Can Fenty Skin Disrupt the Skincare Category with Celebrity?

Expectations around the July 3 debut of Fenty Skin were undoubtedly high. Proclaiming itself as “the new culture of skincare,” the brand was teased with campaign imagery and videos featuring a wide range of genders and ethnicities. “It’s for everyone, even the fellas,” the company’s website states.

While Rihanna’s cosmetics range of the same name certainly ushered in a new (and long overdue) era of inclusivity within the beauty industry, accumulating an estimated worth of $3 billion, will her dermatological equivalent be able to do the same? “I’m skeptical. I just really prefer my makeup from cosmetics companies and my skincare form [sic] skin care companies. I do believe if anyone would do it right, it would be Fenty,” one Instagram user comments.

Co-owned by Kendo Beauty, the beauty brand incubator of LVMH, and with approximately 2 years in development, the initial drop is comprised of three products: Total Cleans’r Remove It All Cleanser ($25), Fat Water Pore Refining Toner Serum ($28), and Hydra Vizor Invisible Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Sunscreen ($35). Each vegan product comes in recyclable packaging, with refill options available to reduce waste, while its SPF formulation is coral-reef friendly (containing neither oxybenzone nor octinoxate). None of the formulas are completely fragrance-free, but there are plenty of beneficial ingredients such as skin-brightening Vitamin C in the form of the Barbados cherry, antioxidant-rich green tea and fig, as well as dark spot-fading niacinamide and hydrating hyaluronic acid. The cleanser and $75 starter kit containing all three products are currently out of stock, and Cosmetics Business reported that the bundle set is being sold on eBay at a 600% price increase, proving the immense demand for the line.

Plenty of celebrities have previously launched skincare ranges to varying degrees of success: Millie Bobby Brown (Florence by Mills), Paris Hilton (ProD.N.A. by Paris Hilton), Madonna (MDNA Skin), and most controversially Kylie Jenner (Kylie Skin), whose inclusion of an abrasive walnut scrub was met with harsh criticism (nonetheless, the range was expected to earn around $25 million in sales according to Coty). The trickiest aspect of a celebrity-backed skincare line can be boiled down to one word: authenticity.

For years, celebrities have praised their dermatologists and high-end treatments such as microdermabrasion, lasers, Botox, and fillers. Whereas it is easier to believe that Rihanna uses her own color cosmetics, is a 3-step skincare routine solely responsible for her flawless, pre-Fenty Skin–era appearance? In 2018, she revealed that her favorite moisturizers were Crème de La Mer and RéVive Intensité Crème Lustre Day Firming Moisture, which come with respective price tags of $175 and $385. In the singer’s defense, certain affordable products can mimic the effects of their higher-end counterparts, and skincare routines change over time; however, it would be naive to assume that a cleanser, toner, and moisturizer are the end-all-be-all solution for everyone to achieve A-lister skin. Furthermore, while a 32-year-old’s skin is perhaps satisfied with a simple regimen, the range excludes more mature skin which might require stronger actives such as retinol or AHA/BHA acids. Then again, for Rihanna’s Gen Z and Millennial fan demographic, these lighter formulations are a perfect fit.

From a timing perspective, the launch presents an excellent marketing move keeping with the current psychological state of a society in lockdown. Less makeup, more skincare; less covering up the canvas, more treating it. “The adage about the comforting luxury still stands—but this time it’s not lipstick, it’s skincare,” Melissa McGinnis, Head of Beauty Buying at Selfridges, tells Financial Times. “This period has been a pause point for really looking after ourselves, and many people are investing that time differently.” Furthermore, its Instagram-worthy packaging is tapping into a method that is partially responsible for the immense success of companies such as Glossier and Summer Fridays.

While Fenty Skin is only available to purchase on its namesake website, the skincare bestsellers at Sephora (Fenty Beauty’s exclusive retail partner) present a triple divide between no-frills, affordable options from The Ordinary, clean beauty-focused brands like Drunk Elephant, and high-end hyped ranges like SK-II, Sunday Riley, and Tatcha. In a majority of these successful brands, the emphasis is on science or ingredients, be it through Augustinus Bader’s stem-cell technology (highlighted in Sarah Brown’s aptly titled piece “How Doctor Brands Cash In On Authority” for Business of Fashion) or Farmacy’s farm-to-face approach. In fact, the all-natural and anti-aging sectors of the market are showing the most growth, and are expected to make up the bulk of a $189.3 billion market by 2025, according to Statista. By marketing itself as eco-conscious, with the use of effective and “clean” ingredients at a moderate price, Fenty Skin is a trifecta of success factors (ingredients, sustainability, pricing) united.

While in the past, the emphasis on the face of the brand, rather than what’s inside the packaging, did celebrity-backed skincare a disservice, Fenty Skin stands a fighting chance in the arena. Esthetician and dermatologist reviews of the brand thus far have criticized the use of fragrance in the range, however, this caveat has not seemed to dampen sales figures. Consumer trust and loyalty is more likely to be built via a dermatologist-backed brand or bestseller status than celebrity presence, but thanks to the cult following and rave reviews garnered by its cosmetics predecessor, Fenty Skin looks to be the most successful outing of the genre thus far.

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