Makeup and the Coronavirus: An Uneasy Mix
It was business as usual at Sephora in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan Monday evening, give or take a few face masks not of the soothing mud variety.
Customers were browsing the latest Urban Decay palettes, sitting at mirrored stations getting makeup applied by sales associates and stocking up on luxury skin care, including $335 jars of Crème de la Mer.
Nina Sisco, 24, a fashion publicist, said she wasn’t overly worried about the spread of the new coronavirus. “I go on the subway every day, I’m still going out,” she said, as she dipped a disposable spool wand into a tube of Tom Ford Beauty mascara. (She tried it, but didn’t buy it.) “I’m still going to go on vacation, I’m still going to go to Miami.”
Another customer, Piaoxue Zhang, 23, who relocated to New York from China last year, was huddled with a friend by a tower of sanitizer, makeup remover and cotton rounds. Both wore protective masks but said they didn’t plan to stop shopping for makeup.
But as the crisis mounts, cosmetics companies, whose very business relies upon the now-discouraged practice of touching one’s face, are evaluating their regular practices.
Coty created a “global response team” that meets daily to “actively monitor the situation very closely.” Sephora has its employees wiping down front door handles with Clorox wipes hourly, though early this week consultants in at least one store were still applying makeup from common testers to customers. The company has canceled an annual convention, Sephoria, and said in a statement, in part: “At Sephora, the health and safety of our clients, employees and their families is our first priority. We are monitoring the global Covid-19 outbreak very closely, following the guidance recommended by our government, health officials and local leadership.”
Gucci Westman, a makeup artist and the founder of Westman Atelier, a makeup brand, canceled a Feb. 23 trip to Milan and Paris, where she planned to attend events, see clients and do the makeup for the fashion designer Rosie Assoulin’s presentation, which was called off.
“What’s going to happen is actresses and models will probably end up bringing their own makeup to shoots, or at least their own brushes,” Ms. Westman said, quickly adding: “I’m a freak about washing my brushes, but if you’re in contact with all these people, makeup artists who have done shows in Milan? You don’t really want to kiss those people who have been in Milan.”
Makeup is a daily pick-me-up for many even in difficult times, and there is an oft-cited economic indicator known as “the Lipstick Effect” (more recently debunked). This time around Chris Ventry, a vice president in the consumer and retail practice of management consultancy SSA & Company, optimistically predicted what he called “the Longwear Foundation (or Mascara) Effect.”
“As more and more people are wearing masks, they’re emphasizing other forms of makeup,” Mr. Ventry said, adding that fabric rubbing against the face stimulated the longwear foundation category in Asia. “People might get very creative with how they accessorize their eyes.”
An industry that relies on constant introduction of new shades and products will also have to get creative with how they are sold.
Tiffany Masterson, the founder of Drunk Elephant, one of Sephora’s best-selling skin care brands, was planning to introduce hair and body collections in April but will most likely cancel a three-day pop-up shop that was scheduled to open in Los Angeles on March 30. (California declared a state of emergency last week.) “That may not play well — that we’re hosting where multiple people come and hang out,” Ms. Masterson said. “It’s not smart.”
Credo Beauty, a retailer focusing on natural and organic makeup with nine stores across the United States, paused all in-store services through the end of March, said Dawn Dobras, the chief executive. Events planned for April will probably occur via livestream.
But a splashy Gucci Beauty installation blithely continued in Los Angeles last weekend. The brand, with Sephora, hosted events on March 6 and March 7 to celebrate its new mascara, the first new makeup release since the debut of a lipstick collection last year.
“At this point it is too early to quantify the exact impact,” a spokesman for Coty, the beauty and fragrance licensee for Gucci and the parent company of Cover Girl, Rimmel and Sally Hansen, of the coronavirus, wrote in an email. “In terms of business impact, beyond the direct impact to China, we believe the coronavirus could negatively impact the broader travel retail sector.”
There may be a silver lining in all this for direct-to-consumer companies like Glossier, popular with millennials.
“There’s a real opportunity for leading online brands because a lot of consumers have always treated luxury beauty as something they want to see, touch, feel and sample in person before they invest in it,” said Clara Sieg, a general partner at Revolution Ventures, an investor in Playa, a hair care brand. “Being forced to make those decisions online gives you more comfort with it in the future.”
Jackie Flam, the chief marketing officer of Pierre Fabre, a beauty company in Paris that owns brands including Avene, Glytone and Klorane, said that last week’s sales for Klorane’s Dry Shampoo at Ulta Beauty were already higher online versus in store compared with the same period last year.
And sales for Avene’s hand cream in the United States have tripled in the past two to three weeks, according to the company, a result of increased hand washing and sanitizer usage.
“Hands are taking a beating,” Ms. Flam said.
And at the nail salon, they will encounter stepped-up precautions. Jin Soon Choi, a sought-after manicurist and the founder of four nail spas and a namesake nail polish brand, said that patrons were still coming in and that the biggest challenge had been trying to obtain a stock of masks for staff. Once optional for technicians, masks are now mandatory in her establishment, along with gloves.
Even as directives about public health increase in urgency, vanity can sometimes battle with common sense. Dr. Shereene Idriss, a dermatologist in New York, said that a patient who was put on home quarantine asked if she could still come in for a scheduled nonmedical procedure.
“We had to remind that patient that cosmetic treatments do not immunize you from potentially spreading the virus,” Dr. Idriss said. “At least she was responsible enough to call and let us know, and she didn’t sneak in.”