10 BEAUTY TRENDS THAT WILL BE EVERYWHERE IN 2021, ACCORDING TO THE EXPERTS
by Alyssa Montemurro Last Updated: Apr 29, 2021
We asked five of the beauty industry’s leading experts to predict the biggest hair, makeup, and skincare trends of 2021. Hint: It’s going to include a lot of ‘jeck’ masks, LED devices, and scalp products.
There are few sayings we detest more in this world than the annual clarion call for a “new year, new you.” (Seriously, what does that even mean?) But honestly, after making it through the tumultuous year that was 2020, we’ve found ourselves getting behind at least some aspect of the tired cliche. It is a new year, and while that doesn’t mean you should feel the need to change anything about yourself—internally or externally—it does signify the opportunity for something far more meaningful: a fresh start.
A fresh start is about more than just starting over; it’s about letting go of the past and looking forward to the clean slate that lies before you. That’s why instead of harping on everything that should have been in 2020, we’re choosing instead to focus on what’s possible for the year ahead. In this editor’s case, that means looking forward to the multitude of exciting new hair, makeup, and skincare trends that are set to shake up the industry and maybe even our daily routines. To help shed some light on what’s to come, we asked five of the industry’s leading retail experts to share the beauty trends that they predict will be everywhere in 2021. From neck masks (so long, tech-neck) to microbiome skincare to the rise of CBN, here are the top 10 trends to look forward to this year, according to the pros.
- At-Home Peels and Masks
After having little or no access to our go-to dermatologists and facialists, it comes as little surprise to learn that at-home treatments skyrocketed this past year—a trend that Sephora‘s Beauty Director, David Razzano, says isn’t going anywhere in 2021. “This past year saw most of us stuck at home, without access to salons and spas, and combating things like ‘maskne’ breakouts,” Razzano tells us. “As such, we saw a large number of people turn to products that allowed them to create a spa-like experience at home with the same professional-level results.”
One of Sephora’s most popular skincare treatments in recent months has been Dr. Dennis Gross’s Clinical Grade Resurfacing Liquid Peel. “It’s a two-part peel system that uses high dose professional-grade ingredients to exfoliate the skin and minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles,” says Razzano. “It also features calming ingredients [like tiger grass and colloidal oatmeal] to help strengthen and fortify the skin barrier, so the skin looks refreshed and more youthful.”
Given the increased strain tech devices are putting on our necks these days, WGSN‘s Beauty Director Jenni Middleton says she also expects to see a growing number of beauty consumers investing in at-home masks and treatments focused on the delicate jaw and neck area. That’s right, get ready for the rise of jeck masks.
“Driven by increased time spent chin-down on devices and constantly seeing our faces on screen, dermatologists and aesthetic surgeons are reporting an increased demand for jaw and neck ‘tweakments’ to tackle sagging jawlines and crepey necks,” says Middleton. “In 2021, this will spill into home-use alternatives with beauty consumers seeking products and devices that deliver salon-grade results. Hydrating sheet masks such as 111Skin’s Celestial Black Diamond will extend beyond the face to treat the neck and décolletage. At the same time, area-specific masks such as The Light Salon’s Hydrogel Décolletage Mask and under-chin sling masks that ‘firm and lift’ double chins will also increase in popularity.”
Digital LED masks, which have surged in popularity during the pandemic, will also continue to evolve in 2021. “We have seen a huge increase in performance skincare and high-tech tools, specifically with LED and microcurrent devices,” Net-A-Porter‘s Global Beauty Director Newby Hands tells us. “At-home treatments have been our customer’s go-to solution for their skincare needs with more time being spent at home this year.” Violet Grey‘s Executive Director of Content and Curation, Maureen Choi, agrees, adding, “Smart beauty products and devices are going to continue to revolutionize our collective beauty routines, producing results quicker, faster, easier, and with fewer side effects than ever before.”
- Scalp Care is the New Skin Care
Will 2021 finally be the year that we start giving our scalps the same level of care and attention that we do our skin? Looks like it. According to Hands, the “idea of skincare for the scalp” will continue to push into the mainstream this year, with even more advancements in LED hair masks and scalp-specific product offerings (think scalp scrubs and serums). And it’s not just all about new technologies either. As terms like “wellness” and “self-care” continue to become a growing part of our daily routines, experts predict that hair care aisles are likely the next frontier to see a rise in more holistic approaches.
