Skin Care Products Have Officially Gotten Out of Hand

Channing Smith

At a recent launch event for a well-known brand of skin care products, I listened as a publicist told me about its newest offering. She rattled off various clinical stats and ingredients before turning to me, shrugging, and saying—or rather, admitting: “It’s just a moisturizer.”

I couldn’t decide if I should thank her for her honesty or send her an invoice for the time I’d wasted.

Around the same time, a popular makeup brand announced it was launching a face cleanser. I rolled my eyes at the email. Why does this brand—again, not known for skin care—need a face wash? Who asked for this? Certainly not me.

These examples speak to a larger problem: The beauty industry has been churning out unnecessary, unexciting products for years. And with well over 100 skin care launches so far in 2024, according to Virtual Beauty Closet, it shows no signs of stopping.

“During COVID there was such an explosion in skin care that a lot of people decided to enter the market,” says Katey Hassan, cofounder of skin care start-up Nocturnal. After years at larger companies, Hassan and her cofounder, Daniel Kiyoi, started Nocturnal earlier this year with just one hero product, Polar Night Renewal Serum. This allowed them to focus on the formula’s quality, ingredients, and efficacy. It was night and day from the product-development process from previous jobs. “I was a part of a brand where we launched 400 new [products] every single year—a lot of times with the intent that they’d just be in and out,” she says.

So why do brands have this constant push for new launches? Unsurprisingly, it all comes down to making money.

“When you have a new launch, you get this boost in sales. It is undeniable,” says Charlotte Palermino, cofounder of Dieux Skin. If you’ve also noticed an uptick in new lip products as of late, Palermino adds that it’s not a coincidence. “It’s so easy to turn around a [lipstick or lipgloss] shade or color—it’s sheer, you’re not color matching.”

“Beauty is the new fast fashion in a lot of ways. And it’s these types of [celebrity] brands that are driving it.”

—Katey Hassan, cofounder of Nocturnal

On the other hand, there’s the “social media” of it all. When a new product comes out, fans have a reason to talk about the brand all over again. Not to mention, it creates new opportunities for content creators, who use affiliate links on their posts to earn revenue.

“They’re really excited when they have something new or different that they can offer their followers. They essentially offer it in the same way as a retailer,” explains Hassan.

However, it’s become clear that consistently turning out product after product isn’t sustainable for brands, customers, or your friendly neighborhood beauty editor.

“You end up developing so many more products in order to feed this cycle,” says Hassan. “And the beauty industry has, in a lot of ways, entered a time when we’re just flooding the market with new products, and it’s both confusing and overwhelming to consumers.”

Just one scroll through the Sephora app or trip to your local Ulta will confirm: All beauty categories are oversaturated. Eye shadow palettes, leave-in conditioners, fragrances, body lotions—the options are truly endless. But skin care seems to be the main culprit at the moment, so much so that other categories are trying to piggyback with the “skin-ification” of, well, everything.

“Suddenly there’s so much makeup that’s ‘good for your skin’ or makeup made with skin care ingredients, and it’s creating this bridge between formerly separate subcategories,” says beauty reporter Jessica DeFino.

In DeFino’s Substack newsletter “The Review of Beauty,” she covers something practically unheard of: the beauty industry outside the lens of product reviews. Recent topics have included giving up exfoliation, an interview about dermorexia, and a reader poll about pubic hair. “I want to expand our view of what beauty is, what skin care is, without a topical product with something to buy involved,” she says.

DeFino knows most of her more than 100,000 readers aren’t giving up beauty products cold turkey; she just wants to give them an alternative viewpoint with the hope that maybe, down the line, they’ll realize they don’t actually need to buy lip gloss to feel better about themselves.

Skin care, she thinks, got a boost as it became more and more conflated with health and wellness. “There’s this kind of cultural idea of skin care being almost a more moral interest than makeup because it’s like, ‘Well, I'm caring for my body.’ It’s all about health,” she says.

“So many brands have launched and then disappeared just as quickly, and the people who stay are the people with differentiated ideas.”

