A quick scroll through the Instagram feed of any early-twenty something will likely show you one thing: the consumer landscape is changing. Where people once shopped for and purchased skin care or beauty products from their local drug stores or beauty retailers, they now do so online, where the world of social media shapes their every decision along the way. Brands that have spent decades building a loyal consumer base are now finding that some of their strongest competitors are not other major beauty and skin care brands, but small, direct to consumer companies that are focused on health first, self-expression second, and beauty third. 

The role of Instagram’s place in society has helped to shape everything from the desserts we choose to the types of products we buy. Photography, which was once a profession reserved for those that could afford a high quality camera, is now an everyday element of our own lives. Every aspect of our everyday lives are expected to be picturesque, which is apparent in the consumer trends we see all around us today. 

To understand popular products, you have to understand the advertising strategies that sold the products in the first place.

Instagram has changed the ways that we look at the world, and the accessibility to aestheticism has catapulted the beauty industry into a territory that no one could have ever expected. Now that everyone has a high quality camera with them in their pockets at all times, the expectation to be beautiful both day and night has more added pressure than ever. But beauty is not the only thing that has become more accessible in the digital age, where information is marketed and re-packaged and marketed over and over again until consumers buy into whatever idea is being sold. For the beauty industry, it’s the idea that makeup and cosmetics are only one aspect of achieving beauty, taking care of yourself is another, and basic hygiene now functions as a treat to yourself or mental health boost. 

The Instagram-effect has both changed our way of shopping and convinced us that we should be photo-ready at all times. Makeup was once a necessity, an everyday product used to help one look more presentable in public. Today, it’s transformed into an outlet for self expression, akin to customizing an outfit or changing your hair color. Today, clean skin and naturally beautiful features have become the new standard of beauty in the modern age. People want to be photo ready at all times, even when they’re doing something simple like lying in bed or cooking dinner after work, and you can’t be expected to be wearing a full face of makeup at all hours of the day.  

Makeup brands today are focused on one of two things: flamboyant, dramatic makeup looks with colorful eyeshadow, heavy contour, and bright lipstick from brands like Morphe, Lime Crime, and Colourpop or minimal makeup with thick, natural looking eyebrows and a light touch of blush and mascara to give the appearance of fresh, dewy skin free of blemishes with a youthful glow. Brands like Milk Makeup and Glossier stress the importance of a good skin care routine, and sell skin care products as if they were makeup. Makeup has always functioned to accentuate natural features, but today skin care products like face creams, serums, and SPF’s serve that purpose by giving a healthy, dewy glow—while makeup is used to express one’s individuality and artistic ability. 

Both aesthetics, however, value the importance of skincare as a part of your makeup routine. Most makeup influencers—regardless of how much makeup they wear at any given time—will stress the importance of a good skin care routine and consistently remind their followers to practice basic self-care like washing off your makeup before bed or always wearing sunscreen in the day to minimize the risk of premature aging. For some beauty influencers, like Kylie Jenner, the world of skin care is so lucrative that it meant developing their own line of skin care products. Others are skin care influencers solely, using products as the subject of beautiful flat lay photos. 

But it isn’t just Instagram trends that are the reasons behind the skin care industry’s boom in recent years. Breakthroughs in technology have allowed for the development of new products, and the internet has made it easier than ever to contact product suppliers from around the world to start your own line of products. Anyone with internet access and a credit card can design and order their own line of products from suppliers in places like China, Korea, Europe, and the United States. The company will create the product and package it with your own logo, all you have to do is handle the marketing. 

Skin care’s role in beauty is rooted in the holistic product industry. 

Celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, the creator and CEO of Goop, a lifestyle brand that started as a humble email newsletter before growing into a massive lifestyle empire, focuses on holistic trends and natural beauty. The brand started pedaling products that would use buzzwords like “clean,” “natural,” and “bare” to teach young women that they didn’t need makeup to achieve perfection—they needed the right skin care products. Advertisements of women with seemingly no makeup on, smiling into the sun while their natural, not-too-curly-not-too-straight hair flounces in a light breeze started littering social media networks, selling the idea that skin care products, like those from Juice Beauty, one of the world’s most successful “natural” skin care lines, were a holistic approach to beauty that could replace makeup. 

But while technology allowed for breakthroughs in skin care ingredients, marketing a product that was “clean” or “natural” only meant that it had to imply that it was made with ingredients derived from plants or naturally occuring minerals. Cosmetic grade ingredients are different from pharmaceutical grade ingredients, so they have to be marketed differently as well. There are specific requirements in how pharmaceutical grade ingredients can be sold because they often have a higher percentage of active ingredients than regulations allow for over the counter products. For example, retinoid products are available over the counter, but only up to 1% in places like the United States. Anything over 1% would have to be sold as a prescription dermatology product, though some countries are less strict about these regulations than others. The only regulations imposed on the skin care industry are by government organizations like the FDA in the United States or EMA in Europe that say that cosmetics cannot claim to treat any diagnosable illness in the way that pharmaceutical-grade products can. 

Since cosmetic-grade ingredients have to go through a chemical processing approved for use in cosmetics, the idea of the clean beauty industry simply refers to products that are void of known carcinogens and are marketed toward a demographic that values their health. This guide from Harper’s Bazaar teaches consumers how to unpack ingredient labels and find “clean” alternatives to the products they’re already using. 

Why is Generation Z so into skin care?

But there are ways to advertise clean beauty to younger demographics that might not care so much about their physical health right now. Brands like Glossier and Milk Makeup — two companies that have disrupted the skin care and makeup industries in recent years—take two separate, but distinct approaches to marketing products that would otherwise be littered with buzzwords like “clean” or “natural.” 

Glossier, a brand that markets its “skincare first” approach to beauty through bright images of dewy-skinned models in instagram-friendly interiors uses minimalist packaging and earth-toned colors to add personality to the brand. The “Glossier girl” is a personality and lifestyle that attracts a younger audience through eye-catching imagery and friendly copy. 

Meanwhile Milk Makeup, Glossier’s distinctly different gender-bending twin, isn’t afraid to use bright colors and designs for its edgy branding. The brand has an entire line of cannabis-themed products with names like “kush” and other puns on stoner culture. But at their core the products are made with natural, vegan ingredients for consumers that might not resonate with Glossier’s “girl next door” branding. Packaged in shiny, neon pots and bottles, Milk Makeup’s products are equally photogenic but appeal to a different consumer within the same age group. 

Both brands sell the idea of skin care as makeup and are wildly successful in doing it, but use advertising to pivot themselves into two distinct consumer niches. The brands leveraged Instagram, and the ability to sell someone their personality as a way to launch themselves into the rankings of skin care and beauty brands that have been around for decades. While Proactiv had some of the world’s most teen-friendly celebrities touting its products on television on commercial breaks for shows like Degrassi, Glossier and Milk Makeup leveraged the blogosphere and social media (much like Kylie Jenner did with Kylie Cosmetics and Kylie Skin) to create unicorn companies in a matter of just a few years—no celebrity endorsements needed.

Years ago, when the only options for advertising were limited to print, radio, or television, only major companies had access to the funding necessary to create new products. Then came the internet, which bred new advertising opportunities and a new means to a new end with product marketing. The internet bred competition, and competition bred innovation, which saw a rise in new skin care science that allowed for variation in things like new ingredients and packaging opportunities. 

For the first time ever, the customer’s skin care routine and the products that they choose represent everything about them. Taking care of their skin is more than just a chore, it’s a lifestyle that is marketable to a whole generation of young consumers eager to spend their money on things that would instantly make them feel like they were becoming a better version of themselves: one that would look good on apps like Instagram.


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