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Lipstick sales drop sharply in Japan as masks become essential

Empty makeup tester shelves are seen at a drugstore in Fukuoka's Hakata Ward, on May 12, 2020. (Mainichi/Toyokazu Tsumura)
Shelves at the cosmetics section of a drugstore in Fukuoka's Hakata Ward are seen without any testers. (Mainichi/Toyokazu Tsumura)

FUKUOKA -- Lipstick sales are taking a huge plunge in Japan amid the coronavirus outbreak, as people cover their faces with masks to prevent the spread of infections.

"We have removed testers from our stores as a preventive measure against the coronavirus," said a management strategy office representative at drugstore operator Ohga Pharmacy, in the cosmetics section of its Hakata-guchi store in Hakata Ward of the southwestern Japan city of Fukuoka.

Normally, lipstick testers are left on the shelves at the store for customers to check how products look on them, but the operator cleared out the testers from shelves in early April -- before the government declared a state of emergency over the new coronavirus -- out of concern over the risk of infection, as a large number of unspecified people could use them.

The pharmacy researched sales trends from February to April at seven of its stores that are not greatly impacted by inbound tourist demand. It found that while foundation, blusher and eye makeup products saw a roughly 20% dip in sales compared to the same period last year, lip makeup product sales dived by half. The decline in demand for lip makeup items was especially significant in April, with more than a 60% fall in sales.

As face masks that cover the lower half of people's faces have become an everyday item for most people, "Consumers now are apparently buying only what they need, and that seems to apply to makeup, too," Shindo commented.

In a household expenditure survey for March conducted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications' Statistics Bureau, in which the bureau listed items affected heavily by the coronavirus crisis based on each household's spending on certain products, lipsticks marked a 22.2% drop from the same month in 2019 -- a clear indication that fewer people were buying the item.

A 47-year-old resident of Munakata in the southwestern Japan prefecture of Fukuoka, told the Mainichi Shimbun that while she has been wearing masks every day since late March, she has stopped wearing lipstick. "Because I wear cloth masks, it's troublesome to try to remove lipstick when it gets on them," she said.

The decline in lipstick sales could also be attributed to people having fewer opportunities to go outside as they are asked to stay indoors amid the outbreak.

In normal years, cosmetic companies launch new makeup lines including new colors of lipsticks, but Ohga Pharmacy's Hakata-guchi store representative says that this year, some firms have postponed launch dates of their new color items. Cosmetics giant Kao Corp.' public relations department in Tokyo commented, "We have not been able to share our product information as much as we would like to since the state of emergency was declared, as stores have temporarily shut down and our beauty advisers at those stores are working from home."

But while fewer people are buying lipstick, sales of lip balms have remained solid. For February-April, Ohga Pharmacy saw lip balm sales rise by about 10% from the previous year. The colorless moisturizing types were apparently more popular than the tinted ones. A shop representative says they are in good demand as a tool to mitigate friction between masks and lips, and also to prevent dryness.

(Japanese original by Emi Aoki, Kyushu News Department)

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