“Lipstick is the best cosmetic there is,” Joan Collins once observed, shrewdly. Alas, not so much anymore – not now when face masks are covering the lower half of our faces.
It could mean the end of lipstick as we know it. For millennia, lip cosmetics have been one of the ways for women and men to express themselves, to lift their spirits, to make their face stand out in the crowd.
Now we’re contemplating another unhappy consequence of coronavirus: the possibility that face masks will wipe away the simple joys of lipstick for the foreseeable future.
Perish the thought, say lipstick lovers and cosmetic makers, nervously eyeing sales figures expected to fall this year, maybe as much as 11% according to one market prediction.
Lipstick fan Maya Allen, 27, the digital beauty editor for Marie Claire, whose lipstick collection tops 200, says there’s no doubt the pandemic in general and face masks in particular have stymied the impulse to buy and adorn ourselves in lip color. But she’s not giving up on her favorite product.
“I don’t want to believe that the idea of lipsticks is fading into the background, not while women are still putting on their lipstick when they’re on a Zoom date,” Allen says. “Not now, when women are using beauty products as escapism and to resume a sense of normalcy.”
Feelings about lipstick are remarkably intense in some quarters. Anna Murphy, fashion editor of The Times of London, wrote a paean to lipstick in Harper’s Bazaar in November 2019, months before the pandemic.
“Lipstick is a real joy in my life,” she wrote. “There is no day, no mood, no outfit, that isn’t improved by a superlative slash of the bright stuff. …We need such small but significant pleasures more than ever at the moment.”
Indeed, lipstick has long been a reliable, legal and cheap mood lifter. Can we survive this new plague era without it?
“A little lipstick can add spark to your life, and especially in these days of the pandemic, we can use a boost anywhere we can get it,” says Victoria Stiles, a Washington D.C. hair and makeup artist for TV and special events.
But many consumers are foregoing bold color in favor of mere lip gloss under their face masks, and for obvious reasons.
Whether you choose a disposable paper mask or a washable mask or a fancy cloth scarf mask to cover your face from nose down, the messy result is the same: Smears on the mask, smears all around the mouth and face.
People are joking about it on Twitter, naturally. Or they’re posting pictures of novelty masks with lipstick-stained lips covering the outside.
“six word horror story: red lipstick and a face mask,” tweeted Val Graham succinctly.
“Just put lipstick on under my face mask bc I’m an idiot apparently,” joked tatianasaurus rex.
“It’s a dark lipstick day. Too bad no one is gonna see it under my face mask,” tweeted Berniece.
As her bookings are picking up slowly, Stiles, 41, says she’s hearing frustration from her clients and friends about this less obvious annoyance courtesy of the pandemic.
“They’re used to having a full face (of makeup) and lipstick brightens the face, but you’re putting on something that blocks half the face,” she says. “A majority have been foregoing lipstick under their masks just because their favorite lipstick ends up staining the inside.”
Allen points to the ways some consumers are adjusting to the new realities of going without.
“Some women are choosing to embrace that and some want to defy it, so they’ll put on lipstick for their Zoom and Facetime meetings because it makes them feel like themselves,” Allen says.
Consumers might take some lessons from the millions of women, especially in the Muslim world but also the U.S., who wear niqabs, hijabs, veils and scarves, some of which cover parts or all of the face.
In Saudi Arabia, where most women continue to cover their face and hair in public despite recent relaxation in conservative social measures, reports show that Saudi women spend more on makeup than food, transport or clothes. Dubai could soon replace Seoul, South Korea, as the next beauty capital of the world in terms of makeup sales. Clearly, some women have learned how to combine color with their cover ups.
Face-mask wearing American consumers meanwhile are rushing to learn more about non-smear products already on the market.
“Try transfer-resistant lipsticks,” says Stiles, such as Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick, Lorac Pro Matte Lip Color, or N.Y.C. New York Color Expert Last Lip Lacquer. “Their purpose is to withstand eating, drinking or kissing.”
Or, she advises, shift to more dramatic eye makeup. “Smoke your eyes, use wing eye liner, play with false lashes, go for a bold brow,” she says.
“Skin care is surging massively because of the whole self-care movement – we have more time to ourselves and we’re preserving our peace with the rituals that skin care routines provide,” adds Allen, who’s been working in the beauty industry for eight years.
With the whole world “on pause,” now is the time to “lean in to what makes you feel good,” says Allen, who is constantly testing and wearing new colors and brands for her job and for her own sense of well-being.
“That’s the biggest draw for me, (lipstick) makes me feel very confident, very put together, very fierce,” Allen says. “I just interviewed a supermodel who told me she is wearing lipstick even when she works out because it makes her feel good. In challenging times, it makes sense people want that.”
Allen’s weekly “Big Lipstick Energy” column, which covers new launches and products she thinks readers should try, suggests her readers agree.
“The continued success of that column even during the pandemic shows the interest (in lipsticks) is still there.”
Still, coronavirus has forced of millions of beauty consumers, most of them confined to their homes, possibly jobless or furloughed, to wonder whether it’s worth it to buy lip color now that they only leave the house for the weekly grocery run.
Even if they could go out, there are few places to shop except online. Major retailers, such as Sephora, and department store cosmetic counters have been closed for weeks and are only now beginning to reopen in some places under social distancing rules.
Thus, the pandemic is affecting sales and is likely to continue to do so for a while since no one knows when “normal life” will return. Online sales of beauty products have increased during the pandemic but probably not enough to offset declines of in-store purchases due to pandemic closures, according to market analysts.
But Kline, a market research firm, predicts that lipsticks will be one of the worst performing categories in the beauty industry in 2020, according to Carrie Mellage, vice president for consumer products. She says the firm projects that U.S. sales of lipsticks will drop by 11%, to $3.1 billion at the retail level, in 2020, compared to 2019.
Even Kylie Jenner’s super successful and influential “lip kits” (now owned by Coty) have taken a pandemic sales hit, (beyond the controversy over whether she is or isn’t a billionaire.)
Thanks in part to Jenner, a richly painted mouth has been a top makeup trend recently and it’s not clear if a shift to eye makeup and skin-care products will be enough to compensate for the decline in lipstick sales.
But figuring out how to have our lipstick and wear it, too, will be necessary if face masks become a permanent fact of our daily lives for months or years to come.
Consumers also will have to adjust to the new ways make-up will be sold in bricks-and-mortar settings, with social distancing, limited crowds, and employees required to wear masks. Get used to more disposable brushes and wands and stainless steel palettes for dispensing products.
How will this work? The details are still being developed as lockdowns are lifting cautiously around the country.
But consumers can probably count on one change they’ll see at the beauty counters at their local mall: No more trying on new lipsticks in stores.