Cosmetic treatments Covid

From private testing rooms to virtual massages to antibacterial makeup, here’s what the future of beauty and wellness looks like post-Coronavirus

Necessity is the mother of innovation.

iven how tactile beauty is, from swatching products at makeup counters to skin on skin touch during a facial, it’s unsurprising that the pandemic has thrown a spanner in the beautysphere as we know it. Pre-pandemic (i.e. at the beginning of 2020), the beauty sector had an estimated global value of £599.5 billion, with the wellness industry coming in at £3.6 trillion, according to Euromonitor. Fast-forward to now and we’re no less interested in beauty and wellness, but our changing needs have forced brands, formulators and tech labs to rethink the way they do things to better serve our “new normal”.

“A fear of touch and contact combined with the communal surfaces and spaces intrinsic to beauty, fitness and wellness have compounded matters, with global shutdowns of physical locations and experiences pushing brands into the digital realm,” Foresight Editor, Kathryn Bishop wrote in her Beauty, Health & Wellness Futures 2020 report for The Future Laboratory. “In an inter-Covid world, beauty, health and wellness companies are focusing on being responsive and in-the-moment with their customers, with ways to become indispensable in people’s lives,” Kathryn adds.

So how exactly has the beauty landscape changed and what can we expect from emerging trends?

Say hello to private beauty 'changing rooms'

One of the most obviously problematic facets of shopping for beauty is the use of in-store testers. Studies had already been published showing that samples were commonly contaminated with harmful bacteria including E.Coli, so they didn’t stand a chance in the face of a highly contagious viral pandemic.

However, as accurate and sophisticated online shade-matching has become, there’s still something uniquely special about actually being able to test beauty products on your skin. It makes sense – there’s so much about beauty that doesn’t translate online, from the scent of the product to its texture to the feel of the bottle in your hand.

Luckily, this week marks the introduction of the world’s first ‘beauty changing room’ with private space to discover products and a more hygienic approach to testing. Away from the unflattering lights and prying glances of beauty counters, luxury retailer Flannels has opened the Beauty Space in its new flagship stores in Sheffield and Liverpool, which includes private pods where customers can play with products from a number of premium brands, from Augustinus Bader to Patrick Ta Beauty and then capture the result in a selfie.

Safety is the new luxury

When you think about the treatments and experiences that offered an element of luxury pre-pandemic, much of it was tied to contact services. Magazines (handled by everyone), drinks and snacks (given to you by a stranger), touch-screen pay points. Now, shops and services are having to rethink how they offer a superior experience to customers. It starts with safety. The repeated advice to wear masks, load up on anti-bac and avoid touching surfaces has made us hyper-vigilant. “This is leading to an amplified quest for hygiene, immunity and sanitised public spaces, as consumers seek products [and services] that help them feel safe as they navigate the world again,” explains Kathryn.

“Safety is the new luxury,” agrees Antoinette Beenders, SVP of Global Artistry at Aveda. The hairdressing industry [alongside other beauty services] is built on our relationship with our clients, the trust we foster and our ability to make our guests feel taken care of.” It means cutting edge cleanliness is a top commodity. Leading the way are brands like luxury gym, Third Space, who have traded complimentary refreshments for thermal cameras that scan core body temperature on the way in. They’ve even installed air systems integrated with bipolar ionisation technology to maximise fresh air and top of the range virucidals to obliterate germs. Likewise fitzrovia’s TOWNHOUSE nail boutique uses a hospital grade autoclave sterilisation system to ensure all of its metal tools are meticulously clean. It’s a system they’ve used from the start, but it’s a step that sets them further apart from competition post-lockdown.

Antibacterial beauty is a sanitary solution

The idea of sitting on the tube doing makeup while a stranger coughs over our concealer is pretty inconceivable these days. We’re much more aware of the way bacteria can spread and manifest itself. That solid film that gathers on top of your blusher or bronzing powder known as hardpan? It’s caused by oils and grime being swirled into your product from dirty fingers and makeup brushes.