“Hair will be the next category to be colonized by the wellness trend,” says Cult Beauty‘s co-founder Alexia Inge. “The scalp has huge wellness potential, particularly in the realm of aromatherapy—owing to how quickly essential oils applied there can hit your bloodstream. ‘Hair tea’ infusions [aka formulas steeped with natural tea ingredients] are also a growing trend that we’re seeing, as the hair world continues to be taken over by formats and ingredients traditionally associated with other forms of wellbeing. Some of our favorite products right now include the microbiome-boosting Scalp & Hair Serum by Gallinee and Davines’s Nourishing Hair Royal Jelly Superactive.”
- Elevated Bath and Body Products
If there was a silver lining to experiencing all of the stress and anxiety that came with 2020, it was that it finally taught us all the importance of self-care. And for many, that meant investing in one’s beauty routine as a way to relax and boost health and wellbeing. “As a reaction to the turbulent times we are all enduring, we’re finding that consumers are increasingly turning to skincare as self-care ‘therapy’ as they begin to rate how products make them feel, over how they make them look,” says Inge. “This focus on beauty for the emotional benefits (a trend I call, ‘Emo-beauty’), such as mood-boosting, energy-inducing, and stress-relieving masks, oils, home fragrances, and bathing products, has driven both a substantial rise in sales across our wellbeing category (117 percent) during the first lockdown versus the previous year, as well as a staggering 315 percent rise in Cult Beauty’s bath and body category. We believe it will continue to inspire behavior well into next year and beyond.”
As our bathrooms continue to transform into our own private spas, experts anticipate seeing a growing demand for products like luxury bath oils, aromatherapy products, conditioning body creams, hand lotions, and more holistic beauty tools like gua sha stones, jade rollers, and dry brushes. At Net-A-Porter, Hands notes that they’re also seeing “an increased investment in statement candles to help enhance the mood, look, and feel of the home.” Other key products right now include Aromatherapy Associates’ Deep Relax Bath & Shower Oil and Dr. Barbara Sturm’s Body Brush.
- The New Hero Ingredients
One of the first questions every beauty editor hears at the beginning of each year is, “what will be this year’s new hyaluronic acid?” In previous years, the answer to this question has included everything from mushrooms to bakuchiol, but for 2021 Middleton says it’s going to be all about polyglutamic acid: a powerhouse humectant capable of holding and trapping in four times as much moisture as hyaluronic acid.
“With COVID-face—the phenomenon of dull, sagging skin caused by more time indoors in front of screens and wearing masks—on the rise, consumers are seeking new science-backed solutions that deliver deep hydration and polyglutamic acid (PGA) ticks all the boxes,” she says. “The secret to its magic is the large molecules that form a thin film on the skin’s surface, preventing water loss and plumping fine lines and brightening lackluster complexions. Early adopters of PGA include Charlotte Tilbury’s Magic Serum and The Inkey List’s single-ingredient serum of the same name.”
RELATED: Meet Polyglutamic Acid: The Buzzy New Ingredient That’s Taking Over Our Skincare Routines
As the concern over blue light damage continues to grow among consumers who remain stuck working from home, many retailers have also noted an influx of innovative new products designed to combat its harmful effects. According to Inge, the demand for these products has become so great in recent months that Cult Beauty has since unveiled a dedicated category on its site called Blue Light Radiation Protection. Some of the blue light protection products that she’s most excited about are those that harness the power of marine ingredients—a trend that she’s calling “oceanic beauty.”
“This trend is driving interest in ingredients such as sea plasma, marine collagen, astaxanthin, and forms of algae to address consumers’ growing concern over protecting their skin against blue-light radiation,” she adds. One of the leading brands to note in this space, she says, is One Ocean Beauty, which formulates its products using lab-grown marine bio-ferments to limit the unsustainable large-scale harvesting that’s common with most other ocean-derived ingredients. “The brand’s products also come in 100% recyclable packaging,” she adds, “and gives back to the charity Oceana. This type of 360-degree impact consideration for brands is becoming increasingly more important, as we see a new type of customer—the ‘Values Shopper’—emerge for whom greenwashing simply doesn’t cut it.”
This increased interest in plant and botanical ingredients isn’t relegated solely to the ocean either. While interest in cannabinoids continues to grow, no doubt, in response to the mounting stress and anxiety that we’ve all experienced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, WGSN is predicting the rise of a new cannabis compound. Enter CBN.
