Beauty Burnout: The Consequences of Newness Overload
The Covid-19 pandemic has spelled economic disaster for industries worldwide; however, times have never been better for the beauty industry. Thanks to the convenience of online shopping, skincare e-commerce businesses have reaped the rewards of stay-home orders. Beauty enthusiasts may have cut down on makeup, but they haven’t been ignoring their skin health. Trends show that makeup sales are on the decline, while skincare continues to soar. It is estimated that by 2027, the global skincare market is expected to reach a market value of $185.5 billion. Personally, as someone who rarely wears makeup and doesn’t promote it at all in my shop, I like that skincare has overtaken makeup in terms of demand. That being said, and it may sound contradictory coming from someone who sells skincare, this market is officially over-saturated. There are too many skincare brands and products.
One of the biggest trends in the past couple of years is the proliferation of celebrity beauty brands. In the 2000s, it seemed like every celebrity had a perfume. In 2021, perfume is out and skincare is in. Off the top of my head I can think of skincare by Rhianna, Kylie Jenner, Pharrell, Paris Hilton, Jessica Alba, Gwyneth Paltrow… I’m sure the list is longer than that and will, unfortunately, only continue to grow. The world doesn’t need another skincare brand, let alone another celebrity getting in on the craze.
On the bright side, the ever-growing “skinimalism” trend is encouraging. Consumers are embracing trimmed down skincare routines by cutting out unnecessary steps and getting back to basics. It’s kind of ironic that there’s a boom in the skincare industry, despite consumers clearly moving towards using less skincare. Brands are taking notice of this movement and adopting messaging that appeals to the conscious consumer: Simple, minimalist, less is more, and only essential ingredients. Great messaging, but the number of brands adhering to it are proliferating and it’s contributing to consumer burnout.
I’m always on the lookout for a brand that I feel fits well Sinless Skincare’s values. When I started out, I had a few brands already in mind and figured I’d find a few more along the way. Six months later, I’m overwhelmed by the number of options in front of me, so much so that I often feel paralyzed by this choice. It’s not just me. Consumers feel the overload of “newness” too.
Social media is a huge contributor to skincare consumer burnout. Platforms like Instagram grant brands access to massive numbers of consumers and gives them the ability to recruit beauty influencers. These skinfluencers are given sponsorships and affiliate links to promote products. They do this by creating appealing content in the form of beauty hauls, tutorials, reviews, and the list goes on. Hashtag trends like #texturetuesday promote an intense fixation on the aesthetic appeal of product being squeezed from its tube. Am I really the only one who finds it bizarre that there are hashtags devoted to things like this? I like my moisturizer too, but this is a bit much.
The mass creation of content has led to what feels like beauty burnout - an overload of newness. There are Instagram accounts whose sole purpose is to reveal new product releases. Online skincare shops try to keep customers returning by constantly offering new brands and products. What no one seems to understand is that there is only so much newness one can absorb. It’s not possible to be interested in everything all the time. And yet, we can't stop scrolling. We are obsessed with newness.
Let me break down what is happening psychologically when you feel like you need that shiny new cleanser:
- You're attracted to the novelty of the product (which is perfectly natural and human). New experiences provide stimulation and improve our capacity to learn. Therefore, every time you resist the urge to click on your favorite skinfluener’s new product review, you’re actually fighting hard-wired natural instincts. That’s why once you buy that cleanser and have used it a few times, you’re already seeking out its “new and better” replacement. And the cycle continues. Which leads us to…
- We bore easily. Lack of stimulation just feels… ugh. When the novelty of your hyped-up cleanser wears off, you may find yourself looking for a reason to buy a new one (it has a one-of-a-kind ingredient that you “need”, you have an imagined skin problem, etc). You create a dissatisfaction with your current product because you’re bored with it. Even though a month ago you convinced yourself it would be life-changing. But anyway, that was a long time ago, right?
- Endorphins. Apparently spending money is not unlike sex, taking drugs, or eating junk food. When we shop we believe for a second that this new product will make our lives so much better – which triggers our brain to release endorphins. This reward-trigger is why millions of people find themselves in debt. It’s probably best to think of this before you click add to cart.
- Peer pressure isn’t just a teenager problem. And social media doesn’t help. It’s natural to want what others have and to feel the need to keep up with the Joneses, especially when they’re telling you how “life-changing” whatever they just bought is. But I’m telling you, the grass is always greener, and remember that bit above about novelty? 😏
- We are substituting one addiction for another. Someone who recently quit smoking may turn to eating or shopping as a way to cope. We all know what the strong urge to “fill the void” feels like. I’m convinced there is such a thing as skincare addiction (skin dysmorphia is on the rise after all, but that’s another blog post for another day). If you feel the overwhelming need to have new products and believe the last 4 bullet points don’t apply to you, perhaps you need to consider this one. Beneath every addiction is deep underlying issue unrelated to the behavior, and you owe it to yourself to examine this.
