The following article was published in the Financial Times on 2nd March 2007:
The organic beauty industry is hotting up. Last year three big players entered the market. Clarins invested in the new company Kibio, YSL Beauté developed its first organic skincare line with Stella McCartney and L’Oréal purchased Sanoflore, the French organic cosmetic maker and supplier.
Today, organic products account for just 1 per cent of the market. Yet a 2005 report from Euromonitor International suggested this sector would rise by about 9 per cent between 2003 and 2008. The cosmetics and toiletries market, as a so-called “mature market”, has an estimated growth potential of no more than 1 per cent.
Last year, the French organic cosmetic certification board, Ecocert, certified about 4,000 beauty products, more than double the number certified in 2005, providing more evidence that organic is on the up. “The trend is no longer niche.] Organic skincare has an established consumer base,” says cosmetics and toiletries senior industry analyst Diana Dodson. And it’s one the multinationals cannot ignore.
That means we can expect organic products to become less expensive and more widely available, and that “there will be more money going into R&D, which means more innovation and the introduction of more high-tech organic products”, says Dodson. However, organic skincare laced with the advances of science is still some way off.
Stéphane Richard, president and chief executive of Sanoflore, acknowledges that there is still progressto be made: “The ingredients we use are all active, there is a lot of data on them, and the science is already in there. Now, when you mix these [together] and have the final cosmetic, is it better? That is thebig challenge.”
Yet perhaps we are expecting too much and too soon from an organic moisturiser. Yes, some fairly good preparations, in terms of scent, feel and efficacy, are already available. Yes, they will do for the skin what a good, basic moisturiser is designed to. What they won’t do is act like the cutting-edge, highly active products that line the shelves of the medi-spa or the high-end department store. Neither will theyhave the light, sophisticated textures or scents of the skincare produced by the L’Oréals or the Estée Lauders of this world. In addition, the truly organic cosmetics have a very short shelf-life.
It’s hardly surprising that it is so difficult to produce a 100 per cent organic cosmetic that the consumer is going to like. With soaps and oils it’s easier because their make-up is simple but with creams, lotions and shampoos, it’s a different matter. “What people like now is a beautiful, smooth texture that has been refined. You can only get that in sophisticated emulsifiers,” says Kathy Phillips, founder of beauty brand This Works.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that one of the reasons women buy organic skincare is because their skin is sensitive. They think that they will automatically get something without synthetic perfume, chemicals, mineral oils, SLRs (the foaming agent) and parabens (preservative). Yet this isn’t always the case. “Even ifa product is 95 per cent organic, the crucial thing is, what about the other 5 per cent?” says Phillips.
It’s down to the consumer to check the ingredient list every time. Brands to consider include Green Mama from France because its products are free of synthetic chemicals and perfumes, parabens or other preservatives. Trilogy, anatural line from New Zealand, contains some organic ingredients and sells certified organic rosehip oil, an intensive face oil. Neal’s Yard Remedies has several organic lines and Spiezia Organics and Farmacia skincare are certified organic and offer some good, simple products. For body, there’s Jo Wood Organics (her Usiku Organic Body Lotion absorbs easily) and Jatamami, the new line from L’Artisan Parfumeur. All-Over Body Cream is luxurious and beautifully scented.
Then there’s The Organic Pharmacy. “The majority of our products are 96-100 per cent organic with the exception of shampoos, which are 86 per cent organic,” says founder Margo Marrone. As for the remaining percentages, she explains that they are “non-toxic, plant derived detergents” as are the essential oil- and plant-based preservatives. These are less effective than parabensso the products do go off more quickly. She has also addressed the increasingly relevant issue of air travel and carbon imprint by sourcing ingredients locally: “We succeed for around 70 per cent of our raw materials,” she says.
What the consumer needs to expect and know how to find is honest, organic skincare. Beauty companies’ jumping on the bandwagon has caused misleading labelling and confusion for the shopper. “It is very difficult for the consumer to be sure that a product is really organic because of the lack of industry regulations,” says Veronique Halbrey, a spokesperson for the trend forecasting agency Carlin International.
There are now a number of associations that will certify truly organic products. Certification gives the consumer something concrete on which to base a choice, and the stamp of one of the following will help clarify the organic status of a product: the French Ecocert, Britain’s The Soil Association, Italy’s AIAB and Germany’s BDIH. The criteria set down by each of the associations will be different so look at their websites. They are, says Ecocert’s Emilie Cherhal, “working together to establish common European standards”. Still, a final system agreed by all is some way off, and there is no legislation regarding organic classification.
So far, the US is lagging behind on the organics trend. “Europe is leaps and bounds ahead of the US in terms of awareness and of standards for organic personal care items,” says Marilyn Dale, whole body buyer for the Whole Foods Market’s North Atlantic region. Whole Foods Market itself is leading the way in the US in terms of natural foods and products, and it arrives soon to London. Nude, a new line launching in Whole Foods Market this summer, shows signs of resetting the pace for the organic – and “natural” – skincare sector, with eco-aware packaging, chemical-free results-driven formulas and ingredient provenance featuring strongly.
Critics have had difficulty with the terms “organic” and “natural” for some time, and exactly how beneficial to the consumer organic skincare is remains a moot point. What is certain is that times have changed and so has the consumer, who has an increasing knowledge about the contents of face creams or shampoos and requires transparency about those ingredients. Organic and eco-surety are becoming beauty’s new absolutes.