6 wellness trends to watch in 2021

At the recent Global Wellness Summit earlier this month, a panel of journalists and futurists (all experts in wellness) discussed how the pandemic is shaking up the “wellness concept” and what they predict will be the big wellness trends for 2021.

The panel included Sandra Ballentine, editor, W magazine; Cecelia Girr, senior strategist at Backslash, the cultural intelligence unit from TBWA Worldwide; Elaine Glusac, travel columnist, The New York Times; Claire McCormack, content and thought leadership, Indie Beauty Media Group/Beauty Independent; Sarah Miller, luxury brand ambassador, Wall Street Journal; Jessica Smith, freelance wellness and beauty trends consultant; LS:N Global.

Getty Images
Getty Images

The predicted trends include:

1. A new convergence between health care and wellness

COVID-19 has put a spotlight on the importance of preventative lifestyle approaches, and how our future survival will depend on a new alignment between wellness and health care. As Ballentine noted, the pandemic has provided painful, incontrovertible evidence that “we need to shift our health care system away from profiting from sickness and gear it towards preventing it” – forecasting that we will see a combination of functional and conventional medicine across community and economic lines, with telemedicine (and tele-wellness) playing a much bigger role. 

2. Strengthening the immune system

Ballentine also predicted that strengthening the immune system (and building physical fortitude) will be a major 2021 wellness trend across the board, from food, to supplements, to educational classes. “We will see more customized immunity hacks, using genetic testing and biohacking…to pinpoint what immune therapies best suit your system and situation.” When people feel comfortable with bodywork again, she argued there will be more immunity-enhancing treatments and energy healing, and that there will be a much bigger focus on gut health and our microbiome as it pertains to immunity and brain function.

3. A great ‘un-tabooing’: Wellness gets real about sex, money and death

The panel discussed how we’re moving from a wellness industry narrowly focused on “looking and feeling good” to, as Girr put it, “a massive and seismic cultural taboo toppling,” with wellness radically expanding its boundaries to riskier “cultural pain points…and the really big stuff,” such as sex, money and death–issues that “have a much larger impact on our health than the day to day vanities of wellness.” So we will see everything from the rise of new, healthier end-of-life practices such as death doulas to getting real about money with new financial therapy/wellness approaches.

4. Nature, nature, nature

The experts all agreed that in an era of lockdown and social distancing (and with new awareness that the destruction of the environment spurred COVID-19) that there is a profound new value being placed on nature and wilderness as healing.
Glusac explained how this is the dominant trend in wellness travel: “Sadly, in travel, we’ve temporarily lost connection to other people (one of travel’s wonders), and that people connection is being replaced with nature connection, which provides unique healing and solace in a pandemic.” She noted that slow, human-powered travel (cycling, hiking, walking, paddling trips) is growing fast, not only because they’re wellness experiences, but because they’re also naturally socially-distanced activities. Glusac also argued that there is a pronounced uptick in interest in sustainable travel and in the newer concept that takes it all further, regenerative travel, which is not just reducing your carbon footprint, but actually leaving the place better than you found it.

5. Home wellness

The group concurred that a trend dramatically amplified by COVID-19 is bringing all kinds of wellness into our homes, from the simplest moves to the highest-tech. McCormack noted: “We’re spending so much more time in our homes, so companies are looking to help us optimize that space…specifically as a wellness refuge,” noting that she’s getting so many “home wellness” pitches, such as those from cool, new air purifier and humidifier start-ups. Miller noted that the “home wellness” focus can be very simple, such as finding ways to nurture ourselves in very tiny apartments, with air quality key: saying goodbye to the sealed, air-conditioned home and with opening windows, eating outside, and feeling the bracing air being “very basic pleasures and behaviors transforming…what is wellness.”

6. Beauty: from anti-microbial products to at-home beauty

Smith argued that while natural/clean beauty has been the uber-trend these last few years, now products that can reduce fears around hygiene will grow, with innovative new antimicrobial and antibacterial beauty formulations (and safe, touch-free application processes and packaging) that not only make beauty safe but whose ingredients also improve skin cells and tackle blemishes. Ballentine argued that the at-home, self-care beauty trend will reach new heights in 2021, with people mad for all sorts of beauty technologies and treatments that they can execute at home.