“I’ve Spent 1k On Skincare” — How Lockdown Fuels Our Beauty Obsession

Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
For many of us, distraction has become a way to get over the hurdles of lockdown. Be it the puzzles purchased to while away the hours or the ‘essential’ loungewear we’ve bought for endless nights in, our spending habits have shifted in a big way. That's particularly true when it comes to our beauty routines
Beauty has become a tool for taking our mind off things and a form of self-care during the pandemic. My curated skincare routine, for example, has become one of the most grounding parts of my day, while the purchase of a new candle or mood-boosting makeup has provided comfort and care to many throughout some of the toughest months. Fuelling our distraction, online sales have soared in the last year. Mintel’s January 2021 consumer behaviour tracker reports that 53% of adults are shopping more online now than they were at the start of the pandemic. Another recent study carried out by Merchant Machine revealed that Britons are spending an average of £3,432 on online shopping, which equates to 15% of the average annual income. As for the beauty industry, there’s been a distinct shift in consumer spending habits.
While makeup spending might have slowed, the demand for self-care, skincare and wellness is on the rise. According to the NPD Group, sales of candles increased by 63%. On a similar trajectory, searches for 'jade rollers' saw more than a tenfold increase on Boots.com, Superdrug reported a surge in online purchases with 55% year-on-year growth, and a report by the British Beauty Council revealed that Lookfantastic had seen a 200%+ increase in new customers year on year.
The substantial rise in beauty consumer spending makes total sense: as our routines have changed, so have our priorities, making it easy to justify a beauty purchase in lieu of eating out or going out (especially if the purchase comes with a certain feelgood factor). According to Mintel, 55% of women have reduced how frequently they wear makeup, leaving more room (and therefore, more spend) for the likes of skincare and bath and at-home spa treatments. In fact, on account of the pandemic, sales of skincare in Britain are estimated to have risen to £1.19 billion in 2020, says Mintel. 
Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
A friend of mine expressed a similar sentiment. She told me that her increased expenditure on skincare over lockdown has been a direct result of wearing less makeup. She also has more time to research and take care of her skin. "Since seeing my makeup-less skin more often, it’s made me so much more aware of the health of it and I’ve invested in my skincare routine as a result." In "real life", she told me, "I’m so much more excited by makeup than by skincare but it’s completely reversed over the last year." Another friend joked that she thought she’d save money from not going out all the time but instead has used all the extra cash to treat herself to makeup (in preparation for when normality returns), for the simple reason of it sparking joy during lockdown.
Beyond the products themselves, there’s the psychological element involved in our beauty rituals. In times of stress and uncertainty, we often revert to doing things that help keep structure and balance in our days. "My skincare routine gives me just that — routine," said my sister who, until last year, hadn’t considered skincare as part of her perception of self-care. She now finds solace in her daily routine, which brings some semblance of normality, but explains that she has spent considerably more on skincare over lockdown. Another friend of mine reiterated a similar sentiment: "I think for me it’s about being in control of something small when I have so little control over everything else right now." 

Realistically I have spent nearly a grand on skincare over the last year — something I never would have dreamed of before.

Positive psychologist Ruth Cooper-Dickson says: "Online shopping can be a distraction tool from what is happening in the world around us and when we are focusing on purchasing we are not focusing on anything else." While the routine offers a sense of control, that also comes from the spending itself. "Like any other coping strategy we adopt, it can help us to feel in control and enable us to stay relaxed, but there is also a continuum whereby our online shopping habits can become unhelpful to us as a way to boost our wellbeing," Cooper-Dickson adds.
The odd purchase here, a quick scroll of Amazon there: there’s no denying the instant gratification of online shopping. Who can resist that sudden rush of dopamine when the doorbell sounds, breaking up the monotony of the day with the arrival of a shiny new parcel? "People experience the rush and release of adrenaline when buying new items," says Cooper-Dickson. She cites boredom and loneliness among the possible reasons why we’re spending more on account of lockdown.
With more time on her hands, 26-year-old Caroline says she found herself becoming obsessed with skincare YouTube videos. "Prior to the first lockdown, my skincare mainly consisted of micellar water, scrubs and occasionally a Superdrug own-brand hydrating serum and a Simple moisturiser," she says. "My skincare has become a lot more enjoyable but also expensive." Caroline adds: "Now, I have a skincare routine which consists of a double cleanse, serums, moisturisers, SPF and occasionally retinol."

