Natural beauty. Green beauty. Clean beauty. Nontoxic beauty. Whatever you prefer to call cosmetics and personal care products made without harmful ingredients, this market has come a long way in the past decade.
Not only are the green beauty products of today super high performance, there are more of them than ever. And business is indeed booming. According to a recent report published by Transparency Market Research, global demand for natural and organic personal care was a not-too-shabby $7.6 billion plus back in 2012 and is expected to reach more than $13 billion by 2018.
Skincare products made up the majority of global demand in 2011 with a 32.1% share, followed by hair care and cosmetics. North America leads the global demand, trailed by Europe, expected to grow by 9.8% from 2012 to 2018. Millennials comprise the largest segment of interested natural beauty buyers — a whopping 63% — so it comes as no surprise that social media is a major influencer in products purchased.
What’s driving this rapid growth? Greater awareness of the benefits of natural and organic ingredients, an ever-growing range of natural products, and easier ways to obtain them. The farm-to-table, healthy lifestyle movement is uber popular right now, and farm-to-face, small batch beauty aligns with those ideals.
As with any booming industry, businesses are jumping on the natural beauty bandwagon at breakneck speed. From natural beauty newcomers to large, well-established brands who’ve never before been keen on using natural and organic ingredients, we are seeing more and more “natural” cosmetics than ever before.
Growth is good for everyone involved, right? Apparently, not always. I recently spoke with several top natural and organic beauty founders, and their struggles are consistent: This natural beauty boom has two sides, and one of them isn’t as pretty (or as natural) as the other.
Small Brands and Big Business
A few years ago authentic brands began to pop up in larger online retailers, like Sephora and Goop. Convenient? Yes. But in the near future you may see them dwindling.
Some smaller brands are risking a lot to stay in these stores, making less profit and sometimes even sourcing lower quality ingredients to keep up with stock demands from the retailer. Founder of Soapwalla Rachel Winard says the problem is something the company struggles with “daily” – a constant balance of “how to stay true to our principles and not lose sight of our hands-on approach while also ensuring we can continue to grow and introduce ourselves to a larger clientele.”
Victoria Fantauzzi, co-founder of La Bella Figura Beauty notes that “Many of us control the way our products are made or the ingredients we use whether we make them ourselves or work closely with certain manufacturers so that our products remain effective and ethically produced,” she said. “How is it possible to continue along these lines with retail cutting into our profits? It doesn’t matter if we raise prices because ultimately the retailer is setting a standard that is not conducive to the way we produce these products.”
“Skimping on quality in order to afford the higher demands of being included by some larger retailers undermines the essence of healthy beauty, and smaller brands who won’t go along with those demands are seeing themselves squeezed out of those stores,” said Heather Hamilton, Founder of Zoe Organics. “The conversation is so much more than the end product on the shelf. It’s how it got there. It’s all the hands that played a role; starting with the organic farmers. It’s about the impact we have on the environment and our bodies.”
The Modern Era of Greenwashing
Another problem with the ever-growing state of affairs in healthy beauty is that many of these new brands and products hitting the market aren’t so healthy after all. Some new product lines are even being produced by the big retailers themselves.
You’ve heard of greenwashing? Well, the art of misleading marketing in the natural beauty industry is in no short supply either. If anything, it’s only getting craftier.
“When so many brands are entering the market that can pay to advertise and take over the spaces that we typically use to connect, primarily online and social media, it creates a lot of noise, potentially making it more confusing for the consumer and of course, harder for small, indie brands,” said Suzanne LeRoux, President of One Love Organics.
Beauty labeling can be a sneaky business. In order to make their way into this quickly expanding territory, some large beauty brands and retailers are throwing their cash at marketing rather than putting it where it really counts, in making clean products.
Big names with big followings are getting good at wiggling industry speak and healthy sounding tidbits into their marketing campaigns. And because they already have devoted fans and vast social media followings, they are selling a lot of these not-very-natural products.
Take mega beauty retailer Sephora. The “Natural Beauty” section of its site has some truly healthy brands, like RMS Beauty and Herbivore Botanicals, lined up alongside many products that are not small batch or particularly healthy. (Type “natural beauty” into Amazon’s search bar and you may find purported “natural” products with an ingredients list like this: Other Deionized water (aqua), glycerin, caprylic capric triglycerides, propylene glycol, glyceryl monostearate, gyceryl stearate, PEG-100 stearate, stearic acid, isopropyl palmitate, cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, ceteareth-20, cetearyl alcohol, cocos nucifera (coconut) oil, cetyl palmitate, shea (butyrospermum parkii) butter, panthenol, vitamin E (tocopheryl acetate), dimethicone crosspolymer, dimethicone, methylparaben, propylparaben, disodium EDTA, diazolidinyl urea, triethanolamine, fragrance (parfum).)
