On August 1st, 2017, Rihanna dropped the launch date of her forthcoming beauty line on Instagram.
It exploded. And for the rest of the day, every time I scrolled through Instagram, all I saw was “9.8.17” on a black background. It was reposted by every fashion publication, every beauty editor and every Rihanna fan account I follow (which is many). Fenty Beauty, it seemed, had swallowed Instagram whole. And it wasn’t even set to launch for another five weeks.
Beauty products can serve as a snapshot of an era. Think of items like Maybelline New York’s Great Lash Mascara, the iconic pink and green tube that launched in 1971 that has become synonymous with teenage beauty for many millennials. Or Lancôme Juicy Tubes Lip Gloss, which is the ‘90s in a tub of sticky, shiny goo. A quick glance at a bottle of Sun-In Hair Lightener can instantly transport some back into their childhood bedrooms.
Thanks to social media, it’s easier than it’s ever been to pinpoint the products that define a moment. They’re documented around the clock and around the globe. They rack up likes and go viral and then explode even more. Thanks to this nonstop documentation, beauty product hype is at an all-time high.
Hype is a fascinating psychological phenomenon due to its unpredictability and intensity. It literally alters our dopamine levels. But per Psychology Today, “By definition, half of things are below average and very few are exceptionally good. There are achingly few breakthroughs.” So who decides what cuts through the noise, worthy or unworthy? And what do those things say about this cultural moment?
Below, I attempt to answer these questions by exploring the 10 beauty products that intrigued us, sold us, and made regular (exhaustive?) appearances on our news feeds this year, along with my best guess as to why.
Product: Dyson Airwrap Hair Styler
Why the hype? $$$
Two years after Dyson’s first foray into hair tools with the much-hyped Supersonic Hair Dryer, the brand teased its next release with a hefty promise to deliver “new beauty technology.” And while endorsements by celebrity hairstylist Jen Atkin certainly didn’t hurt, the Airwrap multi-use hair styler, and its impressive aerospace technology that simultaneously dries and styles, plus guarantees you’ll never heat-damage your hair, was destined for hype thanks to the curiosity surrounding its staggering $500 price tag. When the tool first came out in October, nearly every article headline announcing the launch read something along the lines of: “Is the Dyson Airwrap really worth it?” (The verdict: sort of? If you’re someone who currently blow-dries and then styles their hair every single morning, the Airwrap will definitely save you some time and might be worth the investment.) The shock factor of a Dyson product’s retail value will always be hype-worthy.
Why the hype? Cute, pink, K-beauty. Plus, watermelons.
Last year, Glow Recipe released its Watermelon Sleeping Mask, which became Sephora’s best-selling mask of 2017. It even sold out the day it launched, thanks to adorable watermelon-themed pop-ups and our collective societal obsession with watermelon come summertime. (Present company included—I genuinely considered getting a watermelon tattoo this year 🍉.) With that kind of precedent, 2018’s daytime moisturizer version of the product was immediately set up for success. The moisturizer, like its mask counterpart, had a chic, minimal label, was millennial pink, smelled great, and fell under the Korean beauty category of skincare products. Check, check, check and check. How long did it take this one to sell out? A mere two hours.
Product: Glossier Lash Slick Mascara
Why the hype? Glossier, duh.
The day before Lash Slick’s release, Into The Gloss hinted at Glossier’s next product launch. Between telling readers that the perfect mascara doesn’t exist (true) and promoting Lash Slick in the most Glossier way (“Expect to hear a lot more ‘Your lashes look good’ and less ‘What mascara are you wearing?’”), Lash Slick’s hype was an extension of the brand’s hype. In 2018 (and 2017 and 2016), anything Glossier touches turns to gold. Exhibit A: the comments here. Exhibit B: the reviews here. Exhibit C: the replies here.
Why the hype? Celebs!
Celebrity makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury teased her now-beloved Hollywood Flawless Filter the good ol’ fashioned way: on a red carpet. Back in January, Mandy Moore, Greta Gerwig and Laura Dern all debuted the “complexion booster” at the 2018 Golden Globes, which Tilbury confirmed the following day. The primer, foundation and illuminator hybrid launched on February 22nd, a full six weeks after the awards show—just enough time to build up anticipation. After its release, it seemed like every beauty editor was simultaneously perplexed by and in awe of the product.
Product: Jade rollers (any brand)
Why the hype? Peak wellness/self-care.
