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The global pandemic has had many far-reaching impacts, many of which are pertinent to the future of skincare: a renewed focus by consumers on personal health, a sense of accelerated aging due to enforced stressors of pandemic life, and the connection between the two.
“Everyone felt like they aged during the pandemic,” says Dr. Molly Maloof, Silicon Valley technologist, physician and wellbeing expert to the C-suite. “And they realised it was due to the collective trauma, to stress, to our diets, to sitting in front of a screen. People are realizing it’s all connected.”
Indeed, widespread reports from scientists and dermatologists show a direct link between these stressors (from anxiety to loss of sleep) and accelerated ageing. Google searches for hair loss increased by 8 percent between 2020 and 2021, according to the data science firm Spate. The topic is now being searched more than 829,000 times a month on average in the United States.
As a result, more than half of Americans (57%) alone now say they are prioritising health and wellbeing post-pandemic, even above financial security, according to recent data published by Allianz Insurance. Research Dive estimates that by 2026, the global wellness industry will hit US$6.5 billion by 2026 in value and is growing at a CAGR of 4.8 percent.
Awareness of the pandemic’s impact on our ageing (and general complexion) has also been accelerated by the proliferation of screen-based work: “We have never looked at ourselves so much before, thanks to Zoom,” says Amy Shecter, CEO of new millennial-oriented New York med-spa Ever/Body, which has seen an uptick in new customers since the crisis. “The Zoom effect is also making us much more aware of the impact of blue light and exposure to technology, and what it does to us. It’s certainly changed my perspective on how I want to look and made me want to try new things.”
This new environment is also driving a fundamental shift in consumers’ approach to skincare, not least with products that blur the categories of nutrition, health, tech and new age practices. Increasingly, skincare is healthcare. It’s linked to hormone balance, metabolism, happiness, clean air –and everything in between. As such, new skincare routines, services and product lines are rapidly transcending single solutions with concierge-like eco-systems that utilize personal data, advanced diagnostics, cosmetic dermatology, topical skincare, new-age practices, and more.
“We are seeing ourselves as interconnected organisms,” says veteran beauty journalist and consultant Anna-Marie Solowij. “People are taking a more holistic approach which is proactive, rather than curative, that steps outside orthodox medicine, and is self-optimizing. There’s never been more ways to measure what is going on in your body, and then using this data to find solutions.”
The products of wellness brand LYMA Life are indicative of this change. There’s not a serum or jar in sight: the core products are a supplement made with nine peer-reviewed ingredients; and a laser – the first clinic-grade device for use at home that boosts cellular renewal, cellular growth and repair. The brand believes more skincare solutions will adopt this scientific, holistic, multi-pronged approach in the future.
The focus on aging comes at a tipping point for prestige skincare. Millennials, long identified as the target ‘youth’ market for brands in this market segment, are starting to hit their forties (middle-aged millennials!) and are seeking a range of new, often premium options when it comes to aging. They’re also creating a seed change in the attitude towards ageing. Where the revelation for boomers was to be ‘pro age’, and Gen Xers discretely adopted muscle relaxant injectables and fillers to segue into later life, millennials are treating aging in a proactive, open and unapologetic manner. This cohort led the un-tabooing of periods, sexual wellness, and recent frank discourse about parenting, giving rise to a number of new brand concepts. And now they’re taking the same approach to mid-life.
Perhaps that’s why they are already leapfrogging traditional skincare in pursuit of a single solution to cosmetic treatments. According to a recent report by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, US cosmetic procedures have increased by 47 percent since 2013, with four fifths of treatments being non-surgical procedures: micro-needling, injectables and fillers. The study pegged demand to rising interest from millennials, citing social media and selfie pressure as a key driver.
This attitudinal shift is giving rise to concepts like Ever/Body, which just closed series B funding rounds of US$38 million. Ever/Body was launched by former Clinique executive Kate Twist in 2019 as a disruptive alternative to the quintessential Upper East Side cosmetic dermatology office. Think Warby Parker meets Glossier - medi spas with an app, teleconsultations, derma fillers, micro-needling, Kybella, all housed in serene, hip urban locations. Already popular with 30-50 year-olds, its business has boomed post pandemic. In May 2021, it reported a 94 percent increase in first-time consultations, a triple-digit increase in muscle relaxant injectables' clients and a 50 percent uptick in male customers.
Other providers are seeing the same: “The average spend has gone up. Millennials are obsessed – it’s linked to all their screen time. It’s also partly the Kim Kardashian influence,” says Dr. Nazenin Saedi, director of Laser Surgery and Cosmetic Dermatology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals. “They’re trying to recreate the version of themselves [the Kardashians] can make with filters.”
