A decades-old theory that shoppers treat themselves to small indulgences like buying a new tube of lipstick when times are tough now extends to products with anti-aging or anti-acne ingredients.

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Before the recession, Stacey Fujimura went in for regular manicures and pedicures.

“Now, I do those myself,” says the single mom of a middle-schooler. “I’m on a pretty tight budget, and with a 12-year-old at home, it just seems like I need to stretch my dollars.”

But Fujimura still splurges on one part of her beauty regimen — facial moisturizers. She figures she spends about $300 every three months for products that promise to prevent age spots, wrinkles and dry skin.

“I suppose someone in their 20s wouldn’t be concerned about those things, but when you have 40-something skin, you’re more concerned,” says Fujimura, 47, who lives and works in Seattle.

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According to NPD Group, a market-research firm based in Port Washington, N.Y., demand for skin-care products is holding up despite a sluggish economy.

While sales of skin-care products at U.S. department stores fell 6 percent from mid-2008 to mid-2009, they rose 7 percent to $1.5 billion for the same January-through-July period this year, NPD’s data show.

By contrast, sales of makeup, including lipstick, blush and mascara, posted a bigger year-over-year decline for the first seven months of 2009, and a smaller increase so far this year, according to NPD.

Based on those numbers, the so-called lipstick effect — a decades-old theory that shoppers treat themselves to small indulgences when times are tough — now extends to products with anti-aging or anti-acne ingredients.

“I think women are being smarter about their purchases, and they want to do preventive things for their skin rather than repair it later,” says Kathleen McNeill, who oversees sales of beauty products at Bellevue-based Internet retailer Drugstore.com.

The company bought SkinStore.com operator Salu for $36 million this year, saying the deal would make it one of the largest online sellers of beauty products. SkinStore.com sells the types of skin-care products that can be found at spas and dermatologist offices.

Last month, Drugstore reported that its beauty business grew 61 percent in the second quarter compared with a year ago, and it now represents about 40 percent of the company’s nonprescription sales. (Overall, the company’s quarterly sales rose 27 percent from a year ago to $113.1 million, including the Salu purchase, though it lost nearly $2.7 million, or 3 cents a share.)

Drugstore, which also owns and operates the website Beauty.com, says it benefits from an ability to offer online shoppers a broad range of prices.

“The good thing about the recession is we did see people trading down in certain categories, but because we have both mass and prestige brands, we were able to keep” customers, McNeill said.

“The category that struggled the most during the recession was hair care,” she added. “People were trading down on their basic shampoos and conditioners, but if they had a styling product that gave their hair a certain look, they did not trade down.”

For some, makeup can be a way to freshen up their look without spending a bunch of money on new clothes and shoes.

Seattle-based Nordstrom recently paired with Burberry Beauty to introduce makeup by the London fashion house. For now, U.S. distribution of the Burberry Beauty line is limited to Nordstrom stores in Bellevue, Chicago, Costa Mesa, Calif., Paramus, N.J., and San Francisco.

The 96-unit line, which also is sold on Nordstrom’s website, includes lipstick for $30 and eyeliner for $27.

“For people who may not be able to afford the latest handbag, it’s a way to enter the Burberry world,” says Lionel Uzan, vice president of marketing at Clarins, which is distributing the Burberry Beauty line in the U.S. and Canada. “You can buy three pieces of the line and have an emotional connection with the brand.”

Uzan acknowledged that women are cutting back on discretionary-type purchases, even at the makeup counter.

“But it’s not that there’s no money out there,” he said. “You want to feel better. And wearing the Burberry Beauty line, because it’s exclusive, is a way to treat yourself.”

— Amy Martinez

Tidbits

Farms on Whidbey Island will hold their fifth annual farm tour this weekend. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, people can visit 19 working farms to see locally grown vegetables and locally raised livestock. Maps at WhidbeyFarmTour.com show participating farms including Fern Ridge Alpacas, where you can watch spinning and needle-felting demonstrations as well as learn about pasture management and composting techniques. — MA

Cupcake Royale is headed to the Eastside, with plans to open in an old IHOP location at 21 Bellevue Way N.E. in Bellevue later this month. It will be the 7-year-old chain’s fifth shop. The Bellevue café is “what our café would have looked like had we opened in 1971,” owner Jody Hall said in a press release. She teamed up with artist and designer Roy McMakin, who also partnered with her on Cupcake Royale’s Capitol Hill store design, to repurpose the store in “an unstudied, quick and easy, almost guerrilla fashion.” Until the store opens, Cupcake Royale will sell cupcakes from a mobile cupcake party-cart in the parking lot. — MA

A cooking school called Hipcooks will open Sept. 15 at 217 Yale Ave. N., on the ground floor of Vulcan Real Estate’s Alley24, a mixed-use project near REI’s flagship store. The small chain, which has locations in Portland and Los Angeles, teaches students to have fun while they cook, tossing out measuring cups and spoons and using their instincts to create flavors. A class schedule is at Seattle.Hipcooks.com, and a quick look shows most of its three-hour classes cost $65. — MA

Retail Report appears Fridays. Amy Martinez covers goods, services and online retail. She can be reached at 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com. Melissa Allison covers the food and beverage industry. She can be reached at 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com.