—Charlotte Palermino, cofounder of Dieux Skin

The idea of skin care as self-care is, in part, what made it so popular during the pandemic; as we sat at home filming Get Ready With Me videos detailing our favorite face mask and go-to cleanser, beauty products became a clear cash cow for mega influencers and celebrities. And while some celeb brands are rightfully popular, many have also been a quick flash in the pan: TikTok star Addison Rae’s Item Beauty was dropped from Sephora in January 2023, while influencer Jaclyn Hill’s eponymous cosmetics line shuttered earlier this year. Actual celebrities aren’t having much luck either: Jared Leto’s skin and hair care line Twentynine Palms and Kristen Bell’s CBD skin care brand Happy Dance are dunzo, and even JLo Beauty recently exited Sephora after three years. Then there’s Rose Inc, Stripes, and JVN Hair, the celeb brands built by the now defunct Amyris, which are still with us but on life support: Rosie Huntington Whiteley announced she would be leaving Rose Inc last month, while Naomi Watts’s menopausal brand Stripes and Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness’s hair care brand JVN were sold off for paltry sums.

“Beauty is the new fast fashion in a lot of ways. And it’s these types of [celebrity] brands that are driving it,” says Hassan, naming Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty, Hailey Bieber’s Rhode, and Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty as notable exceptions.

But celebrities aren’t the only ones overproducing and underdelivering. “For whatever reason, people definitely think that the beauty industry is a great place to get rich fast, and from our experience that is not true at all,” says a long-time beauty publicist, who asked to be anonymous when speaking with Glamour. “Glossier set a new standard. Maybe these founders were entrepreneurs in different fields and they saw what was happening in beauty, and thought, How hard could it be to replicate that?”

Celebrity or otherwise, Palermino says, you’re only as good as your products. “If you’re going to come into this industry, it is so saturated that you have to come correct,” she explains. “So many brands have launched and then disappeared just as quickly, and the people who stay are the people with differentiated ideas.”

And despite the overflow of products, there is still plenty of innovation to be had in skin care. Sunscreen formulas still have a long way to go—particularly for those with deeper skin tones and in the US, where no new sunscreen filters have been approved since 1999 due to ultrastrict guidelines that classify SPF as a drug. (That’s why most beauty buffs are currently importing their sunscreen from places like France or Korea.) And despite there being a product for every type of skin concern, there’s still no silver bullet for acne—especially without a prescription. But as the industry reaches a tipping point, a lot of what is technically new isn’t necessarily groundbreaking.

“It used to be true for a very long time that newness and innovation were the same thing,” says Hassan. “The hope is that the next product we try is better than the last one we tried. And unfortunately it isn’t.”

Even when a brand founder is passionate about their product, it can be hard to differentiate it from what’s already out there. “When the rubber hits the road, it’s really hard for them to pin down what makes it special,” adds the anonymous beauty publicist. “That’s such a red flag for us, when a brand says, ‘Our products work for everyone.’ No brand is everything to everyone.”

So where do we go from here? Data from business analytics company Circana shows that the beauty industry’s growth is actually beginning to slow, which may be a sign that the fatigue is setting in with consumers too. But it isn’t by much—and with the rise of Sephora tweens, many brands are only looking to gain new Gen A customers.

“We see people entering the market earlier and earlier than ever before,” says Hassan. But trying to keep up with the Glossiers and Drunk Elephants of the industry serves no one. Instead, Hassan predicts an increase in expert-led brands, while DeFino wants to see more people support local, small brands.

As for Palermino, she points to other indies like Krave Beauty and Dr. Idriss as beauty brands pushing the industry forward. For Dieux, she keeps the focus on one to two hero launches per year. “There are maximalists who literally buy skin care just to have it decorating their homes like you would collector dolls,” she says. “We’re going after the person who wants to actually have better skin results. That is where we want to go.”

The fact is, as long as new skin care products are released, there will be someone to buy them. But maybe—maybe!—just because a brand has the means to launch something new doesn’t mean they should.

Lindy Segal is a freelance lifestyle writer and editor whose work has appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, Fast Company, InStyle, and others. She also writes the Substack newsletter “Gatekeeping.”

Originally Appeared on Glamour