More recently, sales of lipstick at John Lewis department stores in the United Kingdom rose 31 per cent in the three months to the end of June last year in the wake of Brexit.
However, with beauty retailer Mecca forced to shutter its 100 stores across Australia and New Zealand owner Jo Horgan said it was too early to tell whether the lipstick effect would deliver sales.
Ms Horgan has focused on Mecca’s online offering in a bid to retain a portion of last year’s $444 million turnover and has launched a virtual host experience of free and personalised beauty consultations via FaceTime for Mecca customers.
“My gut feeling is that as people are self-isolating at home, they will be looking for ways that they can take care of themselves during this time and really nourish the soul by focusing on skin, bodies and hair treatments,” she said.
A similar trend has been evident in sales at online beauty retailer Adore Beauty, which has seen a marked increase in new customers but a failure of this to translate into lipstick sales.
Founder Kate Morris said Adore Beauty had seen three times as many new customers as normal but lipstick and lip gloss sales were down 24 per cent.
“It’s very interesting because everybody talks about the lipstick effect but that it is not what we see, we are seeing big jump in anything hygiene related. People have got the message about washing your hands, we are selling triple the amount of hand wash and hand sanitiser that we were a month ago,” she said.
Adore Beauty turned over more than $100 million last year and employs 170 staff, with Ms Morris looking to hire an additional 10 staff to cope with increased demand.
Ms Morris and her husband James Height sold a 60 per cent stake in Adore Beauty to Quadrant Private Equity last year to fund further expansion.
She said the online retailer has also recorded big jumps in “essential” categories, with moisturiser up 73 per cent on last month and hair treatments up 43 per cent.
“There are more pampering things, that is the modern lipstick effect, things like sheet masks up 150 per cent and bath oils up 120 per cent,” Ms Morris said.
However, “lipstick queen” Poppy King is banking on the lipstick effect still delivering.
Ms King recently launched her third lipstick business in the United States with a single lipstick called the Silver Bullet and said interest was strong.
“Lipstick is both a metaphor and a product and it’s equally powerful in either capacity,” she said.
“During a downturn or difficult times, people do still need a sense of possibilities for the future and lipstick is nothing if not that. Winston Churchill made sure lipstick was available during World War II because he recognised its morale boosting capacity not just for the wearer but for the viewer.”
Ms King started her first lipstick brand Poppy in Australia in 1992 during the recession and said she was sure the economic downturn was part of the reason the business attracted such strong support.
“There are an enormous number of reasons for trends in lip colour and sales, but in this case, a need for hope would have to be the biggest one,” she said.
Cara is the small business editor for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald based in Melbourne