Consumer empathy: The secret to successful skin care

Published: 19-May-2020

From the skip-care trend to connected beauty, skin care is more linked to health and wellbeing than ever before, as Jennifer Hermitage from Cornelius writes

From body scrubs and moisturisers to face masks and toners, amidst the pantheon of personal care products, skin care has demonstrated not only the most sizeable growth in recent years, but also the most potential for change.

Studies from market research organisation The NPD Group show that in the US alone, the skin care category grew by almost 13% in 2018, comprising 60% of the personal care industry’s overall gains.

Globally, products that protect and nurture skin have expanded steadily and are forecast to reach US$183bn by 2025.

Driving this momentum is a greater skin empathy on the part of the consumer. We are more aware of our health and wellbeing than ever before, and as a collective we are truly tuning in to the long-term value of caring for our skin.

As the largest organ and microbiome of the human body, and the part most exposed to the elements, providing skin with the nutrients it needs to thrive is big business.

Of significant interest to brands, formulators and manufacturers, skin care is highly susceptible to fashion trends. This is because dermatological care has become deeply entrenched in consumer routine and as such needs to flex and adapt to fit lifestyle changes.

The rapidly shifting demands that have begun to shape the category have separated the agile businesses from the stagnant, which has real implications on the bottom line and profitability of a brand competing in today’s complex omnichannel retail space.

Staying ahead of trends is vital for personal care and cosmetics companies aiming to capitalise on the significant commercial opportunities afforded in 2020.

In order to pre-empt the market and understand the direction of the sector, brands must be able to break down the imminent trends and more importantly, understand why they’re coming to the forefront of the industry.

Skip-care: Fasting for the skin

First touted in Western beauty circles in early 2019, ‘skip-care’ is not simply a routine or a product, it’s an ethos. Originating in the Korean K-beauty sphere, skip-care is the antithesis to long, complex and wasteful skin care routines, and has taken the health and beauty world by storm.

The trend focusses on dramatically reducing the number of individual products in an everyday skin care routine; a stark contrast to the ‘11-step skin care’ that was prevalent in the region just months before.

The idea is that we are simply using too many skin care products. Skip-care strips this back to just the essentials. There are certainly benefits to this – too many rich textures on the skin can inhibit its ability to hydrate itself, as the skin can become over-reliant on moisturisers.

To brands, this means that individual products need to accomplish more. When the number of core products a consumer uses is reduced, each one is under a closer microscope as to its function and place within the routine.

For personal care products to stand out, boosting functionality will be the key to success. Some of today’s most successful skin care products stand testament to this, with moisturisers that tone, balance pH and protect from UV light, for example.

The crux is that individual products must perform more roles than ever before, meaning that brands and manufacturers are looking to their ingredients and formulations providers for the solution.

Reflecting this rising need, acyl lactylates, better known as pationics, are finding growing use in skin care formulations. The anionic emulsifiers act as a natural plant-derived surfactant and are fast becoming known for their multifunctional capabilities in skin care.

The ingredients have been used to great effect in a number of popular products already acting as a foaming agent and moisturiser.

Gen Z & Connected Beauty

The imminent commercial maturity of the Generation Z demographic group poses a number of emergent opportunities for brands in 2020. Comprising individuals born between 1995 and 2015, these consumers are finding their feet in terms of personal care buying habits.

Where Generation Y, also known as millennials, were largely defined by their lifestyle and convenience demands, Gen Zers are ethically driven and even more tech-savvy than their predecessors.

For brands, this means health and beauty is contextual. Gen Z exists in an age that peels back the traditional norms of beauty and encourages consumers to be the best version of themselves. They do not necessarily adhere to ingrained standards of health and beauty.

This points to a growing demand for personalised beauty, rather than a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Closely connected to personalised health is a rising imperative for diversity and representation within the industry.

Today’s Gen Z buyer is moving towards inclusive care that takes skin tone, age, condition and environmental factors into account.

Multicultural wellness represents a shift in attitude within this demographic, hastened by social media and the hyperconnected nature of today’s consumer.

Known as connected beauty, consumers are not only connecting with brands, but with each other, blending the physical and digital spaces of commerce.

Brands beyond products

The combined buying power of Gens Y and Z have been impacting the skin care landscape for several years now, with the changes still being felt throughout the supply chain.

Perhaps the most significant change, due to mature in 2020, is the value-led purchase decisions that are made in both the digital and physical space.

Today’s brands must be much more than purely figureheads for a retail machine, they have to stand for something. Contemporary consumers are increasingly giving loyalty to brands with values and ideals that mirror their own.

This manifests in a number of ways, most prominently in sustainability, authenticity, experience and wellbeing.

When the market is culturally agile, brands are required to reflect the causes and concerns that shoppers care about, which means vision, mission and values arrive front and centre in public consciousness.

Established marketing norms, such as remaining apolitical, are being shaken to the core as consumers increasingly weave together their purchase behaviour and beliefs.

A rapidly growing standard for personal care products is vegan-friendly certification. Becoming increasingly common in the industry, research from MUA Makeup Academy highlights that 62% of consumers now purchase vegan or ‘cruelty-free’ health, beauty and wellness products despite not following a vegan lifestyle, demonstrating the sizeable market potential.

The penalty for not remaining sensitive to customer ideals is irrelevance, and consequent damage to the bottom line. Today’s buyer wields the power; they decide which brands are relevant to them, not the other way around, as has historically been the case.

The skin care market in 2020 will be subject to changes in purchase behaviour, which has implications for new product innovation and development.

The key for brands, to stay ahead of the curve, will be how effectively they can blend transparency, value and agility. Brands must operate with their ideals and narrative at the forefront, alongside a strong product value proposition.

Crucially, brands must have a firm grasp of who they are and what they stand for, coupled with an equally strong understanding of their target audience.

In 2020, skin care products are not simply commercial propositions, they’re an intrinsic part of the consumer lifestyle experience and brands that understand this will be in a stronger position as the year progresses.

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