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Lipstick Under My Mask: A Tale of the Toll on Lipsticks

With hidden smiles behind masks, sales in lipsticks have dropped since the pandemic has hit the world. Here is a business outline and all you need to know.

Image Source: Pandemic compelled us to wear masks leading us to focus more on eyes via Shutterstock

With bright red lipstick on her face, the salesgirl persuaded me to buy the matte shade of the lip colour that had just arrived in the collection. This is the last memory of my in-store visit to a well-known cosmetic brand before the pandemic had hit the world hard enough to topple down all the normal activities and confine us within the four walls of our houses.

According to a report of Mckinsey and Company, the beauty industry has seen a dark phase in terms of their sales that fell considerably in the first quarter of the year 2020 with worldwide store closures and a dip in sales of beauty products. Defying the ‘Lipstick Index’, lipsticks that were often seen as a necessity rather than a luxury for most women have seen a steep fall in sales since the pandemic compelled everyone to hide their smiles behind life-saving masks. 

Lipstick Index

Before looking at the sales, let us try to understand ‘lipstick index’, a term coined in the 2000s by Leonard Lauder, the chairman emeritus of Estee Lauder Companies. Lipstick Index, as defined by Lauder, is a shorthand gauge to observe consumer expenditure during recessions. Lauder’s theory states when one cannot adorn fancy pants, lipsticks always count as affordable plans. 

I never leave the house without putting on my lipstick.”Evelyn Lauder

Image: Sales of Lipsticks saw a decline during the pandemic via Shutterstock

Falling For Lipsticks

I don’t know if people fell for lipsticks, but their sales definitely fell – let us look at the statistics. The Lipstick Index theory failed when in the Great Recession of 2009, lipstick sales fell by 9.8%. And similarly, in recent times, the market for lipsticks seemed gloomy, with sales in lip care and lip colour products dropping by 15% and prices fell by 28% for the month end of April 2020, according to Amazon

According to Alexia Inge, the co-founder of the Cult Beauty website, people were using lipsticks and foundations less because of the pandemic, because they were wearing masks that covered half of their faces. She said that the combined sales of foundations and lipsticks had fallen considerably. She also revealed that lipstick sales alone tumbled down by 8%. 

A statement issued by SnapDeal in July 2020 read, “Sales of lipsticks have been lower in the past two months.”

Lipsticks can glam up a whole look, especially in red.Rihanna

Nykaa, a beauty, wellness, and fashion retailer, told a leading newspaper of India that its lipsticks segment has been seeing a fall in its sales since the pandemic. 

Japanese market research company Intage Holdings found in its reports of May 2020 that lipsticks stood second in the list of least consumed products in Japan during the pandemic, with a decline of 69.7% in their sales.

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If Not Lips, Then Who’s Doing the Talking?

Image: Sales of Eye make-up saw a boost during the pandemic via Shutterstock

Fabrizio Freda, the Chief Executive Officer of Estee Lauder Companies, came up with new indices, namely the ‘Mascara Index’ and the ‘Nail Polish Index’. He said that though the Lipstick Index might not have worked, the concept of an ‘index’ still prevailed. Also, in a recent interview with Women’s Wear Daily, Estee Lauder acknowledged the same thing that Fabrizio had said and pointed out that the concept of indices was more anecdotal than a strict correlation.

According to reports by Kantar Media, Amazon saw a growth of 204% in year-of-year sales for eye-makeup. Even China saw a month-over-month boom in sales of eye-makeup by 150% in February 2020, as reported by Alibaba. The spokesperson of Nykaa revealed that eyeshadows moved to the Top 3 beauty products lists when it was previously on the Top 5 list. 

Image: The rise of Mascara Index via Getty Images

Hindustan Unilever that deals in several products and owns the famous brand Lakme avouched that their eye and nail wear segments rebounded faster than lip colours. The head of cosmetics at Westside chain of stores, Umashan Naidoo, reverberated that companies should adjust their Resource and Development according to the rise of eye make-up.

