Why Get All Made Up During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

Amie Wohrer reached her limit about three weeks into the shutdown.

Her hair had grown out, losing its shape and style. Worse, the gray strands she meticulously hid through trips to her hairdresser every few weeks were becoming increasingly visible. So, desperate, Ms. Wohrer, a 40-year-old mother of five from Lancaster, Ohio, did something she hadn’t done in 20 years: She colored her own hair. Then she went one step further and, with the help of some YouTube videos, gave herself a quarancut.

“My daughters were a little leery,” she said, “but after the fact, they were all really impressed.”

The coronavirus shutdowns have upended many daily routines, including those around beauty, skin care and hair care. Some people, like Ms. Wohrer, are taking matters into their own hands, sending sales of do-it-yourself hair color kits, hair trimmers and nail polish soaring at retailers like Walmart and Hy-Vee, a Midwest grocery store chain, in recent weeks.

But other people have simply stopped morning makeup regimens. For beauty companies and retailers, the combination of store closures and consumers who see little need to put on blush or mascara when they’re stuck at home is a serious issue.

In late March, E.L.F. Beauty said it saw a “significant decline” in retail sales in the last two weeks of that month. The company’s stock is down 40 percent since mid-February.

Sales at Estée Lauder Companies dropped 11 percent in its fiscal third quarter, which ended March 31. Its stock is down 20 percent since mid-February.

The retailers Ulta Beauty and Sephora, owned by LVMH, closed stores and furloughed tens of thousands of employees. LVMH said the business group that includes Sephora fell 26 percent in the first quarter as stores in China, then Europe and the United States were shut.

Sales of higher-end beauty products through department stores and retailers like Ulta Beauty and Sephora dropped about 14 percent in the first quarter, said Larissa Jensen, a vice president at the NPD Group, a research firm. Sales of mass beauty items at drugstores, which stayed open, slid 4 percent, according to other analysts.

In some ways, the trend away from makeup predated the pandemic.

For several years, cosmetic companies had experienced boom times as people bought contouring kits and eye-shadow palettes in a rainbow of colors and watched hours of YouTube videos showing them how to achieve the picture-perfect Instagram face.

But since peaking in 2017, sales of makeup have slowed. Many women instead embraced a more natural appearance with an increased emphasis on skin care.

Sales of skin-care products had been on the uptick for the last three years, Ms. Jensen said. And in recent weeks, sales of skin-care products surpassed makeup sales for the first time ever, she said.

The French company L’Oréal, for instance, said gains in sales in brands that focus on skin care, like Kiehl’s or CeraVe, had helped balance out declines in the makeup brands Maybelline New York and NYX Professional Makeup.

Some of those sales come from customers like Adriana Salazar. Ms. Salazar said she had found herself staying in bed all day after being laid off from her restaurant job in Houston. She gave up her normal skin-care routine, and soon her skin broke out.

So Ms. Salazar repurchased all of her normal skin-care products and added a $25 vitamin C brightening serum.

“I fell into a rut — all motivation for doing anything was pretty much gone,” Ms. Salazar said. “It’s very easy to get down on yourself for not being productive or finding something new to learn. So the least I could do is take care of my skin.”

Others have happily embraced their newfound natural look or become adept at using makeup filters on Zoom. But there are also those who have tired of the no-makeup-pajama look and say they have occasionally applied makeup in an effort to feel normal in these abnormal times.

“I did my makeup for the first time yesterday,” said Valerie Ayala, a 20-year-old theater major and political science minor set to graduate from Florida Atlantic University this month. “I was feeling kind of down and had looked like a bridge troll for the last week, and I decided I’m going to dress up and do some makeup today, even if I have nowhere to go.”

Beauty brands, acknowledging their products are nonessential, are also having to navigate how to unveil new products and market themselves without coming off as insensitive to the health and economic crisis that is unfolding.

Revlon, for instance, started the social media campaign #butithelps, encouraging followers to put on their favorite lipstick, even if they’re just wearing sweatpants at home. E.L.F. started a TikTok dance challenge among its followers with a song promoting hand washing and social distancing.

Then there was Mac Cosmetics, which is owned by Estée Lauder. For a year it had teased a new collection of makeup honoring the Tejano singer Selena. When the coronavirus hit, the brand wondered if it should go forward.

“We talked about not doing it,” but ultimately decided Selena’s fans would be disappointed, said John Demsey, an executive group president at Estée Lauder who oversees MAC and other brands. A limited-edition Selena collection offered on Instagram sold out in one minute.

For Estée Lauder and other beauty companies, what happens after the shutdowns are lifted remains unclear.

If people continue to wear masks, for instance, sales of products to enhance the eyes may increase while sales of lipsticks could slump, analysts say. And if people work from home more frequently in the coming months, makeup sales are likely to remain weak.

Some analysts see the potential for a “lipstick effect,” in which people, unable to buy big-ticket items, indulge in smaller luxuries like a pricey lipstick.

But others say people who were using high-end cosmetics and skin-care products may trade down to mass-market products, as many did after the 2008 financial crisis.

Sales of prestige beauty products in the United States fell in 2008 and 2009, according to the NPD Group. “It didn’t come back until late 2010,” said Stephanie Wissink, an analyst at the investment bank Jefferies. Referring to a hypothetical customer, she said, “Her participation rate stayed the same, but the composition of her beauty bag changed.”

For some, the break from the normal makeup or hair-care routine has improved the quality of their skin or hair to the point that they don’t see themselves returning to their pre-pandemic regime.

Ms. Ayala estimated that her morning routine before the pandemic took an hour. It included drying and flat-ironing her hair and applying a “natural” look makeup of concealer, mascara, eye shadow and eyebrow gel.

But when the quarantines started, she began to let her hair air dry. As a result, she said, her hair became healthier. She said she believed that even after the shutdowns were lifted, she wouldn’t go back to styling her hair.

But there is one purchase she plans to make soon: more red lipstick.

“I tend to shy away from bright colors like that,” she said. “But after this is over, honestly, all I want is a red lip. Something to make me look my best.”

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