Beauty Industry and Gen Z: the Quest for Holistic, Inclusive and Affordable Brands

Generation Z includes people born from the late 1990s to the early 2010s. Despite their youth, they're already making waves in the beauty industry. They hold very specific expectations for beauty brands, seeking high-quality products at reasonable prices that align with their values of sustainability and inclusivity.

Curious about their shopping habits? We’ve done some research for you and came up with a compact but telling list that characterizes the way Generation Z shops for beauty and how their approach is redefining the beauty category altogether.

Key Takeways

  1. Gen Zers are smart and values-driven shoppers. When choosing beauty products, they care about transparency and authenticity.
  2. Social media play a significant role in shaping Gen Z's beauty shopping habits, as they heavily rely on online peer recommendations. They also embrace interactive experiences like virtual try-ons.
  3. At the same time, Gen Z doesn't completely reject shopping in physical stores. Instead, it willingly blurs the lines between online and offline, urging beauty brands to integrate digital and physical elements for a holistic shopping experience.
  4. Gen Z understands the importance of emotional well-being and self-care, embracing beauty routines as structured wellness rituals and makeup as a form of self-expression.
  5. Despite affordability challenges, Gen Z prioritizes beauty products aligned with sustainability and social responsibility, inspiring other generations towards ethical consumer choices.

Savvy Shoppers in the Beauty Landscape

Gone are the days when customers more or less blindly trusted commercials or glossy magazine articles. Unlike previous generations, Gen Z is plugged into a digital world of readily available information. They're not just consumers; they're informed decision-makers. With access to cosmetic influencers and specialized apps, they're on top of the latest market trends and ingredients. They also demand from producers more ingredient transparency. This critical approach to cosmetics has even earned Gen Z the nickname 'skintellectuals.'

Word-of-Mouth Marketing on Online Platforms

When deciding about their purchases, Gen Z, more other age groups, relies on user-generated content. In its report titled “The Future of Consumer Behavior in the Age of Gen Z,” Mintel, a market intelligence agency, reports that 54% of Gen Z adults trust online beauty influencers and makeup artists. Also Statista, in its "Gen Z Online Beauty Shoppers - Statistics & Facts" article, cites a 2023 survey revealing that around 83% of Gen Z women bought beauty products online because content creators recommended them. The primary sources of such recommendations are TikTok, followed by YouTube, and also Pinterest. Surprisingly, despite Gen Z's strong affinity for the latter platform and their willingness to use it as a source of inspiration, many beauty brands underestimate and fail to incorporate it into their marketing strategies.

Virtual Try On Experiences

To increase engagement with Gen Z audiences, beauty brands should also think about offering direct-to-consumer, virtual beauty experiences, for example with the use of augmented reality. As mentioned in the Mintel report, about half of adult and teenage Gen Zers are somewhat interested in trying out beauty products virtually. Some brands have already tapped into the potential and are driving innovation in this area. For example, Fenty Beauty, founded by Rihanna, provides AR try on tools for its makeup products.

Physical Stores for the Digital Natives

Nevertheless, it would be incorrect to assume that this generation of digital natives only shop online. A survey by the Pull Agency found that about a third of Gen Z shoppers check out health and personal care products in the internet but still prefer buying them in-store. They're also more likely than other age groups to visit specialized stores like the Body Shop. But what's most intriguing is their willingness to blur the lines between online and offline. Clair Rance, who heads brand strategy at the Pull Agency, says that to attract this group, stores need to blend digital and physical elements. The goal is to create what's called a 'phy-gital' experience, with things like magic mirrors, virtual reality, and possibilities to use apps in-store.  

Values-driven Consumers

When it comes to shopping for beauty, Gen Z prioritizes brands that embody their cherished values of sustainability, diversity, and authenticity. In the "Gen Z State of Beauty Report" published by Kyra Media, a beauty and wellness entertainment company, we read that more than a quarter of their respondents bought a beauty product in the last six months because its manufacturer supported environmental and social issues. These may include: sustainable practices, ethical sourcing of natural ingredients, reducing waste, or even promoting diversity as an employer.

More Real Beauty

Marina Mansour, vice president of Kyra, believes that this generation could be the first to truly redefine beauty standards. Younger consumers are challenging unrealistic ideals, urging brands to showcase more diverse, inclusive and relatable representation, and calling for the destigmatization of imperfections. It's no surprise that Dove ranks among their favorite brands! Also, the rise of the social media app BeReal proves Gen Z's craving for genuine content.

Beauty Runs Deep

All of this may be related to the fact that for Gen Z, beauty isn't just about appearances. They view it as a form of practicing wellness and a means of self-expression. Marina Mansour believes that this generation, more than previous ones, sees the beauty industry as something that should cater to their needs. They take care of themselves not so much to impress others, but because it makes them feel good.

Also Kory Marchisotto, the visionary behind two of the generation's favorite brands: e.l.f. and Keys Soulcare, understands and appreciates Gen Z's comprehensive view of beauty and the cosmetics industry as part of their holistic wellness approach. We can clearly see this in the marketing strategy adopted by Keys Soulcare.

Transforming Skincare into Sacred Rituals

Alicia Keys, the American singer and songwriter who launched this brand, recognized the growing demand for cosmetics that nourish the soul as much as the skin. Because she struggled with acne herself, she understood the need for skincare products that address skin conditions and the mental discomfort they can cause. This is reflected in Keys Soulcare's products, which feature uplifting messages on their bottles. They encourage self-affirmation as part of one's skincare ritual! On the Keys Soulcare website, users can browse for cosmetics based on affirmations! This approach transforms simple acts of self-care into indulgent rituals. Marchisotto summarizes this holistic approach in the following guiding principles:

  1. inspiration over aspiration (to unattainable perfection)
  2. ritualizing personal care (and incorporating affirmations into daily routines)
  3. promoting holistic wellness alongside skincare

All this aligns perfectly with evolving consumer preferences of Gen Z.

