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What keeps India glowing?

The Indian beauty market is exploding, driven by young consumers who view make-up as self-care and are willing to splurge and experiment

The shift towards skincare-first make-up, which started becoming visible during the pandemic, has made the beauty shopper more willing to spend and experiment.(iStockphoto)

By Pooja Singh

LAST PUBLISHED 23.02.2024  |  04:00 PM IST

It started as a joke. Niraj Mehta was watching his wife follow a make-up tutorial video on “how to give face definition", mimicking every move of a blonde woman on the mobile phone. The result was “quite good", Mehta recalls telling his wife. It was 2020, the first year of the covid lockdown, there was not much to do. Just for fun and to break the monotony of being cooped up at home, he decided to experiment with his wife’s contouring stick as well.

“It felt cathartic," says Mehta, now 40, referring to the little boost of self-esteem it gave him. “I used a little bit of make-up. I had always been the type who thought ‘men don’t use make-up’, but for a minute I forgot about the (covid) virus."

Today, the marketing executive, who works with a multinational in Gurugram in Haryana, contours his face whenever he steps out for get-togethers, weddings and meetings. His efforts to define his features with the contouring stick are “hardly noticeable" but enough for his self-confidence.

He’s added another routine to the start and end of his day: cleanse, exfoliate and moisturise. Mehtas’s spend on international and homegrown beauty products is around 30,000 every three-four months. His explanation is simple: “I am not trying to look 20. I am just trying to feel good at 40."

Mehta might belong to a small group of Indian males who have integrated make-up and skincare into their lives, but his sentiments reflect a subtle but significant shift in the way consumers, regardless of gender, across the country view beauty products. They want their waterproof foundation, nude brown lipstick or creamy peach blush not just to give them a flushed look, but also nourish the skin with natural or active ingredients.

The shift towards skincare-first make-up, which started becoming visible during the pandemic, has made the beauty shopper more willing to spend and experiment. So has exposure to beauty filters and trends on social media (plump lips are in, 3D lips are out; #don’tagelikemilk; rice water toner works for dry skin, but oh, wait, it might not), making them far more conscious about fine “stress" lines and something as natural as ageing. Embracing this shift in perception becomes all the more attractive for beauty brands when they consider the rise in the tech-savvy population with more disposable income.

A 2023 report by BMI, a Fitch Solutions company, says within the next three years, India’s consumer market will jump two spots up to become the world’s No.3, behind China and the US. India’s household spending will spill over $3 trillion by 2027, with over a quarter of households touching $10,000 in disposable income annually.

The Indian beauty market grew from $12.3 billion in 2018 to $15.6 billion in 2022, according to market research firm Euromonitor International. It is expected to hit the $30-billion mark within the next three years, according to a report by Redseer Strategy Consultants in collaboration with Peak XV, a venture capital firm.


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Within this space, the Indian male grooming products market is also growing: It reached $2 billion in 2022, according to the International Market Analysis Research and Consulting Group. The market research group predicts it to reach over $3 billion by 2028. Small wonder then over the past four years there’s been an influx of established international brands and new homegrown names. They are selling everything from chemical-based formulations to herbal- and Ayurveda-backed wellness cosmetics, all highlighting ingredients for the health of the skin.


In its 2023 report, The Beauty Market In 2023: A Special State Of Fashion report, McKinsey mentioned the rise of wellness as one of the disruptive themes for the global beauty industry. “... the lines between beauty and wellness are expected to continue blurring, with the combined opportunity representing close to $2 trillion globally for brands, retailers, and investors," it states. “Wellness-inspired products—such as skincare and make-up with probiotic and Ayurvedic ingredients, ingestible supplements, and beauty devices like LED face masks—have already captured the attention of consumers embracing greater self-care and mindfulness in their post-pandemic daily routines. The melding of wellness and beauty will only become more pronounced in the years ahead, in line with an expected CAGR of 10% to 2027 for the wellness industry."