Often with emotional spending we are replenishing a deficiency but not in the most useful or productive way, as emotional spending is also often followed by feelings of shame, doubt and guilt.

Jodie Cariss
Cooper-Dickson explains that it’s not just the purchase but the act of looking which makes us feel good, too. "Dopamine is released into the brain as the anticipation of the reward," she says, "not when we actually receive the reward itself. It’s the waiting to receive the product we have purchased online which creates the dopamine hit in our brain." Caroline confirmed a similar thought pattern, telling R29 how awaiting a Lookfantastic beauty delivery became the highlight of her day over lockdown. "Skincare was a way of pampering myself and feeling good, despite my clothing then consisting of a baggy jumper and leggings around the house!" she explained. "I think realistically I have spent nearly a grand on skincare over the last year — something I never would have dreamed of before." With a salary of less than £30k, Caroline is aware of the need to scale back her expenditure on beauty when lockdown ends. "I know not to use my credit card on skincare so it would be the first thing to cut back on if things were a bit tighter money-wise — it’s more like a hobby now." 
Illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
But when does innocent spending as a means of distraction, routine or boredom turn into something problematic? "Emotional spending is using shopping as a way to distract or defend us from feeling difficult emotions; something we readily use in the modern world," explains therapist and founder of Self Space, Jodie Cariss. With stress and anxiety rife throughout the pandemic, it makes sense. "When we dig deeper, we find the driver for purchasing isn’t usually pragmatic, although we so often convince ourselves it is," she says. Cariss also stresses that treating yourself occasionally is not an issue and something to be enjoyed every so often. 
Cariss continues: "Often with emotional spending we are replenishing a deficiency but not in the most useful or productive way, as emotional spending is also often followed by feelings of shame, doubt and guilt. We can feel low, which isn’t the result of the spending itself but the re-emerging of the emotion we hoped the spending would blot out. It’s a vicious circle where we generally end up feeling worse than we did before the spend." Cooper-Dickson seconds this: "We can use many tools to help us destress and feel good about ourselves; all of these practices are on a continuum. Spending money on self-care or beauty products in itself is not a problem; it becomes a problem when we are spending far beyond our own financial means, finding ourselves seeking the feeling of rush and release of adrenaline when purchasing, or experiencing feelings of guilt and hiding purchases, which can in turn put pressure on relationships." Cooper-Dickson and Cariss both explain that stepping back from immediate spending and waiting several days before you make the purchase can help you understand the emotions behind your shopping habits and break patterns in the long run. Ask yourself questions such as: What is my spending achieving for me? Can I afford this product? What am I really feeling right now? What do I need this for?
Emilie Bellet, founder of Vestpod and author of You’re Not Broke, You’re Pre-Rich, agrees: "Emotional spending becomes an issue whenever your spending starts to feel like you’re no longer in control. If you use shopping as a Band-Aid for when you’re feeling low, lonely or bored, if you’re maxing out your credit cards and going into debt, if you can’t afford to save some of your income, if you don’t have any money left at the end of the month, if you have no idea how much you spend each month. All of these are red flags." Though comfort spending can be innocent enough, it’s important to get a handle on your finances and build a healthy relationship with money, says Bellet. She warns that women still don’t speak about money enough and that in itself can be a contributing factor to emotional spending. "Unfortunately, most of us were never really taught how to manage our finances," says Bellet. "Then, of course, there are structural elements at play, like the gender pay gap."
Bellet’s advice if you are struggling with emotional spending includes downloading a budgeting app and adopting a more mindful approach to shopping. Influencers and beauty experts are championing the 'slow beauty' approach, for instance, limiting how many beauty products you purchase in a bid to become less wasteful and to help preserve the environment. Deleting beauty shopping apps from your phone might also be helpful if you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through.
Bellet suggests still giving yourself a monthly 'fun' spending budget, though. "My advice if you’re struggling would be to start a budget, understand where you stand and look at your debts and spending." She also suggests asking for help as there are some great debt charities out there, like StepChange. "Or you could see a financial adviser if you can afford it, find an accountability partner (this can be a real-life friend or someone online), join a community of like-minded women and read empowering books about personal finance." Bellet concludes: "The key is to start somewhere, because small efforts will compound over time."
For impartial advice on dealing with debt, head to StepChange.

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