Linking Beauty with Mental Health

Where do these trends in holistic personal care come from? Their sources become clearer when you consider Gen Z's exposure to financial crises, pandemics, war, climate change, and negative social comparisons on social media. Growing up amid all that has left them pessimistic about their future, pragmatic at best. It even earned them the nickname "the sad generation."

At the same time, the easy access to knowledge that has made them savvy in skincare products' manufacturing processes and ingredients has also made them well-versed in mental health. Gen Z consumers place significant importance on holistic personal care because they consciously tend to their emotional well-being. And beauty routines present opportunities for structured wellness rituals. This is regardless of gender: according to a 2022 research report by Cassandra, an insights and strategy group studying trendsetting young consumers, 57% of Gen Z men consider their beauty and wellness routines part of their mental health practice.

Young consumers believe skincare products should not only work well but also feel good. This can be achieved through affirmations, as seen with Keys Soulcare, but also through providing a sensory experience that boosts mood. That’s why many beauty brands are now offering mousse-like textures, delightful fragrances, and vibrant shades that uplift the spirit. Other brands go even further and champion for mental health awareness in their marketing campaigns, especially during Mental Health Awareness Month. Examples include Biore, Skin Proud, Bubble, and Dove.

Beauty as a Form of Self Expression

Treating beauty as a form of self-expression means that Gen Z consumers are more playful with makeup compared to other age groups. Marina Mansour points out that they are open to experimentation and less conservative in their use of different color cosmetics. An example of this is how they explore various blush applications. This experimentational freedom comes from seeing makeup not as something you apply to appear attractive to others, but rather to have fun and express your individuality. It's also seen as a social activity, akin to listening to music. The products one uses in beauty serve as a symbol of the community they identify with, similar to how music preferences reflect one's tribe.

Defying Aging with Proactive Measures

However, even Gen Zers have their beauty concerns. For this generation, it seems to be aging. They appear to be more fearful of it than previous generations. In the past, creams were used to make early wrinkles less visible, for example by filling them in. But Gen Z consumers prefer to delay the signs of aging rather than fighting them. That's why they seek products that promise to proactively postpone this inevitability as much as possible.

This worry about getting older can have several reasons. Understanding psychology, they know stress can make them age faster and are worried about the impact of the tough times they've had in their formative years. Also, they face constant pressure from social media, coupled with technological advancements like filters. So, despite their love for a minimalist aesthetic and their goal of simply appearing as the best version of themselves, they may still set this bar quite high.

Affordability as Part of Inclusivity

Another notable characteristic of Gen Z, is that they are remarkably thrifty. Also this trait can also be attributed to the fact that they spent their most formative years in the middle of a financial crisis and entered adulthood during a global pandemic and unprecedented inflation rates. Taking this into account, it's not that surprising that they are hesitant to overspend.

Accessible Luxury

This may explain the success of brands like e.l.f. This American beauty brand has made it their mission to democratize luxury by offering high-quality products at affordable prices. By allowing consumers access to luxury textures and formulas, once reserved for the wealthy, they have expanded the inclusivity of the beauty industry. Gen Z has responded positively to this approach.

More Sustainable Practices or Better Prices?

This quest for affordability can sometimes lead Gen Z consumers to disconnect their shopping behavior from their values. They can compromise sustainability for a better price, especially in case of some product categories. This is evident in the popularity of fast fashion brands like Shein, known for their unethical practices. According to 33Seconds' TikTok-based eco-community research, it's actually millennials who are leading the charge in sustainability commitments. Nearly half of them (43%) make significant lifestyle changes, compared to only 27% of Gen Z. But... how fair are such comparisons? Gen Z is simply younger than millennials and has fewer resources at their disposal. It's natural that they may be forced to make compromises older consumers can avoid.

Inspiring Shift Towards Sustainability

Despite these challenges, Gen Zers still prioritize beauty products that align with their values. According to The State of Beauty Report by The Business of Fashion, 46% of Gen Z consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products. A survey of US consumer attitudes on sustainable shopping by First Insight and the Baker Retailing Center at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania found that 75% of Gen Zers go rather for sustainable than big brands. They are drawn to natural and organic products in eco-friendly packaging and check if they are produced through cruelty-free processes, without any involvement of animal testing. This generation also values social justice and prefers products sourced through ethical supply chains. According to the State of Beauty Report, 45% claim they would stop using beauty products if they weren’t inclusive or socially responsible. Actually, it may even be that it's Gen Zers that inspire millennials (and other age groups) to make more ethical and sustainable consumer choices.

Are Gen Z Loyal Consumers?

But if you win over Gen Z, do you secure their loyalty for good? In other words, are they consistent customers? It's complicated.

Generally, they are. Some research even suggests that they might be the most loyal generation, with 9 out of 10 sticking with the same beauty products at least 50% of the time. However, loyalty depends significantly on the type of beauty products. Because they see makeup as a playful way of self-expression, often part of socializing with friends, they may not be as loyal when it comes to color cosmetics. Skincare, on the other hand, is more personal and requires trust built over time through successful product use. This makes Gen Z potentially more loyal in this beauty category.

As you can see Gen Z's beauty decisions are driven by their core values. They're well-informed and demanding consumers who prioritize their well-being and enjoy exploring new trends. Financially responsible, they seek out the best value for their money. While they're generally accepting of imperfections, they're also concerned about aging and take proactive steps to address it. Brands that understand and embrace these values stand a strong chance of resonating with Gen Z and fostering their lasting loyalty.

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