Over the past decade, the clean beauty movement—which calls for companies to abandon harmful or skin-irritating ingredients in favor of more organic, non-toxic, and ethically-conscious materials—has swept through the cosmetic industry. A recent Nielsen report suggests that in 2017, personal care products labeled as “natural” generated $1.3 billion dollars in annual sales, up from the $230 million made in 2013.
However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not tightly regulate cosmetics, and manufacturers must often take more concrete steps to highlight the safety of their own merchandise. In 2017, sales of “paraben-free” cosmetics outpaced even other natural products, with an increase of 2.3% compared to the previous year.
Here’s what we found:
We asked 1,000 women from our panel of over 1.3 million consumers.
We then retargeted the overwhelming number of users who reported that they frequently or occasionally use beauty products, to gauge what kind of information they look for on the labels of the cosmetics they buy.
When asked for specifics, those polled also cited the following as terms they look for on labels:
Interestingly, although most responders cited the word “natural” as one of the terms they look for, they aren’t quite in agreement over what the term actually means.
What do you think the word ‘natural’ means when used to describe beauty products?
While most of those polled believe that natural beauty products are non-toxic, cruelty-free, and organic, the truth is that there is no industry-wide standard for how these terms are applied, meaning that they can be used regardless of how the products are manufactured.
With cosmetics, things get even murkier, because there are no legal or regulatory definitions for the terms “natural,” “organic,” or“cruelty-free.” The FDA website even urges that “choosing [cosmetic] ingredients from sources you consider “organic” or “natural” is no guarantee that they are safe.”
Despite all this, a large majority of beauty consumers say that they are interested in natural and non-toxic products, with roughly a third claiming to prioritize them over comparable products.
With clean beauty on the rise, simply labelling a product “natural” isn’t enough to make waves anymore. Cosmetic companies must now go further and explain exactly what makes their products “clean” compared to others—whether that’s by highlighting or omitting particular ingredients, focusing on sustainability measures, or using some other unique way of standing out from the crowd.
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