Beauty At Any Price: Cosmetics Still Strong

As Congress balked at the $700 billion bank bailout and the stock market plunged last week, Dr. Howard Brooks, a cosmetic dermatologist in Washington, was asked by a female patient if his business had suffered.

“Honestly, it hasn’t,” he said. She replied, “I can’t believe people are still spending this kind of money on Botox!” Brooks reminded her that she was having a Botox injection, and back came this reply: “I know, I just didn’t think that other people would be.”

That is the high-end beauty category in a nutshell: Everyone thinks hard times must be triggering women to pull back on discretionary vanity products but the opposite is true: Business is up.

Sales of prestige skincare brands at high-end department stores rose 2% to $1 billion in the first half, according to NPD Group. Products costing more than $70 were up 8%; those above $150 gained 21%. Similar increases were seen in fragrances and makeup. Analyst Karen Grant at NPD Group, Port Washington, N.Y., said the trend is global: Women “are not walking away from products that they love.”

The beauty industry is forging ahead as if the meltdown were a mere bagatelle: Mintel analyst Taya Tomasello recorded 27 new skincare products launched this year that cost more than $200. Last year there were just 16 launches like that. It was the same in fragrances, she said. Some launches have had a Marie Antoinette-like quality to them: