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How conscious consumers are driving innovation in ethical cosmetics

How conscious consumers are driving innovation in ethical cosmetics


How conscious consumers are driving innovation in ethical cosmetics


Do you know what you put on your face this morning? Not the name of the brand or type of skin product, but what really went on your skin? If you turn your moisturiser over and see lanolin in the small print, which a lot of creams and lotions contain, then it’s a wax-like substance from sheep’s wool that’s been keeping your soft.

Meanwhile, those that swear by the restorative powers of keratin shampoo can probably thank the hair, nails, horns and hooves of animals for their silky hair, while your favourite red lipstick has likely been made possible by thousands of crushed up cochineal insects.

Such is the beauty of nature, hey?

But over the past few years, people have become more mindful of what they put into – and onto – their bodies more than ever before.

Like we have seen with the fast-growing demand for plant-based food, there is a shift in behaviour happening in the beauty space, with vegan cosmetics becoming ever more popular with ethically-conscious consumers.

Sales of vegan beauty products in the UK grew 38% in 2018, with research from The Vegan Society finding more than half (56%) of Brits now adopt vegan buying behaviours such as only purchasing vegan products and checking their toiletries are cruelty-free.

Meanwhile, Google searches for ‘vegan beauty’ in the UK have doubled every year since 2012. Globally, there has been a 175% increase in vegan cosmetics launches over the past five years.

All the signs point to a trend that shows no signs of abating. As such, we are seeing brands experiment and innovate to keep up with consumer demand, while new players come in and disrupt the market entirely.

From cruelty-free to animal-free

The Body Shop sold over three million vegan products in the UK in 2018 – the same year it launched a new range of vegan Body Yogurts – which is the equivalent of one every second.

The international beauty giant has been a leading force in the ethical beauty space for a long while. Now, due to ingredient innovation, most of its new product development is vegan.

“The beauty industry is improving year on year thanks to new technologies, research and innovation,” Diego Ortiz de Zevallos, The Body Shop’s global brand director, says.

“And with growing competition in the vegan territory, brands are striving harder than ever before to achieve the same standards in their vegan and non-vegan portfolio.”

Many vegan brands are, by their very nature, ‘cruelty-free’. But whereas ‘cruelty-free’ refers to products that haven’t been tested on animals, ‘vegan-friendly’ means they do not contain any kind of animal by-product such as beeswax, milk, egg whites, honey, lanolin, collagen or horse hair, which are some of the most common ingredients used in cosmetic products.

Thankfully, awareness of vanity animal testing has grown significantly over the years, leading to many consumers turning their backs on unethical retailers or, in best case scenarios, brands changing their ways entirely. (Apart from in China, where it is the law that cosmetics are tested on animals.)

But now consumers are becoming much more aware of what’s going into the products they buy and this is having a direct impact on purchase behaviour and product development.

Like The Body Shop, Lush is also trying to minimise its use of animal by-products. Some 80% of its products are already vegan and it has just taken all of the eggs out of its haircare range. It is also aiming for its makeup line to be 100% free of animal products.

“With vegan, our approach is: wherever we can, wherever the end results for the customer is unchanged or improved, we are looking to remove the animal by-products from our ingredients,” says Maddie Saunder, brand leader for Lush Makeup.

“Lush will always remain a vegetarian company and we will continue to look to remove those animal by-products from our product range.”

With huge developments taking place in vegan beauty, it’s important that we listen to our customers so we can offer them the latest and most innovative products.

Joanna Rogers, Boots UK

But Lush’s commitment to veganism goes beyond just the ingredients in its products. The cosmetics retailer is also considering the impact product packaging has on animal welfare and the environment those animals live in, which is why its makeup range is “naked-first” (aka package-free) too.

“We don’t see a huge amount of brands considering [this] when it comes to positioning yourself as a responsible brand in terms of animal welfare,” Saunder says, and this is something Lush will continue to focus on in future.

A number of brands and ranges on the high street are already entirely vegan, such as Superdrug’s B Beauty range, Original Source, cosmetics brand e.l.f and men’s skincare brand Bulldog.

