The eye of the beholder: Beauty products in the COVID age

Megan Young relaxes her lips as stylist and esthetician Shayla Tanner applies lipgloss at Bella Donna Salon and Spa in Cape Girardeau on May 28, 2021.

According to the Financial Times of London, in a 2020 article titled “The Future of the Beauty Business,” lipstick has long been the unmovable rock upon which the beauty industry is based.

“Historically, the one product that could weather every storm was lipstick. As a mood enhancer and a relatively cheap luxury, it sold consistently through recessions and wars, even deemed a necessity by the U.S. government during World War II,” the article stated, adding Leonard Lauder (of Estee Lauder fame) coined the term “lipstick index” during the 2001 recession to describe the trend of lipstick sales increasing during times of economic strife.

The question the Financial Times rhetorically asked its readers last year at the height of the coronavirus scare was, “Has the lipstick index finally met its match in the era of mask-wearing?”

Megan Young, front desk manager of Belladona Salon & Spa in Cape Girardeau, says her experience with clients would suggest the answer in Cape Girardeau County is “no” to the query.

“I’ve heard people say they miss their lipstick, they miss putting on their blush and can’t wait to wear it again,” she said. “I don’t hear people saying they can go without it.”

Belladona has two locations in Cape Girardeau and sees 1,400 clients each month.

Belladona co-owner Becky Davidson said her business is strong.

“We have been so busy since we came back May 4, 2020, from the six-week (stay-at-home) order (by Gov. Mike Parson) and it hasn’t stopped,” she said.

Davidson acknowledged mask-wearing was responsible for an estimated 25% overall pandemic-driven drop in Belladona’s cosmetic sales — a drop more than made up for, she avers, by an increase in the sale of skin-care products.

As lipstick, powder and foundation sales slipped, they were more than counteracted, Davidson said, by makeup products focused on the eye, what can be seen above the mask: eyeliners, eyebrow pencils and mascara.

Belladona is a full-service salon, offering haircuts, hair coloring, waxing, manicures, pedicures, facials, massages and makeup.

“Honestly, our overall sales have been up, up 10% on retail,” she added.

“Some clients noticed with the mask they were getting acne and rashes; it can be a little moist inside the face covering,” Davidson said.


“If folks weren’t buying lipstick for $20, that didn’t matter so much (to our bottom line) because we were selling a serum for $120,” Davidson said. “When people couldn’t do the other things because of the mask, they wanted to take care of their skin.”

The panoply of skin-care products includes the aforementioned serums, also cleansers, toners and moisturizers.

Davidson also said Belladona has had “fantastic” response to facials and massages.

Maria Stevenson opened her Powderbox Parlor salon in Jackson in March and has focused her business on eyelash extensions, lash lifts and custom spray tanning.

The lash extensions can run anywhere from $150 (classic) up to $200.

“Lash extensions may not be in everyone’s budget,” said Stevenson, the former executive director of the Red Cross of Southeast Missouri, noting a more economical lash lift costs $65 and a lift with an added tint (usually black dye) is $80.

A custom spray tan runs from $40 to $50, depending on customer preference.

Stevenson also hopes to expand her offerings, post-pandemic, into the sale of permanent cosmetics.

“I’d like to start working with clients who want to do their eyebrows because maybe they had a thyroid problem or a burn,” she said, adding, “we could do a camouflage on their skin.”

Stevenson, who spent four-and-a-half years in the 75th Engineering Battalion of the U.S. Army National Guard in Jonesboro, Arkansas, said she feels a calling to work with those who have worn the country’s uniform.

“Veterans may have a scar they don’t like (and) I’d like to help cover that up,” she said.

Behavior change

Belladona’s Davidson was asked whether she foresees a permanent shift in customer wants and desires after COVID-19 when it comes to beauty products and services or, in her opinion, will the industry be like a rubber band, snapping back into its original form with prepandemic behaviors and attitudes.

“I think to a certain extent, the beauty industry will return to what it was — women will return to lipstick and other makeup — perhaps with a little more focus on taking care of oneself,” she said, citing self-care services such as massages and facials.

“I love helping other women feel good about themselves (and) women often feel the need to have a ‘completed face,’” Stevenson said.

“Using beauty products is, in my opinion, more personal confidence building than it is a (societal) expectation,” Davidson said, noting she puts on makeup at home even when she knows she is not going out that day.

“I know when I look in the mirror, I’m happy to have myself look like that,” she explained, “(and) I might put my hair in a ponytail at home but I still have my face on — it just makes me feel better.”

“I like to help women feel confident and beautiful from within,” Stevenson said, “but you don’t need all this stuff; it’s fun for sure, but everything starts from within and feeling good about yourself.”