The Full Monty: Transparency in the Beauty Industry
Today's consumers are smart, savvy and more curious than ever - not only about what beauty product they are considering for purchase, but of each ingredient within a product and its benefits and also, how it's produced. They want to know if ingredients are natural/organic, non-toxic, or eco-friendly and if the advertised, 'clean beauty', truly is 'green beauty', as they understand that the benefits of green reach much farther than buzzwords and trends.
What has been...
The beauty industry is as old as time and has been expanding ever since. Evidence exists that as far back as thousands of years, Ancient Egyptian women used botanical oils to beautify their skin. These beautification rituals and practices have evolved but continue with us in the 21st century and will no doubt live well beyond for countless generations.
In my mother's and grandmother's day, they and their friends used products like Noxema cold cream and Jergens lotion and many beauty companies of the time would take pride in letting their customers know they didn't divulge “trade secrets” – all that was in their products and how they were made. Some would list codes for colourants and parfum/fragrance so no one would know what the ingredients actually were. Some of these practices are still followed today.
Luckily, over time people started to question these things. Several ingredients being used to formulate beauty and skincare products were, and still are, not only questionable synthetic chemicals, but actually harmful, carcinogenic and toxic to humans and the environment. Historically, consumer protections were not in place for safe use of beauty products, nor was thorough oversight, in terms of what companies could and couldn't add into a product formula. Arguably, the necessary protections consumers deserve, don't exist to this day which is shocking, considering these are products being applied to and absorbed by our skin and most often, our faces. Then came craft brands stepping into the market to offer clean beauty and skincare options and some included transparency as part of their business models. Consumers have responded favourably to these companies and their products. But even more importantly, consumers are now demanding transparency and integrity of the beauty and skincare industry - the loudest voices here are the millenials - so they can make informed choices about clean, safe products before they buy.
Knowledge is Power
One big driver in consumers' curiosity is the vast amount of information, readily available at a click. Where the companies of old liked to keep their cards to their chest with information regarding ingredients in their beauty and skincare products, and details at the time were not easily found, the digital age makes this model more difficult to carry forward and that is a great thing for consumers. The Internet's most popular engine - google search - and others like it, have allowed the average Jane & Joe to learn more about what is available to them in a seemingly endless array of products and makes it easy to decipher individual, un-pronounce-able ingredients, to learn what they are and if they are safe for both personal use and the environment. The trend may have begun with the parents of millenials, but it's their children who have become experts at this research. They have never known life without being connected to technology and they utilize it to learn everything they want to know, in real time. And with that knowledge, they hold companies to account that offer beauty and skincare products, by demanding integrity & transparency, sharing their finds on social media and exercising their purchasing power.
The worldwide Covid-19 pandemic is another driver in the push for consumers to do a better job of keeping informed. When most people had to cease life as we knew it and remain at home for extended periods, more attention was paid to things we were all too busy bustling about, to consider before. Emphasis began to tend toward better self-care , like less fast food and more healthy eating, getting outdoors more often for exercise and less make up but better quality skincare. A shift to natural beauty and organic skincare ingredient searches began to grow rapidly and this thirst for information branched out so not only the ingredients themselves were searched, but questions were posed about where ingredients came from, how they were produced and if they were non-toxic and cruelty-free.
As information on supply chains has come increasingly more into focus in recent years and having learned of unsafe and unfair conditions for workers around the globe, values like Fair Trade have been on the minds of consumers as well as other fair business models, such as local collectives and women's co-ops in the third world. These help to elevate communities in terms of promoting responsible stewardship of the environment in how natural ingredients are obtained; sustainable employment which leads communities to self sufficiency and independence; empowering women, who in turn help lift whole communities out of poverty and assist with building more successful societies in terms of better outcomes in health and education for local people, providing valuable skills training and information sharing, developing good leadership and nurturing positive role models, that steer the way to these achievements. Today's beauty and skincare consumers are choosing more products from companies that are transparent about and promote values including ethical ingredient sourcing and sustainable employment so that they can feel good about contributing to the world in a positive way through their purchases.
The climate crisis is another factor that has been elevated on people's radars as weather becomes more erratic, and that too, raises questions in the minds of consumers of beauty and skincare products. We've all seen or heard about the noticeable decrease in pollution levels and cleaner air as a result of less travel, especially in the early days of the pandemic. This taught us to look initially at the ways our modern societies are structured to live and work and to consider the wisdom of moving forward by changing these models with less commuting for better care of the planet and improved work-life balance. It also made us look at the way we acquire goods and the companies providing them, including their environmental impact. Receiving packages just 1 day after ordering them is convenient, no doubt, but at what cost? The way products are packaged both at the production level and the shipping materials used to get them to us, are being considered now like never before. The waste of over-packaging and use of non-renewable materials harm the environment that we all need to sustain ourselves.
Companies selling beauty and skincare products, most notably higher end products, have for decades invested heavily in fancy, (read, 'over'), packaging for marketing purposes with little to no regard of the environmental impact. This may offer consumers a grand presentation when they receive a product, but ultimately it translates into a lot of unnecessary waste once the product is removed for use. Many of today's consumers consider a beauty/skincare company's ethos surrounding eco-friendly ingredients, sustainability, its packaging and even shipping materials. Many consumers are open to trying a new product if it is eco-friendly and will agree to wait longer for delivery if a company's values align with their own in terms of caring for the environment.
There is a strong argument to be had in that not being transparent may mean there is something to hide. Why would a Beauty or Skincare business not let people know exactly what is in a product they will be using, or about their company's policies, ethos and ethics? Though it's true proprietary information is crucial for companies to be able to create and maintain control of their products, owners don't need to offer their detailed formulations and processes, but not disclosing all the ingredients in a beauty or skincare product could be dangerous for their customers in terms of allergies and different conditions, for example. Imagine if sushi were sold without disclosing that it contained raw fish – the consumption of which can be harmful to the child an expectant mother is carrying? Or, if a customer has allergies as many people do, it is imperative to know exactly what they are applying to their skin. Beyond the need to know for obvious reasons, transparency helps establish trust with existing and potential clients which fosters relationship building, a key component of maintaining long term clientele. My belief is that as a beauty or skincare company caters to consumers that they would like to continue to serve and those consumers have many different needs, it is simply irresponsible not to be transparent with all their ingredients and their ethos. Companies that are proud of their ethics, their products, their ingredients and their policies, are happy in sharing this information freely and communicating openly with consumers.
With the Beauty industry traditionally lacking in strong consumer protections concerning skincare products and ingredients, it's a welcome change to see young people lead the charge to voice their concerns and demand transparency and integrity as expectations of the companies that serve them. Shifting attitudes and consumer behaviour due to a number of factors, including a keen interest to learn and keep informed; a desire for effective, harmless beauty and skincare; the unforeseen effects of Covid-19; the climate crisis and better global, ethical and social awareness, have many bright, young and savvy world citizens, driving much needed change in an industry that needed shaking up. In keeping with this push is the number of smaller businesses: clean beauty, eco-friendly skincare and green craft brands that operate with integrity and transparency and are stepping into the breach in growing numbers to deliver what consumers want but haven't always received from more established companies. As a result of these advancements, more players in the industry are listening and becoming more transparent.
This article has been reviewed by HopeWind.
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