The descriptor "game-changer" gets thrown around a lot nowadays, applied to everything from the face masks to so-called superfoods, but there are some things for which there is simply no other term that can apply: new ways of thinking, innovations than inspire a shift in the way we do things, trends that completely overturn tradition and alter an industry forever. Here, we present the concepts, technology and trends that are turning the beauty industry on its head and giving us all entirely new ways to be our most beautiful selves in 2018.
For decades upon decades, buying beauty products meant heading to a drugstore or your local beauty counter and plucking a bottle off the shelf. They were good products, carefully crafted to fit the needs of as many skin- and hair-care needs as possible. Still, at a time when we spend our lunch hours debating whether to add a scoop of quinoa to our grain bowls and have opinions about the precise, ideal brewing temperature for our pour-over, maybe the real surprise is that it's taken us this long to move beyond the standard options and adopt customized beauty products.
"Any time you order a coffee from Starbucks or buy a new car, you're participating in customizing a product for yourself," says Adrienne Anderman, the head of marketing for the bespoke shampoo and conditioner brand Function of Beauty. "In the millennial era that we're living in, with the apps and technology we have, it's only natural that we should have customizable beauty products." The concept is aimed at giving individuals the best possible beauty products tailored for their individual needs by gathering data via web-based questionnaires and remote expert recommendations.
Like hair-color brand E-Salon and acne-fighting skincare Curology, Function of Beauty then mixes up a product to fit those exacting specifications, delivering it to their customers' doors with a recurring, subscription-based model. "Truthfully, generic off-the-shelf products just don't cut it if you're looking to achieve a variety of personal hair goals, because while they might serve one purpose of protecting color or taming split ends, they simply don't have the same amount of versatility as a customized product does," says Anderman.
While the survey system has proved to be a successful model (E-Salon enjoyed a reported $31.3 million in revenue in 2016), it's certainly not the only method of concocting bespoke cosmetics. Fresh on the the scene is a new trend of "micro-customizable" Blend-It-Yourself (BIY) beauty products, like drugstore hair brand Shampyou and newly launched Loli Beauty. "The concept of a static skin or hair type is outdated and driven by the business requirements of big beauty companies, rather than the actual needs of the consumers. Nutrition, health, emotions and even geo-locations impact the state of your skin or hair," says Loli Beauty founder Tina Hedges. "Micro-customization on-demand allows our consumer to personalize their products based on their daily needs."
A decade ago, the idea of a beauty brand developing its packaging to attract influencers would have been as foreign as micellar water and the concept of influencers. But today, crafting a product without giving consideration to the power of social sharing is all but unthinkable, with brands hoping to court millennial and Gen Z consumers by pouring enormous resources into creating a product that will not only inspire customer loyalty — and Instagram lust.
"Brands are really designing their products with how they'll capture attention in the newsfeed on Instagram, Youtube and Snapchat," says Mae Karwowski, founder and CEO of influencer-marketing firm Obvious.ly. With brands like Ouai and Glossier seeing massive success by favoring social media over traditional marketing, old-school and startup brands alike are realizing the purchase-driving power of 'gram-friendly packaging.
"Competition is now intense in the beauty space. Influencers have their pick of hundreds to thousands of products, and new products are launching every day. If there are two highlighters whose quality is relatively similar but one is going to look amazing on Instagram, most influencers will gravitate toward the eye-catching one and feature it in a post," says Karwowski.
With Instagram influencer marketing accounting for more than $1 billion annually, it's hardly a surprise that 84 percent of brands say they're planning to incorporate influencer marketing into their campaign strategies for 2018.
The idea notion that beauty brands would sell makeup in a range of shades to fit every skin tone seems like a basic business necessity, and yet the industry has historically and consistently fallen embarrassingly short on the representation front. In 2017, a shift began to occur — thanks to what we've called the Fenty Effect — with increasing availability of broad-shade-spectrum foundations and concealer offerings in mainstream makeup brands. And that's spurred changes that will translate to 2018 and beyond.
It's impossible to talk about the recent surge in foundation shade parity without discussing Fenty Beauty. The brainchild of none other than superstar Rihanna, the makeup line launched last year to a torrent of adoring fans, but by far the single most buzzed-about feature of the line was the Pro Filt'r Foundation which, with 40 shades, offered options for those who had been largely ignored by the beauty industry. The immediate sell-out success — and subsequent social media groundswell — associated with Fenty Beauty's foundation inspired other brands, like Kylie Jenner's Kylie Cosmetics to launch their own shade-expansive collections.
Buzzy skin-care brand The Ordinary, which also branched out into makeup in 2017 with two 21-shade foundation lines (and two more on the way in 2018) found a huge following among fans for its comprehensive shade offerings. "It was the obvious thing to do," says Nicola Kilner, co-CEO of Deciem, The Ordinary's parent company. "Brands at large have ignored [their] audience profiles. The Ordinary took steps to shake up the industry, and the demand for the brand — through to the foundations — grew entirely out of the passion and word-of-mouth."
