Beauty dons the dermatology coat: the rise of skin education

Immi Marsh

Stripped of beauty bravado and false promises, science-backed beauty that gets down to the nitty gritty of formula combinations and hero ingredients, is winning over a new wave of knowledge-hungry consumers demanding more from their skincare.


Performance-based beauty that boasts a scientific edge, is more than just a ploy to woo customers with technical-sounding, multisyllabic ingredients – it’s a product of the times. The availability of digital information has swelled, we’ve spent two years indulging in slower routines which has galvanised a greater interest in skincare, and we’ve been gently reminded of science’s wonderous ability to heal - as health, and its fragility were brought sharply into the spotlight during the pandemic. Not to mention customers’ demand for granular brand transparency. This formula of factors over the years, has magnified science under a favourable lens.

 

It’s this scientific swagger that has been luring genned-up customers like a balm to dry skin: a long-awaited relief from overpriced lotions and potions that fall short of the miracle cream they claim to be. Because of this, ingredients such as Salicylic Acid, Niacinamide and Retinoid that target specific skin concerns, have been packing a potent punch, adding a more serious, grown-up air to beauty’s product cabinet, as the enticing main event.

Of course, it’s important to add that ingredient-focused beauty is nothing new, per se. The Ordinary, who rose to cult-like popularity with its signature, chemist-style pipets, and who showed the industry that quality didn’t have to be overpriced, have been doing so for years. But as this no-frills approach becomes the new beauty barometer, it’s super-powering a demand for deeper levels of knowledge, crowning a new generation of customers as ‘skintellectuals’, empowered with information and a greater understanding of what their skin wants. The student is quickly becoming the master.

 

Beauty education, cast under the microscope

Scientific-backed beauty now beckons a forum for education, putting brands at the front of the class as knowledge gateways. Because while customers may appear to be nipping at the heels of dermatologists, knowing their Hyaluronics from their Glycolics, fake news is still a very 21st Century problem, with conflicting skincare misinformation rampant on social media. According to research by British beauty brand No7, interestingly, 55% of customers across the world find skincare and cosmetics complex and confusing. Enter: the new beauty brand professors.

No7 joins the likes of Dr Barbara Sturm - founded by the eponymous aesthetics doctor – in launching online skin schools to educate celebrities, content creators and customers alike. No7’s new programme with the British Beauty Council aims to arm influencers with the skincare information they need to be able to educate their followers in a bid to dispel misinformation once and for all. Knowledge is now an absolute non-negotiable, especially for the likes of Gen Z - the brand must be cast under the microscope for greater inspection, warts and all.

As ingredient-cognisant customers shop increasingly by specific acids, serums and formula blends, rather than by favoured labels, brands must work even harder to earn loyalty and trust, and gain an edge on the rest. Even more so when you consider that TikTok can catapult drugstore brands into cult-like skincare positions at the drop of a hat, and big players like Off-white, Farfetch and Next all continue to break out into beauty at pace. The beauty playing field just got a little more crowded, with an array of new players, making the game all the more interesting.

The Inkey List, Covent Garden pop-up

Dr Barbara Sturm, Skin School

Knowledge is power, after all

The Inkey List, who was born from a belief that better knowledge, powers better decisions, have been causing something of a beauty buzz, cooking up a blend of affordable prices, personalised services and ingredient-powered products. Founded in 2018 by Colette Laxton and Mark Curry, the duo hope the brand will be a $100,000 success – and they’re certainly on the right track. Schmoozing customers with the allure of education, their Covent Garden pop-up last month recast the classroom setting into an interactive learning experience, with gamified education opportunities that taught visitors about the benefits of each ingredient, with a helping dose of all-important product sampling.

Also fulfilling the penchant for science is Trinny Woodhall, whose beauty brand Trinny London hosted a super sensorial three-day pop-up experience at the Vinyl Factory to celebrate the brand's recent skincare launch. Skincare experts decked out in white lab coats showed guests how to build their skincare journey with the brand’s online tool, in a decisively sterile room. Immersive zones, filled with sensory delights – pink bubbles and revitalising ginger shots - each spoke to the benefits of their products.

Cemented by the fact that 51% of Gen Z and Millennials value the in-store beauty experience, brands that want to stay one step ahead of the cultural curve, should consider recasting their stores into skincare labs, seminar sessions, and places for customised product mixology, catering to the customer craving to know more. Doing so, plays into that sweet spot of highly-personalised, clinical beauty, all the while acting as an abundant data net for refining product development.

Clinical beauty, spilling into spatial design

 

It’s not just pipettes and product development, though. Chinese beauty brand Harmay who raised $200M in funding earlier this year, has a growing network of stores across Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing that echo the evolution of scientific affinity. Manifesting as a stripped back, industrial aesthetic with a dystopian edge, they blend high-end luxury with an air of scientific authority.

Educational pedestals that give customers a knowledgeable leg-up, are paramount to earning trust, setting them apart from the rest. B+Tube Cosmetics is one such brand. Their store in Changdu, China speaks to both Gen Z’s expectation of laboratory level expertise, as well as their appetite for freedom of expression. Clinical perforated steel, juxtaposed with an iridescent cathedral-like arch houses an education centre at the heart of the store, giving customers the chance to learn and experiment with products through tutorials and virtual try-ons.

Harmay flagship store, Hong Kong

Harmay flagship store, Beijing

The future

The boom in beauty education is helping to steer more pragmatic, honest conversations around beauty, which can only be a positive for an industry which has been fixated with the smoke and mirrors of perfection. Brands now absolutely have to be the mouthpiece of scientific information, especially if they want to connect with a sceptical, younger audience.

The opportunities to tap into this groundswell by educating a knowledge-hungry cohort are now ripe for the taking, and they should be taken quickly, especially as brand loyalty ebbs and flows amid the competition.

Knowledge is power, after all, and by equipping people with the confidence to be their best, you can’t argue with the power in that.

 

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5 min25 May 22