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Lipstick Index no longer relevant with masks

The Lipstick Index was coined by former Estee Lauder Chairman Leonard Lauder as a reflection of the economy’s health.

MINNEAPOLIS — In times of economic downturn, we look to different indicators. One that caught our eyes this week was the Lipstick Index. To take our minds off the coronavirus pandemic, we’re going to talk about make up as a welcome distraction.

“That’s why it’s so fun to talk about makeup and things we can do for ourselves,” University of St. Thomas Marketing professor Kim Sovell said. “It’s not about the beauty. It’s about feeling good.”

And perhaps few know more about selling makeup than former chairman of the Estee Lauder company, Leonard Lauder. He’s the guy who coined the terms “Lipstick Index.”

“It was coined right around 9/11,” Sovell said. “What he noticed was that lipstick sales increased right one month after 9/11 and he thought that was interesting and indicative of women buying themselves a little pick-me-up. A treat. When the world was facing - especially in the U.S. - was facing a tremendous amount of questions.”

According to Lauder, as it is quoted in Investopedia, ‘Leading Lipstick Indicator’ refers to: “an economic indicator which suggests that consumers turn to less expensive indulgences, such as lipstick, when they do not feel confident about the economic future.”

Sovell said while that is true in part, it’s not very scientific.

“I think it’s kind of a stretch,” she said. “I think it’s an indicator of consumer preference or consumer behavior but it’s already been discredited as not a very good economic indicator.”

Plus, especially right now when we’re all donning masks when we’re in public, the lipstick argument … smudges.

“I do think masks are in fact changing our needs and it’s funny,” Sovell said. “What we’re seeing now are increases in sales in eye makeup.”

Sovell said if the mask will keep us safe but stifle our smile, we’ll always find other ways to make smiling with our eyes, sexier.

“It’s a matter of enhancing our eyebrows, lash extensions, earrings that grab attention other than just the lips,” she said.

So the lipstick isn’t mask-proof. The Lipstick Index isn’t pandemic-proof. However, when it comes to consumer behaviors, proof is in the pudding that right now, comfort and self care are in the spotlight.

“It was the social media influencers that really kind of drove some of our behavior,” Sovell said, referring to the times before the pandemic. “And then the pandemic hit and we’re staying home and I do think there is—doing yoga at home, working out at home, articles that I’m seeing come through my feed are more about getting your eight hours of sleep.”