Driving sustainable beauty – a view from the professionals

Driving sustainable beauty – a view from the professionals

in-cosmetics Global recently headed to Hotel Fauchon in Paris for the second of its newly created Co-Lab events. A unique gathering that united industry leaders and professionals from the cosmetics and personal care sector, the day focused on one of the sector’s biggest challenges – sustainability. While insightful presentations were given by Adam Lowe, Head of Sustainability at THG Eco, Experienced Director of Regulatory Affairs, Tiphaine Daubert Macia, and green chemistry expert, Dr Barbara Olioso, attendees also had the chance to take part and share their insights in group sessions.

The event served as a nexus for the professionals, fostering collaboration and dialogue and allowing attendees to digest the topics, brainstorm, and share insights based on their own experiences. Discussions explored some of the key challenges and topics in the wider sustainable cosmetics net, from formulation techniques and consumer beliefs to cost management strategies. It was a day where minds met and ideas flourished, laying the groundwork for crafting a more sustainable future.

The customer is king; understanding consumer mindsets and beliefs

The industry professionals touched on the idea that consumer beliefs and opinions when it comes to the products they use can sometimes be at odds with the science behind the ingredients and formulations.

For example, the professionals discussed product efficacy in relation to consumer beliefs. In the realm of consumer preferences, there’s a widespread, unwavering – albeit unconscious – belief that the frothier and foamier the lather of a product, the more effective it is. Foaming agents are only synonymous with the effectiveness of cleaning products in the eyes of consumers. In reality, this frothy façade does not equate to a more efficient or effective cleaning process. Despite the science, consumers don’t want non-foaming shampoos.

The same applies to many areas within personal care and cosmetics, where perceptions of products or ingredients can hugely drive sales or vice versa. Attendees discussed the power of consumer perception and how it fuels a fascinating phenomenon in the market and through the supply chain. For formulators, this means treading the thin line between appeasing consumer opinion, whilst using the most effective and sustainable ingredients and processes to create products.

The ‘natural vs synthetics’ debate

As the ‘clean beauty’ phenomenon has grown in popularity, consumers are becoming increasingly interested in the different ingredients and elements that make up their cosmetics. This has sparked a lively debate around the use of natural vs synthetic (or chemical) ingredients in cosmetics. For example, which is safer? Which is more effective? However, the reality and general consensus gathered at the event is that natural ingredients can’t be used alone.

Industry professionals at the Co-Lab event came to a unanimous agreement that a harmonious blend of both must be achieved.

One of the experts added if the world’s population turned to only natural ingredients, the resource “would be quickly depleted.” She went on to explain the awareness of the alarming impacts that palm oil has on the environment. “We all said palm oil was bad, so we replaced it with coconut oil,” she explained. “But natural cannot feed into everything. When this resource runs out, it will follow the same path as palm oil.”  The professionals discussed the questions posed around the sustainable credentials of products and concerns about overuse. And so, the cycle continues. Sourcing ingredients through a variety of mediums is needed to preserve our resources. Attendees delved into the merits and drawbacks of natural vs. chemical ingredients and processes, and how one will cease to exist without the other.

Sustainability from the comfort of your smartphone

Across the board, technology is driving change in the way that consumers interact with businesses and their products. More than ever, customers are seeking an easy and convenient shopping experience, and this is being fuelled by apps.

While there currently isn’t a single, unified system for communicating sustainability credentials to customers, a variety of new consumer apps are changing the landscape. Apps such as YUKA and Think Dirty allow consumers to instantly compare beauty and personal care products, decipher ingredients, and understand their potential health impact.

Our professionals discussed the benefits of these sustainability apps, as well as the concerns and potential pitfalls, highlighting a possible disconnect between the consumer and the science. Though the apps are becoming increasingly popular with consumers, and evidently very engaging, the professionals questioned the scientific prowess behind the app data. Georgios Stamatas, Scientific Director / Health & Nutrition – Cosmetics & Hygiene at SGS, commented that “While scientific evidence is important, most of time it is not enough on its own to impact consumer opinions and behaviours.”

Attendees debated the use of these apps, their concerns, and what it may mean from a wider industry perspective. On the one hand, it’s great news that many consumers are using the technology and resources available to educate and inform themselves about the sustainable credentials of products. However, there needs to be a unified, scientific approach on offer, which is easy to use and able to keep consumers engaged in the same way. Christine Ansari, VP of Development at CTK Cosmetics, advised while apps can be effective and reliable when it comes to assessing food qualities, caution should be exercised when applying the same approach to cosmetics.

Packaging; the unsung hero of sustainable cosmetics

The heart and soul of the beauty industry lies in ensuring a positive experience for consumers in the way their cosmetics products make them look and feel. As a result, packaging is the all-too-often forgotten element – quickly discarded by the consumer, and frequently considered nothing more than a marketing tool for brands.

However, as we move towards a circular economy, the spotlight will firmly be focused on recycling and industry waste. As such it is expected that sustainable packaging will be a must-have, not a nice to have. According to the British Beauty Council, 95% of all cosmetics packaging is thrown away after its initial use. To make matters worse, most of this is single-use plastic packaging that can take up to 500 years to decompose.

Our professionals discussed how plastic has always been king, but the industry often overlooks alternative materials, such as aluminium. According to Stanford University, producing recycled aluminium requires 95% less energy than making it from raw materials. It’s also considered “endlessly recyclable”, compared to plastics which can take centuries to decompose. One of the experts at the event commented that “before plastics, it was glass and aluminium” and everyone was in “better health”.

Unfortunately, it’s not necessarily as simple as just switching to more sustainable packing materials like aluminium. The professionals noted that not all materials are suitable for specific formulations, as some can adversely affect the shelf-life and stability of the final product.

Considering the wider picture of sustainable packaging, materials are by no means the only factor. An easy fix to reduce cosmetics waste and cut costs across manufacturing and distribution processes, is to simply reduce packaging size by removing empty space. Adam Lowe, Head of Sustainability at THG Eco describes how developing a smaller product can mean spending significantly less on transportation costs, as well as reducing emissions.

However, this can create challenges in producing the ‘premium look’, as consumers often associate larger packaging with luxury products. Not to mention, amid a global cost-of-living crisis and the rise of ‘shrinkflation’, consumers may be sceptical or mistrusting of products which appear to be smaller – even if it’s simply reduced packaging.

The push for greater transparency around sustainable ingredients and packaging is also causing logistical issues. Where brands are having to add additional information and credentials onto their packaging is often at direct odds with the needs to reduce packaging size.

Formulating a better future

Moving forward – and as part of the drive towards a circular economy – it’s essential the industry works as a collective to rewrite the narrative around beauty products, and in doing so, reframe the consumer mindset and current expectations.

However, we can only achieve this change in perception if brands prioritise simplicity and transparency in their communications with the customer. Today’s modern consumer typically desires the opportunity to be educated on their favourite products and brands. Therefore, beauty businesses must provide their customers with access to relevant scientific information, in an easily digestible format and platform. The industry professionals agreed that the key driver of change lies in unification and standardisation.

From a logistical perspective, brands and cosmetics organisations will increasingly need to consider all elements of their products. No longer will factors such as packaging be able to go relatively unnoticed – despite their environmental impact and potential for mitigation.

The success of this pioneering event in Paris, served as a poignant reminder that as consumers continue to make more conscientious product choices, brands in the cosmetics and personal care industry must adapt to meet these changing needs.

in-cosmetics Global returns from 16-18 April 2024 at the Porte de Versailles in Paris. For more information or to explore our Sustainability Zone, visit us here.

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