Indian Beauty Industry & the Story of its Evolution

From its roots in Indus Valley civilization to present day, beauty industry professional Rayed Merchant discusses the evolution of Indian beauty industry and shares his predictions of its future.

evolution of Indian beauty industry future predictions

Being a beauty marketer for many years, one thing I have observed is that the industry is rapidly changing. According to a study done by Assocham and research agency MRSS India, the current market size of India’s cosmetics and grooming industry was $6.5 billion by 2017. It is estimated that the number will touch $35 billion by 2035. Over the years, the concept of beauty and hair care has evolved, and so has the market.

Today, the beauty industry is more diverse and sustainable than ever before. In this article, I discuss the evolution of beauty industry and what lies ahead. So let’s take a look.

The Origin of Beauty and Hair Care in India

The story behind the evolution of beauty and hair care industry is quite a long one. The usage of beauty products and cosmetics has been an age-old tradition in India. Actually, the earliest records of cosmetic products and their application date back to the Indus Valley civilization, circa 2500 and 1550 B.C, according to an article by Kunda B. Patkar published in the Indian Journal of Plastic Surgery. Ingredients such as clarified butter and oils were used for facial beautification and hair removal in ancient India. While some of the beauty practices were based on routine, some were based on changing seasons.


The reference of various natural beauty products and even a beautician can be seen in famous mythological books like Mahabharata and Ramayana. Unique herbal ingredients were used to treat premature greying of hair, hair loss and for enhancing growth. Both men and women followed these beauty routines for generations.

The Changing Face of the Indian Beauty Industry: Pre- Independence vs. Post-independence

Today we have excess to tons of beauty tips from industry experts all over the world. But back in the day, the secrets shared by our ancestors were hardly recorded. However, the natural beauty routines of applying masks, exfoliating and promoting hair growth were found in the ancient Ayurveda book AshtangaHridaya.

It wasn’t until the British rule started that chemical cosmetics were first introduced to the country . These products gave quick and immediate results, and thus people began preferring them over the herbal products and practices. However, there were no established brands during those days. Moreover, the products contained chemicals like lead and mercury, which are highly carcinogenic.

skincare beauty products industry

However, after independence, the Indian beauty industry began to really take shape. A significant change was the introduction of Indian made cosmetic brands. The first brand that was introduced was Lakme, founded in 1952 by JRD Tata. From then on, various companies started coming forward, introducing cosmetic brands in the country for different classes of people.

The Beauty Industry: 1990s to 2000s

The early 90s in India were celebrated for a number of reasons, including the crowning of Sushmita Sen as the country’s first Miss Universe and Aishwarya Rai as Miss World in 1994. Not only did both the beauty queens bring the crown to India in the same year, they truly lived the example of beauty with a purpose.

The Indian beauty industry of the early 90s also started growing rapidly because of the increase of women entering the workforce. The participation of women in non-traditional professional jobs had a slow start but continued to grow, giving them a new reason to dress well and use cosmetics as a part of their daily routines.


Women became more independent, and this newfound freedom and dispensable income allowed them to focus on themselves, too. They started becoming aware about grooming and how to look and feel good all day, every day. Another factor that helped shape the beauty and hair care industry in India was the 1991 economic reform act.

International Brands Enter the Indian Market

Until 1991, no foreign brands were allowed to import in India. The economic reform in 1991 changed the view of beauty and hair care in the Indian context with international brands importing to India and taking their share in the market.

One of the first global brands that established itself in the country was Revlon. Following this, the Indian beauty industry spurred the rise of international brands like L’Oreal, M.A.C., Maybelline and Clinique in the 90s and 2000s. Since then, many other international brands entered the Indian market, and continue to do so every year.

loreal beauty industry aishwarya rai campaign
L’Oreal ad campaign featuring Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Sonam Kapoor Ahuja

It was only a matter of time for major brands to take over the industry and establish themselves as the top players. By early 2000s, the top international players of the beauty and hair care industry in India were Hindustan Unilever, L’oreal India and Colgate-Palmolive India. There was a boom in cosmetics advertisements. Endorsement of brands using celebrities gained maximum attention.