“Another derivative of the cannabis plant, CBN has stronger sedative qualities than CBD, making it particularly relevant during this post-pandemic era where ‘Covid-somnia’ and anxiety is part of the new norm,” says Middleton. “With sleep also vital to a strong immune system, wellness brands such as Californian-based Kikoko and Colorado-based Slumber CBN are creating CBN nighttime tinctures and gummies to aid restorative sleep and boost overall health and wellbeing. Also, watch out for ‘cannabinoid layering’ in 2021. Similar to fragrance layering in beauty, compounds, including CBN, CBD, and THC, are blended to enhance their individual benefits via the ‘entourage effect.'”
Should cannabis-infused products not be your thing, don’t worry. As evidenced by Google’s annual report of the most-searched beauty trends of 2020, staple ingredients like retinol, vitamin C, and hyaluronic acid aren’t going anywhere. If anything, they’re only getting better. “I will always put my money on proven, researched ingredients like retinol, vitamin C, and hyaluronic acid,” says Choi, who anticipates seeing high-tech upgrades to these ingredients in the form of new encapsulation methods and innovative freeze-dried formats, such as Saro de Rúe’s Freeze-Dried Hyaluronic Acid Anti-Aging System—one of our favorite new K-beauty launches.
- Microbiome-Friendly Skincare
Microbiome health has been a buzzword in the beauty industry for some time now, but after years of overindulging in an ever-growing list of products, ingredients, and harsh exfoliants, experts agree that they expect to see a “less is more” approach to skincare take hold in 2021. “We’ve spent way too long overzealously exfoliating our skin, and it’s taking its toll,” says Choi. “[As a result,] microbiome-specific skincare and slow, conscious beauty products that meet our new normal of using skincare as self-care will continue to gain traction. At Violet Grey, we have always believed in the less-is-more philosophy, taking a mindful approach to our curation, which we believe is ever more important and relevant now and in the future. That ideology goes hand-in-hand with sustainability and the environmental impact that the beauty industry has, which will also be a major focus over the next year and beyond.”
In addition to the rise of more minimalist skincare routines—Pinterest recently coined the phrase “skinimalism” to describe this growing trend—experts believe that we’ll also start to see a move towards products intended to soothe and rehydrate stressed, sensitive skin. In that case, prepare to see a spike in skincare products touting things like probiotics and fermented ingredients, all of which are said to help restore and maintain the balance of our skin’s delicate microbiome.
- ‘Cult of Personality’ Brands
However you feel about celebrity and influencer-driven beauty brands, there’s no denying the hold they continue to have on the industry. From Rihanna’s Fenty Skin to Jennifer Lopez’s recently launched JLo Beauty line, celebrity brands hit peak saturation in 2020, and by the looks of it, they’re just getting started.
“Beauty is experiencing the ‘cult of personality’ like never before, and the brands behind these names will only continue to thrive in 2021,” says Inge. “From the individuals who have elevated themselves and their products through their live videos (such as Patrick Ta, Patrick Starrr, and James Charles) to the frank, impassioned activism of UOMA Beauty’s founder Sharon Chuter, and the infectious enthusiasm of Charlotte Tilbury, Huda Kattan, and most recently Jamie Genevieve, those who invite us to not only glimpse but be part of their worlds, are creating new ways to engage with their (often eponymous) ranges.”
At Sephora, one of the celebrity brands Razzano says they’re most excited about for 2021 is Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty line. “I think Rare Beauty is going to be very big in 2021,” he notes. “The stylish yet effortless approach to makeup that Rare Beauty is offering appeals to a huge span of beauty lovers. Plus, they are offering a lot of new, innovative formulas that are gaining attention. For instance, the Rare Beauty Soft Pinch Liquid Blush has opened up a whole new generation to the world of liquid blushes. This formula is so easy to apply, and it melts into the skin, creating a hyper-realistic effect that can be worn by anyone, at any age. The whole brand consists of this type of ‘makeup for everyone.’
- Biotech Beauty
If you haven’t yet heard of biotech beauty, get ready, because according to experts, you’re going to see it everywhere in 2021. Falling under the same sustainability umbrella as “waterless” and “refillable beauty,” biotech beauty is the term used to describe lab-made ingredients that either fuse natural ingredients with synthetic chemicals or create synthetic alternatives to natural ingredients. As sustainability and waste issues continue to loom over the beauty industry, many brands are now tapping into the biotech industry to help innovate, enhance sustainability, and create better, safer ingredients at scale.
