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Pandemic Puts An End To The 'Lipstick Index'

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

During recessions like the one we're in now, economists and business reporters look at a lot of different indicators to determine the overall health of the economy.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Indicators like consumer confidence, durable goods purchases and, until now, the lipstick index...

SHAPIRO: That term, the lipstick index, was coined by someone who knows lipstick. Leonard Lauder is the son of Estee Lauder, founder of the makeup company. He came up with the lipstick index during the economic downturn after 9/11. Here's how Kelly Dobos explains it. She's a cosmetic chemist in Cincinnati.

KELLY DOBOS: That women were still going to buy themselves a little pick-me-up even during a downturn in an economic cycle because it's relatively inexpensive and it's a nice treat for themselves.

CHANG: In other words, when the economy goes down, lipstick sales go up. But like so much else in the world, the coronavirus has turned the lipstick index on its head - the reason being masks. Speaking from experience, masks and lipstick just don't mix. I've already stained a bunch of my masks, Ari. So why am I even bothering with lipstick?

SHAPIRO: I wish I could say I feel your pain, but I have not had that problem.

CHANG: (Laughter).

SHAPIRO: Jennifer Spaulding Schmidt is senior partner at McKinsey & Company.

JENNIFER SPAULDING SCHMIDT: What we see now, obviously, with masks is that people are not buying lipstick.

CHANG: But people are still looking for inexpensive ways to treat themselves.

SPAULDING SCHMIDT: What they are buying is nail care, nail polish to do their own nails. They're buying skin care products.

SHAPIRO: So kiss the lipstick index goodbye, and say hello to a new economic indicator.

DOBOS: I think we're seeing the new nail index.

(SOUNDBITE OF LIZZO SONG, "GOOD AS HELL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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