It’s not that people are purchasing from these big companies that is worrisome. It’s that they are purchasing items they believe are safe and healthy because a company they trust says they are safe and healthy. And consumers aren’t the only ones paying for this hot green air. Those authentic natural beauty brands are feeling the pressure, too.
Growing Demand and the Authentic Brand
Healthy beauty is about more than a few words on a product label or a celebrity endorsement. It’s about why you use healthy products, how they are made, and how they align with your lifestyle. “The customer today is moving from mass to indie brands and loves to discover where and how the products are made, how the company was started, the environmental practices of the company, and wants education and advice from the company’s founder,” said LeRoux. “In other words, the customer is looking for beauty brands with whom she can truly connect.”
What about those purchasing the pseudo-naturals? Or others who have no clue who to trust? “I think people have become (rightfully) skeptical of retailers which makes it hard for natural brands like us to win their trust on shelves,” said Adina Grigore, Founder of S.W. Basics. “Meanwhile, the space is burgeoning which means the competition is both mighty and in many cases, kind of full of it. It’s still really hard for people to imagine that a brand that seems natural isn’t, so we’re competing with a bunch of liars.”
Hamilton added, “It is incredibly disheartening to be on the shelf next to brands who jumped in on the action because natural was on-trend. Brands with huge budgets and limitless resources, making claims that are false and promises they can’t keep. Being an authentic organic beauty brand comes with conviction that runs far deeper than profit margins.”
That’s what makes authentic brands stand apart. Their commitment to creating products with the healthiest high quality, ethically-sourced ingredients. “Adulteration and dilution of raw ingredients is rampant – and rarely talked about,” said May Lindstrom, Founder of May Lindstrom Skin. “[Is] all that effort worth it to stand by my promise of ever-increasing our standard? 100%.”
Natural Beauty: The “Trend” That’s Here to Stay
Fantauzzi admits it wasn’t easy in the beginning. “I remember what it took for us to break into green beauty and it was a big sacrifice because at the time it was a hard sell. We came up against quite a few naysayers, retailers with no vision and confused consumers who thought green beauty was a passing phase,” she said.
While the green beauty fakers may be getting loads of exposure, the attention they are receiving may also benefit authentic brands. “The more attention that is placed on what it means to be a natural beauty brand, the better for us all,” said Winard. “I have faith that customers are drawn to authenticity.”
“Entering the market when it was really new allowed [One Love Organics] to have strength, valuable experience and proven products in this market today,” said LeRoux. “However, if natural and organic beauty did not appeal to a larger audience and as such bring demand for larger channels of distribution, I don’t think any of the original green beauty brands would have the ability to operate the way they do today.”
Even though they are feeling growing pains, smaller beauty brands are seeing certain benefits from the growing industry. As Grigore noted, “None of us would be growing the way that we are without the help of being ‘on trend’. The only disadvantage is how easy it is to market yourself as anything.”
What Authentic Brands Want You to Know
As you’ve probably guessed, it is as important now as it was a decade ago (possibly more so given the influx of natural products) to check ingredient listings. Know what you do and don’t want in your beauty and personal care, get familiar with harmful cosmetic ingredients, and follow brands who display their commitment to creating high-quality products and clear ingredient listings.
Genuinely healthy beauty feels more like a community than a market, a commitment to a healthful lifestyle. You check your food labels, right? Just because a protein bar brand tells you its product is healthy, do you believe them? Or do you check it out for yourself? Beauty is no different. Know what you are putting on your skin.
Get to know the faces behind the brands, often the very people who are formulating, hands-on creating, and packaging the items you purchase. “I would wish for consumers to stay savvy. To read labels and do their homework,” said Hamilton. “Know who you are purchasing from. Ask lots of questions and trust your gut.”
“Do research on a company and see if you agree with its philosophy/principles,” said Winard. “As the market becomes more saturated, this is one of the best ways to get to know a brand to see if that’s where you want to spend your money.”
The Future of Natural Beauty
As the industry continues to grow and we work toward better laws and regulations on cosmetic ingredients and labeling, the best way to support the authentic beauty brands is to spread the news of their innovations and evolutionary ideas, and vote with your dollars. Hopefully, one day soon, we won’t have to worry about calling this segment of the beauty market “green”, or “clean”, or “healthy”. Take Procter & Gamble’s recent commitment to disclose fragrance ingredients. Don’t be fooled — it’s not clean or green, but it’s a step close to the light.
“I think a wave of consumer consciousness has begun and eventually the customer will connect their dollar with products that work and offer safe formulations,” said Fantauzzi. Lindstrom agrees, “Clean beauty should be standard as each and every one of us deserves to embrace their skin with ingredients that resonate with our whole-self wellness and the honoring of our planet.”
“I want organic beauty to simply be beauty. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we didn’t have a niche area of personal care but that we were instead the standard for formulation? That natural was the status quo?” said Winard. “That’s my dream.”
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