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How ‘Glow’ Became Beauty's Latest Obsession

The ultimate signifier of inner health, ‘glow’ has become the new buzzword in beauty.
Instagram posts by Nam Vo | Source: @namvo on Instagram
  • Kati Chitrakorn

LONDON, United Kingdom — When Jennifer Lopez released her debut single "If You Had My Love," which became one of the best-selling singles of the 90s, it wasn't only her silky groove and crooning that got people talking. Her dewy, incandescent complexion was the talk of her fans, so much that the term "J. Lo Glow" was coined in reference to the American singer's youthful skin. It's a question many a magazine has since asked, "How does Jennifer Lopez get her glow?"

But the trend gradually faded over the past decade as consumers began experimenting with make-up application techniques like contouring, bronzing, strobing and baking — inspired by the sculpted looks of celebrities like the Kardashian-Jenner clan and driven by a desire to share bolder, more visible looks on social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat.

It is only this past year that “glow” — think flushed cheeks and a radiant, lit-from-within complexion — re-entered the wider beauty lexicon, becoming more popular than terms like “bronzing” or “contouring.” Indeed, at last search, #Glow had 6.9 million tagged posts on Instagram. (In comparison, #Contour had 4.7 million while #Bronze was at 3 million.)

The revival of “glow” can be attributed to several factors. Inspired by the world of South Korean beauty, the origins of many aesthetic fads, “glow” takes its cue from K-beauty’s “glass skin” phenomenon, where users try to achieve a gleaming, porcelain-like look (just like a pane of glass). As beauty becomes more of a lifestyle, the health and wellness sector has also inspired “an influx of ‘ath-beauty’ products used to recreate a healthy post-workout glow,” said Theresa Yee, senior beauty editor at trend forecaster WGSN.

“‘Glow’ is now one of the top-searched skincare terms online,” she said.

And it’s increasingly big business.

In the first quarter of 2018, UK sales of face beauty products increased 19 percent compared to the same period a year earlier, driven by highlighting products and primers, which are “linked to the recent trends for glowing skin and natural make-up,” according to a May 2018 report by the NPD Group. Sales of blusher, meanwhile, declined by 10 percent and bronzer was down by 5 percent. Similarly, for the US market, blush sales declined 8 percent and bronzer 4 percent in the same period.

“Glowing skin equates good health. It’s something that women globally ask for when visiting the spa or dermatologist — the most common quality that women dislike about their skin is dullness. Thanks to new products that cater to this obsession, a glowing complexion is now easily attainable at home,” said Net-a-Porter’s beauty director Newby Hands. Today, there are about 300 beauty products on Net-a-Porter containing the description “glow,” from The Beauty Chef’s ‘glow inner beauty powder’ to Dr Barbara Sturm’s ‘glow drops.’ “We recently launched Mimi Luzon’s '24k pure gold glow brilliant super oil' and it sold out within one week,” said Hands.

The wellness version of a Birkin is a natural glow.

Online retailer Cult Beauty has also witnessed a surge in consumers looking for “glow”-related products. “Over the past year, we’ve had a 104 percent increase in ‘glow’ search terms and 400 percent increase in ‘glowing’ across the site,” said Alexia Inge, Cult’s co-founder and co-chief executive. “Consumers want to show off how healthy they are with the wellness version of a Birkin, which is a natural glow.”

"Glow" has been a key selling point for brands like Charlotte Tilbury. "We are now in the digital age of high definition where [photos are taken and posted constantly] …. it's a megapixel mega-pore nightmare," said the make-up artist and namesake founder. Her 'Hollywood flawless filter,' a complexion booster that has the versatility of a face primer but the mega-watt glow of a highlighter, which launched in February, has already sold out in multiple shades on Net-a-Porter.

The trend isn’t confined to US and European brands. One of South Korea’s biggest beauty export sites is called Glow Recipe. According to Christine Chang, Glow’s co-founder and co-chief executive, the watermelon glow sleeping mask — now the brand’s best-selling product — sold out almost instantly when it launched in May 2017, garnering a 5,000-person waitlist on the first day. The watermelon glow pink juice moisturiser sold out in four hours during its pre-sale launch this year. “Glow Recipe’s skincare business is projected at $30 million in retail sales for 2018,” she said.

"Glow" has also boosted the popularity of make-up artists like Nam Vo, who offers tips and product recommendations on how to create a glowing look. "J. Lo was my original glow-spiration," she told BoF. "I remember watching her music video and being totally mesmerised by her skin. Ever since then, creating the perfect glow — where your cheekbones are poppin' and your skin looks like it's drenched in moisture — has been part of my beauty DNA." Today, Vo's Instagram account @namvo has over 123k followers, who she refers to as "dewy dumplings." "Over the past year, my following has tripled and a lot of those followers have come specifically from my highlighter videos."

“Anything that photographs well in feeds is in demand,” said Nicky De Simone, UK brand manager of Becca Cosmetics. When the New York-based company, which has 3,300 doors worldwide, launched its rose gold champagne pop highlighter in 2015, it sold out of 25,000 units at Sephora in 20 minutes. “We’re definitely best known for our ‘glow’ products and the champagne pop highlighter continues to be a fan favourite. I believe this is in large part due to social media.”

For Tilbury, few beauty trends have the same effect as “glow,” which is as much about how you feel as how you look. But, she said, that’s not a bad thing — and won’t be disappearing anytime soon. “I really believe in what I call the ‘mirror confidence mentality,’ where you look in the mirror and see yourself glowing, so you instantly feel glowing and begin to emit it like rays.”

“Some people are willing to go the whole hog and live the lifestyle of a mountain goat in order to attain this naturally occurring luminescence, while others just want to buy really good make-up that fakes it — and there are products that do both,” added Cult Beauty’s Inge.

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