A New Norm Calls for New Beauty Routines

By Barnes & Noble College

Top 10 Beauty Trends We’re Seeing Right Now and What They Mean for Marketers.

Let’s face it (pun intended), Gen Z college students have a lot of time on their hands these days since many of them have been stuck at home. Who isn’t looking ways to feel good despite the alarming news that’s filled our world?

Beauty products – haircare, skincare, and makeup – are playing a major role in their lives these days, on the surface, to soothe inner psyches, and improve overall well-being.

A $500 billion category*, the global beauty business, has been rocked by the coronavirus. 85% of beauty sales are bought or influenced at retail and most category products are considered nonessential. All of that said, beauty is still very much alive for Gen Z college students, although in new and different ways.

Top 10 Beauty Trends During COVID-19
Like everything else, consumers’ beauty needs, usage patterns, and purchase behaviors have drastically changed. Here are the top beauty trends that have emerged for Gen Z college students during the coronavirus pandemic.

1) D.I.Y. Beauty. From manicures and hair color to waxing and facial treatments, they’re are now doing it all at home. Boldly taking on tasks that were previously entrusted to paid professionals, now, with no choice, consumers, including Gen Z college students, have become their own beauty experts.

Smart brands, salons and even the media have stepped up to help. From chats with beauty influencers to how-to hair styling Instagram and TikTok videos to tips for at-home facials and waxing treatments, experts are sharing their know-how to educate millions of D.I.Y. beauty obsessed consumers.


2) PAMPERING Beauty. Recent research from McKinsey indicates that “skincare, haircare, and bath-and-body products appear to be benefiting from self-care and pampering trends.” Sales of masks and peels are on the rise, as are hair and nail treatments. Who hasn’t binge-watched while wearing a mask? And Gua sha facials, borrowed from the Ancient Chinese, are trending right now as they soothe Gen Z college students.

3) VIRTUAL Beauty. Gen Z is browsing and researching beauty products more than ever before. They’re desperate to fill the gap that store closures created. Without in-person testing and try-on options, consumers rely more on virtual elements to augment their shopping experience. Maybelline’s “Try it On” and Elf’s “Virtual Try On” functions are just two of many beauty brands that enable consumers to view colors and styles on themselves.

4) SOCIAL (SHOW ‘N TELL) Beauty. Influencers have been actively sharing ideas and looks on popular social media channels like Instagram, TikTok and YouTube. Take Vanessa Funes, a.k.a., @Cutcreaser, revealing her dramatic eye creations, watch the at-home French pedi tips courtesy of @beautyhacks, or get a glimpse of Kylie Jenner’s quarantine glamour. Check out the hashtags like #eyelinertutorial or #browshaping, showing the wide range of beauty tips and creativity being shared on social media. This show ‘n tell beauty surge is prompting brands to rethink their social media strategy as Gen Zers look for the latest trends and beauty help.


5) MOISTURIZING, NATURAL Beauty. College women have found beauty workarounds to deal with their newest apparel item – face masks. While many may be shying away from lip color (not wanting it to rub off on face masks), they’re opting for lip balm instead.

6) CLEAN Beauty. The 50th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22 this year placed a larger focus on responsible beauty. The concern for the environment remains a top priority for Gen Z and ethical, sustainable products still matter. This is reflected in preferences for clean beauty products with natural ingredients and waterless products, which are trending right now.

7) ZOOM-READY Beauty. As students continue to study remotely, they want to look camera ready, yet effortless as they join their daily zoom classes. Bronzers, natural lip colors and skin moisturizers that are easily and quickly applied, are tops with students, who want to get Zoom-Ready.

8) COLORFUL Beauty. Whether it be pink hair, wild nails, or color blocking eye shadow, Gen Z is looking for products to brighten their outlook – and signal that we will come out on the other side of this.

9) ALL EYES ON EYES Beauty. With masks now taking center stage, it’s all about eyes. Long lashes, pigmented shadows and bold liners are all selling well as Gen Z looks for ways to make a lasting impression above the mask.

10) MEN’S Beauty: A.K.A GROOMING. Although some experts, like Men’s Journal, advise to resist the temptation to put scissors to their own hair, Gen Z is doing it anyway. Beards are also popping up on the faces of many, so you guessed it – sales of hair and beard clippers have jumped 166% from a year ago, according to Nielsen. Other men’s grooming products for face, hair, and beard are also hot right now.

Here’s how it all translates for beauty brands.

As the world starts to re-open and Gen Z emerges from their homes, many of these beauty trends will continue.

A Direct-to-Consumer approach matters more than ever. Authentic connection with Gen Z matters in a big way. They look for assistance as they navigate beauty in our new world. They will gravitate towards brands that are not only helping them to stay safe above all else, while continuing to offer quality products and useful advice. For right now, aim to be helpful and flexible and build your customer profiling capabilities to offer more personalized service.

Expect Gen Z to continue shopping for beauty online, well after brick and mortar has opened again. Investing now in DTC capabilities will serve brands well for the long run.

Get samples into Gen Zs hands right now. With social distancing restrictions still in place across the country, consumers may miss the chance to explore, try, and buy at retail. Make free samples quickly available via web order boxes and other direct sample distribution methods.

Look ahead. Determine new ways to engage Gen Z college students in retail settings once the world opens back up. How will you sell curbside? How will you reconfigure in-store displays to keep shopping safe? How many one-time-use samples will be needed in-store? What new training of your field personnel will be required?

Who We Are and How We Can Help Beauty Brands.
Barnes & Noble College is the official campus store at 770 U.S colleges and we live and breathe college. We speak with 6 million college students every day – online, in-person, and via social media and mobile devices.

Now, more than ever before, as college students spend more time online, we can help brands connect with the 18-to-22-year old Gen Z consumer, at the right time and place, delivering the highest possible ROI.


Students are now preparing for Back-to-School 2020.
Whether they’ll be on campus or online, we’ll be right there with them.
Your brand should join us!
Click to learn more.


Looking for insights as your brand navigates through current challenges?
Read: Pivot Now. How to Adjust the Course of Your Gen Z College Marketing Program for Fall 2020 Back-to-School.

Get Started

Create experiences that drive brand awareness and acquire new customers for your brand.

Partner With Us