The eyes have it: Above-the-mask makeup sees pandemic surge

It's been said that rather than splurge on big-ticket items in times of crisis, consumers will indulge themselves by buying lipstick. COVID-19 may have turned that wisdom on its head, since masks are covering people's mouths.

Eyes and brows take centre stage, with anti-COVID masks covering everything else

'I find customers are trying different textures of shadow products, colours,' says Megan Robertson, a beauty pro at Shoppers Drug Mart in Dieppe, N.B. (Shoppers Drug Mart)

Over the past 11 months of mask-wearing and smizing (that's smiling with your eyes), beauty counters and estheticians have seen an increased demand for all things eye-enhancing. 

In times of crisis, it's been said that consumers will turn to lipstick as a retail indulgence to give their mood and mental health a boost. COVID-19 may have turned this "lipstick index" on its head, since masks are covering people's mouths. 

"We have certainly seen an increase in our client's interest in eye-enhancing services," said Karen Murphy, owner of Pure Spa in Charlottetown. 

Services such as lash extensions, where synthetic lashes are applied to your natural lashes to give a longer, fuller look have been popular. So have lash lift and tinting, brow shaping and brow henna applications. 

We have certainly seen an increase in our client's interest in eye-enhancing services.- Karen Murphy

Murphy said facials and skin care requests have been surging even more. Many people are experiencing skin breakouts, acne blemishes and irritation from wearing masks all day, in what some call "maskne." 

Megan Robertson of Dieppe, N.B., is one of a dozen Shoppers Drug Mart beauty pros across Canada. 

"Mascara is probably the number-one thing that we're selling the most of," Robertson told CBC News, though Shoppers never gives out specific sales numbers. People have been adding extra layers of mascara to emphasize lashes in a time of masks, she said. 

This model has had an eyelash lift and tint as well as a dermaplaning facial and makeup application by Jenepher Reynolds of About Face Cosmetics in Charlottetown. (Jenna Young)

Robertson said people are still buying lipstick, but they are moving toward long-wearing lip colour, as well as smudge-proof eye and face cosmetics. 

For the eyes, her customers are experimenting with different eyeshadow textures, bolder colours, shimmer and liquid liner. "Usually they're just trying to amp up what they've been doing." 

Face and body care and nail care products have also been hugely popular at Shoppers locations, Robertson said, as people across the country rely on self-care when salons have to shut down. 

Eyes are 'focus feature'

The uptick in demand for skin care and eye-enhancing services is being seen by estheticians CBC News spoke with across Prince Edward Island, where a light COVID-19 caseload has allowed most businesses to stay open with public health precautions in place.

Before and after photos of a brow waxing and henna at Pure Spa. (Submitted by Pure Spa)

Jillian DesRoches is an esthetician at Essential Time salon in Summerside, and also does foot care. 

"Now that that's pretty much all you see is eyebrows and eyes, people want that to be the focus feature on their face." 

Now that that's pretty much all you see is eyebrows and eyes, people want that to be the focus feature.- Jillian DesRoches

Eyelash tinting is popular for some because the heat from breathing into a mask can cause mascara to "melt" off your eyes, DesRoches said. If your eyelashes are tinted, she said, you don't need to wear mascara. 

She was already busy doing lashes and brows, she said, because those services had been trending upward anyway. But she said her regular customers are booking more frequent appointments, after four weeks instead of six. 

Part of the increased demand, the estheticians agree, is that customers are missing close human interaction and touch as pandemic restrictions require physical distancing. 

"People are even happy to come in and have their lip waxed!" DesRoches said with a chuckle. 

Skin care services such as facials are in high demand during the pandemic, says Pure Spa owner Karen Murphy. (LaVie In Pictures)

She had been worried people who aren't able to travel south this year would skip getting a pedicure or waxing, but said that hasn't been the case. 

"They're still doing it, they're taking care of themselves." 

Jenefer Reynolds, who owns About Face Cosmetics in Charlottetown, said demand for facials soared when the initial lockdowns started to ease last summer: "Just, 'Scrape off these COVID layers, please.'"

As well as eyelash lifting and tinting, Reynolds has seen a higher demand for brow shaping, tinting and microblading (tiny tattoo strokes that fill in light-coloured, sparse or overplucked eyebrows). She estimates eye services have been 20 to 25 per cent more popular in the past year at her business. 

She added: "It's so trivial, I know, but when you look in the mirror and you like what you see, it affects your whole being."

More from CBC P.E.I.


Sara Fraser

Web Journalist

Sara has worked with CBC News in P.E.I. since 1988, starting with television and radio before moving to the digital news team. She grew up on the Island and has a journalism degree from the University of King's College in Halifax. Reach her by email at


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