CURVES

Expensive haircare could be replacing lipstick as a recession indulgence

US shoppers are skipping the salon, but still spending on fancy products and gadgets for their strands
The salon experience but at home. 
The salon experience but at home. 
Screenshot: Shark
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Splurging on a hairdryer that costs several hundred dollars may not seem like the most obvious recession-proofing move, but shoppers were happy to snap up Shark Flexstyle and Dyson Airwrap stylers over the past weekend. Both products, which go for $300 and $600 respectively, were named bestsellers over the Black Friday to Cyber Monday period by Amazon and Adobe.

Although shoppers are tightening their wallets, buying expensive hair devices or at-home salon products is proving a popular value option, akin to “the lipstick effect”—the decades-old theory that the beauty sector is resilient even during economic downturns because people turn to small luxuries to treat themselves.

Lately, though, this widely accepted business adage has diverged with the market. Large cosmetics firms like L’oreal, Beiersdorf, and Estee Lauder, the originator of the phrase back in 2000, have reported weaker than expected sales.

Haircare seems to be the exception within beauty spending. During the pandemic, when salons were closed, many people learned how to style their own hair. Today, a lot of workers still have a flexible hybrid work situation so they can continue that to some degree and buying expensive salon level products to recreate the experience themselves works out a lot cheaper for their wallets. People may still need to go in for some services like a balayage or a cut, but they can reduce the number of times they see a professional by doing a root touch-up or blowout at home.

“Since the onset of the pandemic, consumers have taken more of their hair routines in-house, sought ways to treat themselves outside of the salon, and have grown more educated on hair conditions and product ingredients,” said Larissa Jensen, beauty industry advisor at research firm NPD Group.

Brands like Dyson and Shark see the opportunity

Last month, Dyson doubled down on its beauty strategy. The British firm said it would invest 500 million pounds into the division and plans to launch 20 new beauty products over the next four years. Just six years ago, the company was known mainly for its vacuum cleaners.

SharkNinja, a competitor that mainly sold cleaning products too is attempting a similar expansion. It launched the FlexStyle in August, essentially a Dyson Airwrap “dupe.”

The weakening in the salon sector is something that haircare brand Olaplex has been grappling with, as well. The cult premium brand markets itself as a science-based, professional hair-care line and relied a lot on sales to stylists, who in turn use the products on customers in the chair. But it saw a marked fall in its sales to professionals in the third quarter. That channel fell 16% from the same time a year ago, in contrast to retail which rose by 60%.

“We believe macroeconomic concerns are impacting the stylist community,” Olaplex CFO Eric Tiziani said during the brand’s earnings call last month. The firm said it would try to boost professional revenue with an affiliate program. That would allow stylists to get a commission by directing clients to olaplex.com, even if stylists are not buying product from the brand to stock in their salons.

The “skinification” of haircare

Whether it’s devices or lotions, prestige haircare is a category that’s been on the rise. Although it used to be standard for consumers to buy a shampoo or conditioner for less than $5, hair serums, masks, and glosses that cost five or eight times that now fill the market. It’s a trend the industry refers to as the “skinification” of hair.

Brands have expanded haircare to encompass many steps, akin to skincare regimes, and for more specific concerns too. Consumers plan to purchase more targeted hair-related products, including hair and scalp treatments, relaxers, chemical straighteners, hair gummies, and vitamins, according to NPD’s “Future of Hair” report. This category is expected to continue to grow an average of 15% until 2024.