From donning comfy tracksuits to appearing fresh-faced on video conferences, Australians have embraced a newly laissez-faire approach to beauty now that working from home is the new normal for many. Post-COVID, will this low-maintenance attitude solidify and spill into the workplace and social occasions? Or will old habits die hard and lead to the rebirth of glam?
Somewhere during the middle of the past decade, beauty trends took a sharp turn: suddenly high-impact, Instagram-ready make-up was everywhere, popularised by celebrities like Kylie Jenner and Hailey Bieber (nee Baldwin). Think deep tans, lash extensions, extreme contouring and the heaviest of brows. But things were starting to shift before the pandemic hit us, with renewed focus on natural, clean complexions. And there’s little doubt lockdown left make-up seeming superfluous, with the industry turning its attention squarely to good skin care.
Brisbane-based actor and today’s Body+Soul cover model Melina Vidler was one of the many Australian women who revelled in the opportunity to go au naturel without a worry. “When the pandemic hit in March, I stopped wearing make-up entirely, and even stopped washing my hair,” she confesses. She is not alone – reports have shown that make-up sales were down 22 per cent in the first quarter, with prestige brands seeing declines of up to 75 per cent.
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Demographer Bernard Salt says these statistics could foretell the future of beauty, at least in the short term, telling Body+Soul, “You could argue that women will forego the make-up sophistication they have become accustomed to for the gentler, more natural look the pandemic ushered in by virtue of necessity.”
While our make-up bags were packed away, many of us looked to skin care to provide routine and normalcy. It makes sense. After all, there is little reason to apply a full face of make-up when you’re going to binge-watch television or walk the dog. Online retailer Adore Beauty has reported significant growth across its skincare offerings in the past few months; sales of beauty treatment masks alone were up by 170 per cent.
“People were more inclined to buy something they could enjoy in that moment to make them look and feel good,” explains Adore Beauty founder Kate Morris. “Perhaps we’ve seen the end of the ‘lipstick index’ and the new feel-good purchases may be skin care.”
Salt also raises the ‘lipstick index’ theory – a phrase coined by Estée Lauder chairman Leonard Lauder during the 2001 recession, where sales in lipsticks spiked despite the economic downfall. “Women’s make-up and fashion have been used as a barometer of economic circumstances and confidence in the past,” Salt says. “A number of stories came out after the 2001 recession that women were spending a lot on lipstick and other small luxuries. Then there were articles around women’s skirt lengths rising and falling depending on economic circumstances.”
There are also mental motivations for this behavioural shift, explains psychologist Jacqui Manning. “We needed nourishing, emotionally and physically,” she says. “Learning how to ‘self-care’ is vital and if the pandemic has highlighted what you personally benefit from, that’s a good practice to keep long into the future. We are allowed to care for ourselves. It makes us happier and more balanced.”
Priceline Pharmacy’s national head of beauty, Susie Bearzi, notes that “our customers have really embraced the do-it-yourself trend, and have no doubt enjoyed the great results they have been able to achieve themselves with their newfound skills”. She points to growth across everything from hair removal (up 40 per cent year on year) to zinc serums (up by 115 per cent). “We have also seen customers buying skincare products… to enjoy some pampering and self-care. We expect the DIY trend to continue.”
But if sheet masks and luxury-brand moisturisers have been preferenced over eyeshadow palettes and lipsticks during lockdown, how likely is their popularity to hold when we eventually return to our desks and (non-virtual) meeting rooms? Many people deem make-up as part of their work attire in the same way they might a blazer, so there is reason to believe they may pause and consider if without it they appear unprofessional in the eyes of colleagues.
Manning argues a more relaxed approach – both to wearing make-up and how we respond to those who do (or don’t) in more formal settings – is likely to linger. “In reality, our appearance does not reflect whether we are a good worker or person,” she observes. “Many have realised they can let some things go, because their value lies elsewhere.”
Vidler agrees, pointing out that this year’s circumstances made her question who she was self-optimising for, if not herself. “I’m just more comfortable being natural,” she reflects. “Whether that’s out in public or just being at home, I don’t feel that pressure to, I don’t know, worry about being ‘beautiful’ anymore.”
But Salt questions just how long these sorts of attitudes will last once we all eventually have more places to go. “You could argue the simpler look is done under some sufferance,” he says. “It’s a symbol of constriction of the coronavirus. And as soon as women get the opportunity, they will want nothing to do with it.”
Indeed, while Victoria is midway through a second lockdown and salons remain closed for now, as they reopen across much of the rest of Australia, the virtual stampede of bookings seems to prove his point. Kristin Fisher, owner of Sydney-based eyebrow salon KFE, confirms she has never been busier. “The phone didn’t stop ringing and our online booking service and emails were inundated with clients wanting to make appointments,” she tells Body+Soul. “On our first day back in business we had more than 1500 appointments booked just for June, with 15 per cent of those from new clients. And that’s still not showing any sign of slowing down.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by beauticians, nail salons and hairdressers across the country, suggesting Australians are eager to primp and preen just as much as they did pre-pandemic. While make-up may feel like an unnecessary extravagance in the throes of a worldwide crisis, we will likely see that attitude tilt the other way in the coming months and years. Certainly history would indicate as much, with past global crises revealing just how cyclical humans tend to be in their living and grooming habits.
“Look at how women were during World War II,” says Salt. “They were very much limited with rationing. What followed was the 1950s, where women went full glamour, influenced by icons such as Grace Kelly. So you could argue with some certainty that we could see a hyper-return to make-up, glamour and fashion in the post-coronavirus world.”
Skin is in
Three tricks for getting your best-ever complexion…
A deep cleanse that you can’t get at home. Try the Hydromicrodermabrasion ($130, for 45 mins at endotaspa.com.au) to detoxify congestion and brighten your skin all over.
Sales of skincare tools were up by 112 per cent on Adore Beauty. Try giving at-home gua sha (or light skin scraping) a go with rose quartz soothing massagers. Try the Salt by Hendrix Magic Mushroom Soother Set ($49.95, at adorebeauty.com.au).
If your skin looks dull, it may be due to your newly sedentary lifestyle. Give yourself a facial massage or dry-body brush at least once a week to boost your lymphatic system and get more oxygen moving to your skin.