Hands-free massages and online consultations: How technology is playing its part in the post-COVID beauty industry

2020 has been a year of reckoning for the beauty industry. As an unprecedented pandemic travelled across all corners of the globe, the touch-centric world of beauty found itself grappling with an identity crisis of its own. Supply chains came to a halt, shutters were lowered on retail stores and the heavily trafficked aisles of duty-free outposts observed radio silence. As the slate was wiped clean on learned consumer habits and behaviours, beauty brands found themselves back at the drawing board. If the industry is to weather this crisis and come out stronger, here are the thematic changes that will lead the way into the light.

Digital amplification

While virtual try-on tools have been shuffling around in the beautyverse for a while now, the pandemic-induced lockdown served as the springboard for brands to adopt a digital-first approach. Vineeta Singh, CEO of SUGAR Cosmetics, confirms, “The beauty industry has witnessed a paradigm shift in consumers’ purchasing patterns, as even offline consumers are now making their purchases via online channels. This has diverted the focus of brands from pushing their stores to building an equally impactful online shopping experience. Physical stores have also been revamped with digital tools to seamlessly integrate the shopping experience, both online and in-store.”

Phydigital initiatives are assuming centerstage, and further proof can be found in the recent launch of Lancôme’s virtual flagship store in Singapore. For those craving the in-store experience, the brand offered a simulation of the conventional buying process—with mobile skin analysis tools and personalisation checkposts that served an immersive 3D experience. The role of artificial intelligence in beauty seems inevitable for the future, making it a handy vehicle for discovery as well as personalisation of formulas.

Accelerated innovations

In a world that can change overnight, responsiveness to market has become key for beauty players looking to not just survive, but thrive. Product pipelines were overhauled, as brands began diversifying into hand sanitisers and mask-friendly makeup. Singh echoes the sentiment, and says, “The pandemic saw an overnight change in consumer shopping behaviour. In addition to product innovations, this has also necessitated a shift in communication strategies. Transfer-proof makeup with skincare benefits is now dominating the conversation with consumers.”

Hands-free applicators

While above-the-mask makeup products, such as eye products, have found more takers, hands-free applicators are also clocking in a simultaneous surge in interest. Singh affirms a similar spike in the sales of stick makeup products, from primer and blush sticks to foundations with built-in brushes, that enable consumers to negate the use of touch. Heightened concerns of hygiene could play a motivating factor in pushing hands-free makeup further, believes Jenni Middleton, director of beauty at trend forecasting firm, WSGN. Speaking at an online event for WeCosmoProf, she said, “We’ve never been more aware of everything we touch. We are now carrying around sanitisers like we would have lipstick and fragrance in our bags. A few months ago, we would have been happy to open a moisturiser jar, dip in our fingers and apply it on our faces, but hands-free tools are now going to be really important.”

Science-backed beauty

The pandemic has changed our lives in ways both, big and small. The endless scrutiny over what we are putting on our faces has ushered in a corresponding preference for science-backed beauty. The clinical sterility of scientific formulas affords a greater sense of reassurance to today’s ingredient-savvy consumer, says Hinaa Khan, head of education at Dermalogica India. “Today, customers are actively doing research before investing in skincare products. There is a heightened sense of awareness regarding the ingredients that are best suited for their skin type as well as specific skincare issues,” she elaborates.

Increased focus on health

The onset of the lockdown also offered beauty enthusiasts the chance to indulge in some long-overdue me-time. Jen Atkin, global styling ambassador at Dyson, believes that the increased focus of hair health and adequate maintenance during this period will be carried over into the post-lockdown world as well. “People are finally giving their hair the break it deserves. As a result of reduced exposure to extreme heat and heavy styling tools, users are noticing a healthy change in their hair. Looking ahead, we are anticipating that people will be looking to achieve the same desired style, but with less heat,” says the renowned hairstylist.

Online consultations

Even as makeup applicators are going hands-free, the element of touch remains non-negotiable for hair and skin services. Amy Johnson, global education manager for Dyson, believes that this is especially pertinent for beauty tools that employ newer technology as the machine performance is best experienced firsthand. However, as the world was compelled to make the transition to the virtualverse, touch-centric beauty services have had no choice but to follow suit. She says, “Through online demonstrations, we are now showcasing our technology virtually. Our stylists have also gone through a complete elevation by adapting to online hairstyling consultations. While once they could touch and feel the hair, they have now adapted their diagnosis to the virtual medium to recommend the styling tools that work best for individual customers and their hair types.”

Contactless skin treatments

Needless to say, the contactless memo has been extended to the salon segment as well. For an industry constructed around the element of touch, the spread of a communicable virus has mandated life-altering changes. Pooja Sahgal, vice president and head of marketing at Kaya Skin Clinic, elaborates, “While customers are excited to get back in the salon for services like laser hair reduction, some apprehension still exists for face-contact services, like beauty facials. A large component of these facials has been the massages which aid in relaxation and rejuvenation.” In light of the pandemic, the skin clinic has pivoted its services to offer contactless facials (using only tools and robotic hands) and a hand rejuvenation service to nourish the skin after the excessive exposure to sanitisers and hand-washing.

The sudden replacement of the sensory experience with contactless skincare could take some getting used to, believes Sana Dhanani, founder of The White Door. She says, “The Indian audience has always been willing to experiment, but this leap of faith needs to be rooted in trust. Concerns about hygiene and safety are at the forefront of everyone’s minds currently. For the near future, services that employ facial tools will be pulling in greater favour, from jade rollers to microcurrent devices.”

Also read:

Here’s what going to your salon or dermatologist’s clinic will be like post-lockdown

How will technology change our relationship with beauty after COVID-19?

What does the future of beauty retail look like in India post-2020?

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