We all know how the saying goes – beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And in 2021, the beholder is savvier, socially-conscious, tech-obsessed and more diverse than ever with high standards for the brands they choose to interact with – from what products they are putting out to how they treat their employees and everything in between.

In recent years, beauty-loving Millennials and Gen Zers have relentlessly pushed to change the narrative and culture surrounding beauty – including the relationship they have with beauty brands. As a result, beauty and how it has been “defined” for so many years has transcended from perfection on the cover of a glossy magazine to a mega movement that is striving for boundless innovation, inclusivity and a healthier planet. More so than anything, beauty is now also a concept that has become truly for everyone who wants to spotlight their look and express themselves.

Gone are the days of buying a lipstick because you “like” the color. Now, we research the item and think… this packaging is pretty, but is it sustainable? What are the ingredients? Does this brand support a worthy cause? What is this brand’s social feed like? Do celebs and influencers like it?

Unlike any other time in recent history, brands – especially within the beauty industry – need to take an unfiltered look at their business to ensure that every facet – from product development to communication – is setting the right tone, exuding authenticity and delivering on new consumer expectations.

As we navigate this new and exciting beauty landscape, here are some of the top trends our team is seeing as brands start to step up and connect with a new generation of strong-willed, generous and creative beauty enthusiasts.

Keeping it Real vs. Clean
The conversation on clean beauty has been swirling throughout the industry for quite some time, but recently, it has boiled over as more consumers have become privy to marketing “buzzwords.” With the concept of “clean” beauty having no real regulation tied to it, consumers are realizing that some brands touting products as “clean” aren’t actually as green or eco-friendly as they thought they were. In addition, some companies have even used the term to vilify ingredients that were long considered safe and efficacious. With consumers going the extra mile to educate themselves on ingredients, brands can no longer rely on these once trending terms to sell in their products as “better” than the competition.

The bottom line: Transparency over terminology. Consumers want brands to be honest about their products and are dismissing overused and unregulated terms.

Expect the Unexpected: Collabs
These days, it’s not enough to just talk directly to the consumer. Brands have to speak to their audiences through voices and sources they are already following and find them in the places they are already exploring. For that reason, unexpected collabs are becoming more and more prevalent as brands aim to align with popular personalities and platforms. From limited-edition influencer product launches to exclusive offerings tied to a top show from a major streaming service, brands are digging up new ways to garner attention, speak to their audience and gain new fans. Recently, brands have even been partnering with platforms like StockX and Twitch to drop exclusive merch.

The bottom line: Communicating directly with consumers is always important but dreaming up new ways of reaching them with the help of inspiring voices and platforms is what will win them over.

Beauty for All
After years of seeing the same types of faces promoting beauty brands, there is finally a revolution taking place as younger generations are demanding to be represented and seen. Now, brands are starting to catch up and are being more inclusive when it comes to marketing, product innovation and even in their hiring practices. When it comes to building a successful brand, companies need to let everyone into the room and be mindful about how they can support communities who deserve to be heard, seen and respected. We’ve seen support throughout the past year from brands for major movements like BLM to a greater focus on Pride Month, but consumers are going to be vigilant on continued and sustained efforts – not just a one-time show of support. Watchdog social accounts like Estée Laundry are also making sure companies are held accountable by keeping beauty fans up to date on the latest industry news.

The bottom line: For consumers, the effort brands are making today (and in the future!) in being inclusive and supportive of diverse audiences and social justice matters is becoming essential. Consumers are watching and how brands support must be woven into every piece of their businesses.

The Beauty of a Healthy Mind
The focus on mental health is finally capturing headlines across the globe as more and more prominent figures are candidly speaking out (Exhibit A: Simone Biles at the Olympics) – and beauty brands have taken notice. With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, there was an influx major beauty brands that stepped up to raise awareness about mental health struggles through partnerships, the creation of programs to help educate audiences and even by donating funds to organizations that work to support mental health. Thanks to a vocal generation, beauty brands are going beyond the physical product to support their fans and help them feel beautiful and healthy inside and out.

The bottom line: The mental health conversation is one that will continue to become more prevalent as the stigma surrounding the topic gets chipped away. Brands will need to continue to acknowledge the importance of encouraging a healthy mind as perceived physical imperfections can deeply impact self-esteem.

Ultimately, beauty is everchanging, but the recent ways the industry has changed has been a positive shift for all. The industry has become more transparent, honest, inclusive, supportive and more creative in how it communicates with consumers. It’s a movement that was sparked by an inspiring young generation and that will only continue to blossom as this new outspoken consumer keeps upping the standard for beauty and redefining it for years to come.

As a result, for our team, keeping a pulse on current trends has never been more vital for our clients. As we ideate around how brands we work with can genuinely connect with young consumers, we must also ensure that their messaging and actions are aligning with the shifting tide in beauty that we are seeing unfold today. For any PR or social media pro, the new beauty climate offers an opportunity to help brands build well-rounded campaigns and thoughtful launches that go beyond selling product – to actually making a meaningful impact on the industry and world.