“Innovation in biotech beauty will advance beyond our imaginations this year,” Choi tells us. “We’ve already seen beauty brands tap into the biotech space with breakthroughs like Augustinus Bader’s TFC8 Complex, U Beauty’s Siren Capsule technology, and 111SKIN’s patented NAC Y2 formula, which was first developed to help astronauts combat the many skin-sagging and cell-damaging effects of space. This trend will only continue as we move into 2021.”
Besides enhancing sustainability and combating a growing scarcity of natural ingredients globally, biotech ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid and squalane, are also thought to be more potent and efficacious, making them a win-win for clean beauty devotees. “We expect to see expert-led skincare brands with specialized ingredients continue to be a key focus this year,” adds Hands, who also names Augustinus Bader, U Beauty, and Dr. Barbara Sturm as a few of her favorite brands within this space. “We believe sustainability will grow across all categories with an increasing focus on recycled packaging, refill programs, and clean ingredients specifically.”
- All About The Eyes
If there was one segment of the makeup industry that thrived in 2020, it was the eye category, and according to Razzano, it’s showing no signs of slowing down. “With most people wearing masks while out and about, we are seeing a strong focus on eyes when it comes to makeup,” he says. “This has allowed brands to push the envelope in terms of innovation, resulting in some extraordinary new formulas and shades. Eyeshadows that shift between multiple colors is one way we’ll see this, and more creamy formulas that deliver unique results. The Natasha Denona -Triochrome Eyeshadow Palette has definitely captured a lot of attention [at Sephora] for that reason. The palette boasts 15 shades in a unique and beautiful assortment, with three multi-chrome shades that, when applied, create an optical color shift that is magical to behold. This type of futuristic innovation and curation will push eyeshadows to new levels this year and beyond.”
- Grown-to-Order Beauty
For many beauty brands, one of the toughest challenges of dealing with the global pandemic in 2020 was the effect it had on manufacturing and supply chains. As a result, Middleton believes that many brands will look to mitigate supply chain and overstock issues in 2021 by shifting to increasingly on-demand and made-to-order practices. She calls it “grown-to-order” beauty.
“With the specter of second and third waves of coronavirus outbreaks, retailers will need to move to more agile processes that allow them to avoid the discounting and supply chain issues faced during the summer of 2020,” she notes. “Some ways of doing this include moving towards shorter supply chains, the digitization of the supply chain (aka 3D design), and by offering pre-orders. By combining personalization and sustainability elements, grown-to-order beauty products, such as Haeckels’ algae eye masks, will only continue to grow in popularity. In this evolution of ‘slow beauty,’ consumers will move away from instant gratification and instead be part of the product’s creation process while also helping brands to avoid waste via small-batch productions.”
- Increased Inclusivity
While beauty inclusivity is hardly just a passing trend, it is something that many of the experts we spoke to noted as being of increasing importance across every aspect of the industry moving forward into the new year. At Net-A-Porter, Hands says they “will be focusing hugely on inclusivity in all categories of beauty” this year and are excited to be adding several BIPOC-owned brands to their roster in the coming months.
“[In 2021] we will be adding new brands such as Mented Cosmetics, which was created [by founders KJ Miller and Amanda E. Jonson] to reflect their belief that every woman should be able to find herself in the world of beauty, no matter her skin tone,” she tells us. “With this, we will also be launching Unsun Cosmetics, which was founded by Katonya Breaux after she became frustrated by the lack of clean sunscreen products available for women of color. [In general], I think we will also see much more focus on inclusivity within makeup, including wider shade ranges, especially in complexion and lip products.”
In recent months, we’ve also seen the launch of a growing number of online beauty platforms dedicated to showcasing Black- and brown-owned brands, many of which struggle to gain visibility in larger retail chains. Among some of the most notable sites are Candour Beauty, founded by self-care beauty devotees Jacqueline Kusamotu and Abi Lawrence-Adesida, and more recently, Thirteen Lune, which was launched late last year by cofounders Nyakio Grieco and Patrick Herning.
While this represents just a small fraction of the work that still needs to be done to ensure a more inclusive beauty industry for all, it is a sign that things are moving—albeit slowly—in the right direction.