Now, consumers are placing more value on products that can negate this. “Consumer awareness of contamination through touch is driving innovation in hygienic, anti-microbial materials or touch-free packaging,” explains Kathryn who points to emerging technology from the Pylote and Asquan Groups. “Patented anti-microbial technology directly integrates mineral ceramic microspheres into various cosmetics accessories such as make-up and mascara brushes. The result is natural bacterial and viral contamination protection – with no need for these brushes to be cleaned or disinfected during their entire period of use.” Testing done by Pylote confirmed the antibacterial microspheres “maintain a high level of microbiological hygiene in the worst conditions against even the most virulent antibiotic resistant bacteria and viruses such as those responsible for herpes or conjunctivitis,” the brands CEO, Loic Marchin told Premium Beauty News. So far, the process has been tested out on makeup brushes and mascara fibres, but the technology can be transferred to other cosmetics, too. As yet, the technology hasn’t been tested on the virus strain behind COVID-19, but it has been found to stand up against another strand of coronavirus (strain 229E) where it demonstrated nearly 99.9% destruction of the virus.

Although this technology isn’t available in the UK yet, brands like Clinique and Revlon have also woven antimicrobial technology into their makeup brushes, coating the bristles in an invisible antimicrobial solution that kills bacteria to offer added sanitary protection.

And nail polish brand Dr Remedy sets itself apart with naturally occurring anti-fungal ingredients which seals out bacteria and helps to kill harmful germs. It’s innovations like these that consumers will be looking for going forward.

Mood-boosting makeup

In the early days of the pandemic, we ditched makeup and focused more on our skin. Sales of foundation and lipstick fell, thanks to the need to wear masks, and searches for “face spa at home,” shot up by 297% on Pinterest. Many of us are still wearing less makeup than we used to, but, as an antidote, loud, fun experimental makeup has emerged as a mood-booster for those in need of a pick-me-up.

“Housebound [millennials] are flexing their creative muscles and experimenting with make-up looks, dye jobs, and nail art to alleviate boredom, learn new skills and feel good,” explains Lisa Payne, senior beauty editor at trend forecasting agency, Stylus. This is amplified by social media, which has helped to provide inspiration, entertainment and connection digitally in place of physical social encounters. “Across TikTok and Instagram, beauty warriors have used make-up as a way to entertain, inspire and speak authentically to their followers,” agrees Kathryn. Experimenting with our products has offered us a creative outlet. It’s also spearheaded the trend for maximalist, more is more makeup.

Technology will give us virtual touch

In recent years, the natural beauty industry has been on an upward trajectory, but the emergence of coronavirus might have dented our confidence. “The arrival of Covid-19 [has highlighted] how natural doesn’t always mean better – especially where safety and shelf life are concerned,” explains Kathryn. “Biotechnology is stepping in to challenge beauty brands and consumers to forge new definitions of natural.”

A best-of-both-worlds blend of nature and technology, it takes natural ingredients, like plant or marine extracts as a starting point, then reproduces them in a lab rather than harvesting them from the earth or sea. It overcomes issues like deforestation and over-farming, creates ingredients that keep the integrity of the plants intact, and offers added reassurance that the formulas are lab-approved and safe for skin. A great example of this is marine beauty brand, One Ocean Beauty. “We take single cells, obtained from living marine microorganisms through Blue Biotechnology and regrow them in the lab,” explains CEO and founder Marcella Cacci. “The marine environment is preserved as there is no harvesting or large-scale extraction from nature.” Likewise, ground-breaking beauty brand, Biossance developed a technology to simulate the skin-plumping ingredient, squalene (found in the skin of animals and humans) from renewable sugarcane without harming animals or the environment.