While there’s no official India-specific research on the changing buyer perception, a quick glance at the latest offerings by established as well as emerging brands reflect how, for shoppers, beauty products now qualify as self-care. There’s a range of offerings at all price points: a 299 kohl stick with castor oil, 499 lipstick rich in jojoba, 2,999 ashwagandha moisturiser, 1,300 snail mucin serum, 5,500 hyaluronic acid-rich foundation. Whether it’s a celebrity-owned brand like Katrina Kaif’s Kay Beauty (see ‘Meet Katrina Kaif, the beauty entrepreneur’), a legacy name like Lakmé or an international label like Hermès, the messaging is clear: make-up wants to be synonymous with wellness.

“Beauty is now a holistic concept that encompasses overall well-being. It’s not just about external appearances," says Falguni Nayar, the founder of multi-beauty and lifestyle brand Nykaa, which has brought international brands like Charlotte Tilbury and Pat McGrath Labs to India. “Consumers, especially millennials and post-millennials, are now increasingly interested in make-up products that promote skin health, self-care and mental well-being."

It also helps that online platforms like Nykaa, Tira Beauty, Sephora and Shopper’s Stop have made online shopping quick, easy and more accessible.

India is likely to emerge as a new global hot spot for all things beauty, McKinsey predicts in its The Beauty Market In 2023: A Special State Of Fashion report. “... Many brands will align their geographic strategies to this new world order, which will require a variety of localized playbooks," it says.

At present, India is the world’s fourth largest beauty market in terms of revenue, according to Statista. However, when it comes to per capita BPC (beauty and personal care) consumption, India is at a nascent stage, with only $15 spent, versus developing markets like Vietnam ($30) and Thailand ($100). Developed regions like the US and Europe have per capita BPC spends of more than $200. By 2030, given India’s GDP per capita growth projections (it currently stands at $2,500 and is likely to reach $5,500 in the next six years), the BPC spending per capita is estimated to reach $50.

The size of the market makes up for the country’s per capita consumption—and that’s what makes the Indian shopper attractive to beauty brands across the world. Millennials (Gen Y) and post-millennials (Gen Z), the ones armed with more knowledge, interest and money to spare, make up 52% of the country’s population; the global average is 47%.

Also read: Young India's luxury dream


“We are living in the era of skinification of make-up," says Rohan Vaziralli, the general manager at ELCA Cosmetics, the India affiliate of Estée Lauder Companies. “They (millennials and post-millennials) want variety and quality products that also work on their skin. Make-up and skincare is not frivolous for them; it’s an investment."

The phenomenon of “skinification of make-up" started gaining momentum during the pandemic. With time to spare, a desire to experiment with grandma’s remedies, and a plethora of videos to watch, out came DIY face creams and hair masks made with turmeric. By the end of the pandemic, skincare enthusiasts—mostly millennials and post-millennials—had become more informed and demanding. Brands could no longer just serve a product with a celebrity endorsement slapped on the bottle.

Brands scrambled to find a new marketing strategy that focused on celebrating the self rather than chasing a beauty ideal. In a world of filters, where Botox is as common as brow threading, customers had become aware that there’s no serum that can make a 50-year-old’s skin as soft as a baby’s. They wanted products that shifted the idea of beauty from hiding to embracing. Ironically, the age-old insecurities and anxieties over wrinkles and sagging skin also became louder, especially on social media.

Ankush Bahuguna has seen India’s attitude to beauty shift, albeit slowly. In one of his recent videos, Bahuguna, a content creator in the beauty space, for instance, did a collaboration with one of his one million-plus followers, which included a make-up session.

'We still live in a society where we are constantly reminded that being dark (skinned) is considered a bad thing,' says Ankush Bahuguna

“Priya (Vig) had white patches on her face (vitiligo), and she said to me, ‘I don’t want to hide them. I want to know how to use make-up to enhance my skin and features.’ I was honestly surprised," he says over a phone call. “We still live in a society where we are constantly reminded that being dark (skinned) is considered a bad thing," he says.

