the long run,” says Aspen Rae of Carlson & Co. “I think quarantine showed us all a new perspective on how minimalistic we can be, and gave us a chance to really grow confident in our own skin. Coming out of this pandemic, I think we will look to easy, minimal styles with less maintenance,” she adds. Miller of Nigella Hair Studio adds that this experience gave clients the space and opportunity to embrace their natural hair. “Accepting who you are naturally is super important. When you accept that, you can go back to doing your lashes, or your hair extensions. But you have to accept the real you first. The pandemic gave many people the chance to do that.”

Eye makeup will go bold

“Eye makeup is definitely going to get more fun and more playful,” says editorial makeup artist Katie Jane Hughes. “Your eyes are the only feature you can see when you wear a mask, which provides a seamless canvas from the eyes down. Usually, if you were to do a bold eye, you would carefully choose lipstick to balance it out. If the lip and cheeks and nose are covered, you can really go crazy on the eyes." Makeup artist Matin, who works with the likes of Angelina Jolie, says it's the same situation women in the Islamic world are facing. “They often exaggerate their eyes and brows and opt for just lip balm under their face cover until they are in the privacy of their own community," he says.

Contouring and heavy face makeup will fade away

A mask covered in foundation and bronzer, especially in the warmer months, sounds less than ideal. According to Matin, the days of piling on several layers of complexion products to sculpt, highlight, and contour are likely behind us since it can be unhealthy for your skin to have all of that sitting beneath a mask. So while we may be playing up our eyes more than usual, pros predict (and recommend) that our skin be lightly enhanced with breathable, tinted moisturizers, and not much else.  

Nail art DIY will live on

While many of us can’t wait to get back in the nail salon to have our nails expertly shaped and polished, Julie Kandalec, a licenced nail artist and CEO of Masterclass Nail Academy is confident that at-home versions, including elaborate designs, will continue to be popular. “I see a ton of DIY happening in my online (nail art) groups,” Kandalec shares. “They’re doing gel, acrylic, and even dip at home. Press-ons had also been making a huge comeback the past 6-12 months but even more so now. They offer many things customers seek, like tons of options, instant gratification, and an easy process.” 

It’s the same situation women in the Islamic world are facing. They often exaggerate their eyes and brows and opt for just lip balm under their face cover until they are in the privacy of their own community. —Matin, celebrity makeup artist

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The Future of Brands

Messaging can be tricky for a brand to get right during challenging times, and this experience really took that to another level. Without the opportunity to produce shoots, to hire models or glam teams, or any of the usual protocols for beauty biz photography and video, brands had to get creative with both their production and messaging. While this can be challenging, the stripped-down results are especially relevant and heartfelt to people at home who might be less interested in a highly produced, glossy image then they would in the past. Here’s what some brand experts predict you’ll continue to see. 

Relatable, low-production content will thrive 

A  prime example of low production content with a high impact? Glossier’s Hand Cream launch video. “We wanted to make things we didn't think were possible with the constraints we were under: high-quality photos and videos, a custom augmented reality Instagram filter," says Cherlyn Russo, Creative Lead of Art Direction at Glossier. "From there, we started thinking about what kind of stories felt right for the moment, who inspired us, and what we could do to bring joy and comfort to our community. People-first storytelling has been core to Glossier since day one, but something about this campaign feels especially personal and powerful. The beauty is that somehow, in the face of so much unexpected circumstance, we were able to create one of our most quintessentially Glossier campaigns to date.”

The brand team at Ipsy faced similar challenges and wins. “We needed to come up with creative solutions for production. We’re doing Zoom pre-production planning calls so we can still maintain our brand integrity,” shares Jenna Habayeb, Chief Brand Officer of Ipsy. “We’ve been asking ourselves: How do you have a point of view for the brand when you’re not physically there to guide and direct? We’re utilizing all of our resources and assets, just mobilizing them in a very different way.” 

Cashmere Nicole, CEO & Founder of Beauty Bakerie, has also observed a shift away from “heavily styled content” too. She notes that “we’ve been receiving so much content from the customers alone that it seems they enjoy seeing and hearing the experiences from that perspective right now.” Nicole shares that it’s a trend she’s been seeing for quite some time, with the quarantine accelerating this behavior.

Habayeb also sees the power in bringing comfort and joy through content versus the typical sheen of beauty ads. “Right now we’re all on Zoom calls where our kids and spouses are running by in the background. We’re all trying to make it work. This is not the norm. And this isn’t a niche tragedy. We’re all in this together,” she explains. “I’ve heard from peers that luxury brands are trying to reinvent their content because they can't do what they used to, and it probably won’t resonate as it once did.” 

Education and how-tos

“If we know you can’t get to the salon, how can we provide solutions?,” Habayeb asks. “One piece of content we shared that was especially popular was about how to remove your gel nail polish at home. It was a signal that our community could use our help, so we’ve been leaning in to support them with hacks and expert tips.” She also mentions that when a traditional production crew isn’t an option, brands end up looking to hair, nail, and makeup experts themselves to step in as on-camera talent (like this example with Justin Marjan). In addition to solving for the production challenges, it provides built-in education since you get to watch an expert at work. 

I’ve heard from peers that luxury brands are trying to reinvent their content because they can't do what they used to, and it probably won’t resonate as it once did.

More content than ever before

“Communication is incredibly important right now,” says Natasha Cornstein of Blushington. “We want to keep our community up to date with every new piece of information so that it’s integrated in real time. Additionally, people are really looking to connect and share."

Habayeb notes that the appetite for content has spiked. “We’re consuming social media at a pace never seen before,” she says. “Consumer behavior is outpacing technology. Instagram Lives, double Lives, IGTV, and Tik Tok had not been set up for mobilizing brands at this pace. No one is prepared for it, but it’s an advantage for us as a tech company because we see the trend in real time, and can act. We think: How can we give them what they need? How can we move faster? We’ve shifted to rolling production, which can be a challenge, but allows us to really read, react, and optimize.” 

Brands will keep giving back

All of the brands we spoke with intend to continue their charitable efforts long after this challenging season passes. “In normal times, companies in the beauty and personal care industry are generous charitable donors; per $1 million of sales, their annual charitable contributions are more than double the national average for other major industry sectors,” says Lezlee Westine, President and CEO of the Personal Care Products Council. "This legacy of giving will no doubt continue beyond the pandemic. Personal care companies remain committed to helping their communities and social needs.”

A new "baby boom" of brands is on the way

One of the key themes in our conversations with these experts was innovation. “When the service or product you offer isn’t something you can offer anymore, you have to think: What else can I bring to the table?,” says Logan of The Nail Suite. “I think we’re about to see a baby boom of entrepreneurs. We’re about to see a lot of new brands, because people had to reach down into their soul and jump start things they’ve had on their mind—or something completely new that they had to come up with.”

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The Bottom Line

While this pandemic has taken an immeasurable toll, we can only hope that the future will be brighter as a result of all that we’ve learned. That goes for the beauty biz too. Salons will be safer. Beauty will be more accessible. Content more relatable and educational. And we’ll all be more connected, albeit virtually, than we’ve ever been. Sure, things will be different. But the best minds in the business are working around the clock to ensure that the new normal is better than what we left behind. “We have to ask ourselves: How can we learn from this?" says Marcelo Camberos. "Can we provide a better beauty experience online and recoup what we have offline? We will innovate and we will get to a place where beauty thrives again. Self expression is so core to the human psyche. We need that expression and that connection now more than ever.”

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