Self-care, in all its forms, reached an all-time high on social media this year. The hashtag yields over 10 million results on Instagram alone. In 2018, no self-care practice was more soothing or mesmerizing to watch than people massaging a pretty crystal roller all over their faces. The practice caught the eye of every beauty editor in 2018, too, who set out to figure out how exactly to use jade rollers. Do they actually have any proven benefits? Who knows, but I’m using one as I type this. And I’m not alone—a Google search for “what is a jade roller” yields 21.4 million results. In fact, in the last couple years, searches for the term have nearly tripled.
Why the hype? It actually solved a problem many people had.
People love to hate on sunscreen, calling it greasy, uncomfortable and accusing it of leaving a white cast. Supergoop’s Unseen Sunscreen addressed all those concerns by being actually invisible, matte and suitable for all skin tones. Formerly known for its Sunscreen Oil, Supergoop’s authority in the SPF category, paired with the brand’s beauty editor and influencer following, made Unseen Sunscreen a guaranteed success. (Bonus points for the rhyme factor.) Even though it launched at the beginning of the year (which is an eternity in beauty launch years), it still continues to sell out at Sephora and Nordstrom.
Product: Summer Fridays Jet Lag Mask
Why the hype? The Instagram factor.
Even if you follow just one beauty account on Instagram, you’ve seen Summer Fridays’ Jet Lag Mask. The chic, denim-blue aluminum tube had everything going for it when it launched in March. First, the skincare brand was created by two influencers, Marianna Hewitt and Lauren Gores Ireland, who launched it to their (almost) combined one million followers (at time of publishing). It consistently sold out all year long, shot to the top of Sephora’s best-sellers list in its first two weeks, and swiftly gained a legion of loyal followers thanks to its blend of minimal, Instagrammable packaging and rave reviews from consumers, editors and fellow influencers.
Product: Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask
Why the hype? For most people, this was a new product category. (And it’s pink.)
K-beauty giant Laneige appealed to lip balm addicts everywhere (a.k.a. everyone, always, but especially in the winter) with this thick, candy-scented balm, touted as a sort of overnight cocoon for lips. The brand’s authority in the sleeping mask category (the Water Sleeping Mask for skin was already a massive seller) paved the way for this lip mask’s success. Today, it’s one of Sephora’s best-selling products of the year, and has 150,000 likes (technically “loves”) on Sephora.com. And as much as I try to resist and see through beauty advertising speak, Laneige really spoke to those of us who have so-dry-and-chapped-they’re-bleeding lips with “Exclusive Moisture Wrap Technology.” Drool.
Product: KKW Body Fragrance
Why the hype? KKW x controversy
This one’s a doozy. Aside from the obvious fact that this was a Kim Kardashian West product launch and therefore already commanded attention, KKW Body’s hype was actually propelled by controversy. From the selling method (online only, making it impossible to smell prior to purchasing) to the packaging (KKW was accused of copying Jean-Paul Gaultier’s famous fragrance bottles) to @gelcream’s now-infamous scathing review (followed by Jen Atkin’s equally infamous reaction), KKW Body was easily the most dramatic fragrance launch of the year. That interaction alone went viral. And what’s better for hype than drama? KKW Body brought in $10 million in sales in one day.
Product: Urban Decay Naked Cherry Palette
Why the hype? For swooping in as a consolation for many mourning fans.
News of this palette’s launch leaked only a few days after the announcement that the truly iconic original Urban Decay Naked Palette was being discontinued after eight years of being a consistent top-seller on the market. The news was so huge that the brand literally held a funeral for the palette—and Nicole Richie delivered the eulogy. To soften the blow—and to capitalize on the chatter—Urban Decay announced the Naked Cherry Palette, a new member of the Naked family. When makeup news account @trendmood1 shared a leaked photo of the soon-to-be-released palette, it racked up 76,000 likes and thousands of comments in the first few hours alone. When one door closes, another door opens.
Honorable mention: Hanacure All-In-One Facial Set
Why the hype? Looks weird…but effective?
Though it didn’t launch in 2018, the K-beauty gel mask has been sold out, with months-long waitlists since its release, thanks to celeb endorsements (Drew Barrymore and January Jones both posted selfies wearing it) and most importantly, pure, genuine curiosity about its creepy effect on skin. Supposedly, the “all-in-one facial” addresses multiple skin concerns at once. But it’s the patented technology that makes this mask so memorable. You paint it on and it starts to dry and tighten, pulling and contorting your face (pause for selfies). Upon removal, the results on the brand’s page really speak for themselves.
So, as 2018 comes to an end, what do the most popular beauty products tell us about the last year? Perhaps that we’re not as over millennial pink as we’d like to believe. That skin care continues to be a top priority (half of the products on this list fall under the skin care category). And most notably, just how much Instagram has revolutionized the way we learn—and spend.
Which products (on or off this list) were you most excited about in 2018? Did they live up to their hype?
Photo by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.