Emma Ipke explains how Covid-19 catalysed the eco beauty phenomenon and pushed industry innovations forward.
What is Eco Beauty?
There’s no standard definition for ‘eco beauty’, instead it can be viewed as an overarching blanket category. Broadly, it represents a brand or company that is making an effort to design, produce, transport, market and dispose of their products in a sustainable way. Essentially the products are kinder to the consumer and to the environment. This is demonstrated in a number of ways such as packaging made from biodegradable or recyclable materials, and reducing waste and excessive packaging during the manufacturing and shipping process. There are also certain terms that have come to be associated with eco beauty, such as:
- clean – a beauty product resulting from considered human and environmental health affects using plant-based ingredients for active results;
- cruelty free – products manufactured or developed in a way that doesn’t involve cruelty to (and testing on) animals;
- organic – products containing ingredients of vegetable origin but are grown biologically and without using synthetic elements or GMOs; and
- vegan – products that do not contain any animal or animal-derived ingredients e.g. honey, beeswax, collagen.
The term ‘all natural’ used to dominate the industry but is now no longer viewed as ‘acceptable’. This is because these labelled products often contained harmful or synthetic ingredients that were sourced in a non-environmentally friendly way. This shift away from ‘all natural’-labelled products is one example of consumer demand for greater transparency and the impact Eco Beauty is having in the industry.
The Covid-19 Pandemic Effects
The rise of eco beauty can be linked to the wellness trend that grew exponentially during the Covid-19 pandemic. It promotes one’s wellbeing, covering the spectrum of physical, mental and nutritional health, and includes fostering improved self-image and better mindfulness. As a result, consumers are more committed than ever before to doing their own research, which directly informs their health and lifestyle choices. Subsequently, consumers are paying greater attention to the products they use, what they claim to do and fundamentally what’s inside the formula.
Traditionally, it had been conventional brands who would rely on consumers taking such product claims and labels at face value, also known as greenwashing. However, eco beauty brands such as Bybi Beauty, the Ordinary and Honest Beauty are now setting a new standard that conventional brands are being forced to match. This standard is transparency: in ingredients and formulas, product claims and overall brand aims. In light of this, increasing numbers of millennial-friendly e-commerce brands, such as Bolt Beauty, Skin Proud, and UpCircle Beauty have been able to establish themselves in the eco beauty space as trustworthy alternatives to conventional brands.
Sustainable ingredients and packaging
There is a balance to be struck between providing a luxurious, efficacious product that is aesthetically appealing to the consumer whilst being sustainable at all stages of the product cycle. Consumers still expect the same high standard of performance from their products with packaging to match. This presents a potential problem as luxury companies don’t want to sacrifice the standard associated with their brand when transitioning to sustainable ingredients and packaging. As a result, new and innovative ways to try and strike a balance between these factors have emerged:
- Solid beauty – brands are beginning to market products in solid bars. This includes shampoos, conditioners and bubble bath. They are designed to melt into a liquid formula once activated by water. This reduces waste in terms of packaging, water consumption and carbon emissions (they are lighter to transport and take up less space). LUSH was an innovator in this field but other brands such as Garnier, L’Oreal and Glossier have now launched their own solid beauty bars.
- Recycle and refill stations – brands are now offering recycling centres in store as a cheaper alternative to buying an entirely new product. A consumer only needs to bring in their empty containers. Alternatively, a refillable option can be purchased online. Beauty brands such as Garnier and Maybelline are also forming partnerships to create drop-off points where consumers can recycle their empty containers.
- Recyclable, reusable, plastic-free packaging – brands are using post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic, which is plastic made from post-consumer waste. Metal caps are also gaining favour as an alternative to plastic components such as caps and pumps.
Eco beauty is still a relatively small industry but its impact so far is undeniable. It has led to a change in action and thought with new millennial brands taking charge and in doing so, holding conventional brands to account. With the growing importance and light being shun on the environment, the future of sustainability in beauty is sure to be the driving force behind continued innovations and new trends in the beauty industry.
Emma Ikpe is a trainee solicitor at international law firm Bird & Bird. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org