It’s been a rude awakening recently, as masks come off and we’re revealing our faces and leaving our homes. This means regularly washing our hair, paying attention to our skincare routines — not to mention wearing makeup — taking showers, and applying sunscreen. Or is it just me who’s let myself go?

However, with attention hyper-focused on health throughout the past year, consumer interest is growing in non-toxic beauty and healthcare products, an extension of us wanting to eat foods that are good for us.

The numbers are pretty stark. Naturally positioned toiletries and other self-care staples grew 14.4% in the U.S., year-over-year for the 52-week period ending January 24, 2021, according to SPINS, a wellness-focused data company in Chicago. During that time, conventional products grew by just 1.4%. Gains were largest in soap and bath prep products, which grew by 42.7% (conventional grew 16.2%) and hair care 14.8% (compared to -1.7%).

Natural is so popular that it’s cited as one of the top three claims consumers around the world are looking for, according to Euromonitor International, when buying everything from bath and shower products to baby products and deodorants. Other top claims include “organic,” “no parabens” and “vegan.” Take a look at some of the most common symbols found on beauty products and what they mean below. 

Beauty Label Symbols

In fact, vegan personal care products are seeing increased sales globally, while cruelty-free has taken a backseat, says Euromonitor, especially for skincare and color cosmetics. Both L’Oreal and Estee Lauder have vegan SKUs (the former in plastic-minimizing bottles), but niche brands such as Arctic Fox (hair care and color), Iroiro (hair color), and Fenty Beauty (makeup) are also driving interest in the U.S., too. In the U.K., companies Bloomtown, Awake Organics, and Odylique tout vegan ingredients.

According to Branded Research, a data collection company, 16% of U.S. consumers always avoid specific ingredients like phthalates when buying personal care products and 39% sometimes do so, especially younger consumers.

Overall, according to a Branded Research survey, 37% of U.S. consumers say it’s extremely/very important to them to purchase natural/sustainable personal care products, though these products resonate more with younger consumers than older shoppers — 49% of Gen Z, 43% of Millennials, 35% of Gen X, and 29% of Baby Boomers. 

Mandy Renee is a sustainable beauty blogger at www.gawdhess.com and says the demand for natural/organic/clean health and beauty products is largely driven by Millennials and Gen Z. “We’re a lot more aware of climate, waste, resources, and toxins,” she says. “A lot of organizations are trying to make those changes but the mainstream consumer is looking for those options.”

And they’re prepared to pay for non-toxic products. 23% of Americans say they’re willing to pay more for health and beauty care products with natural ingredients or sustainable packaging, says Branded Research.

There’s less movement towards natural products in the U.K., and this is largely due to government regulation. The EU Cosmetics Directive has banned 1,328 ingredients from inclusion in beauty products, while in the U.S. the number of banned ingredients is a paltry 11. 

Banned Beauty Ingredients

Take a closer look at allowed and banned beauty and health ingredients in the EU and U.S. here

Packaging problems

Customers who care about the lack of toxic ingredients in their beauty products also tend to care about something else: Packaging. Generally, the less of it the better, but there are also better packaging options.

Recyclability is now table stakes, says Lisa-Marie Assenza, co-founder and CEO of New York City-based Impacked, a marketplace that helps brands source sustainable packaging for beauty and personal care products, but today’s consumers are looking beyond that. Many manufacturers’ packaging is now recyclable as well, though how much something can be recycled depends on the municipality in which a person lives.

A number of British companies are being creative with their packaging. Evolve Beauty features reusable packaging; Upcircle’s packages can be refilled; and Awake Organics’ products come in recyclable glass, aluminum, and cardboard; plastic is only used when necessary.

  • Evolve Beauty Website
  • Upcircle Website
  • Awake Organics Website

Other options are reusable packaging. Some big brands, such as Dove and Procter  & Gamble’s Secret deodorant, are now offering packages that can be refilled from pouches or other products with less packaging. Smaller brands are offering this too, such as Fenty Beauty, Milk Makeup, and Love, Beauty and Planet, whose shampoo and conditioner started being available in aluminum containers this year.

  • Milk Makeup Website
  • Love, Beauty, and Planet Website

“We’re at this really special moment in time where everyone is caring about packaging and sustainability,” says Assenza. “Consumers are demanding more transparency about their packaging.” What’s really accelerating some of this growth, she points out, are government regulations, such as the plastics tax that has been introduced in Europe, which again, is ahead of the U.S.

“While the U.S. has taken some strong strides, especially in the past couple of months, Europe is definitely leading in creating regulation to incentivize consumer goods brands to move towards more sustainable solutions,” Assenza points out. 

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