'Athbeauty': When fitness meets beauty

The athbeauty trend is set to power into the market, giving rise to products with claims to enhance the skin pre-and post-workout.

More than skin deep: Sammi Cheng shows exercise doesn’t compromise her makeup.
More than skin deep: Sammi Cheng shows exercise doesn’t compromise her makeup.

Hong Kong singer Sammi Cheng appears in a recent Adidas poster campaign, featuring a close-up portrait of the singer’s flawless complexion. Not a single drop of perspiration is visible. As an advert for a skincare brand, this image would be as good as it gets. But this is Adidas: so Cheng is also shown in another shot, holding a plank position. The campaign seems to suggest it is possible to look perfectly put together during a workout, filter or no filter.

Sound like nonsense? According to Mintel’s Global beauty & personal care trend 2017 report, active beauty is a key trend that is set to impact the industry this year. The market research firm found a 46 percent rise in the number of beauty and personal care products launched in Asia-Pacific with packaging bearing the words ‘gym’, ‘sport’, ‘fit’, ‘fitness’ or ‘exercise’ between 2015 and 2016.

The rise of the ‘athbeauty’ trend follows hot on the heels of the ‘athleisure’ movement, which has seen fitness brands such as Nike and Adidas embrace a more fashion-conscious approach to their clothing—while simultaneously fashion brands like Zara and Topshop have pushed into the sportswear market. This inter-sector breeding is showing no signs of slowing down: a recent report by Euromonitor International notes that the sports-inspired footwear and apparel markets grew at 10 percent and 6 percent last year respectively, and Morgan Stanley’s Global Athletic Wear: Very Bullish Five-Year Outlook report predicts that Asia will be the biggest contributor to the growth of this sector from 2015 to 2020.

While athbeauty may be a comparatively small part of this sector at the moment, Lucy Hurst, planning director at Ogilvy & Mather, Singapore, says it will not stay niche for long. “Brands from H&M to Chanel have responded to customer desire for great-looking athleisure wear, why not do the same for [a woman’s] face?” Hurst says. She cites a campaign by Olay Indonesia for the brand’s anti-ageing line in which action star Tara Basro lifts weights in the gym as an example of female-targeted advertising—‘femvertising’—that is already plugged in to the health and fitness boom.

“It won’t be long before these semiotic cues translate into product innovations as beauty marketers look to augment a combination of the rapidly growing ‘health-and fitness’ and ‘on-the-go, convenience’ trends,” says Hurst. “I’d expect to see it in the innovation pipelines of mainstream brands not far from now—at least as a variant if not a core product.”

Innovation—or rebanding?

Exercise has inner benefits aplenty but at the core of the new athbeauty movement is the assertion (however true) that ultimately every gym rat and yogi wannabe wants to look good. If the legions of fitness influencers posing on Instagram—otherwise known as the ‘#fitspo’ tribe—are anything to go by, this isn’t an empty claim. A recent video commercial for Tarte Cosmetics’ athleisure skincare and makeup line sees the brand go to town on the idea, featuring a woman preening herself in front of the mirror before hitting the beach for a run.

But just how innovative are these products claiming to offer special workout benefits, such as long-lasting foundation or sweat-proof mascara such as Eyeko’s, which claims to “see you through your morning workout to work meeting to post-work fun”?

Pascal Martin, partner at OC&C Strategy Consultants, acknowledges that beauty brands may be looking to leverage the athbeauty trend to create new selling points for their products.

“At the end of the day sweat-proof mascara, for instance, won’t be significantly different from waterproof mascara, which is already a mature product,” Martin says. “There are very limited breakthroughs in the world of cosmetics—most of the innovation lies around packaging and communications.”

In this regard, says Camilla Grey, independent brand consultant and former global head of content strategist at Wolff Olins, the bigger beauty brands will have an advantage over smaller, specialist labels in convincing their market of the worth of athbeauty ranges because of their product breadth, brand trust and marketing strength.

“Bigger beauty brands can curate an entire athbeauty line either by re-contextualising existing products or developing new ones,” says Grey.