While Hindustan Unilever renamed its popular skincare brand Fair and Lovely to Glow and Lovely in 2020 after facing flak for promoting negative stereotypes, there are millions of people who are still enamoured with fair and clear skin. Some aspire to enhance their looks through treatments to resemble their Instagram filter versions in real life—all insecurities exploited and promoted by beauty brands and social media.

Renuka Shah, 16, is certain she wants to be a fashion content creator, believing it to be a “quick way to make a lot of money and lead a glamorous life". She has her family’s support but there’s a “serious hurdle": her acne-prone skin. In the past year, since the class XI student in Bihar’s Darbhanga decided on the goal, she has used her father’s credit card to buy and use products worth over 50,000, the ones she came across on social media.

“I want to start my Instagram page, but I fear people will troll me (for her acne)," says Shah. “I have tried Korean serums, rice water toners, masks. Nothing works. People are talking about glass skin; I just want clear skin that I see on my (Instagram) filter." Shah is considering using more products. If they don’t work, she says she will opt for a chemical peel.

Whether the definition of beauty is changing depends on who you ask. For Mehta, beauty is self-care. For Bahuguna, beauty is “about how you feel" and make-up is a “meditative exercise" that makes him feel in control of his life. For Shah, beauty is make-up that “shields" her and “offers joy". One thing is certain, though, there’s a lot of room for beauty players, national and international, to cater to consumer demands, whether by addressing their sense of comfort in make-up or by exploiting their fear of not looking good enough.


Like content creator Bahuguna, Vineeta Singh has also seen the change in the idea of beauty from close quarters. When she co-launched SUGAR Cosmetics nine years ago, wearing pink eyeliner was considered a “bold move". “Even red lipstick for that matter. Only if you were going for a family wedding or if you were married, were you allowed the dark colour. We were very traditional in our approach towards make-up," she says. “India has seen 10 years’ worth of growth in a span of two-three years because of the pandemic. Women have become more financially independent. Another big change that has happened is how social media is dictating the way we spend money on beauty."

Spending time watching content creators review products or simply seeing ads on social media is also influencing buying patterns. To understand the impact, Meta conducted a study of over 2,000 people last year. It found that 80% of the beauty shoppers and 76% of the fashion shoppers discover beauty and fashion brands on social media platforms. What’s more, seven out of 10 beauty content viewers and two out of three fashion content viewers watch Indian influencers, which has a big impact on their buying decisions.

That’s one of the reasons you see several influencers in brand promotions. SUGAR, too, takes that route.

In the financial year 2023, SUGAR Cosmetics posted an overall income of 428.4 crore (after taxes), up from 223.8 crore the previous year. “People say India has become a saturated market, but I believe there’s still a lot of playground," says Singh, one of the sharks on the business reality TV show Shark Tank India. “In tier II and III cities, people are still focused on moisturisers. They are just getting introduced to the concept of make-up meets wellness now. It’s going to be a permanent shift when it happens because beauty and skincare is a market that’s for everyone, no matter who and where you are."

That’s what brands like SOKU Cosmetics are hoping for. Launched earlier this month, the Hyderabad-based brand offers eyeliners, lipsticks, compact powders, face washes, face moisturisers and sunscreens, starting at an accessible price point of 199—mostly aimed at consumers in tier II and III cities. “They are as much exposed to social media as those in metro cities, but they have been slow in adapting," says Orooj Fareena, brand head at SOKU Cosmetics. “Breaking away from traditional ideas of beauty is harder in non-metro cities. When I was growing up in Gaya (in Bihar), my parents didn’t allow me to step out of the house with make-up. Now I encourage my child to wear it. Make-up is just not about looking pretty; it’s also a way to express yourself and feel good. There’s nothing wrong with it."

Plus, the sense of familiarity it offers at the end of the day. Like Mehta says, “At night, when I feel like nothing, work or life, is going according to plan, I have my (skincare) routine. It assures me some things will remain the same."

Also read: Why today’s beauty shoppers are butterfly consumers