The beauty industry is booming, but is it fuelled by Instagram — or LinkedIn?

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Even if the economic doomsayers are right about Australia being headed for a recession, hairdressers need not be too worried. 

“Hairdressing is considered a necessity of personal grooming,” says Bau Vuong, an industry analyst at IBISWorld. 

“Demand tends to be resilient for these haircuts, even during uncertain economic conditions.”

The same is true of manicures and pedicures. It mightn’t surprise, then, that the hair and beauty industry is booming.

“The industry is expected to be worth $6.5 billion in the current year,” Mr Vuong says.

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Four experts speak to The Money about ideals of beauty, and whether being attractive can pay off in terms of what we earn.

Stephanie Cashman, from beauty salon Simply Stunning, is certainly not surprised.

She’s seen an increasingly young clientele opting for increasingly high-intervention treatments.

“I think that’s been a change within the last three or four years. There’s definitely been more 18-year-olds, and they’re getting a lot done as well, not just basic eyebrow waxing,” she says.

“They’re really getting a lot of services done.”

Ms Cashman says detailed treatments such as eyelash lifts and laser treatment are now common choices among the 20 to 30-year-old age bracket, whereas they used to be reserved for a clientele up to 20 years older.

She believes social media, and readily accessible images of celebrity beauty practices, is driving a lot of business.

Tim Olds, a professor of health sciences from the University of South Australia, agrees the industry is being spurred by the images around us — which are often very unrealistic.

“We’re exposed to more and more bodies, and we see more and more of those bodies, and those bodies are more and more ideal all the time,” he says.

“That drives a great deal of dissatisfaction.

” But, often, these body images, these body ideals, are unrealisable for almost everybody. 

“I think that unapproachability greases the wheels of a whole lot of body transformation industries.”

He cites cosmetic surgeries, cosmetics, laser clinics and anti-ageing treatments.

“And drugs, gyms — all of these industries, I think, are driven by this constant dissatisfaction,” he says.

And it’s not exclusive to women.

Man having beard shaved

Mr Vuong says men comprise a growing wedge of the beauty market.

“The biggest trend that has occurred over the past five years is that of male image consciousness, which has been extremely beneficial to the industry,” he says.

“The industry has benefited from males increasingly frequenting salons, stylists and even upmarket barbers.”

The beauty pay back?

US professor Daniel Hamermesh believes both men and women also stand to make money from beauty. 

He’s explored the topic in his book, Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People are More Successful.

He argues that beauty rewards financially — though the benefit varies from country to country.

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“It will be higher in the US because our distribution of wages is much less equal than that in most other countries,” he says.

According to his research, the income gap between attractive and unattractive people is more than superficial.

“I estimated when I did this, which is now 15 years ago, that we’re talking to a couple of hundred thousand dollars over a lifetime,” Professor Hamermesh says.

The gender gap

Professor Hamermesh says the figure is often higher for men, in part because they tend to earn more than women.

“For men, I’m talking maybe 10 per cent, 12 per cent [difference]. For women, it might be eight per cent, seven per cent,” he says.

“A little bit less — not hugely less, but that’s in percentage terms. In dollars it’s even less, because women on average earn maybe 80 per cent of what men earn.” 

He says research shows that beauty impacts how people are treated in the workplace.

“It spills over to how well you can inspire the people around you to be productive, for a boss of some kind,” he says.

“And it also spills over in those industries where you have customer contacts, which includes, by the way, my business of higher education, because to me the customers are the students I teach.”

He says a study in Canada showed that professors considered to be better looking earned more money than their less attractive colleagues. 

However, beauty isn’t everything when earning capacity is considered. 

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The Money explains how the Australian economy and everything in it works, and how it connects to the global economy.

Professor Hamermesh says there are other factors that have a greater impact than appearance. 

“In the US an extra year of school gets you 10 per cent extra earnings. That’s a fair amount. That’s just one extra year of school,” he says.

“An extra three or four years’ experience in the labour force, working also gets you about 10 per cent, maybe 8 per cent [more income]. 

“Gender matters a bit more. Being a racial minority, in the US at least, matters more. Not being able to speak the language of the country. 

“These also matter at least as much if not more than beauty does.”