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According to Nielsen, COVID-19 has dragged Canadian sales of mass lipstick brands down by 45 per cent, equalling a $21.6-million wallop overall so far.iStockPhoto / Getty Images

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It’s 10:47 p.m. and I’m alone on my couch in a ratty T-shirt, my husband’s boxers and a fully made-up coral lip. I’ve meticulously layered a lip gloss, lip stain and lip liner for more pouty staring into the COVID void because: 1) You want to look your best when you come face to face with your own existential uselessness and 2) where else am I going to wear lipstick right now?

Leonard Lauder, now chairman emeritus of Estée Lauder, coined the term Lipstick Index during the post 9/11 recession. His theory was that people spend more on small indulgences such as beauty products during times of economic insecurity. The idea dates back to the Depression, when cosmetic sales soared despite the bread lines. But what happens to the lipstick index when people are stuck at home or wearing masks most of the time when they’re in public? How do you wear lip colour under a face covering in a way that doesn’t make you look like a deranged clown when the mask comes off? Is lipstick … dead?

Alecsandra Hancas, industry analyst and director of prestige beauty at market research firm the NPD Group, doesn’t think so.

“There’s an emotional aspect to lipstick – you instantly feel good when you get that pop of colour. That’s why we’ve always seen lipstick sales soar during times of need and that’s why it will continue to play a big role even though at this moment this category is struggling.”

The lip market in Canada is typically worth about $180-million a year. But when lockdown started in the spring, and everyone bought and wore less makeup overall, it was lipsticks that suffered the most. NPD registered a 75-per-cent decline in prestige (higher-end products sold in department and specialty stores) lip colour sales in April, amounting to a $9.9-million loss that month alone. The story is similar in the drugstore beauty aisle. According to Nielsen, COVID-19 has dragged Canadian sales of mass lipstick brands down by 45 per cent, equalling a $21.6-million wallop overall so far.

While these drastic drops have begun to rebound, and the beauty industry has seen growth in other areas, namely skin care and hair products, the latest figures still show double-digit losses for lips.

“With masks becoming the new public accessory and expectation,” says Carman Allison, Nielsen’s vice-president of consumer insights, “wearing lipstick may continue to be less important in making an impression.”

But true lipstick lovers (myself included) won’t be giving up that easily. Aficionados are still swiping on colour at home so they don’t look like the star of The Return of the Zooming Dead during all those video calls. And if you want to wear lip colour when you go for an outdoor stroll but still need to be able to put a mask on so you can, say, nip into a store, there is a way.

NPD says sales of long-wear lipsticks are faring better than their smearing comrades, which is how I found myself applying a slew of stay-on formulas and then rubbing at them maniacally to see which would stay put without streaking across my face or marking the inside of my mask.

“In the short term, we’ll see a shift towards eye makeup as consumers try to get those smiling eyes and perfect brows,” Hancas says. “But in the long term, consumers want to resume that feeling of normalcy, and lipstick will be a big part of that.”

Slay all day

Try these stay-on formulas if you want lip colour that won’t budge. Apply in thin layers and let each one dry before you put on your mask or apply any lip balms or glosses.

Maybelline SuperStay Matte Ink Liquid Lipstick, $11.99 at Shoppers Drug Mart.Handout

Maybelline SuperStay Matte Ink Liquid Lipstick, $11.99 at Shoppers Drug Mart.

Chanel Le Rouge Duo Ultra Tenue, $48 at Chanel.J.GIRAL/Handout

Chanel Le Rouge Duo Ultra Tenue, $48 at Chanel.

NYX Professional Makeup Liquid Suede Cream Lipstick, $10 at Shoppers Drug Mart. HandoutHandout

NYX Professional Makeup Liquid Suede Cream Lipstick, $10 at Shoppers Drug Mart.