A new wave of innovative skincare brands are reimagining the $130 billion industry
Skincare is confusing. Now brands are pushing back, reassessing everything from price points to packaging to create simpler ranges.
Patients go to see dermatologist Courtney Rubin for all sorts of concerns – from finding treatments for rosacea or psoriasis, to laser treatments or fillers. But no matter what they’re there for, one question always comes up: can Rubin share any skincare routine tips?
“I would say over 90% of the patients I see bring up skincare during their medical visit,” Rubin says. “There’s so much confusion, so much misinformation, and so many questions being asked about skincare.”
In June, Rubin launched a skincare brand hoping to address these problems, Fig.1, alongside cofounders Kimmy Scotti, a venture capitalist and entrepreneur, cosmetic chemist Lizzy Trelstad and Kelly McCarthy, a former marketing director at LVMH.
Skincare system Fig.1 wants to help consumers simplify their routines. It has a range of six products sold online and via dermatology clinics, and shoppers can sign up for free consultations with registered estheticians via its website, who can help them figure out their specific needs.
The skincare brand is part of a wider pushback against complicated skincare routines, which comes at a boom time for the industry. Skincare is growing faster than any other segment of the cosmetics industry, up 13% in the U.S. in 2020, compared to makeup’s measly 1% increase in sales. At luxury online retailer Net-a-Porter, skincare is now the best-selling category in its beauty department, growing 40% year-on-year. Investors are also keen on the category. Alongside Glossier’s blockbuster $80 million funding round announced last week, London’s Pai Skincare secured a £6.4 million investment in April, while in February Estee Lauder announced that it had taken a majority stake in Deciem, which includes The Ordinary in its portfolio of brands.
The influx of new products and brands entering the skincare space has fueled this movement towards “skinimalism,” where fewer products are favored over 10-step routines, while clued up Gen Zers are questioning everything about how the beauty industry operates. Their concerns include everything from the ingredients skincare brands are using to what happens to the packaging once the product is done with, and who it is beauty brands are actually creating products for.
Skincare brands like Fig.1 are trying take this burden of choice – and the need for extensive research – away from consumers. In January, Ace of Air launched a line of gender-neutral products in “rentable” packaging, where consumers can return and refill their cosmetic pots. Meanwhile Aárd launched in May 2020 with a range of soap blocks that can be used to cleanse both the hair and skin. Others, such as Atolla and Know, are turning to personalized formulas and diagnostic quizzes to offer customers one or two tailored products. When Feel launched in August 2020, one of the first messages it made sure to get across to customers was the fact its formulas are EU-approved – shorthand for safer, cleaner ingredients. Eadem, a skincare brand tailored for women of color, launched its first product in May – a serum that helps dark spots to fade without lightening the skin tone overall. The formula has been designed and vetted by women of color chemists and dermatologists.
Forums like Reddit’s r/SkincareAddiction, which has over 1.3 million members, are becoming go-to's for people on a mission to understand the ingredients they are putting on their skin, while a boom in beauty YouTubers and TikTokers is allows people to discuss real life skin needs and concerns, all the while providing access to insider experts who use the platforms (Fig.1’s Rubin has 11,000 followers on TikTok).
“There’s been a huge shift in the last 18 months, from teens [spending] hours and hours watching makeup tutorials, to teens understanding skincare and looking for ingredients,” says Shai Eisenman, the founder of Bubble Skincare, a skincare brand aimed at teens. “Every teen you’ll talk to in the U.S. today would know their products need to be fragrance-free, and know the things they need to be conscious about.”
While it’s easier than ever for consumers to find out which active ingredients might be best for their specific skin needs, information overload can lead to a new set of problems.
“In the beauty industry, women of color have always been an afterthought, from product formulations to clinical testing and campaign casting. As a result, we ‘hack’ together our own solutions to solve our number one concern – dark spots – and utilize multiple products unnecessarily, creating more dark spots,” Eadem’s cofounder Alice Lin Glover explains.
Skincare brands like The Ordinary have created products that revolve around single, specific active ingredients, but Fig. 1's Rubin says consumers still find it too difficult to combine the ingredients that they want themselves. “A concern is that you have someone who wants a routine that contains all of these things, and you end up with 12 different products, and you have to become your own compound chemist at home.”
While consumers reject complex skincare routines, they still expect high standards of the brands they shop from.
“We’re in an era where the barrier to entry is lower and lower, and new brands are coming in every day,” Bubble’s Eisenman says. “Creating loyalty is significantly harder than it used to be. The conversation needs to be a lot more meaningful.”
Eisenman says Bubble regularly consults with its network of brand ambassadors on things such as what products the brand should launch next, or which retailers it should partner with in the future. Bubble also encourages its consumers to sign up to a recycling program run by Terracycle to dispose of their empty bottles, and provides links to mental health resources on its website.
Fig.1’s bottles feature removable cartridges, which can be recycled when empty and replaced, in an attempt to reduce waste. Rubin also says Fig.1’s price point – between $19 and $38 – is deliberately intended to make it more affordable than the luxury brands it says its products stand up against.
Eadem, meanwhile, runs a content platform where it runs stories analyzing the beauty industry from the perspectives of women of color. “A few years ago while shopping for makeup, I was told that my foundation shade ‘wasn’t carried in the store’ after seeing a famous Black actress on posters advertising that product,” Eadem’s cofounder Marie Kouadio Amouzame says of the deeper need the brand is addressing for consumers. “It became crystal clear that women like me had always been an afterthought, and Alice and I wanted to be part of the much-needed adjustments in the industry.”
“Social media has given consumers a platform and voice to not only express their needs and desires but also educate themselves,” adds Lin Glover. “Consumers, myself included, want to get to know the people behind the brand, [and] the mission.”