Goodbye “Instagram Face” — Natural Beauty Is Making A Comeback
From makeup to injectables, the way we look is changing — and the pandemic is only one factor.
Too Faced co-founder and chief creative officer Jerrod Blandino just shelved what may be one of his most innovative makeup products yet — something he calls “very, very dramatic” and boundary pushing in its ability to load pigment. It’s hard to know whether the would-be launch might have served as an instant classic for the brand, like its Better Than Sex Mascara. But no matter: Now isn’t the time for eye-popping pigment and major payoff, Blandino says. It’s about “products that allow you to be the best version of yourself,” he notes. “We want to look healthy with beautiful, natural skin. It isn't about covering up, but embracing self-love and self-acceptance.” In the interim, the party-ready pigment will stay benched.
For brands like Too Faced, which are set up to sell through conventional retail schedules, there’s typically a months-long gap between the conception of a product and its release. Given current news cycles, it might as well be lightyears. For a society embroiled in a pandemic, fighting systematic racial injustice, and fledgling under widespread unemployment, beauty now means something vastly different than it did just a few months ago. When even little things — like going to the grocery store while maintaining six feet of distance — can induce stress, we become desperate for something, anything that’s easy and makes us feel good. For many, that's a natural, pared-down approach to beauty.
The more we adapt to these chaotic circumstances, the more evident this shift in sensibility will extend past a few months of comfort dressing at home. According to experts that span several sectors of the beauty industry (including formulators, brand creative directors, market analysts, makeup artists, and dermatologists), pressing pause on bold makeup is just the start. Beauty's new natural wave will affect everything — from how we take our Botox to the way skin care is formulated and even how we practice self love.
The Picture Of Health
While Blandino sidelined his bold makeup range in response to the zeitgeist, the truth is, a more low-key aesthetic was already taking shape even before coronavirus spread throughout the globe. “About a year ago, I started feeling a shift from a really overly dramatic, overly sculpted, layered makeup look to translucency and femininity that I saw in Asia and different parts of the world, with a more skin-centric approach and diffused lips and cheeks,” he says.
In a time when beauty, sleep, exercise, and nutrition have formed an all-encompassing wellness movement, Sir John, the makeup artist who counts Beyoncé as a longtime client, sees the projection of overall physical and mental well-being as the new priority in makeup. “We've all been in the house for more than three months and our skin is getting used to not wearing foundation everyday,” he says. “We’re doing more self care, we're working on gut health and wellness. All of these things impact your overall complexion as a whole, so to go and cover yourself with foundation from forehead to chin just doesn't seem modern right now.”
This fresh sensibility is also changing the way people look at cosmetic treatments and procedures. “We’re getting back to believing in skin care and bringing a focus to restoring skin to the more natural healthy, youthful state instead of going for procedure, procedure, procedure,” says Miami-based dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo, MD, founder of Dr Loretta Skin Care.
Cosmetic surgeon Alexander Rivkin, MD, who works with celebrities in Los Angeles, also sees the new popular aesthetic as moving away from the kind of pronounced filler that has served for some as a status symbol in a decade dominated by more-is-more reality stars and influencers.
Add required mask mandates into the mix, and you get another widespread aesthetic change. “It used to be that you could have Botox injected all over your face and not be able to move it much, but you could still communicate emotions through your voice and how you held your face,” Dr Rivkin says. “But now, if the lower half of your face is covered with a mask, that muffles your voice and limits your ability to communicate emotions. If you try to do the same old Botox where you wipe out all lines and all expressions, then it becomes really problematic.”
If the skin around your eyes doesn’t crinkle or your brow doesn’t furrow, it’s hard to know whether you’re smiling or disappointed when you have a mask on or are video conferencing.
Dr Alexander Rivkin
Dr Rivkin points to clear skin, rosy cheeks, and brightness around the eyes as the most obvious facial indicators of health. “I think health was assumed before the coronavirus, but that’s not assumed now. Projecting good health is going to be more at the forefront of our minds,” Dr Rivkin says. “There's going to be a desire to look in the mirror and not see a reflection of someone who looks weak or unhealthy,” he says.
Getting a read on a mask-covered face that’s been frozen with neurotoxin isn’t just visually puzzling, it can be a psychological setback too, says Rachel Milstein Goldenhar, MD, a San Diego-area clinical psychologist who specialises in the relationship between mental health and skin. “By nature, humans are extremely social creatures with a strong need to connect and empathise with other human beings,” she says. “So when we look at another person's face, we're immediately looking for clues, meaning, and understanding in order to connect and empathise.”
