Getting personal: Personal care brands aim to help consumers with pandemic-related needs

It’s the $64,000 question in the personal care category. 

Will consumers, who have spent so much time during the quarantine taking care of their own personal care needs, return to old patterns or keep doing the same thing?

Retail industry officials said they hope that the reopening of the economy across the country will encourage shoppers to pay a lot more attention to their personal care needs and, while many expect a return to old habits, they also hope that they start buying more products at mass outlets. 

Retailers and brand experts predict shuffling of space and an emphasis on such categories as products to solve mask-induced breakouts; more at-home grooming; and natural, but effective, hair and skin care. 


Before the pandemic, most people washed their hands, but with the threat of contracting the virus, the hygiene practice was ramped up to a whole new level. Washing hands multiple times per day, coupled with the use of hand sanitizers, is not expected to subside. That means more sales of those products, but also moisturizers as their skin dries out. 

Curan Mehra, CEO and founder of Gelo, a new refillable soap dispenser with biodegradable refill pods in four scents — sea mist mineral and freesia; cucumber, melon and jasmine flower; clean dye free; and lemon basil and geranium — has seen firsthand the rise in hand washing. His brand was launched just as fear of contracting the virus hit a fever pitch. In the first 15 days on the market, Gelo sold more than 1 million pods. Products from the New York-based company are sold online, as well as at such major chains as Meijer, Hannaford, H-E-B and soon Rite Aid. By the end of the year, the company said it expects to be available in several thousand doors. 

Gelo hits upon several trends accelerated by the pandemic — hand soaps, a move to natural and environmentally friendly products, and new technology. “It was an interesting time to be launching a hand soap,” Mehra said, adding that with some key brands out of stock, there was the opportunity to showcase Gelo and attract new consumers. “It was a market reset. We gave people the chance to have the benefits of a great product and do well by the planet.” The starter kits retail for $7 and the pods are $1.25 per bottle. During the first weeks, he said more than 30 months of plastic were saved through the brand.


Executives at L’Oreal-owned CeraVe also witnessed a shift from skin care being about anti-wrinkle to a renewed focus on moisturization. Thomas Allison, global vice president of L’Oréal dermatological beauty brands and one of the founders of CeraVe, said that the brand has been focused on moisturization since its beginning. 

Sales of Jergens and Curel also shot up, according to Karen Frank, president of Kao mass business for Americas and European region headquartered in Cincinnati. “With all that hand washing, people needed to moisturize,” she said.

Consumer focus on hand and body care enticed Joey Shamah, co-founder of E.l.f. who now heads up New York-based AS Beauty, to launch a new line in the fall under the Julep banner called Protection Collection. The range includes hand sanitizing wipes, sanitizing spray, hand sanitizer individual wipes, gel hand sanitizer, hand sanitizing lotion and restorative hand salve. Price points range from $3 to $8. 

“Beauty and wellness now go hand in hand. As a skin care and makeup line, we felt it was essential in the current climate to add antibacterial and protection items to our offering. It’s become just as much a part of all our daily routine as moisturizer and lip balm,” Shamah said.  “As people return to their offices and start to travel again, we anticipate that the diligence to extra cleaning habits will continue. While the development of these products was prompted by the current climate, we believe they’ll quickly become best sellers and part of our core line. They are aligned with overall brand direction, serving the skin care and beauty needs of the busy woman who needs her basics covered.”


Private-label hand and body care got a shot in the arm when consumers could not find their traditional brand after the rush to stockpile. Woonsocket, R.I.-based CVS Pharmacy recently rolled out more than 80 products under the Live Better by CVS Health logo. The packaging is at least 80% recyclable. 

“We are committed to creating quality, innovative and industry-leading products that empower our customers to make self-care a part of their everyday health,” said Brenda Lord, vice president of store brands at CVS Health. “Holistic wellness is a personal journey. With the unveiling of so many new Live Better product offerings, customers have access to high-quality ingredients that reflect the latest wellness trends at a good value.”

The lineup includes emerging ingredients like elderberry, ashwagandha, turmeric, kelp, maca, ginseng and charcoal — many of which some consumers feel have protective health qualities. Consumers are reading ingredient labels more closely than ever, and these ingredients resonate with many, experts said.

The “Maskne” Problem
Mask-induced acne, or “maskne,” is a real thing caused by constantly wearing a protective mask. Masks resulted in an uptick in acne for all ages, with Google searches for “maskne” soaring 811% from March to June. Wearing masks also has resulted in a spike in sales of lip care, derm-quality skin care and eye makeup. Many retailers are creating sanitation stations and merchandising all protective products, along with skin care and acne treatments. 


Nail Care
Even with nail salons opening, there are consumers who still are afraid to go or have mastered at-home manicures. Bruce Kowalsky, managing partner at IBG and Red Carpet Manicure in Hauppauge, N.Y., predicts many consumers will continue to care for nails on their own. He saw a big spike in his nail care portfolio, which included Red Carpet, Defy & Inspire and a new launch called Nailtopia. 

Artificial nail products continue on a torrid growth rate, including both Kiss and imPress nails. Artificial nails already were a strong point in nail care, but over the past few months, Kiss’ sales consistently soared in the triple-digit range, according to data from the Port Washington, N.Y.-based company.


Dashing Diva, based in New York, also is experiencing a boost in sales with its Gloss Ultra Shine Gel Strips, which are wrinkle-free nail strips that are chip resistant and wear up to 14 days. The brand just rolled out a Sun Gloss collection.

While artificial nails have been a driving force in the category, New York-based and Coty-owned Sally Hansen’s recent launch is giving a much needed boost to lacquer sales, too. Called Pure, it is 100% vegan and 16-free, referring to the number of less-than-desirable ingredients that have been removed from formulas.

With the attention to nails at home, overall nail care is sprouting, according to Neal Wallach, co-founder of Anise Cosmetics in Collerville, Tenn., which has seen robust growth of its nail care items, including top and base coats and a Keratin 3-Day Growth product.

Natural but Effective
The pandemic raised consumer demand for natural products, but specifically those that do not sacrifice performance. According to data from Kline Group, the global natural personal care market expanded 9% in 2019. During quarantine, U.S. interest in natural products grew even stronger. Still, consumers remain confused about what really constitutes natural. 

To reduce the bewilderment, Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble has embarked on a Responsible Beauty campaign that helps people navigate purchasing choices. One goal is to ensure shoppers know how to make choices that do not sacrifice safety or performance, and that they do not need to decide between science and nature. The company has formed a Responsible Beauty Advisory Council to assist as it builds the program. A few examples of Responsible Beauty in action include Olay refillable pods and Waterl<ess, a new water-free hair care line requiring zero water to use.

Transparency in the Boardroom
COVID-19 was not the only major issue the world dealt with over the past few months. Following the high-profile death of George Floyd, race relations moved to the front burner.  Sharon Chuter, founder of Los Angeles-based Uoma Beauty, has called for beauty companies to “Pull Up for Change,” and reveal the number of Black employees. Looking inward, many beauty giants are making a pledge to actively hire more Black employees. Retailers also took action with Walmart, CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens, vowing to stop the practice of locking up beauty products for Black shoppers. Additionally, retailers plan to add more space to brands that serve America’s more diverse shopper profile. Sephora, in fact, took a “15% pledge” to devote 15% of shelf space to Black-owned brands.