After years of stellar growth, sales in the US nail color and care category have stalled, driven by several factors including: declining participation among young women, increased reliance on the salon and the trend-driven nature of the category. Reflective of their declining engagement in the category, women aged 18-24 are spending less time shopping for nail products and experimenting with new trends when compared to just one year ago, while also reporting to be doing their nails less frequently in comparison to older female consumers.

Despite a declining interest among young women, engagement in the category remains high among women aged 25-34, who are interested in benefits, including long-wearing products and natural claims. As Mintel’s Nail Color and Care US 2015 report shows, while interest in trend-driven concepts such as special effect polishes (i.e. unique finishes such as sequins, glitter, magnetic and metallic) and nail art appears to be waning, women report high interest in natural and gentle nail care concepts, as well as products that emphasize ease of use and convenience.

Women Take Care with Nail Treatments

Nail treatments provided a bright spot in the nail category in the past year in the US, growing sales by 12% from 2012-2014. Nail repair and the return of more neutral and bare nails have helped drive usage of treatment products, including base and top coats. Mintel data shows 30% of women who do their own nails report using nail treatments.

30% of women who do their own nails report using nail treatments

One of the biggest players in the treatment segment is Sally Hansen. A collection of new product launches, as well as growth from some existing products has helped spur sales for the brand. The brand’s Rehab products, aimed at treating severely dry, damaged cuticles and nails, combined for sales of more than $2 million for the most recent 52-week period (ending Oct. 5, 2014). Sally Hansen also launched its Big Shiny and Big Matte Top Coats in 2014, which generated more than $3 million in sales, and claim to enhance manicures while drying in seconds.

Improving Economy Drives Dollars Back to the Salon

The economic recession resulted in a boom for the at-home nail industry, as women tightened spending and opted for the affordable indulgence. However, an improving economy appears to be sending women back to the salon. While reliance on the salon has trended upward across all nail services, results are mixed for the at-home market. Women are less likely to be doing single color manicures themselves (46% v 54%), but are more inclined to be doing pedicures (37% v 31%) and specialized manicures such as gel (10% v 7%) and statement nails (18% v 15%) when compared to a year ago. Changes in at-home behavior are reflective of overall waning participation in the category, as well as growing comfort experimenting with more recent trends.

One of the biggest innovations in recent years is the introduction of gel polish, which continues to see increased incidence in both the salon and at-home markets since its introduction. In particular, gel polish that doesn’t require the use of an LED light has had a positive impact on the at-home gel market. Over 10% of women who do their own nails report using gel polish without an LED light compared to just 7% of those who use gel polish that requires an LED light.

Natural is New to Nail Care

Unlike many beauty and personal care categories, natural positioning is not a prevalent theme in the nail category. Yet, nail care users express some concerns about nail health and the effects of chemicals in nail care products. In fact, 21% of all nail product users worry that nail polish is damaging their nails, and nearly 20% are concerned about chemicals in nail polish. The premium end of the market has picked up on this and brands like The Body Shop and Zoya are becoming more active in natural nail color with products that promote a message of nail/skin health and natural ingredients. The Body Shop’s November 2014 launch of its Colour Crush line claims to be 100% vegan while also containing Community Fair Trade marula oil. Zoya emphasizes a “free from” approach with its line of nail polishes.

A prominent theme among more niche nail brands in the past year has been natural and reduced-chemical nail polishes. Natural/low-chemical nail polishes generate the highest level of interest among nail product users, with 67% of respondents reporting interest. Similarly, 56% of nail product users report interest in gentle nail care products. Concern about nail damage from frequent polishing as well as a broader consumer concern about product ingredients is fueling interest in natural and gentle products.

Interest in natural nail care also extends to the salon market, as eco-friendly nail salons are becoming more prevalent. While still a relatively niche concept, concerns about skin and nail health and the chemicals used in nail products have led more salons to offer eco-friendly products and organic nail treatments.

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