HOW THE MAKE-UP, HAIR AND BEAUTY INDUSTRY RECOVERED POST-COVID

The initial impact of Covid-19 on the make-up, hair and beauty industry was devastating, with months of forced closures and bad hair days. Thankfully, the industry is starting to recover with a new period of growth as the pandemic restrictions are lifted - with a reported 432% spike in bookings at the end of the last lockdown in April 2021. Is this upswing impacting freelance make-up artists, hair stylists and beauty therapists and what tips do they have for you?



The British people love being pampered almost as much as we love tea and fish n’ chips. In 2019, Brits spent over £8.6 billion at hairdressers, nail salons and beauty parlours, making the personal care industry the third-largest in the UK. This means every person in the country spent an average of £166 on personal care treatments, which is a little lower than I thought it would be but then again I live in a city and love to dye my hair bright colours. A lot of salons are usually located in town centres, villages and suburban areas, adding much needed money and vibrancy to their local communities as well as boosting employment. 

Before the Covid-19 pandemic ground everything to a halt, the hair and beauty industry was growing steadily. Over a five year period from 2014 to 2019, the number of barbershops rose by 64%, hairdressers by 21%, beauty salons by 73% and nail parlours by 56%. A demand for more organic and clean beauty products was sweeping the nation and over 64% of consumers reported prioritising products with recyclable packaging. The industry was largely made up of small business and independent workers, with an average of 55% being self-employed or freelance traders.

Unfortunately, 2020 reared its ugly head and put a stop to all this growth. Three separate lockdowns put the country into 140 days of forced closures. With no financial support coming from the government and many previously profitable places shutting down, many business owners feared they wouldn’t be able to stay open past April 2021 - over 8000 salons still haven’t reopened! Makeup, hair and beauty ventures saw an average loss in turnover of 45% in 2020, in some regions this was as much as 57%. Since there are higher proportions of personal care businesses in these more deprived areas, the massive amounts of lost income affected these places disproportionately. 

The revenue loss across the industry reached a massive £124 million every week in 2020; with the south east of the country being hit the hardest, losing an eye-watering weekly figure of £35 million in revenue. As the shutdowns rumbled on, the employees had to take the brunt of the losses. 53% of businesses cut back hours; 1 in 8 people were laid off and full-time employment fell by 21% as workers left for other sectors to find more reliable income.


Out of lockdown, salon capacity fell by 30% due to mandatory social distancing. Combine this with being unable to overlap appointments and all the extra sanitisation measures and everybody is losing an average of 2 hours of appointment time every single day! Personal protective equipment (PPE) was mandatory for hair stylists, beauty therapists and nail technicians to meet with any clients. This left two thirds of businesses having to absorb these additional costs themselves, or risk losing clients to competitors who would. Only 30% of salons were charging extra to cover the PPE; at an average of a 5% price increase.

Although initially people wanted to get rid of their pandemic hair and lockdown split ends, there just weren’t many events for people to go to and the constantly changing government messaging wasn’t helping the situation; so there wasn’t much demand to help offset all the lost earnings or mounting property costs. Once staff absences from all the illness going round are factored into this equation, over 55% of hair and beauty business owners were left to use their personal savings to stay afloat. People began campaigning to temporarily cut the VAT tax from 20% to 5% in order to give businesses some breathing room, similar to the tax cuts given to the tourism and hospitality sectors.


Though these cuts would never come to pass, campaigners did win a voice in government as the personal care industry was granted separation from hospitality and leisure. This gives the sector a dedicated team within the government to support its development, helping the current cabinet improve its understanding of the category so they can make decisions based on it’s best interest rather than those of the treasury. The industry contributes around £35 billion to the UK economy every year, you’d think they would have a sector-specific team already!

Though the salons were struggling, the freelancers were doing a little better. Personal care already had one of the highest proportions of self-employed and freelance workers but the pandemic restrictions only helped to push it even higher. As the salons continued to be closed for days on end stylists, makeup artists and nail technicians started setting up their own businesses to continue working despite the shutdowns. Freelance hairdressers increased to 60% and freelance beauty therapists to 65% - increases of 6% and 8% respectively on their pre-pandemic levels. That’s not to say that self-employment didn’t bring its own risks as many hairdressers, makeup artists and beauticians were forced to work under the radar, defying government guidance and making the terrible choice between financial ruin and the health and themselves and their families.

As 2020 drew to a close, experts were predicting an equally bleak 2021 for the makeup, hair and beauty industry. Specialists believed vast amounts of already strained businesses would not survive another 3 months of lockdowns and the 6 tiers of social distancing to follow. They estimated that 14% of firms would be acutely vulnerable to failure - with this figure rising to 25% if the pandemic control measures remained in place for the whole year.


However, the industry surprised them. Though still operating under a limited capacity, there was an unprecedented surge in bookings at the end of the April lockdown period - a massive 432% spike! As the country threw open it’s windows and began opening back up, the demand for personal care services continued to rise slowly and steadily.

