by Elisabeth King

Social media and new technologies fuel global face mask boom

There’s no big secret behind the soaring global success of face masks. For the past five years, women of all ages have been upping the ante in their skincare routines. Not everyone wants to splash out three figures on a professional facial and at-home face masks provide a less expensive and time-saving alternative. The cosmetic industry has come a long way from the Phantom of the Opera-style clay masks once beloved by teens. No matter what the skincare concern, there’s a customised mask solution available to dramatically improve the skin in minutes.

Social media and digital have fuelled the boom as chasing camera-ready skin has become a global obsession. According to Google data, the top 10 mask-related skincare videos in the US, France and Japan scored 98 million views in 2016. Victoria Beckham, Adele, Lady Gaga and a host of other celebrities have Instagrammed themselves enjoying anti-ageing, de-toxing and hydrating face masks. Eighty-two per cent of women surveyed feel that social media has impacted the definition of beauty, reports Trendanalytics.
Leading dermatologists, usually conservative commentators when it comes to non-prescription skincare, are fully on board with the mask trend. Celebrity New York dermatologist, Doris Day, recently told US Harper’s Bazaar magazine that she had long hoped that face masks would become a phenomenon. “The right mask will enhance the penetration and efficacy of all the other products in your routine. If you’re not using them, you’re missing a hugely beneficial step in your skincare regimen,” she says.

New Technologies From Asia

Even though masks are among the oldest beauty treatments, dating back to the ancient Egyptians, new technologies have revolutionised the category. Spring-boarded by the K-Beauty craze, sheet masks, which resemble post-op bandages, have become one of the fastest-growing beauty segments. According to Transparency Market Research, the global sheet mask market alone will grow from US$160 million in 2015 to US$336.7 million by 2024. Three top brands – Sephora, Starskin and Estée Lauder – dominate sales with a market share of 36.5 per cent. The Asia/Pacific area is the world’s largest skincare market worth US$58.9 billion a year, by contrast to Western Europe at US$20.2 billion and North America at US$18.9 billion. The region is also the global hotspot for face mask sales, led by China. Since 2012, the sector has been enjoying double digit growth, reaching sales of US$2.85 billion in 2016, says Mintel. By 2021, says the researcher, revenues are expected to rise to US$5.91 billion. To gain traction in China’s lucrative face mask market, L’Oréal bought the Chinese face mask brand, Magic Holdings, in 2014 for US$845 million. 

Rinse-off , peel-off and multi-step masks have the highest penetration in China. But in South Korea and Japan, between 40 and 50 per cent of new facial mask launches have anti-ageing claims, in contrast to only 25 per cent with similar benefits in China. According to Jessica Jin, beauty and personal care associate director at Mintel – “The success of online channels has contributed to the growth of China’s beauty and personal care market, especially in the facial mask category. However, there is no strong brand loyalty as our research shows that there is similar interest among female mask consumers to try out premium and new brands”. In Australia, Canada and the US, immigration continues to be skewed towards the Asia/Pacific region which is strongly contributing to face mask sales in all three markets. But thanks to social media and the shift in consumer perceptions of positioning from luxury to masstige/mass, face masks are increasingly regarded as affordable daily necessities. According to the NPD Group, annual sales in the prestige mask category in the US jumped 60 per cent from 2013 to 2014, hitting US$65.5 million. Like L’Oréal, Estée Lauder also went shopping for a mask brand with growth potential, buying US-based GlamGlow in 2014. Another Korean trend – sleep masks – have also prompted brands as diverse as La Prairie and Garnier to off er their versions of the gel-like products which are applied overnight, don’t harden and any excess is removed in the morning. 

Customisation Rules

The days of the one-size-fits-all mask are gone for good reason. Masks are least successful when consumers try to fix several skin issues at once. To get turbo-charged results, specific problems have to be targeted. Hydrating, brightening/whitening,  detoxifying, anti-acne and anti-ageing are among the most popular types of masks. More exotic ingredients such as snail slime grab the headlines, but the most widely-used ingredients are very familiar to consumers, including hyaluronic acid, peptides, clay and vitamins – with organic actives carving out a growing niche. 

Another South Korean innovation on the upswing are splash masks, which reduce the beauty ritual from 20 minutes to 20 seconds. Depending on the type, splash masks contain exfoliating acids and/or herbs. Water is added and they are quickly splashed onto the face. 

Another trend gaining traction is the bubble mask, often containing charcoal, collagen or green tea extract. The bubbles erupt when the carbonated ingredients are exposed to oxygen and leave the skin super clean. Activated charcoal masks are also social media favourites for consumers on the hunt for deep-cleansing. Magnetic masks are even more fun to take off than the peel-off varieties. Thick and creamy, they contain iron-based powder and are simply sucked off the skin using a magnet tool. No water required and the negative-charged particles jump off the skin. 

Another Instagram regular are lace masks. Introduced to Australia by local brand Trefi el, they are as effective as they are pretty, containing brightening, firming and repairing ingredients such as aloe vera, hyaluronic acid and hydrolysed collagen. Estée Lauder has launched a world-first – the Advanced Night Repair Concentrated Recovery Powerfoil Mask – a foil-based mask filled with a hyaluronic-rich serum which is absorbed 25 times faster than a sheet mask. A penetrating action which off ers 48 hours of hydration in eight hours. 

New Directions

The sheet mask boom has even prompted St Tropez to launch the first-ever self-tanning sheet mask – the St Tropez Self Tan Express Bronzing Face Sheet Mask. Infused with a serum that blends DHA (the tanning active) with hydrating glycerin and hyaluronic acid, the mask is left on for 5 to 15 minutes depending on the depth of tan required. Any excess is rubbed in to develop into the same shades as St Tropez express tans. What’s next? Multi-use masks are trending strongly in Asia. Three-in-one products, they combine the effects of a serum, a moisturiser and a mask with ease-of-use. Hair masks have also enjoyed huge popularity since 2000, but Asia is setting the agenda in the category again, says Mintel. The rapid results of facial masks have led to a new boom in overnight hair masks.  Compared to regular wash-off treatments, overnight leave-in hair masks offer a greater level of convenience to users, who can go to bed after application without worrying about stained pillows, thanks to the adoption of innovative pillow-safe technology, says the researcher.

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