Leigh Campbell: We need to talk about the phenomenon of 'rich girl skin'.

2020 has been the year of a lot of things, with thanks going to that little green lurgy known as COVID-19. 

The fancy matching tracksuits can stay, I say, while the decline in deodorant sales is troubling, and hopefully temporary. 

And the bonafide boom in skincare sales is absolutely undeniable.

Women (and men, too), are purchasing and slathering on more creams and gels and serums and lotions than ever before.

Which is not surprising, really. 

Watch: Here's how you self care, according to your horoscope. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia

The Lipstick Index is a theory, coined by Leonard Lauder of Estee Lauder fame, that marries an increase in the purchase of cosmetics with a downturn in the economy. It’s believed that in difficult times, people forgo a serious splurge (a car, a coat) for a more affordable luxury (a serum, a lipstick). It proves that people are still going to treat themselves, maybe even more so to cheer themselves up, during times of unrest - it’s just the ‘what’ that changes. 

So why skincare? For a couple of reasons. 

In terms of evolution of the human race (deep, I know) it’s believed that there’s a primal urge to preserve the species, meaning in times of worldwide crisis or unrest, women subconsciously primp and prime themselves to appear more attractive to the opposite sex in the name of survival of human beings as a whole. Interesting? Definitely. Far fetched? I don't know, I’m not an expert of historical psychology.

More relatably, it’s because it gives us some control. When the world feels topsy-turvy and what’s going to happen tomorrow is frighteningly unknown we turn to acts of self-care because they’re rituals that can help calm our anxieties. They make us feel like we’re ‘doing something’. A sheet mask isn't going to stop Trump being elected, but it sure is a nice way to escape the reality of 2020 for 10 minutes.

So that’s why we're all obsessed with skincare right now. And with that newfound focus, we naturally come to critically assess our own skin. We label it emotively as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and get upset with our face if it doesn't do what the goop in the bottle told it to do. 


Could that be because we’re being sold a dream? Has clever, targeted-marketing tricked us into thinking perfect skin is in a tube when in actual fact it’s mostly a privilege reserved for the rich who can really afford what it takes to get a flawless, glowing complexion?

Actress and body-positive activist Jameela Jamil thinks it’s the rich person thing. She posted on Instagram this week, stating that essentially she’s got great skin because she’s got money.

“Yesterday I posted a make up free selfie, and truly a few hundred girls started commenting on my clear skin. I responded with a very honest comment about how privilege impacts my skin to make the point that people comparing themselves to privileged people is a losing game, and I wanted to shine a light on that because this entire industry feeds of the lack of transparency around this. They say, 'hey, with this cream/drink/gummy you can look JUST like me.' Without disclosing all the help they have behind the scenes," part of her post read.

And I get her point. I mean, I don’t think J.Lo looks younger than she did 15 years ago from drinking heaps of water and eating leafy greens.

I absolutely acknowledge that celebrities have not only the money, but first-rights access to the newest treatments and ingredients well before the watered-down versions reach us normals, traditionally by way of mass brands, which takes several years. 


But I think we need to give the beauty industry more credit. There are some really clever, passionate people behind some fantastic brands and technologies that have paved the way in disrupting an industry that even just a decade or so ago looked totally different.

Take the humble pharmacy, for example. 10 years ago it was a place you went to get your pill script filled and grab some cough syrup. Now the likes of Chemist Warehouse and Priceline are overt in their existence to not only sell medication but to cater to women who love skincare and want it at an accessible price point. 

Their shelves are crammed with countless brands offering affordable pots and bottles, whereas not too long ago we had maybe three or four big-name brands that dominated, all using emotive marketing speak on their boxes to get you to pick them up and carry them to the counter.

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That elusive wishy-washing wording has been replaced with scientific fact, and women are lapping it up. We now take the time and spend the energy educating ourselves on single skincare ingredients and what they do. Being able to purchase a hyaluronic acid serum for under $20, knowing that it’ll plump and hydrate, or picking up some retinol for $9.80 because we've learnt it’s a potent anti-ageing ingredient is power in the purchaser's hand, with change to spare.

For all its downfalls, social media is the positive force behind this. 

Twenty years ago only fancy people with high disposable incomes had the best skin because they could fork out to see a dermatologist or fancy facialist. Then along came YouTube and Instagram and now anyone with a smartphone has direct access to the brains and brilliance of people like Caroline Hirons or Sali Hughes or Dr Davin Lim.  These experts (and so many others) share their knowledge for free, offering helpful and general advice that the consumer can absorb and then use to influence their next purchase, regardless of how much pocket money they have.

So do I agree with Jameela? No, not really. I’m proud of the industry I've worked in for the past 20 years for the focus shift on education for the masses. 

Does all this readily available information result in confusion? Sure, that’s par for the course. So I humbly suggest you listen to the You Beauty podcast and join the You Beauty group where we decipher the overwhelming world of skincare and makeup.

As for the skincare boom of 2020? Lean in, I say. Lather on those serums, be they $20 or $200, and feel a little bit better about everything when your skin’s got that glow. 

Feature image: Instagram/@jlo

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