Technology will give us virtual touch

One of the aspects of isolation that people living alone reported struggling with the most was the absence of touch and human interaction. We know how important touch can be for our emotional wellbeing, and while we’re not able to approximate human interaction exactly, haptic technology (which creates the experience of touch through tech) will play an important role in helping us to feel more connected going forward. Already, innovators like Magos have created sensor gloves with HCI (Human Computer Interaction) that can follow our movement. “When worn, the gloves use finger tracking and haptic feedback to share data directly with a computer or clinician. In future, suits or garments could be developed using similar technology, enabling personal trainers, yoga teachers and physiotherapists to remotely adjust and attend to clients, hands-free,” explains Kathryn.

And while still in its infancy, technology like FULU’s conceptual finger-mounted haptic interface (which you wear on top of your fingernail like a falsie) means virtual massages aren’t in the too-distant future. “[It] delivers augmented touch that means both the wearer and the recipient can experience virtual and physical touch seamlessly and simultaneously,” explains Kathryn. Plus it can recreate the feel of textiles like fur, or sensations like a breeze.

Cautious but connected

Even with the world opening up, many shoppers and health buffs are still too nervous to head out into crowds. Throughout the pandemic our homes have been at the center of the action. “The home is becoming a new realm of customer experience, with laptops and mobile devices replacing treatment rooms, fitness studios and beauty counters,” says Kathryn. Live streaming services have enabled gym goers to continue accessing fitness classes with their mates via their laptops and Joe Wicks’ regular PE classes have become a regular fixture for thousands of people doing workouts in their garden or living room.

Similarly, brands and beauty experts have been making themselves more available to customers and followers through Instagram Lives and chats where they’ve been able to respond directly to questions. Elsewhere, companies like Guerlain, Caudalie, Deciem and Clinique have been offering virtual one-on-one consultations with their experts and counter staff through Zoom and Skype. Therapists, counselors and guidance coaches have been conducting their sessions over video call. Other brands like Bobbi Brown and The Inkey List have enlisted the use of Chat Box functions to enable customers to ask questions and request recommendations live on the site. Plus, The Inkey List has been responding to consumer queries through their hashtag #askINKEY. And hairdressers have been FaceTiming clients to guide them through at-home cuts and failed dye jobs, but also, just to catch up. “Hershesons’ salons found that many customers booking its 25-minute advice clinics on Zoom simply used the sessions to chat with stylists rather than seek advice,” reveals Kathryn. “Combined with the familiarity of these digital tools, these businesses have been transformed into supportive friends, not just purveyors of goods and guidance.” And now we know we can do it, it’s likely that these virtual services will continue to be offered and enhanced for the convenience of customers well beyond Coronavirus.

Epigenetics are on the up

There’s nothing like a global pandemic to make us all more health conscious. And, despite it being an emerging field pre-Covid, the field of epigenetics is even more important now, given it can signpost and relay information about how lifestyle factors affect our health. Epigenomes are the chemical compounds which tell a genome what to do. Rather than altering the sequence of our DNA (which is fixed), they can alter the way our DNA is expressed. Environmental influences such as diet, stress, smoking and pollution can all impact epigenomes, and in turn whether parts of our DNA (for instance, the cells that prompt protein production) are turned on or turned off.

“Direct-to-consumer testing kits are now emerging that give consumers visibility about variable genes and encourage them to take an active role in their own health futures,” says Kathryn. The science behind it is complicated, so it’ll cost you, but innovators like Muhdo offer a DNA Health Profile for £119.99. You send them a saliva sample, they’ll analyse it for genetic markers and uncover the four main health objectives that apply to you, accompanied by recommended workouts and meal plans served up via their mobile app. Meanwhile Chronomics (who also offer Covid-19 testing kits) uncover risk factors early on in their Health Platform epigenetics screening to identify any preventable chronic illnesses (which account for 70% of healthcare budgets worldwide). It’s an investment at £699 but you’re given access to a dashboard where you can monitor how your health is being shaped by lifestyle and environment factors and measure the effectiveness of your interventions.


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