When the faces you are trying to read are reduced to tiny 2D squares on teleconferencing tools, like Zoom, the process becomes even more difficult. “If the skin around your eyes doesn’t crinkle or your brow doesn’t furrow, it’s hard to know whether you’re smiling or disappointed when you have a mask on or are video conferencing,” says Dr Rivkin. “I think that things are going to change to a more natural look in terms of Botox, with a less frozen look — especially around the eyes and on the forehead.”
With 74% of American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS) surgeons reporting an increase in minimally invasive procedures (like fillers, wrinkle-reducing injectables, and skin treatments) for patients under 30 last year, our generation isn’t expected to go cold turkey on cosmetic treatments, exactly. But Mary Lynn Moran, MD, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon and president of the AAFPRS, says the shift in how we primarily present ourselves — from IRL exchanges and still shots on Instagram to videoconferencing, IGTV, and TikTok — will drive us to request fewer CCs. “More exaggerated features don’t look as natural in live 3D video as they do in 2D photographs,” she says. “I think a natural look will be more of the currency moving forward because we're likely going to be less focused on 2D photos and more focused on live video.”
Redefining “Natural” Beauty
A more natural approach isn’t just limited to aesthetics; it also accounts for the types of products we choose to sweep onto our faces. With the compounding effects of COVID-19, we’re now poised to further challenge what we consider “clean” beauty — something that experts say will drive demand for stricter standards in the category. “Clean beauty will evolve past ‘free-of’ claims to include a closer look at the product’s impact on the environment and personal health, leading to the most ethical, ecological, and safe product possible,” says Clare Hennigan, a Senior Beauty Analyst at Mintel who identifies trends that impact the beauty space.
Both Dr Ciraldo and Ni’Kita Wilson, a cosmetic chemist who formulates skin-care products for Fortune 500 brands and indie startups, envision our definition of clean to include immunity-boosting and microbiome-balancing qualities in response to COVID-19. “There are so many aggressors to our skin. We have to stop thinking that it's only ultraviolet that's destroying our skin,” Dr Ciraldo says. The dermatologist, a preeminent researcher of pollutants and UV light on the skin, points to research by the CDC that indicates we are exposed to more environmental pollutants when indoors than out. Dr Ciraldo cites dust mites trapped in rugs and mattresses, carbon free radicals from stovetop cooking, fire retardants in furniture, and paint as just a few of the culprits that emit pollutants in our homes.
There's going to be a lot more inside-out beauty that focuses on ingestibles and utilising ingredients that can help boost your immune system internally, as well as topically.
Ni'Kita Wilson, Cosmetic Chemist
“There's no doubt that we're being bombarded by pollutants that are affecting and damaging our skin,” she says. With research showing that the average American spends 93% of their time indoors — a number that’s only increasing in lockdown — it makes sense to think of “clean” products as those that resist environmental pollutants and HEV blue light emitted from additional screen time.
Wilson says she is already focusing on creating new skin-care formulations that protect the skin from pollutants, bacteria, HEV light, and other stressors that can disrupt its natural microbiome. “We’re creating bases with emulsifiers that help provide a barrier… so dirt and pollution particles that ordinarily would stick to us or try to burrow their way into our pores easily wash away instead,” she says. “Those are the approaches we think people will be looking for and brands will start to talk about.”
The cosmetic chemist predicts that our appetite for immunity-boosting skin care will also grow considerably as we work to achieve optimum skin health. “From a formulation standpoint, and with COVID-19, there's going to be a lot more inside-out beauty that focuses on ingestibles and utilising ingredients that can help boost your immune system internally, as well as topically,” she says. “People are already working out more and doing what they can to boost their immunity so they can be ready for the next thing coming.” Indeed, Carla Oates, founder of The Beauty Chef, says sales of the brand’s Well Spray (a probiotic mouth spray meant to aid in skin health and digestion) have tripled since March, with overall sales of the brand’s immunity-boosting supplements also spiking since the COVID-19 outbreak.
Whether we find ourselves gravitating toward more nuanced cosmetic “tweakments”, a cleaner skin-care routine, or wash-of-colour makeup as a way of embodying a modern beauty ideal, Sir John thinks the overall push for “natural” culminates in something more: expressing beauty as a radical act of self love.
“Listen, 2020 has been a lot,” Sir John says. “Whether it’s a global pandemic or a call to social justice, it’s shown us that we have to meet our own shit head on. We’re asking: Can I own my situation? Can I own my freckles? Can I own a little uneven acne scarring or my rosacea and maybe dial it back a little bit to cover a couple of things and just go? That’s self love, baby, and that's where we're at right now.”