Consumer

Andrea Felsted is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering the consumer and retail industries. She previously worked at the Financial Times.

Skin-care is back. That's the message from both L'Oreal SA and Estee Lauder Cos. It's one Nestle SA CEO Mark Schneider and activist investor Dan Loeb should be paying close attention to.

Crawling Skincare
Demand for face cream has lagged foundation over the past five years
Source: Euromonitor Internatioinal

Demand for products that primp the skin is giving the two cosmetics giants a second wind as concern was growing that the selfie-induced craze in colored makeup had reached its peak. That helped L'Oreal to beat sales estimates this week, and Estee Lauder benefited in a similar way.

The important thing, as Deborah Aitken of Bloomberg Intelligence notes, is that this is a second and more profitable engine of expansion. Face masks and the like have wider profit margins.

Top Tier
Luxury and active cosmetics drove better-than-expected sales growth at L'Oreal
Source: Copany reports, Bloomberg

This shift matters to Dan Loeb, the activist investor who has been pressing Nestle to offload its 23 percent stake in L'Oreal. The French cosmetic producer's shares are near their record high, valuing the holding at 25 billion euros ($29 billion).

Let Me Take a Selfie
The social media induced make up boom has driven L'Oreal shares higher
Source: Bloomberg

L'Oreal could use its strong balance sheet -- it has little debt and could liquidate its own 9 billion-euro stake in Sanofi -- to buy back Nestle's holding without sacrificing too much financial flexibility to do other deals.

Schneider has left the door open to an eventual deal -- but has indicated he was in no rush to decide. That's partly because Nestle already had so much on its plate: he's wrestling with sluggish sales growth. Schneider's decision won't be determined by one quarter's sales numbers.

But with make-up demand still booming and skincare showing signs of a recovery, his window to make a decision has lengthened. Schneider just needs to act before the industry really does hit peak lipstick.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Andrea Felsted in London at afelsted@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Edward Evans at eevans3@bloomberg.net