An Analysis of Brexit’s Impact on the Beauty Industry

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When you heard the news that the U.K. voted 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent in favor of leaving the European Union, the first thought on your mind probably wasn’t: What will happen to my makeup bag? (Maybe, like us, you feverishly Googled Brexit to get a crash course in what the heck it all meant.) But the truth is the makeup thing wouldn’t have been that off base.

As Leonard Lauder, then chairman of Estée Lauder, observed after the 2001 recession, beauty is a funny business. Rather than contracting, plummeting, and even folding like other markets, at times, cosmetic sales have actually increased in the face of financial crisis. He coined the phrase “lipstick index,” which theorizes that lipstick (and blush/highlighter/mascara/foundation), being less expensive than, say, designer dresses, helped consumers fill their psychological shopping void without emptying their wallets. And while the lipstick index isn’t foolproof, there’s something to it. When the world went bonkers in 2008, the nail-polish business went gangbusters (as we’re guessing your own collection of lacquers can attest to).

But what about this time around? Let’s start by saying the unstable situation across the pond is unprecedented, and it’s not clear whether the “exit” will even happen at all. Here’s what we do know: After the vote, the value of the pound fell 10 percent overnight. And in the short term, that may be a good thing for beauty lovers—who aren’t British, at least. “European and U.S. tourists can have a shopping spree [in the U.K.],” says Geoffrey Jones, a professor of business history at Harvard Business School and the author of Beauty Imagined: A History of the Global Beauty Industry. In the long term, things could be a bit dicier. “If current projections are correct and the British end up 5 percent or so poorer than now within five years, it’s certainly not a wonderful growth scenario,” he says. Which is one way of saying that while our favorite Brit brands like Butter London, Charlotte Tilbury, and Boots No. 7 aren’t going anywhere, you might not see that many cool new launches for a minute or two.

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