Is This the End of Lipstick?

Have you ever heard of the lipstick index? It’s a term that was coined by Leonard Lauder (son of Estee) to describe the increase of sales in cosmetics—particularly in lipstick—during the 2001 recession. His theory was that during times of economic distress, people were more likely to spend their money on smaller, more affordable luxuries like lipstick.

Sure enough, there have been many times throughout my early 20s (when I was just barely making rent in New York City) that I would find moments of real pleasure through the purchase of a Chanel Rouge Coco Shine lipstick in “Boy,” which was the perfect beige-pink shimmer that made me feel really happy every time I put it on.

I couldn’t afford the bag, but I could have the lipstick.

Fast forward to 2020. We’ve spent the better half of this year working from home. Our social lives made smaller, if non-existent, and like so much else in the world, the pandemic has turned the fabled lipstick index on its head.

Who needs lipstick when they’re staying indoors? Better yet, who needs lipstick when it’s going to be covered up by a face mask, or inevitably smeared all over said mask every time you put it on or take it off?

This is not to say that people aren’t self-soothing with beauty products. It’s just that our priorities have changed.

As Fabrizio Freda, Chief Executive for Estée Lauder stated last week during a call to discuss quarterly earnings: "The Lipstick Index has been substituted by the Moisturizer Index,” as recent sales are showing that people are buying less lipstick (and makeup as a whole) and are instead spending on skincare.

Sales statistics aside, I’ve seen a shift in my own beauty behavior since I started working from home in March. For starters, I rarely wear makeup these days. When I do, it’s just three products: cream blush, lip gloss and some lashes when I'm really in the mood (or I can’t opt out of Zoom).

My own (vast) collection of lipsticks is sitting sadly, unused in makeup bags and in boxes, which is a first for me. Instead, I have taken to stains, which despite their name, don’t get all over my face masks, and hydrating balms and glosses that don’t desiccate my lips after hours of wear.

tower28 shine on lip jelly fire

This shift away from traditional lipsticks is being reflected in the newest makeup launches for brands as well. Buzzy clean beauty brand Ilia just came out with a collection of glossy lip oils that have quickly become a favorite of mine.

Instagram darling, Tower 28, is launching an extension of shades to their bestselling Lip Jellies as this story goes live. (I'm wearing "Fire," a juicy coral tint above.) And then there’s Victoria Beckham Beauty’s extremely posh lip stain that, like I said, is the only thing I wear with a face mask. (Sephora Collection’s Jelly Melt is a pretty close dupe at about a third of the cost, FYI.)

Which brings me back to the original question: Is this the end of lipstick?

Of course not. It’s merely an extended pause, as seems to be the theme of this year.

As Freda told his stockholders, “Makeup will come back when consumer sentiment will come back.”

When we emerge on the other side of all of this (you can’t see me but I’m gesturing wildly here) we will once again go out to dinners with friends. There will be more weddings and birthdays and graduations to wear a red lipstick to. I can’t say when and I sure as hell hope it’s under better circumstances (i.e., in a world where all people, no matter their race or socioeconomic status, are treated with respect and dignity), but we will have reason to celebrate once more. And when that time comes, you better believe I will be breaking out some Ruby Woo.

Jenny Jin Headshot Vertical 2023

Beauty Director

Jenny Jin is PureWow’s Beauty Director and is currently based in Los Angeles. Since beginning her journalism career at Real Simple magazine, she has become a human encyclopedia of...