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Sustainable Beauty

Sustainable beauty is the latest trend to sneak up on an industry full of giant incumbents taking them largely unawares.

Beauty influencers are becoming more vocal about sustainability as Covid-19 rages on. Water conservation is a hot topic, especially amongst millennials and GenZ. Bottled water is going the way of plastic bags. Now beauty products are in the sustainability spotlight, with the introduction of waterless beauty brands, such as solid shampoo bars and make-up sticks that contain no water.

Big-name beauty companies including L'Oréal, Unilever and Procter & Gamble have for some years made it their mission to significantly decrease water consumption, with the added benefit that they’ll use less fuel to transport heavy, water-logged products (which need less packaging, too). 

But, meanwhile, smaller, indie brands are eschewing water use in their products altogether by creating these completely waterless formulas. “It feels more like a movement, a way society can go, than a trend,” said one beauty commentator. 

Despite reasonable skepticism about what initially started in South Korea as a way to boost concentration and hygiene, not sustainability, most media outlets are declaring waterless the thing to watch (well, at least one of them) in 2020.

And yet, it appears to have taken the larger cosmetics companies totally by surprise. Aren’t they keeping an eye on social media? You’d think the vast and powerful army of online “beauty influencers” would have been headlining waterless products for many moons, but the intriguing truth is, they’re mostly too busy hawking their own-brand products. It’s the online, often smaller, media that’s been excited about this development.

Of course, now that the trend is in Women’s Wear Daily, some of the larger companies are starting to get on board. P&G will introduce new water-avoidant brands in early 2020, including the Spring & Vine’s products it developed for Target, which use 98% less water than traditional shampoos (and less packaging). Will the others, including L’Oreal, Unilever, Estée Lauder, Coty, Shiseido, Beiersdorf and J&J, simply fail to respond to a big shift in consumer demand, like Kodak, Nokia and IBM fatally did?

First-to-market does not always mean success. Size counts for something, so it’s possible the beauty giants will have the luxury of catching upon this consumer-quake—or will the indie brands will keep winning customers and share as the beauty industry is set to fall 2.5 percent in 2020.

Only time will tell, but it’s a salutary lesson, nevertheless, to always keep your finger on the pulse of what your consumers actually want. Ideon has more than ten years of experience helping brands keep close track of what their customers clamor for.


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