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Makeup sales take a hit as interests shift in the work-from-home era

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(CNN) -- Consumers are stockpiling plenty of items they consider to be necessities during the pandemic. Not on their shopping lists: makeup and perfume.

Beauty industry watchers and cosmetics companies say consumers are gravitating toward a more low-maintenance and natural look. People are staying at home and paying more attention to their health, prompting them to shift focus to their skincare rather than their makeup routines, they said.

"With the stay-at-home order in effect since early March, there really isn't any need to apply makeup the way we were before," Larissa Jensen, vice president and beauty industry analyst with market research firm NPD Group. And then there's the awkwardness of wearing any kind of makeup under a face mask, especially sticky lip gloss.

Makeup sales were down 22% in the first quarter versus a year ago, according to NPD, while fragrance sales declined 13%.

Part of what's made things worse is that social distancing and self-quarantining have become barriers to trying on makeup in stores.

"Makeup is a high-touch experience," said Jensen. Online sales of makeup and fragrance products were up in the quarter, but the online channel still represents a much smaller percentage of overall sales, and not enough to offset declines of in-store purchases.

At the same time, unemployment in the US surged to a record high in April, leaving millions out of work and with less expendable income for nonessential shopping.

Cosmetics companies say that while overall demand is down, they are still seeing interest in products that help achieve a natural look.

L'Oreal, the world's largest cosmetics and beauty products company, said the pandemic has increasingly made "work from home makeup" a talking point with consumers.

"While people might not want to do a full face of makeup, many are feeling the power of a swipe of lipstick, eye liner, a quick coat of mascara and a little bit of powder," said Nathalie Gerschtein, president of L'Oreal USA's consumer products division.

"We're also seeing across our social networks that people are dressing up and doing their makeup for virtual happy hours and dinner parties. Mainly, they are still being social in a virtual way," she said.

Meanwhile, cosmetics retailer Ulta Beauty, which operates more than 1,100 stores nationwide, said everyday makeup essentials such as mascara, brows products and concealer continue to be popular.

"We are also seeing demand for makeup with skincare benefits, such as tinted moisturizers and foundations infused with good-for-you ingredients offering buildable coverage. This is especially true for those wanting to achieve a natural, less-is-more look," the company said in a statement to CNNBusiness.

Before the pandemic, younger shoppers who are more environmentally and socially consciouswere already thinking differently about makeup, embracing the "less is more" mentality and buying beauty products with fewer chemicals and greater skincare benefits.

"Certainly for several months prior to the pandemic we've been aware of the 'no makeup' look evolving. It's a more natural look, less glitzy, less high fashion," said Bill George, CEO of Paris Presents, a company that makes products like Freeman Beauty face masks and EcoTools makeup brushes and sponges.

"These consumers were already focusing on skincare more than makeup," said George. He expects the pandemic will accelerate the trend and influence more consumers to lean toward simplifying, rather than complicating, their self-care and beauty routines.

There are certain unexpected products that are doing well, however. Outside of makeup, L'Oreal's Gerschtein said DIY manicures are boosting sales of its nail polish brands like Essie, and false lash products are also seeing an increase.

And the rise of facial coverings during the pandemic may lead to a new favorite look -- striking eye makeup. "We are anticipating, similarly to what we are seeing in other markets, a rise in eye makeup as the eyes play a more important role in how you can express yourself in public," she said."

The-CNN-Wire
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