The beauty industry is ever-evolving as standards shift and consumers demand greater insight into what their products are made of. In an industry full of protected trade secrets and complicated ingredient lists, how can the beauty industry deliver what consumers want without greenwashing?

Consumers have a right to know what is in their beauty products. Are there links between what the products are made of and any health issues they may suffer from? Do the ingredients actually do the work that is promised? Are there ingredients lurking in the list that really do not add any value to the overall product? Or is your product 50% water?

Cosmetic ingredients are always provided on the back of products – so you can’t argue that – but usually in small, difficult to read text and complex chemical names that really don’t mean anything to the consumer. Not everyone is looking for 100% organic, clean, all natural products, many look for the efficacy of lab-derived ingredients – whatever product your consumer prefers – they all want to know the effects and the impacts.

There are few beauty brands that are pioneering the way brands explain their use of ingredients. Take The Ordinary for example, they’ve dedicated their brand to transparency with simple packaging, making the ingredients the hero: Clear, black and white packaging with the clinical formulation right on the front of the pack. Another brand, The Inkey List – use a similar approach, but have gone one step further and describe what the product will actually do as the front-of-pack message.

Other brands have a banned list – so while they may not remove all chemicals from their products, you can still easily see what they won’t work with.

These methods are just a nod on a surface level to transparency – they are shining a light on what chemical terms mean, providing users with an idea of what the product can do for your skin, but are they just a marketing plan rather than answering where the ingredients come from? Simply disclosing ingredients doesn’t really explain what is in your product, what is not and why. Yes, consumers do want to know what a product does, but there is a growing number that want brands to identify the source of ingredients and whether it is safe to use.

According to research by The NPD Group1, almost half of women are looking for skincare products made from organic ingredients, or products without sulfates and parabens. “Consumers are using their spending power to ensure their voice is heard and supporting brands that commit to natural ingredients and transparency.”

Other beauty brands are providing a fully traceable supply chain, advertising on websites and socials with the storytelling of sourcing methods and how they keep their ingredients within a limited radius of their headquarters. Others use technology to explain their products by using an interactive sourcemap to map their entire supply chain.

As many beauty brands have marketed themselves to be “clean” or “organic” they have to understand this alone has no clear meaning to the consumer – simply labelling a product this way just because you have used one or two organic ingredients within a myriad of chemicals, does not make you a “clean” brand. Even though the beauty industry is not regulated like the food industry, you can still be fined for greenwashing your products.

Consumers have inextricably demanded transparency amongst the beauty industry and while it may be difficult for a brand to be completely transparent in what ingredients they use, they do need to learn how to balance the demand for safe, healthy and effective ingredients with education, open and honest packaging providing opportunities for consumers to have open conversations about their ingredients.

Source: The NPD Group, Inc. / Womens Facial Skincare Report 2019