For hairdressers, they’d never been so busy as hair cutting was the most in demand service of 2021 making up a whopping 47% of all personal care bookings. Once that pandemic hair had been tamed, people were after a splash of colour to brighten up their days showing a clear preference for a full head of highlights of balayage. I myself ran straight to my salon as soon as I could leave my house to drench my mane in red dye.

For beauty salons, hair removal made up over 18% of all personal care appointments with most people wanting the full Hollywood wax. Other popular requests included eyebrow and eyelash care as well as facials and other dermatology treatments from all the mask wearing and hand sanitising. Over in the nail parlours, their most in demand service was gel manicures - especially Shellac which made up 9% of call personal care bookings.

The freelance wave continued to ride as a further 10% of workers turned self-employed. Freelancers now make up almost 70% of the hair and beauty industry! This has inspired a growth in chair rental as hair salons and barbershops loan out their workspaces to freelancers so they can operate within a salon environment; though this shift has reduced the number of chairs available for hairdressing apprenticeships. Nail salons have also benefited from this growth as 47% of freelance nail artists are in their early career - that’s a lot of pandemic businesses!


Social media provided a lifeline for many businesses and freelancers alike. Though hair and beauty services cannot be offered digitally, some found innovative ways to engage their customers. They were live streaming tutorials, masterclasses and seminars on platforms like Instagram, Youtube and Twitch and utilising Facebook groups and other freelance communities like Freelancer Club to network with other industry professionals. These new opportunities allowed people to further develop their skills and find new ways of working. People are learning DIY beauty techniques on TikTok and searches for “How to style pandemic hair” reached an all-time peak during the early 2021 lockdowns. 

As the year ends, the industry shows a promising 54% recovery rate. Over two thirds of business owners are confident of their survival, with over 40% of them planning to expand their businesses going into 2022. Experts expect to see an increased uptake of technology as the industry embraces the digital revolution. Branding and marketing will be ever more important to operating a successful business, with social media becoming nigh-on essential for prosperity. 


Was your make-up, hair, nail or beauty business affected by Covid-19? I asked our members how they were recovering from the impact of the pandemic restrictions:

Though make-up artist and professional skin care specialist Lourenna from Style with Flare had barely any clients for 2 years; she still wasn’t eligible for any government funding. After having to reduce the treatments she offered, she was able to rebrand herself using social media. She focuses on highlighting the difference between hiring a qualified professional for a shoot, campaign or brief over hiring unqualified enthusiasts.

Lourenna has also been working on a new portfolio and putting herself forward for collaborations on Freelancer Club, including working as an MUA with our ‘Complete the Brief’ competition winner Juliette Chidwick on her fashion ballet test shoot at Simulacra Studios in London. She attributes her recovery to targeting new sectors for potential clients: “It’s hard work but I think the main thing is to try new ways of attracting new audiences, and rebranding yourself. Being consistent as a creative is key. Seeing what works for you and finding an authentic way for you to stand out amongst others are ways you can self promote too!”


Matilda Boakye, a bridal and special occasions make-up artist and model from Northampton started using Instagram for networking: “so everyone, especially industry professionals, know my name.”

For Funke Enigbonjaye, a self-taught Avantgarde hair artist from Nigeria, the pandemic had a positive impact on her business. From the comfort of her home in Wales, she was able to network with other hair artists to offer live classes, seminars and demonstrations online. She began giving out advice and getting creative with household items on her social media and before long she was able to obtain even more clients than she had before the pandemic! Since restrictions were lifted, she’s worked with leading photographers, music directors and fashion stylists and had her work featured in multiple worldwide publications.

She credits her consistent new strategy for the significant growth in her business since Covid-19: “The pandemic gave me a new perspective on how much I can get out of my social media sites. I was unable to provide any type of hair service, but I was able to UNLEARN in order to LEARN. I've been able to obtain more clients since the pandemic…I was able to master my skill and think beyond of my comfort zone in terms of creativity”


The Freelancer Club is here to help you recover your freelance business after Covid-19. You can find other talented creatives to network and collaborate with; learn new skills through masterclasses in our Academy or attend one of our upcoming Events. Take a look at the Resources section for a wealth of Documents and Guides to help you set up your freelance business or check out our Articles for information on all things freelance. Showcase your portfolio on your profile (and view others!);  create a post on our Discussions Board to engage our community of over 42k members to improve your craft or apply for paid work using our Jobs function.

Photographer Credits:
Preview Photo: Mikhail Nilov
Image 1: Andrea Piacquadio
Image 2:  Karolina Grabowska
Image 3: Pavel Danilyuk
Image 4: Rodnae Productions
Image 5: Cottonbro
Image 6: Style with Flare
Image 7: Funke Enigbonjaye

Hair and beauty industry statistics are from our partner PolicyBee and the 2021 report from the National Hair and Beauty Federation (NHBF). All figures quoted are accurate at the time of publishing.

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