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Skinminimalism vs. Big Beauty

Updated: Jul 11, 2021

Can the minimalist beauty trend dismantle the entire industry?

Me, post-beach, channeling "no-makeup makeup" with Glossier.

The beauty industry is known as many things: vibrant, overcrowded, and competitive. It is not, however, known for being minimalist. With tens of thousands of brands on the market today covering every possible niche, from vegan cosmetics to drag-queen makeup, and everything in between, the beauty industry has become more competitive than ever before, as brands fight for the attention of over-stimulated, social media-savvy consumers.

This overwhelming growth can largely be contributed to the rise of the “skincare routine.” While people have had skincare routines forever, the art of experimenting with products and cultivating a uniquely tailored routine for your personal skin type and preferences has grown in popularity over the course of the last decade, as outlets like Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and Harper’s Bazaar have begun showcasing celebrity skincare and makeup routines. Thus, not only are consumers able to watch their favorite celebrities’ morning and nighttime routines, but thanks to links at the end of each video, they can also buy their exact products. As such, while a consumer may be satisfied with their current routine, they are still likely to add Cindy Crawford’s favorite under-eye cream to their skincare lineup after watching her episode of “Go To Bed With Me.”

Cindy Crawford in an installment of "Go To Bed with Me." Credit: Vogue

I believe this consumer behavior is largely responsible for the glut of products that have made the beauty industry not only more crowded, but more competitive than ever before. With a product designed for every skin type, every issue, and every perceived imperfection, it’s hard not to create a multi-step skincare routine. However, just as the beauty industry reaches peak competitiveness, consumers have suddenly shifted gears—and drastically, at that. Thanks to a renewed push for sustainability, consumers have now become obsessed with what has been dubbed “skinminimalism,” and it threatens to alter the fabric of the beauty industry as we’ve known it.

Not only does this trend mean cutting down your current routine, weeding out “unnecessary” products and going back to the basics, but it also represents a shift toward more sustainable, all-natural products—think of buzzwords like vegan, cruelty-free, and naturally-derived. In fact, many “minimalist” brands have actually been around for years—I’ve personally been using Mad Hippie products, which you can find at Whole Foods and Central Market, since early 2018—however, they’ve only recently transitioned from being “hipster” and “granola” to “sustainable” and “superior.” In addition to tried-and-true vegan labels, newcomers like Goop, Farmacy, and Herbivore have quickly made a name for their products, making chic and enticing all-natural products, some of which have become Sephora bestsellers.

A lineup of minimalist products. Credit: Harper's Bazaar.

Regarding cosmetics, “no-makeup makeup” has taken the beauty world by storm, as cult brands like Glossier have completely changed the narrative around makeup, advocating a dewy, natural glow as opposed to a face full of pore-clogging, matte-finish makeup. Since Glossier’s impressive success, other labels have entered the clean makeup arena, including Tower 28, Milk, Hourglass, and Bite, among others.

This raises the question: Will the trend toward cosmetic minimalism completely alter the overcrowding and competition that the beauty industry has thrived on, or will it make the beauty industry more competitive than ever before?

Contrary to other industry executives, I argue that, while the trend toward “skinminimalism” will force the beauty industry to adapt to changing consumer desires, it will also make the industry that much more competitive, as brands fight to capture consumers’ attention with the perfect, “simple” routine. Currently, beauty brands—especially skincare labels—don’t create clear-cut routines. Sure, they advertise that their night cream is “most effective” when used in conjunction with their cleanser, but they have yet to outline simple, step-by-step routines that the average consumer can easily make sense of and purchase verbatim. Furthermore, there are few skincare and beauty lines that are “sustainable” or vegan across the board. While brands like Herbivore and Milk made a name for themselves with their sustainable sourcing practices and vegan ingredients, more established brands like Ole Henriksen and YSL Beauty aren’t known for this. Thus, they only carry a few—if any—fully vegan or sustainable products, forced to slowly adapt their long-term product line to changing consumer behavior.

Ultimately, I believe that “skinminimalism” will force brands to adapt from their current maximalist approach to a better tailored, “minimalist” approach. However, this shift toward minimalism does not necessarily entail carrying fewer products, nor does it signal an abatement in competition that has come to characterize the beauty industry. In fact, I believe that “skinminimalism” will encourage brands to add new options to their lineup while keeping their existing products, thus adding an even greater number of new products into the market. Consequently, I hold that this trend will make the beauty industry more competitive than ever before, as brands are forced to adapt their lines and roll out new products in order to appeal to current consumers.

Beauty trends may change, but the competition for shelf space is forever.

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