Conscious beauty – can the industry adapt to save the planet?

29th June 2022

A complex topic incorporating a wide range of brand values, conscious beauty is key to success for luxury beauty and cosmetics brands includes considering for clients' preferences; from primary packaging to supporting the environment and community.

The beauty industry has witnessed many changes over the decades. In the current climate, conscious beauty has been the hot talking point for luxury beauty brands.

From primary packaging to product ingredients and testing, conscious beauty can cover many different aspects. But can it build a better planet without compromising a company’s hopes of success? Here’s all you need to know to future-proof your luxury beauty brand in the changing climate.

What is conscious beauty?

The concept of conscious beauty is one that is essentially focused on creating cruelty-free cosmetics. It is a complex issue that extends to supporting communities and the environment while generally acting with greater responsibility. Crucially, cosmetics brands that see themselves as a conscious company must provide transparency regarding their endeavours.

From global giants who have looked to improve their efforts to startups launched specifically with cruelty-free manufacturing in mind, many companies are now committed to conscious beauty. The most common focal points are;

  • Sustainable packaging,
  • Reduced plastic usage,
  • Natural ingredients,
  • Ingredients free from animal testing,
  • Using renewables for manufacturing.

In turn, the main benefits of conscious beauty are reduced carbon emissions, kinder products to the consumer’s skin, and reduced waste.

How seriously should I consider conscious beauty?

Whether launching a startup in the cosmetics industry or considering ways to improve an existing brand, analysing the need for conscious beauty should be very high on your agenda. A quick look at the stats can be quite telling;

Consumers want it, and the environment needs it. From primary packaging solutions to product ingredients, conscious beauty requires more attention than ever before. Brands who follow conscious beauty protocols may subsequently present themselves as ‘sustainable’, ‘ethical’, ‘ cruelty-free, or ‘sustainable’ to engage a growing audience.

The changing face of conscious beauty

Ethical beauty brands, or at least manufacturers that actively tried to reduce their carbon footprint, have existed for decades. However, the industry boom is still very much in its infancy with many companies changing their focus over the past five years in particular. Consequently, then, a number of trends have surfaced during that time. Some of the most telling are detailed below:

Supporting worthy causes

Studies show that at least 75% of millennials and gen Z want brands to support the causes that they care about. Beauty brands may focus on this trend by supporting a range of charitable causes, with mental health charities sitting among the most popular choices in the post-pandemic era. In most cases, this manifests as donating a percentage of profits to the chosen beneficiaries.

Most companies working in this space will support worthy causes that both they and their employees care about. In most cases, consumers will care too. Aside from supporting the chosen cause with visibility and monetary rewards, it is a move that strengthens the bond between brand and client.

Choosing recyclable packaging

Primary packaging has been one of the key areas where conscious beauty companies can make a real difference. As stated, the beauty industry is the leading contributor of plastic waste. Recycled plastic jars and bottles have become particularly useful for situations where plastic containers remain the best – or only – choice for a product. Avoiding polystyrene and BPA ranks highly for many brands.

In addition to making smarter plastic choices, other sustainable packaging materials are now commonly used to protect the environment. They include glass, corrugated cardboard, pulp, paper, and plant-based packaging. Given that packaging is the first thing consumers see, it can have a huge influence on their habits.

Selecting reusable containers

Perhaps the biggest threat to the environment comes from single-use plastic. Therefore, a number of beauty brands are now using reusable receptacles as a part of their sustainable packaging strategy. Plastics that can safely be used time and time again will be a significant reduction in landfill waste while it has also been the catalyst for a new beauty business model.

Reusable containers have opened the door to a refill station model in which customers can bring back old containers and have them refilled for a lower price. Consumers gain a saving while the environment is saved too. From a business perspective, it has been a key development for building loyal fan bases as they return to refill their product.

Ethical ingredients

Consumers love to see the right packaging choices and a brand’s social responsibility, but the choice of ingredients used will always be the priority. Over 1,300 harsh chemicals have been banned in the EU and UK markets but consumers want luxury beauty brands to deliver chemical-free ingredients to protect their skin from ageing and damage. Avoiding animal testing is also deemed important.

Fairtrade ingredients are another popular solution that enables companies to show their conscious beauty strategy in full force. Certified ingredients can be used as moisturisers, body butter, lotions, bath oils, and hand creams with ingredients often coming from countries in Africa and South America.


Using carbon footprint calculations

A cosmetic company’s impact on the environment isn’t limited to the ingredients themselves or the primary packaging materials. It is equally important to consider the energy needed to transport products to their destination. Whether it’s direct to the consumer or to a store, brands are now more conscious than ever about how far their products need to travel, as well as the weights involved.