The Beauty and Hair Care Industry in 2010s

While domestic players were promoting natural and herbal products in 2000s, their market shares were very low as people preferred international brands over Indian ones. It was not until 2014, when Patanjali took over the market that the country accepted herbal products and domestic brands again. Further, ITC industries also joined among the top players of the country.

patanjali beauty products industry
Patanjali beauty products

Today, many cosmetic brands are coming up with products that promote all-natural, clean products. Additionally, the shift of the beauty industry is also reflected in how it has pushed its way towards shade-inclusivity, instead of the nationally preferred fair skin tone, which was the norm back in the 80s. Dove is a perfect example of a brand that has championed on appreciating diversity. Other brands like L’Oreal, Lotus, and Sugar Cosmetics have picked up on inclusive beauty by expanding their foundation range to cater to very dark skin tones, too.

When the digital media started having a peak in the early 2010’s e-commerce stepped up to woo customers. Beauty and hair care products were one of the first items that were introduced by the e-commerce sites. This opened up opportunities for small scale industries as well, which resulted in a spur of growth for not just established brands, but also for the upcoming ones to gain attention.

makeup store beauty retail india chanel dior
Chanel makeup kiosk

E-commerce sites like Amazon and Flipkart have been on top of the market ever since. However, with increasing demands, more e-commerce companies have come up. Nykaa is one such online retail store that started in 2012, focusing entirely on cosmetic products. Today it’s one of the most successful e-commerce sites that claims to be selling products from more than a thousand brands, a mix ofnational and global.

Known for their high-quality ingredients and gentle formulations, global beauty products are beloved for many. And on top of that, these products are available in every price range. By late 2010s, every Indian consumer, no matter where he or she was located, could get their hands on almost every type of product.


While old Indian brands like Dabur, Godrej and Lakme still had their hold, new players also began to enter the market and increased their market share. Indian cosmetic brands such as Biotique, Forest Essentials, VLCC, Lotus, Himalaya Herbals, Blossom Kochhar, Jovees, Patanjali, Just Herbs also gave stiff competition to the global brands. With the rising number of cosmetic consumption by the millennials, the surge was expected. There seemed to be a brand for every need and every budget.

Another global beauty term that is worth a mention in the Indian beauty industry’s lexicon from 2010s is K-Beauty. Not only did the Korean beauty and skincare products shoot into the mainstream, but they also met the skintellectual’s stringent standards. Innisfree was the first Korean brand that was introduced in India in 2013 with 100% FDI. That was followed by brands like Faceshop, Tonymoly, Etude House, Oh K!, Klairs, 3CE, Missha, and Secret Key.

Decoding the Future of the Beauty Industry

Today beauty and haircare are also linked to self-care. This is one of the main reasons why marketing trends like influencer marketing, sustainable alternatives, user-generated content and experiential marketing are currently high on charts. Influencers have changed the face of the beauty industry by not only endorsing smaller brands but creating trustworthy content.

While brands used to pay celebrities millions to endorse their product, today even well-known brands have started to take a shift towards influencers such as Instagram and YouTube stars. Whether the consumer is looking for beauty inspiration or wishes to follow a new blogger, media like Instagram and YouTube have a lot to offer, depending on the user’s preferences.

Furthermore, numerous beauty bloggers and vloggers also increase the demand for various types of skinare and makeup products through their demonstrations, tips and tutorials. How this influence evolves over time remains to be seen, but one thing is certain, the use of beauty products is now not limited to any occasion, any gender or any consumer segment.


The industry that has over 43% shares in the entire global market is definitely going to evolve. With a loyal customer base, the beauty industry is expected to alter its approach of introducing products that can cater to savvy millennial and Gen Z. By engaging with the target audiences and considering their thoughts, I am sure that the industry would come up with fresh and engaging ways to grow in the upcoming years.

Also read:

Indian Fashion Industry: Evolution, Trends, Influencers, Stats & Future
9 Skincare Trends for 2020 Taking the Beauty Industry by Storm

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