The effects of mass consumerism on our psyche have been well documented. Buying new stuff all the time does not increase happiness in the long run, but it does offer a temporary feeling of euphoria... before it sends you down a spiral of depression and anxiety. This is a known psychological phenomenon, often referred to as the hedonic treadmill. The idea behind it is that it is impossible for a human being to be euphoric all the time. Human brains can only experience differences. In order for you to be happy, you have to go from your baseline to euphoria. But then in order to feel this again, you will first have to go back down. You will never sustain the level of euphoria that’s triggered when you get your hands on that limited edition serum. The skincare industry either didn’t get the memo or, perhaps more likely, just doesn’t care.
Needs vs. Wants
As humans we are susceptible to instant gratification. It is precisely this culprit that has led to confusion and the breakdown of self-control. When scrolling through my Instagram feed, I get the distinct impression that too many skincare enthusiasts don’t understand the difference between needs and wants.
Let’s be controversial for a second and take this even further – does anyone even need a skincare product? It’s certainly not a basic need. Skincare is a solution to a luxury problem – wrinkles, dull skin, dark circles, an oily t-zone, etc. (I’m not placing acne and other skin illnesses in the luxury problem category, many of us unfortunately know how painful certain skin conditions can be). I don’t classify the majority of today’s “skin problems” as real problems. You don’t need to improve skin elasticity, you want to. You don’t need to brighten dark spots, you want to. Once you admit that your supposed need is actually a want, it becomes so much easier to resist the temptation of buying too many products.
All this being said, is it bad to buy something you don’t need? Of course not. If I really believed that, I wouldn’t be using this stuff myself and I certainly wouldn't have an online shop. You want to fight fine lines? Go for it! You do you. But don’t tell yourself you need to.
We spend a significant portion of our lives online, so it’s natural that the digital landscape has come up with ways to get consumers’ attention. Teasing new product releases and inserting phrases like “limited edition” creates a sense of urgency. The sole goal of this type of marketing is to lead the consumer to believe that the product advertised is of limited quantity and due to its high demand, won’t be available for long. Limited time only! Get it while you still can! You need this! Once it’s gone, you’re never going to forgive yourself! Basically, if you miss this amazing opportunity, it will have been YOUR fault and you will feel bad about yourself. 🙄
I cringe when I find myself almost typing headlines like these. I have to pause and rethink because it’s just so shamelessly manipulative. I know what you’re thinking: “I’m not stupid, I see through these marketing strategies, most likely everyone does.” Fair enough, but your brain can trick you by telling you that you would have wanted that product anyway; you rationalize your decision. In the end you believe they didn’t get you, but in reality, they still might have.
It’s important to understand that these marketing strategies are hugely profitable. Take a closer look at your favorite brands and shops – everyone is doing this. So even though we know what they’re doing, they’re still “getting us”. Caving into marketing manipulation results in us confusing wants and needs, which has far-reaching consequences for our finances, mental health, and the environment.
So far we’ve discussed the psychological impact of an oversaturated skincare market. But we can’t ignore the environmental impact. According to this article by Vice, the beauty industry produces 120 billion units of packaging per year. That’s 120 billion essence bottles, eye cream tubes, sheet masks, panda bear lip gloss containers – and other such “necessary” things. The vast majority of this packaging cannot be recycled, and even if it can be, isn't. The amount of plastic this industry produces is alarming. There are alternatives, like glass and cardboard, however, these alternatives are a lot more expensive than plastic. And as long as the dollar is the bottom line, it’s unlikely we’ll see an industry-wide move towards sustainable packaging any time soon. We can’t deny it, the beauty industry’s role in environmental degradation is enormous.
The blame game
All this being said, we’re not into blaming and shaming the consumer. Big Beauty knows what it’s doing. It takes advantage of our vulnerabilities and manipulates us until we confuse wants and needs. It gives us FOMO (fear of missing out) and greenwashes to assuage our guilt and make us believe we’re doing “the right thing” by buying another skincare product we don’t need. It constantly inundates us with teasers, hauls, promotions, contests, new releases, attractive images, etc., until we burnout. It creates and enables addiction and skin dysmorphia. Big Beauty sucks. Which leads us to…
Why have a skincare shop if this bothers us so much?
Good question, I basically ask myself that every damn day.
Big Beauty is too big. No one needs this much choice. Choosing products and brands for our shop IS overwhelming. I mentioned above how the number of options we have for our shop is paralyzing. We don’t want our customers to feel this paralysis when all they wanted was a toner. Promoting skip-care is something we care about because the fewer products we commit to using, the fewer choices we have to make, the happier we, our skin, and the environment are. Though an outsider may look at us as “just another shop” adding to the noise of an already oversaturated market, we really feel like we’re doing something different. And if it’s not coming across, we’re going to make adjustments and constantly work at it until it’s apparent.
We’re conscious of the psychological impact this industry has on consumers and the last thing we want to do is prey on their vulnerabilities. We’re not into extremes because it’s these very things that turn into trends – #plasticfree, #zerowaste, #nobuy, these are trends that turned overly preachy. We want to encourage our customers to be conscious consumers. This doesn’t mean don’t ever buy something you don’t need, but go back to those handy bullet points above and ask yourself if you’re stuck in a boredom loop, practicing addiction substitution, feeling peer pressure or FOMO, etc. And don’t feel the need to try everything just because it’s there. If you’ve found one or two brands you really like, stick with them. Resist the urge to always splurge on the new, shiny thing. And we’ll do our best not to contribute to newness overload.