Makeup sales skyrocket as mask mandates lift

If you have seen makeup out-of-stocks at your local CVS, Target or Walmart recently then you probably aren't alone, as easing mask mandates in the U.S. send folks back out looking their best at parties, work or other public events. 

And the hard data is starting to reflect that shift back to some form of normal, non mask-wearing mobility among humans. 

Cosmetics sales for the four-weeks ended May 22 have surged 16.7% from a year ago, according to the latest data out of Nielsen. Sales of cosmetics over a 12-week stretch are up 24.7% from last year. 

The cosmetics segment has seen the fastest sales growth these past three months out of the beauty care categories tracked by Nielsen. In second place is a 15.5% growth rate for fragrance sales. 

Meanwhile, cosmetics seller Ulta Beauty said last week that first quarter same-store sales rose 7% in the first quarter compared to the first quarter of 2019. A year ago, most of Ulta's stores were closed as the pandemic took hold. 

E.L.F. Beauty — which sells its affordable cosmetics down the aisles of Target and Walmart — saw its first quarter sales pop 24% year-over-year. 

"The performance that we've had for a while, pre-pandemic on prestige [cosmetics], it's been challenging, but so many of our brand partners have reacted with strong innovation, strong product innovation, new marketing approaches through social media. And as customers come back in, as our guests come back in, we're anticipating that part of our business really strengthening over the balance of the year," new Ulta CEO Dave Kimbell told analysts on an earnings call. 

There appears to be several big makeup brand winners emerging. 

L'Oreal's Maybelline brand has seen sales spike 28% over the past four weeks. Coty-owned Cover Girl's sales are up 21% during that same timespan. 

"Those sales are going to spike," pointed out Refinitiv retail analyst Jharonne Martis on the outlook for cosmetics sales on Yahoo Finance Live. 

To be sure, several of the makeup stocks have begun to catch a bid in the anticipation of a strong second half of profits. Shares of Coty and E.L.F. are up 12% and 6%, respectively in the past three months. Ulta shares have stayed relatively unchanged. Revlon is up 26%.

Jefferies retail analyst Stephanie Wissink — who closely tracks the cosmetics industry — believes E.L.F. and Coty are two of the better plays on the makeup recovery. Wissink rates both stocks at a Buy rating, compared to Hold ratings for Revlon and Ulta.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and anchor at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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