Your eye make-up says so much about you and your style.Laura Mercier

According to the US magazine, the Grocer, L’Oreal Paris’ Managing Director in the United Kingdom, Vismay Sharma, admitted that the brand had seen a decline in its sale by 4.6% in like-for-like sales in the first quarter of the year 2020 with a major loss in the segment of lip colours. Stafford Braganza, the make-up artist and trainer with L’Oreal Paris, India, believes that since the upper half of the face is visible when wearing a mask, the cynosure of the face lies on the eyes that makes people want to make their eyes bold with winged eyeliner, a touch of mascara and a pop of shimmer added to enhance the eye-drama.

My Beauty and Tweezerman, leading cosmetic brands in the United States, experienced a sharp rise of about 480% and 330% in the sales of eye make-up and eyelash curlers, respectively.

Now I know what Lauder meant by the ‘Mascara’ or the ‘Nail-Polish’ Index and how it is ever-growing during the pandemic, doing most of the talking through expressive eyes and sharp-chromed nails.

Is There a Silver Lining?

Kavita Angre, the Director of Consumer and Market Insights and Media for L’Oreal India, believes that despite the current blip in sales, consumers’ appetite for beauty products should not be questioned, and it mostly remains intact. She feels that what the beauty industry is going through has more to do with the supply crises and not the demand crises. She further added that the lockdown had made accessibility to beauty products difficult, with malls and cosmetic stores being shut and e-commerce restricted to essential goods. She is confident that the dip in sales of colour cosmetics, majorly lipsticks, is transient. As soon as people start gathering for festivities or even start their normal office routine when things start falling into places, lipstick sales will again become profitable. Nykaa, too, holds similar beliefs.

Image: Lipsticks will always be the showstopper in the cosmetic industry via Shutterstock

To me, lipstick is the best cosmetic that exists.Joan Collins

Umashman Naidoo recalls that lipsticks have been through many wars and histories but have emerged victorious with the scope of evolution to adapt to the needs of the consumers. He affirms that no matter what, lipsticks are going to be the go-to make-up in every era. Be it before a zoom meeting, a virtual date, or the normal times of partying, lipsticks will be worn every time. Brands will be required to decipher new formulas to make masks and lipsticks co-exist. 

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Written By

A travel journalist in making. On a voyage of life full of high and low tides. Love to roast my stress in the oven and share my joys and sorrows with animals. Wish to unravel all the secrets of the world, someday!



  1. Madhurima Roy

    May 17, 2021 at 7:32 am

    I personally loved reading this article…it’s a new take and really interesting!!!

  2. Megha

    May 17, 2021 at 8:24 am

    Amazing piece!

  3. Vansh Ahluwalia

    May 17, 2021 at 8:38 am

    Loved it✨✨

    • Safiya Khanam

      May 17, 2021 at 10:01 am

      Lisptick Index… definitely a new concept I learnt!!!

  4. Archit kushwaha

    May 17, 2021 at 8:44 am

    This is so well written like very engaging and to the point ❤.
    Keep it up

  5. Asmita Bhattacharyya

    May 17, 2021 at 10:04 am

    Very well written! Loved it!

  6. Jaishree Tambi

    May 17, 2021 at 10:53 am

    This one’s so informative! loved it

  7. Tanisha Dugar

    May 17, 2021 at 11:52 am

    Well written.✨

  8. Rashmi Singh

    May 17, 2021 at 12:04 pm

    A well researched and well written article.

  9. Sharda Jaiswal

    May 17, 2021 at 3:55 pm

    Very informative

  10. Sharda Jaiswal

    May 17, 2021 at 4:01 pm

    Interesting article

  11. Randheer Singh

    May 20, 2021 at 7:17 am

    Very informative, keep it up!

  12. Anubha

    May 23, 2021 at 7:01 pm

    Very interesting article, well researched.

  13. Ranjana Jaiswal

    May 25, 2021 at 9:29 am

    The explanation of sales going down for lipsticks has been explained really well. An in depth article

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