Blame it on the selfie.
At a time of year when fragrance typically reigns supreme, cosmetics are giving the popular gifting item — which accounts for half of beauty sales in December — a run for its money.
In the 10 months prior to the holiday shopping period, consumers were scooping up enough contouring kits, lip stains and other cosmetics to push prestige makeup sales 12 percent higher, to $5.9 billion, according to The NPD Group. That's on top of last year's 13 percent gain over the same period.
That momentum is seen continuing throughout the remainder of 2016, as innovative products hit the market, and as more confident consumers say they plan to spend more on themselves this Christmas.
"It's very much a focus on self ... and anything that can make you look good in a selfie," Karen Grant, NPD senior vice president and beauty analyst, told CNBC.
The rise in cosmetics sales comes as a limited number of new fragrance launches has contributed to softness in that subcategory. After shaking off some of that weakness in 2015, the rise in higher-end prestige fragrances decelerated from last year's 4 percent growth, to a more tepid 2 percent through October, according to NPD.
Whereas new product releases in fragrance have mostly been limited to spinoffs of popular scents, prestige cosmetics brands are offering new takes on primers (which are applied before makeup) and other categories like lip care. The lower-price mass market is joining in on this movement, as emerging brands like NYX and ELF are creating more "dynamism" in that segment than in prior years, Grant said.
At Ulta, which recently reported its strongest quarterly comparable sales growth since going public in 2007, both mass and prestige cosmetics fueled the company's performance, thanks to new brands and fresh items from existing brands. Management specifically called out labels like Urban Decay, Too Faced, Clinique and Lancome as contributors to its growth.