Harper’s Bazaar US’ beauty director Jessica Matlin agrees there’s been a generational shift, particularly in increased spending on skincare treatments. “I remember watching Kimora Lee Simmons, then the wife of music mogul Russell Simmons on MTV Cribs in the 2000s. Back then, she was considered one of the most decadent women in the R&B space. She took people into her bathroom and showed off a huge tub of La Mer, which she said she applied all over her body. A price tag flashed up - 'US$1,000!' - as in, ‘Wow! someone spends US$1,000 on skincare!’ That seems positively romantic now. Kendall Jenner probably spends that on a single treatment."
Millennials are also impacting the framing - and brand positioning - of age-related treatments. Companies like Oscar Health, Monzo Bank, and home insurer Lemonade have worked the same playbook as Everlane, Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s, by creating sleek lifestyle-inspired branding, pithy, humorous copy, and offering disruptive prices, all wrapped up in the tech-powered convenience of apps to reach younger audiences. Now age-related categories are stepping up.
“Millennials expect the convenience of Warby Parker, One Medical, or Tend (the millennialised version of dentistry), says Shecter. “Warby Parker just went public; it completely changed the way people get eye exams and buy glasses – we want to do the same in cosmetic dermatology.”
This is already starting to happen. Ever/Body joins new concepts like VSPOT in New York, the “first women’s intimate medical spa specialising in vaginal health and pleasure.” VSPOT offers vaginal tightening, treatments for incontinence, labiaplasty and “vampire breast lifts”, with a website and marketing more reminiscent of Vogue than a medical institution. The brand describes itself as, “medical experts in correcting issues that interfere with our quality of life and satisfaction. We specialise in rejuvenation, lasers, tightening, urinary leakage, the O shot, dryness, menopause, intimate lightening and more.”
There’s more: Oula, a next generation New York-based maternal centre has recently launched offering full-service maternal care with a space and branding reminiscent of a cool Brooklyn spa. Meanwhile, Perelel is a recently launched direct-to-consumer supplement brand for maternal health, wrapped in sleek packaging. Next on the block for the millennial treatment are perimenopause and menopause. New concepts for this are already attracting attention from the investment community, including Elektra Health, Peanut, and telehealth companies Alpha, and Gennev. Female Founders Fund recently estimated that the menopause segment is a US$600 billion opportunity, and a big chunk of that could go to menopause-related skincare solutions as women look for solutions to tackle a decline in skin elasticity.
“Stress and cortisol are linked together and can shift your insulin levels. You store more fat. You don’t sleep well – which is also ageing,” says Dr. Maryam Zamani, a leading oculoplastic surgeon and facial aesthetics doctor in London. “Managing stress is incredibly important for skin management. Our modern lives are filled with big and incremental stressors, from technology to overstimulation.”
Selfmade, launched by former Michelle Obama staffer Stephanie Lee, has developed serums in collaboration with mental health experts, using mental health concepts as their foundation.
Disciple is a London-based natural wellness company “for stressed-out body and mind”. Created by psychotherapist Charlotte Ferguson, it offers adaptogens, prebiotics, and linoleic acid, among other approaches, to treat skin from the mind outwards. “Anxiety, stress and low mood can cause inflammatory issues such as adult acne, eczema, adrenal fatigue and premature ageing,” says the company.
In 2021, German firm BASF launched an ingredient called Sacred Patch, derived from a Japanese microalgae, that is said to “stimulate the release of oxytocin, thus providing a positive emotional effect immediately after application.” BASF says it works in three ways: it offers an instantly perceptible uplift in mood once applied to the skin, helps to soothe sensitive skin, and provides strong moisturisation properties.
Could the future increasingly see topical skincare that addresses emotional issues, too? Already in skincare, the ingredient neurophroline is said to inhibit cortisol production. Derived from wild indigo and patented by Givaudan, neurophroline has been shown to work quickly — reducing cortisol production by almost 70 percent within just a few hours in some instances.
According to Dr. Franisco Tausk, an advisor to neurophroline brand Loum, “It works by inhibiting the release of cortisol while stimulating a calming neuropeptide to counter its effects, which protects collagen against stress-driven damage and preserves the integrity of the cellular matrix.” Other brands which are incorporating the neurophroline ingredient are Trinny London, in its BFF De-Stress Tinted Serum and Garden of Wisdom Neurophroline Serum.
Magazine Cosmetics & Toiletries concludes that: “In skin care, the anti-stress ingredient trend is not new, but the science of self-care and the skin-brain connection is at the forefront in 2021. The focus of the industry on well-being should go hand-in-hand with the quantification of anti-stress benefits through objective means.”