Is Scalp Care the New Skin Care? | BoF Professional, The Business of Beauty, News & Analysis

After almost a decade in business, skin care brand BeautyBio expanded into hair care last year. But rather than formulating an entirely new product, the brand launched a version of its at-home facial microneedling tool designed specifically for the scalp.

BeautyBio promised its new tool, which could be purchased with or without a complementary scalp serum, would stimulate hair growth while also treating other concerns like dryness and itchiness. As a marketing tool, the premise worked: within 90 days, the brand sold through six months worth of product. Even though it only launched in October, the scalp care offering already accounts for 20 percent of BeautyBio’s overall business.

“[Selling out of product has] been our biggest challenge. Honestly, I feel like if we had had more stock, it would be 25 or 30 percent of the business already because the demand has been so strong,” said BeautyBio founder Jamie O’Banion. “I’ve never seen a rise in mix of business that quickly. It just shows you how primed the consumer is, and how excited she is to lean into this space.”

BeautyBio’s scalp care success represents a broader shift in the way that beauty consumers are approaching hair care, by treating their scalp with the same rigour and attention as they would the skin on their face. The wellness boom is driving the change, as beauty consumers are increasingly opting for treatments and products that boost overall health and wellbeing, hoping that careful scalp care is the best way to nurture a healthy mane.

Cult Beauty founder Alexia Inge first saw what she called the “skinification of hair care” — the idea of taking ingredient formulations and rituals associated with skin care and applying them to hair care regimes — start to take off in 2017. But it’s been over the past couple of years that the category has come into its own. The Covid-19 pandemic has only fuelled the trend, as interest in self-care and wellness surged, while closed salons forced consumers to turn to at-home hair maintenance solutions.

“People started applying expectations from other categories [like skin care], which, let’s face it, have always been a lot more innovative than hair care,” said Inge. “Hair care has rested on its laurels, probably because it was such an old-fashioned salon channel.”

People started applying expectations from other categories, which, let’s face it, have always been a lot more innovative than hair care.

These shifts are indicative of a new dawn for haircare, as heightened expectations from savvy consumers have pushed the sector — which has remained relatively stagnant compared to categories like skincare — to innovate.

Hair care has also proved to be worth investing in: the broader category has remained resilient over the past year. Despite pandemic disruption, the global market grew 2.4 percent last year, reaching $79.9 billion, according to research firm Euromonitor International. By comparison, skin care, another hot category over the pandemic, only grew 1.1 percent. (Though both did substantially better than colour cosmetics, which saw sales decline by 6.2 percent.) In the lucrative US market, the prestige hair care category posted 8 percent growth in 2020, according to NPD Group.

“While the [$914 million] hair category is small in prestige, it has consistently exhibited strength through the most challenging times,” said Larissa Jensen, beauty industry analyst at NPD Group, adding that the firm expects the category will continue to perform strongly this year.

At Cult Beauty, sales of scalp scrubs and treatments have grown 330 percent over the last year. Popular products include The Inkey List’s caffeine stimulating scalp treatment, Goop’s G.Tox Himalayan salt scalp scrub shampoo, and Naturelab Tokyo’s clarifying scalp scrub.

New products targeting scalp care-conscious consumers have flooded the market, with new names like Centred and Headquarters launching in the space, while existing brands are continuing to build out wellness-focused lines.

Briogeo, which first launched its scalp care line in 2017, released a new charcoal and tea tree scalp mask in February. Shoppers can buy the mask individually, or as part of a “scalp solutions set,” which includes other treatments in the line and a scalp massaging tool.

“We really formulated hair care very similar to how skin care formulations are made, so being really thoughtful about the ingredients,” said founder Nancy Twine. This means using “a lot of those same ingredients you see in a really robust skin care regimen,” including natural oils, vitamins and antioxidants.

Centred, a hair care brand founded by former beauty analyst Laura Tudor after she started experiencing hair loss due to stress, also emphasises the ingredients her products contain. The brand’s hero product, “En-Root scalp treatment,” includes ingredients more commonly associated with facial skin care products, such as tea tree oil and salicylic acid. Glamour magazine described the product as a “facial for your scalp.”

“This element of self care has been really huge for us,” said Tudor. “The lines have become much more blurred for hair care and wellness, especially over the last year as we all had to kind of learn to look after our hair a lot more at home.”

The lines have become much more blurred for hair care and wellness, especially over the last year.

Beyond a focus on ingredients, brands are building out product ranges that mirror multi-step skin care routines, promoting detailed regimens to its customers. Headquarters, a new hair wellness and root care brand incubated by Harry’s Labs, the brand development arm of Harry’s Inc., markets a four-step hair care routine inspired by skin care regimes, offering a choice of lines that cater to dry, combination or oily roots.

“We knew that this was a really new space within the category and we knew that education was really going to be key here,” said general manager Lee Lenox. As such, visitors to the Headquarters website can take a short quiz to find out their scalp type and receive a tailored step-by-step routine guide detailing the role and ingredients of each product, as well as instructions on how to apply.

The routine-based approach to product merchandising has worked well for the new brand, which offers shoppers a 20 percent discount if they purchase the full regime at once. Two months into launch, 90 percent of their consumers are purchasing the full four steps.

Wellness’ influence on the hair industry shows little sign of slowing down. Even as the world emerges from the pandemic, heightened consumer interest in self care is likely to continue.

“What we’re spending a lot of time on is [looking at] the things that have shifted as a result of Covid, the way that all of our lives have shifted, and what impact that has had on consumer behaviour,” said Harry’s Labs vice president Tehmina Haider. “This accelerated focus on wellness and really taking care of yourself from the inside out is going to be one that continues to touch many other categories.”

Cult Beauty’s Inge believes the industry is still at the beginning of this new frontier in hair care.

“I think infiltration of the wellness category into the hair category has only just begun,” said Inge. “Hair care is still very early on its journey … I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody comes up with a jade roller for your hair.”

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