Beauty Fans Explain How the Cost of Living Has Changed Their Spending
Unless you’ve somehow managed to avoid buying anything for the past year or so (and honestly, if you have, I’m jealous of you), you’ll have noticed a little phenomenon called the cost of living crisis. Put simply, everything costs more and it’s really annoying.
And while sky-high inflation has serious global consequences, it’s also worth mentioning how a lack of cash flow impacts the seemingly frivolous, joyful purchases we make. Even for those of us living pay check to pay check.
Enter beauty spending.
The United Kingdom Cosmetic Executive Women found that “1 in 5 people in the UK are worried about being able to afford skincare products due to the cost of living crisis. This number rises to 1 in 3 people for those aged 18-25 in the UK.”
After years of brands and influencers convincing (often young, female) consumers that expensive beauty routines are self-care ‘essentials’ then, has the beauty industry set us up for an unavoidable fall?
And where does that leave consumers once they can no longer afford these routines?
I’ve spoken to real-life beauty fans and industry experts to discuss how the cost of living crisis has affected them, how they’re trying to save on their skincare and makeup, and how ‘essential’ our beauty spending really is.
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How our beauty spending has changed
Suzanna, a 29-year-old quantity surveyor from Manchester, England, admits that her more ‘frivolous’ spending habits have been impacted by the cost of living crisis, explaining that “I think about what I’m ordering a lot more and keep things in a basket, questioning whether I really need it, rather than impulse buying.
“I am trying to avoid stockpiling products and use up what I have open before moving on to something new.”
Thirty-year-old policy manager Lilly, who lives in London, England, says she’s increasingly substituting her normal beauty purchases for more affordable options.
“On days when I’m working from home but still need to not look like the living dead on Teams calls, I’ve started using up my ‘cheap’ makeup or things I don’t like as much.
Suzanna has discovered some new favourite products through her beauty economy drive. “I’ve found myself ordering more Korean skincare brands. These are cheaper but still have the ingredients I am after. The shampoo and conditioner bars are also a good example of a substitute that I now prefer to my previous and more expensive brands,” she says.
One 30-year-old occupational therapist, Jessica, who also lives in London, cuts down on product quantity to try to make savings, explaining that “I try to use less quantity of products, smaller amounts of shampoo conditioner to make it last longer, and I don’t wear make-up every day.”
Caitlin, a 28-year-old postdoctoral research associate from the northwest of England, now operates a more DIY ethos when it comes to her beauty routines. “I do my own nails and my own hair now,” she explains. She also shops around to ensure she’s getting the best deal, using Groupon or Wowcher for more affordable laser hair appointments.
More than skin deep
However, it seems there are some areas in which people are unwilling to compromise on their beauty products.
Lilly insists that “anything that’s a truly essential part of my beauty routine like cleanser, moisturiser and SPF has to stay. I also haven’t given up my twice-yearly repurchasing of the Medik8 Retinol because I love it so much.”
And although all of these consumers report making some sort of adjustment to their spending habits, they also agree that there’s more to beauty shopping than just fulfilling vanity.
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Jessica “thinks it’s important for your mental health and well-being to feel good in yourself and engage in self-care activities.”
And industry experts agree that beauty spending isn’t just trivial.
Laura Pucker, founder of Pucker Up Beauty, agrees, confirming that “it’s understandable in times of financial hardship to view beauty products and services as unnecessary indulgences.
“Yet, for many, caring for one’s appearance provides comfort and confidence that shouldn’t be dismissed.”
The haves and have nots
But are there other issues beyond our own self-care too though?
When it comes to the workplace– where women are often expected to be disproportionately better-groomed- things like the increasing inaffordability of regular haircuts or nail appointments potentially widens an already large social gap, according to the experts.
Simone de Vlaming, the founder of Beautymone, explains that there’s “a bigger gap between people who can and who can’t pay for beauty products due to the cost of living.”
She goes on: “I think high-end/luxury skincare, makeup, and salon services may become luxury items that only some can afford.”
Sarah Robert, the founder of A Beauty Edit, takes things a step further, saying “affluent individuals maintain their pursuit of luxury – frequently incurring significant costs – while those lacking financial means experience marginalisation.
“This disparity not only mirrors wider economic imbalances but also fosters an emergent class system based on appearances, where beauty regimens signify socio-economic standing.”
There’s another point to be considered too. For many of us more expensive beauty products have become something more; a small but significant treat that lifts everyday life.
For example, I wouldn’t ever think of buying an Armani handbag, but the Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation is a must-have on my makeup roster.
Beauty products often represent the only foray into luxury that many of us could afford – until we can’t.
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As these small luxuries become less affordable then, that social gap gets even bigger. And it isn’t helped by the unrealistic expectations enforced by brands and social media, say the experts.
Pucker suggests that “brands project images of flawless models to market aspirational products, even when economic realities place them out of most people’s reach. This breeds resentment and a sense of haves and have-nots divided by beauty spending power.”
This ongoing pressure to quite literally keep up appearances has real-world consequences, say the experts.
De Vlaming suggests that “viral products on TikTok and Instagram can have a negative impact” on those trying to save some money on their beauty expenditure.
Meanwhile, Pucker believes that there is an “extra financial and emotional tax on the very populations most impacted by inflation and rising housing costs. The expectation to keep up appearances on a limited budget can fuel feelings of inadequacy and anxiety.”
There are signs that the beauty industry is already shifting to adapt to this widening gap though, both among brands and influencers.
More affordable products and dupes now attract a fair amount of online attention (just look at the viral power of new brands like Byoma).
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De Vlaming agrees. “We have seen an increase in inclusivity and affordability while still getting high-quality products,” she says, adding that the popularity of “these brands can help keep that bridge between lower and higher incomes small(er).”
Pucker believes that the beauty industry stands poised to bridge some of the class divides worsened by the cost of living crisis. She says that “by championing a paradigm shift toward accessibility and sustainability, it can evoke lasting change.”
She warns though that “this requires more than perfunctory inclusive marketing campaigns; we need an earnest push towards offering a diverse product range that accommodates every budget while upholding quality standards.”
If that’s true, beauty could become a levelling force in the economic market, which is an exciting prospect.
We all know that more expensive isn’t necessarily better and that what we spend on ourselves in terms of beauty shouldn’t matter – but what may feel frivolous to some has come to mean more to others.
But while it may take time before affordable beauty products become more desirable than high-end ones, we are at least on the way, according to the experts.
Meet the experts
Simone de Vlaming is a beauty blogger and the founder of Beautymone and Conscious Bunny.
Laura Pucker brings over 20 years of experience as a model, dancer, cheerleader, and pageant competitor to her beauty and lifestyle brand Pucker Up Beauty.
Sarah Roberts is a licensed skincare expert and the Founder of the online beauty publication, A Beauty Edit.