2020 was a year of radical change in beauty and beyond

TextSara RadinIllustrationCallum Abbott

The ongoing pandemic completely shifted our focus to self-preservation and survival, changing how we treat ourselves and view our appearances and inspiring trends that will evolve the industry in 2021

The year 2020 has been heartbreaking and hopeless (over one million people have died from COVID-19 globally and in the US, Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people and LGBTQ+ Americans were found to be more vulnerable to contracting the virus, dying from it, unemployment, housing losses, and healthcare issues); the temperature reached the highest it’s ever been; There have been some major fires, both geographically and politically (I’m looking at you, President Trump). While across the globe, front-line workers, healthcare staff, and teachers have risked their lives, some by choice, others by default; The human, environmental and economic losses have been massive, causing an international mental health crisis.

Life has grown more precious; culture more precarious. In what felt like an instant, the Western perception of beauty and identity went from focusing on self-care and self-expression to self-preservation and survival. Being separated from our loved ones has completely shifted how we treat ourselves and view our appearances, inspiring a slew of trends and shifting the beauty industry in unexpected ways. 

Amid a dark year, style and beauty have become necessary tools for finding comfort; sweatpants, Crocs, and Uggs are the at-home uniform while face masking, Gua Sha, DIY ‘pandemic bangs’, and more have gone mainstream. With more people joining TikTok than ever before this year, it’s no wonder many of these fads have gone viral. For example, the racist fox eye trend spread while beauty hacks like sock curls, face shaving, and fake freckles, all went viral thanks to the app. 

When hand sanitisers were scarce at the beginning of the pandemic, luxury brands rose to the occasion while new hand sanitiser brands launched seemingly overnight. Then came the warnings of hand sanitiser’s toxic impact. With hope, we will see safe alternatives in the near future. Conscious products are needed across the board. After all, beauty, an industry set to reach USD $438.38 Billion by 2026, has an alarming plastic problem. Luckily, some brands have gone waterless while some brands focused on actually saving water. With climate change awareness growing, interest in refillable products grew and a handful of brands explored plastic packaging alternatives

Following in the footsteps of East Asian countries, mask wearing has become universal (and necessary) globally while our emotional expressions have changed dramatically. Eyes are now the focal point of our faces (it’s the return of the smize). Masks have overtaken all other accessories and matching masks, scrunchies, and headscarves have grown popular. Scientists have warned that disposable masks could be the next ecological disaster and with mask innovation only set to grow in 2021, hopefully smart sustainable solutions will pop up too. 

New personal care issues like maskne and mask mouth (expect targeted products in 2021) popped up while new plastic surgery trends emerged like eyebrow lamination and plastic surgery for Zoom, i.e. zoometics. This year, how we view our faces has changed in a major way, possibly for good. And not surprisingly, lipstick sales have declined as mascara and eye make-up sales have only inclined. Many of us have stopped wearing make-up altogether; others keep on keeping on, seeing the gesture as a reminder of life’s pleasantries (or a necessity for virtual work appearances), a form of self-care, and a tool for developing their pixel identities further. 

“Due to all the global lockdowns, DIY alternatives have flourished; quarantine nails and solo hair-scapades have been shared online en masse”

Due to all the global lockdowns, hair and nail salons have seriously suffered while DIY alternatives have flourished; quarantine nails and solo hair-scapades have been shared online en masse, including pink dye, long bangs, natural texture. When salons temporarily reopened, with new sanitation and safety precautions in place, many people dashed to their favourite places. For some, a temperature check is worth a cut and color. Personally, I’m too scared to go and might just let my hair grow until 2022 à la upcoming film Kajillionaire. 

/givenchyAmid the isolation due to quarantine, the gaming world became a space for comfort, creativity, beauty experimentation, and a celebration of all things body positivity: TikTok’s favourite game, Among Us, became a big time beauty trend. Brands joined in on the fun, launching campaigns and products in the virtual realm: On Animal Crossing users showed off their birthmarks and Gillette Venus launched a new campaign, allowing users to download 19 different skin options for their avatar, including freckles, tattoos, and stretch marks. Brands like Tatcha and Glossier also promoted new products while Givenchy Beauty offered make-up looks and MAC, which had already dabbled in the gaming world the year prior, allowed Sims players to give themselves a MAC-branded makeover. 

Following the success of Kylie Cosmetics and Fenty Beauty, this year celebrity beauty brands reached fever pitch, with a slew of new launches: Selena Gomez’s new Rare Beauty, which emphasizes the importance of mental health, Alicia Keys introduced a ritual inspired skincare and body care brand named Soulcare, and Pharrell launched a skincare line to cleanse your spirit, your dead skin, and your mind. Celebrity beauty brands feel like the new celebrity fragrances of the nineties and early aughts, and the new platform for marketing their lifestyles to fans and followers. More are to come in 2021; for example, although Hailey Bieber’s initial trademark was denied, she’s rumored to be launching her beauty and skincare line soon with a mysterious Instagram account recently surfacing in her middle name.

After the senseless death of George Floyd, a Black man living in Minneapolis, in May the Black Lives Matter movement gained global traction with massive marches and protests. On the surface it might’ve seemed like more people were (finally) joining in on the conversation, but their efforts were hollow and performative, falling flat by posting messages and black squares ‘in solidarity’ with the movement. Some white people really missed the mark with BLM-themed make-up and the beauty industry was, rightfully, one of many that came under fire too. 

At the same time, the racist skin lightening market was jolted and Black-led beauty brands received long overdue media and public attention. Rather than acknowledging their racist antics and committing to anti-racist practices, some white female leaders dogged responsbilitiy and stepped down while some companies committed to hiring ‘diversity and inclusion’ leaders. Overnight, movements like Pull Up For Change and 15 Percent Pledge called on corporations to face their blindspots and agree to creating more equity from their store shelves to their leadership team. 

Still, while some beauty brands pledged to do better, they came under more fire for their racist antics. On Twitter, Munroe Bergdorf called out L’Oréal for posting a BLM message on social media, when they had fired her from a campaign years prior for speaking out against racism. Ultimately, she worked with the brand and agreed to join the company’s UK diversity and inclusion advisory board.

In the face of possibly the most important US Presidential election of our time, beauty remained political with brands encouraging their employees and customers to get out and vote. Biden Beauty, a mysteriously anonymous beauty brand that launched, donated 100 per cent of proceeds to the Biden Victory Fund, only to disappear after he was declared the winner. Lipslut, a lipstick brand ‘with a voice,’ donated 100 per ent of the proceeds from their “Fuck Trump” lipstick to organizations fighting for voting rights.

Beauty and body care brand Alleyoop sought to influence the 53 per cent of chronic female non-voters with its voter turnout campaign called #WontBe53. According to Glossy, Deciem gave workers a paid day off to vote, paid for transportation to and from polling stations and paid to offset emissions from the transportation. 

“This year threw us, and the beauty world, for a loop. Amid loneliness and lots of loss and radical change, beauty gave us a place for belonging”

Political figures retained beauty influence; In January, Ayanna Pressley, a Massachusetts congresswoman, opened up about her hair loss, baldness, and alopecia, receiving an outpouring of support. Then in August, New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who once was unnecessarily criticised for spending the average amount of money on a haircut and highlights, graciously shared her beauty secrets with us, including her favourite red lipstick that then sold out. 

This year threw us, and the beauty world, for a loop. Amid loneliness and lots of loss and radical change, beauty gave us a place for belonging. Both on and offline it challenged us to further equity efforts and reminded us that racial and environmental consciousness is vital if we want a liveable future.

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