While natural beauty is a well-established category, in 2018, it undoubtedly ratcheted up a notch in the popularity stakes. Indeed, the popular clean beauty movement is said to have been behind a 27 percent sales increase in skin care alone this year, according to a report published by USA Today. The reason behind this is moot – with some arguing that it’s a reaction to the tech wizardry of life in the 21st century or, alternatively, prompted by a series of safety scandals that have put consumers on the high alert.
Either way, natural has become a priority for many consumers (see our consumer insight video on the topic) and there’s a growing camp, spurred on by clean enthusiasts, that are eschewing ‘chemicals’. The prevailing belief appears to be that chemical = bad, natural = good. And therein lies the contradiction in terms that our industry must navigate over the next 12 months, for – newsflash clean camp – naturals are chemicals too. Naturals can also be deadly, which is something we discussed at length during our podcast: Naturals – The Big Debate, with panellist Meryem Benohoud rightly pointing out that natural does not mean safe – despite consumer perception to the contrary.
And while Johnson & Johnson has long held its nerve on this point, repeatedly insisting safe is more important than natural (although the talc cases aren’t helping), other FMCG majors are caving to demand either launching all-new natural lines or buying stakes in existing brands, L’Oreal’s purchased of Logocos Naturkosmetik is a case in point. Henkel has gone for it with Nature Box and P&G’s Gillette is rumoured to be jumping on the naturals bandwagon early next year, as is L’Oreal’s Garnier.
And who can blame them? It’s a license to print money right now. For when shoppers see a picture of an almond on their face wash, they don’t see potentially lethal cyanide, and they don’t see catastrophic drought. They see ‘safe’ and ‘environmentally friendly’. Essentially, consumers see ‘natural’ and assume the brand wondered into a forest, picked a couple of leaves, ground ‘em up and added them to a cream.
And that is very much our fault. We’ve marketed natural with comforting imagery – we’ve had women washing their hair in waterfalls and pretty pictures of superfoods, which create an aura of wellness and health. Our ‘just-picked’ bathroom shelf line-up has become almost indistinguishable from our fridge. Nowhere have we emphasized the deeply scientific processes that extracts the active ingredients from a given plant and serves them up in our moisturizer.
And as natural beauty gets more and more aligned with food (read more about farm-to-face here) and wellness, the reality versus perception gap is only widening. The rise of plant-based, vegan cosmetics is a case in point. Now, a vegan diet is touted as the environmentally friendly choice – but when it comes to cosmetics, it is nowhere near as clear cut but we’re still trading on that image. In some cases, the plant-based alternative is less sustainable than the animal-derived ingredient it is seeking to replace – lanolin is a prime example.
And this fudging of the facts could derail the whole industry. In 2019, I’d like to see a bit more self-regulation – or even legislation designed to protect and inform the consumer as well as level the playing field. After all, meaningless marketing – for example when a product is touted as ‘free from’ something such as parabens, when it would never have contained them in the first place, is not helping anyone. Free from isn’t necessarily better and its time we had that conversation. Science should be celebrated – a lab coat doesn’t have to be feared.
We need a transparency revolution because, ultimately, the naturals trend is being driven by a consumer desire for transparency and the more we gloss over the science bit with pretty pictures of lemons, the more potential this has to blow up in our faces.