Welcome to the Post-Lipstick World - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Welcome to the Post-Lipstick World

Welcome to the Post-Lipstick World

By Fiona Zublin

Red lipstick is over, at least for now.


Face masks and lipstick don’t mix.

By Fiona Zublin

Red lipstick has been a sign of defiance for centuries. Actress Sarah Bernhardt shocked Parisian society in the 1880s by applying it in public. Suffragettes wore it as a symbol of their fight for freedom.

Now, that’s over.

Yes, that’s a dramatic statement, but since we can’t get our drama from lipstick these days, we have to get it from over-the-top pronouncements. And the fact is that red lipstick is over, at least for now. All lipstick is! We’re living in a time when not wearing a mask is for dummies, and lipstick and face masks just don’t mix. In fact, a recent McKinsey report found that …

In the U.S., sales of lip makeup fell 15 percent this spring from last year.

It’s not just in America. Lipstick sales in Japan fell close to 70 percent in mid-May compared to the previous year, according to data from Intage Holdings. McKinsey estimates that about 30 percent of the beauty industry was shut down by COVID-19, with some of it likely to never reopen. “In the United States, if there is a COVID-19 recurrence later in the year, the decline [in revenue this year] could be as much as 35 percent,” says the McKinsey report.

Lipstick sales have previously been seen as an indicator of the opposite trend to what we’re witnessing today. When lipstick sales are up, the logic goes, it means the economy is in trouble because people are restricting themselves to small, relatively inexpensive pick-me-ups rather than pricey consumer goods. But the necessity for face masks has turned that on its head.


Other cosmetics have moved center stage. For example, online retailer Alibaba reported a significant increase in eye makeup sales. Still, 2020 is expected to be one of the worst years for the beauty industry as a whole.

The real winners here are hands and hair. Sales of nail care products were up 218 percent this spring, while those for hair color products were up 172 percent. Nails and hair are usually two beauty tasks that people outsource to salons, but with the rise of COVID-19 comes the rise of avoiding being touched by strangers. The at-home manicure could be a nail in the coffin for small personal-care businesses struggling to reopen and to survive.

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