At a moment in history when we are finally (finally) beginning to see more diversity on the runways and in our media, the industry is betting big on what should have been the rule of the day all along: beauty in every shade.
Beauty brands selling their products directly to consumers may not sound like an Earth-shattering innovation, but the idea of leaving retailers out of the sales equation is one of the biggest industry shakeups since Mary Kay started handing out pink Cadillacs.
"Traditional beauty brands move through the basic ladder of producing products and selling them to customers at a high markup in order to make a fat profit," explains Isaac Rami, founder of direct-to-consumer makeup brand Karity. "There are sales agents, traditional marketing costs, wholesale distribution costs and finally the retail markup in order to purchase space on shelves." All of those little bites out of the metaphorical profit apple mean that picking up a tube of lipstick from the shop around the corner can cost you 50 to 75 percent more than it takes for the manufacturer to make it, and much of that money will never make it back to the brand itself.
For the big names on store shelves, these costs have long been built into the business model, but for homegrown brands like Karity it's a prohibitive expense. For others like Colourpop, Kylie Cosmetics (both manufactured through Seed Beauty) and KKW Beauty, it was simply an unnecessary one, thanks to social media and word of mouth.
These brands are also able to benefit from direct customer feedback, so instead of the year or more it can take for traditional companies to research and develop a new product, they can stay on top of shifts in the market and drive sales to their brands without backing from marketers and retailers. Couple that with the ability to ship directly to consumers, and it's estimated that this type of business model can save brands as much as 4 percent of their overall product cost, a savings that gets passed along to consumers.
Beauty Meets Wellness
Everything old is new again, or so the saying goes, and from the number of ancient remedies and age-old treatments showing up on the vanities of all of the chicest beauty fans, there's more than a grain of truth to the adage. Despite the constant evolution of ultra high-tech polymers and potent distillations, the next big thing in beauty has proven to be far simpler. From jade rollers to healing crystals, the coolest beautifiers of the moment are borrowing from the past for beauty-from-the-inside effect.
"I do think there's a collective shift toward embracing ritual, and a recognition of the role of energy and vibration in looking and feeling our best," says Cindy DiPrima, co-founder of natural beauty and wellness shop CAP Beauty. "After yoga, meditation, organic groceries and good nutrition, it seems like this is a natural next step. We want more than just taut skin. We want luminosity. That can only be achieved through deep self care." Just like your post-workout green juice, these rituals are as much about how they make you feel as their effects.
As for what's next, don't expect your palo santo obsession to disappear, but DiPrima also predicts a rise in experience-based rituals — "sound baths, tarot readings, and Kundalini to name a few," she says.
For as long as there have been health food stores and hippie aunts, there have been beauty products catering to those who want to be more Earth-loving in their beauty regimens. But with the oft-discussed hazards of hormone disruptors, cancer-causing chemicals, and climate change catastrophes making nightly appearances on the news, the demand for greener, more responsible beauty products has grown exponentially — enough that mass beauty brands are finally taking notice. And while some have addressed this challenge by focusing on ingredients, the biggest new area of innovation from the big-name beauty sector has come in the form of sustainability.
"The role of the largest, most established companies is crucial as they can leverage their scale to make an larger positive impact," says Danielle Azoulay, Assistant Vice President of CSR & Sustainability for L'Oréal USA. The company has had an ongoing sustainability initiative called Sharing Beauty with All since 2005, focused on improving the biodegradability of its products, expanding sustainable sourcing and lowering carbon emissions. "Our sustainability efforts can initiate a powerful chain reaction among all of our stakeholders, from suppliers to consumers, and introduce innovative solutions at a global level," says Azoulay.
Just last month, Unilever, the parent company of such drugstore mega-brands as Dove and TreSemmé, launched an entirely new brand, Love Beauty and Planet, focused on bringing sustainable beauty to the masses. A massive undertaking for Unilever, which built the brand from scratch rather than acquisition, its development included investing in technology that allows conditioners to rinse out more quickly and body sprays that function like dry shampoo for skin — all with the aim of helping consumers use less water.
Mass retailers have gotten in on sustainability and natural beauty, too; Target, for example, has ramped up its eco-friendly offerings with brands like S.W. Basics and Dr. Bronner's, building out from the internal Sustainable Product Index evaluation that it first introduced in 2013. CVS also announced that it would be revamping most of its in-house beauty lines to increase the "green"-ness of the formulations and move toward more sustainable packaging, while Walmart announced plans to increase the sustainability of its beauty category by reducing its chemical footprint by 10 percent over the next five years.
Beauty Beyond Gender
Gender fluidity has been a buzzy concept in fashion and beauty of late (even if the fashion industry has struggled to accurately comprehend what that term means). As the industry moves toward a more inclusive, diverse understanding of what is beautiful, gender identity — or rather, a decreased emphasis on defining and/or excluding certain genders — has begun to evolve within it. Very Good Light, a beauty publication aimed at Gen Z readers (widely considered the most gender-diverse generation), this year announced product awards specifically for the best gender-inclusive grooming products.