And of course, vegan products have been available for many years. But whereas they were once confined to specialist shops, they are now filtering onto the high street, and brands old and new are making a conscious effort to market them more clearly – whether through official certification, signage or product labelling.

Boots, which is growing its vegan portfolio as part of its strategy to revamp the high street beauty experience and compete with the rise of online pureplays, has installed signposts in some of its larger stores directing customers to vegan products, while an online vegan beauty edit features almost 500 products.

“With huge developments taking place in vegan beauty, it’s important that we listen to our customers so we can offer them the latest and most innovative products,” says Joanna Rogers, commercial director and vice-president of beauty at Boots.

“While we already offer vegan brands such as e.l.f, bareMinerals, Isle of Paradise and Spectrum, we’ve recently expanded our beauty portfolio to include even more vegan-friendly brands like Nude by Nature, BYBI and Skinny Tan as part of the transformation of our brand new Beauty Halls.

“With a wide range of products becoming available, our customers shouldn’t have to sacrifice quality when buying vegan products.”

READ MORE: How retailers are responding to the growing appetite for plant-based food

This is something luxury beauty brand Hourglass is also looking to prove.

The majority of the Unilever-owned brand’s range is already produced without animal-derived ingredients. But it has set itself the goal of making the remaining 20% of its products vegan by 2020, something it hopes will “blaze a trail and set a standard” for others in the beauty categories.

“Vegan is the number one search term on our website. That’s a clear indication for us that there’s interest here and people are coming to us for that, that there’s growing momentum in looking for beauty products that are quality but also vegan,” Hourglass’s director of marketing, Heather Duchowny, says.

“We really want to empower this new generation of people and show that beauty and integrity can be synonymous and we can drive awareness to our mission by supporting innovators in the animal rights community as much as finding new formulations that still deliver unwavering performance.”

To give life to its vegan pledge, Hourglass launched its ‘Eye to Eye’ campaign in April. The close-up shots of humans and horses side-by-side have been designed to show the humanity in the eyes of the animal in order to encourage consumers to “think twice” about buying something made from animal-derived ingredients.

“We wanted to treat purpose and our cruelty-free mission as a campaign on its own,” Duchowny explains. “This is one approach we take to help our customers understand the authenticity with which we approach this and it’s not just a marketing ploy for us, it’s integral for every decision we make.”

Fruit for thought

According to UK charity WRAP, the UK currently produces 10.2 million tonnes of food waste a year, while 4.4% of the world’s carbon emission is generated from food waste.

This is what spurred three-year-old UK vegan cosmetics brand FRUU to develop the world’s first lip balms made from surplus fruit.

The range launched in over 800 Holland & Barrett stores last month, with FRUU hoping to strike a chord with “eco-conscious millennials” in particular.

“In a Year 10 cosmetics science lesson, my students showed me the cosmetics they were using. I noticed that all of them were made from petrochemicals or natural materials that are water/land/fossil fuel intensive,” says FRUU co-founder Dr Terence Chung, who is also a cosmetic scientist and secondary school science teacher.

“The so-called green beauty products are out of reach for most people. There has to be more sustainable and accessible alternatives.”

FRUU’s lip balms are made from ingredients which have been extracted from damaged fruits and unused fruit seeds and kernels such as mango butter, avocado cold pressed oil, watermelon seed oil and lemon seed oil.

Proof that innovation doesn’t always need a big budget, everything is developed, designed and handcrafted in-house in FRUU’s Berkshire workshop, with plans to release more product lines including a hand cream and face mask in the coming months.

This is the kind of disruptive innovation that will keep big brands on their toes and no doubt inspire others in the vegan beauty category to think outside of the box.

If somebody can figure out how to make a vegan burger look, taste and ‘bleed‘ like its animal counterpart, then there is no reason why brands can’t make their beauty and cosmetic products without using animal-derived ingredients.

It might cost more or take some time, but if the option to be kinder to animals, their welfare and the environment is there, why wouldn’t you?


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