Is Nail Polish Losing Its Luster? Sales Dip as Nail-Art Trend Fades

BCBG's spring 2014 fashion show featured nude nails using OPI Samoan Sands. (Photo by OPI)Nail polish sales have broken all records in recent years, thanks in part to obsessive nail-art enthusiasts constantly updating their manicures with trendy colors and elaborate hand-painted designs. A pretty bottle of lacquer became the new instant pick-me-up, toppling lipstick (Leonard Lauder of Estée Lauder coined the term "lipstick index" to make sense of the increase in sales during a period of economic decline) as the most sought-after beauty product on the market, but is the trend officially on its way out?

While the nail polish category generated $814 million during the first 11 months of the year (an impressive stat, for sure), a new report from Ad Age says sales have certainly slowed. Coty, the parent company for such brands as OPI and Sally Hansen, reports a 4 percent decline in sales in the third quarter of 2013, while L'Oreal's sales have dropped 10 percent, and Revlon's dipped a whopping 13 percent in October and November. The decrease seems particularly surprising given all the festive metallic and glitter nail polishes flying off shelves for the holidays.

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Sofia Vergara showed off nude nails on the E! mani cam at the Emmy Awards in September. She wore COVERGIRL Outlast … Why the sudden decline? Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, executive vice president and artistic director of OPI, says it's only natural to lose momentum after such a big upswing. "The category was growing for the past four or five years at 20 to 30 percent growth, which is, for any category, unsustainable," she tells Yahoo Shine exclusively. "Now it's growing at maybe 3 to 5 percent."

Despite the decline, Weiss-Fischmann believes that nail polish is still popular, and innovations like gel polish (a pricier, ultra-shiny, chip-resistant formula available in salons) have invigorated the industry. Perhaps ladies who constantly scooped up new colors and the latest finishes and effects kits now own everything they want and are satisfied (at least temporarily) with their collections? "I've read that the average consumer has 50 to 100 bottles of nail color. Now she's not going to buy 10 bottles, she'll buy one or two special seasonal colors. There is definitely some pullback, but she's still buying."

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Weiss-Fischmann says she's marveled at the new public forums that highlight the nail-art trend, from red carpet mani cams to Instagram. "I have a 20-year-old daughter who Instagrams every design and color, and she gets so many likes! It's a generation that loves to share. It makes them into an individual." But the kitchy nail art of late is disappearing. Weiss-Fischmann says a truly innovative item like Shatter, OPI's popular crackle topcoat, comes along only every 10 years or so. She also confirms something that's been echoed by manicurists backstage at Fashion Week for the last season or two: Colorful, playful nail art is transitioning to more upscale nail design using modern geometric patterns in neutral colors or minimal accent nails. "At New York Fashion Week we did a lot of nude nails. Many designers wanted nude or matte, which gives an edgy look. Nail art in matte with a stripe is a great effect. Simplicity and sophistication is what we are looking for." The red carpets have certainly showcased this shift, too. "I do see celebrities wanting a classic shade for events, and I think they're following the same trend," says Weiss-Fischmann.

Holmes & Yang spring 2014 presentation showcased modern, minimal nail art by OPI. (Photo by OPI) Apparently, what's old is new again. Cult classics like Essie's sheer pale pink polish Ballet Slippers are being dusted off and put back into circulation, while brands like Clinique have launched collections of nail enamel that match every skin tone for a minimal effect. Weiss-Fischmann thinks we're entering a time when women are going back to their favorite color. "Everything is cyclical," she says. "In some things we want simplicity, and classic is in right now, in clothes and accessories." Even Weiss-Fischmann herself says she's passed on digging into her company's massive inventory of shades this holiday season, opting instead to wear her all-time fave, Big Apple Red.

And she's confident that consumers will also fall back on their favorites. "We're certainly not panicked," says Weiss-Fischmann. "When the consumer pulls back, she goes to the brand that she trusts."

For holiday nail inspiration, check out the video below:

Related links:
10 Big Nail Trends to Try Right Now
Weird Things You Don't Know About Nail Polish
This Holiday Season's Coolest Nail-Polish Collection (It Might Surprise You)