Meanwhile Sharon Kwek, senior innovation and insights analyst for beauty and personal care at Mintel, believes that a distinctly labelled athbeauty range will appeal better to the crowd than one that isn’t so directly targeted—even though the product propositions might be similar. She cautions, however, that consumers may still have their reservations about wearing makeup during a workout and brands need to address these concerns. “Formats and ingredients come into play,” Kwek says. “The products must allow the skin to ‘breathe’.”

Any performance-driven products hoping to appeal to gym goers must also be lightweight enough to fit into sports bags. Sun care brand Supergoop, Milk Makeup and Stowaway Cosmetics—which offers “right-sized makeup” in “sizes you can carry and actually finish”—are already experimenting in this area, working on practical packaging and easily applicable products.

Athbeauty marketing rules

The Asian obsession with pale skin, coupled with increasing awareness of the damaging effects of the sun, means that UV protection could be another mainstay feature of any upcoming athbeauty range, says Kwek. Already eyeing the rising popularity of outdoor activities among consumers in the region is Japanese beauty brand Kose, which has extended UV protection claims from facial to body products in its Sekkisei Sun Protect range.

The Mintel report also states any products that offer extra protection benefits—such as promises to shield the skin from exposure to infrared light and the high-energy light used in gyms—are key to meeting active consumers’ demands.

French brand Jeewin, for example, uses the tagline ‘Cosmetics for extreme sports’, and has shown it is serious about giving consumers’ products with tailored benefits by categorising its products by the type of fitness activity each is designed for—water, snow, earth or city.

Such designations may be crucial when it comes to appealing to consumers in APAC. “A trend such as athbeauty is not really defined by region, because you are talking about a lifestyle and the relevant products will resonate with those who work out regularly,” says Kwek. “It is important for Western brands aiming at the Asia market to find out what fitness activities are popular with the consumers here. For example, marathons seem to be pretty big in Singapore.”

Given the very different physical demands of commonly-practiced sports, successful athbeauty products will take care to target these individual disciplines, she adds. “There is a wide variety of people who work out, and the types of physical activities are equally varied as well. Yoga is very different from a high intensity workout and requires a different range of products.” US brand Yuni, for example, is specifically aimed at yoga bunnies with a line of products including muscle recovery gel, ‘Active Calm’ moisturiser and no-rinse body cleaning foam that are ideal for use after a yoga session.

Sports that particularly involve heat, meanwhile, such as Bikram yoga and hot pilates, offer their own opportunities for targeted products. The Mintel report highlights that more brands will start to play with water and heat-activated encapsulation techniques, to create products that release conditioning and toning ingredients deep into the skin and hair.

Mining the data

Alongside the rise of athleisure has come the increasing popularity of wearable fitness trackers and smart performance apparel, which can supply streams of data on changes in the wearer’s body temperature, heart rate and even hormonal levels during exercise. This information could be extremely useful to marketers hoping to crack the athbeauty market, says the Mintel report.

“Beauty brands looking to enter the athbeauty space would do well to support their product claims with data from health apps, wearables and other digital fitness technology,” says Grey. “By understanding more about body temperature, perspiration and how our skin behaves whilst active, brands can look to create products that are responsive to those changes and tell engaging product stories that link the two.”

Sharon Kwek

However, personalised skincare comes at a cost and linking collected data to product creation is simply not feasible for many brands. The best they are likely to be able to do is to target their new products at general workout-related issues that affect a large segment of the market.

“If brands are going to rely on data, they have to identify common skin conditions that people encounter post-workout,” says Kwek. For instance, by predetermining that skin dehyration is a commonly-felt post-exercise symptom, beauty brands can add serum packed with hydrating hyaluronic acid to products such as face masks and moisturisers.

Although the ability of athbeauty to develop into a sophisticated market will likely depend on convincing consumers that these products really do add something to their workout routines, Laura Halliday, director of Flamingo Singapore, urges brands not to play too heavily into the sports notion. Athbeauty, after all, is more about a lifestyle rather than correctional skincare.

“People are buying a lifestyle when they put on active wear, but how much they really partake in it varies. It’s the same with beauty,” says Halliday. Rather than adding strong functioning claims about transformations, she says the athbeauty market should focus on enhancement, for example, a lip gloss that brings out the natural colour of lips.

Halliday stresses that the idea of active beauty is about playing up the positives. “People are wearing it not because they are desperate to do sports but because it helps them to feel and perform better.”

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