Cosmetics brands from CoverGirl to Milk Makeup have emphasized gender inclusivity in their branding and marketing. "People are more complex than their gender. I think it's refreshing to see different options in packaging, formats and formulas in beauty," says Milk Makeup co-founder and COO Dianna Ruth. The brand has made waves with its inclusive campaigns, but it didn't initially set out to capitalize on the idea. "We didn't come into the market with the intent to be branded as unisex, it's just who we are," says Ruth.
That's not to say that the gender-neutral boom has been purely accidental, or purely altruistic. Unisex skin-care brand Meant founder Lindsay Knaak-Stuart admits, "We didn't overthink it, but it definitely played a part in deciding on our signature citrus scent, the packaging and also the multi-uses of the product." She also points out that gender-neutral products are simply a way for cohabitating heterosexual couples to streamline their crowded bathroom-scape. "From a pure business standpoint, it means I have twice the amount of people to market to as potential customers," says Knaak-Stuart.
Fragrance companies — perhaps the earliest adopters of the unisex product ideology — have continued to double-down on genderless scents. From Calvin Klein's millennial-inspired reformulation of its '90s classic scent, to the gender-free fragrance scents from the likes of D.S. & Durga, Maison Margiela and Commodity it's difficult to find a new It fragrance that doesn't bill itself as gender-flexible.
Incubators and Accelerators
Traditional beauty technology development for mass brands takes a two-pronged approach: investing in in-house R&D to create new formulations and simultaneously keeping an eye on the market for innovation from smaller brands to acquire. That's been the status quo for a long time, but with the beauty arms race reaching a peak, the big names in the business have started taking a new tack for developing their breakthroughs.
The latest twist on incubation and acceleration allows upstart innovators to partner with established brands to scale their business ideas fast. "Open innovation is a win-win strategy that fosters disruptive thinking and pushes forward our digital leadership in beauty," says L'Oréal Chief Digital Officer, Lubomira Rochet, of the company's Founders Factory collaboration, which functions as a mentoring and support system for early-stage startups. "We're able to support them by providing time, capital and resources while giving them an opportunity to make a global impact," she says.
Some companies favor a narrow focus: L'Oréal's incubator is aimed at digital beauty innovators, while Sephora's Sephora Stands program has chosen to promote female entrepreneurs, like Mary Further of the the now cult-obsession Kaia Naturals. Meanwhile, others, like The Unilever Foundry and P&G's Connect + Develop are open-format, welcoming ideas from a variety of arenas, all with an eye toward staking their claim on the next big thing.
Traditional Retail Meets Lifestyle Beauty Brands
Once upon a time, beauty retailers sold beauty products, fashion retailers sold clothes, lingerie shops sold underwear, jewelers sold jewelry, and so on. Of course, we're long past the idea of specialized stores, and retailers have grabbed themselves a piece of each business pie. With beauty and fragrance having the highest margins of any retail product, it's perhaps more surprising that it's taken so long for companies to get in on the action.
It's been several years now since fast-fashion retailers such as Forever 21 and H&M launched their own private brands, while others adopted more of a department store tactic, incorporating outside beauty brands into their product offerings to great success. Urban Outfitters, which has steadily upped its shelf share of beauty offerings from funky downtown brands like Lime Crime to stalwarts like Anastasia Beverly Hills, found its fashion sales to be lackluster of the past four quarters, but saw an uptick in its beauty sales.
Madewell upped its beauty offerings in 2017, partnering with brands like Herbivore Botanicals, French Girl Organics and Bon Parfumeur. For plenty of retailers, it's a smart bet, creating a revenue cushion and a way to draw new shoppers into stores.
In-Store Tech Experiences
If the term "augmented reality" gives you smoky neon visions of a Blade Runner-esque future, it's time to reconsider. "AR has become very mainstream in the beauty industry," said Parham Aarabi, Founder and CEO of ModiFace, the go-to provider of AR tech for beauty giants like Sephora, CoverGirl and Bobbi Brown. And while the technology's online capacity has been hard at work for years in the form of those nifty color-swatching and try-on functions you find on most beauty brand websites nowadays, the latest technological innovation is bringing this new version of reality in-store.
Late in 2017, MAC Cosmetics outfitted some of its US stores with AR-enabled mirrors with a plan to roll out the tech globally this year. Sephora rolled out a similar Virtual Artist system in its new Herald Square location, letting fans try on lipstick shades and supplement the existing Color IQ system to digitally swatches skin tones to find the perfect foundation match.
NYX also took a page from the digital magic playbook, partnering with Samsung to launch a virtual reality experience in 42 of its stores later this year. It allows shoppers pull up additional information about in-store products and offers tutorials from beauty vloggers. It's all in hopes of drawing foot traffic into brick-and-mortar stores, as e-commerce accounts for an increasing sector of the industry. Look out for more of these types of innovations in the future.
Homepage/main illustration: Brittany Sodora Leonor/Fashionista
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