The use of 3D printing has enabled teams across various beauty verticals to take greater control and have packaging built on-site while also making a conscious effort to design and create smart packaging solutions like cardboard. This has been supported by online information rather than printed instructions.

What to expect over the coming years of conscious beauty

Brands looking to embrace conscious beauty must embrace the latest trends to keep pace with the competition. To gain the best results, though, understanding the developing trends will be equally vital. Some of the key features are detailed below:

Waterless beauty products

Water may be an unharmful ingredient that fits into ethical cosmetics. However, it is heavy and takes up room. This means companies will spend more money and cause increased emissions during transportation due to the added weight and increased container size.

Shampoo, for example, can contain 90% water. However, Garnier has launched shampoo bars that are lighter, more compact, and do not need plastic packaging. They are also 94% plant-based, adding to the conscious beauty efforts.

Other brands have introduced similar products, and it can be assumed that more and more cosmetics will be manufactured in the form of bars or powders that require the consumer to add a little water before use. It has been a longstanding method in the food industry.

Biosynthetic ingredients

While natural ingredients have been the preferred option for several years, consumers are now realising that some synthetic ingredients can be equally unharmful to the environment and their skin. Luxury beauty brands will now spearhead the growth of biosynthetic products.

Ingredients that have been manufactured in controlled environments bypass potential volatility for the supply chain while also removing the emissions caused by mining and sourcing ingredients. Better still, they replicate the quality of the natural ingredients.

Biotech firm Geltor now offers ingredients-as-a-service via its vegan collagen technologies. In addition to outperforming natural alternatives, the lab-produced items are available in powder form. As the understanding of biosynthetic items grows, more brands will utilise them.


Moving to 100% cruelty-free

Many companies now have at least one range of ethical products or items that cause less damage than others. Their success, along with the performance of brands that are fully eco-friendly shows that there will be a move towards 100% cruelty-free beauty.

Cruelty-free beauty products now account for 10% of the total beauty industry and have grown by over 27% while vegan (33.3%) and biodegradable (22.2%) beauty products are growing at rapid speeds. Forecasts show that this sector will only get bigger.

There has been a significant generational shift while gen z and co. are now influencing baby boomers and other generations to take note. Generation alpha will see the demand for 100% conscious beauty continue. Brands wanting to survive will need to adapt.

How can businesses embrace conscious beauty?

The importance of conscious beauty in the modern era is clear and it will only continue to grow. Whether it’s the ingredients of the products themselves or the other aspects like primary packaging, a conscious effort to achieve conscious beauty will be required.


Ingredient sourcing strategies

The right ingredient sourcing strategies for sustainable, fair, and traceable formulations will provide the strongest platform to build upon. Without them, the products will not be as marketable, even when ethical packaging supplies and processes are followed. A comprehensive strategy should include;

  • Using bulk purchases to reduce the frequency of transporting ingredients to your business.
  • Source local ingredients where possible as they will need to travel less far. The use of biosynthetic items from local labs can work wonders.
  • When buying exotic ingredients, source them through accredited fair trade direct from suppliers in the country of origin.
  • Ask retailers if they can provide traceable information such as where ingredients came from and whether they were wild or cultivated.
  • Keep traceable records of minimum order quantities, prices, and other features to make calculated choices.

Once sustainable ingredients – natural or biosynthetic – have been sourced, creating ethical products should become easier for years to come.


Conscious beauty certifications

Any cosmetics company can implement positive steps to become a more ethical company. However, certifications are necessary if you want to display certain logos on the primary packaging or make certain claims. Some of the key certifications that cruelty-free luxury brands may apply for are;

  • PETA’s Beauty Without Bunnies accreditation, confirms that beauty products are made without animal testing. The Leaping Bunny certification is a similar solution.
  • Soil Association, which means products are made organically and with integrity. In the US, USDA Certified Organic is used.
  • Rainforest Alliance accreditation, which proves your support of delicate ecosystems by fighting deforestation with sustainably sourced products.
  • Fair for Life, which is a fair trade initiative focused on fair pay for human workers. It relates to fair pay for workers as well as safe working conditions.
  • COSMOS, which certifies natural cosmetics worldwide. It covers recyclable packaging and health-conscious production. Two classes are Approved and Certified.

Packaging strategies

Aside from being a central feature of gaining certain accreditations, sustainable packaging highlights your endeavours to retailers and consumers alike. A sustainable packaging strategy should cover several stages to deliver the best results for immediate and long-term success. The plan should cover the following points;

  • Analysing the market to understand non-governmental organisation pressures, environmental regulations, and other key contributing elements.
  • Ensure that sustainable packaging fits in with supply chain management, covering plastics and non-plastics as well as transportation.
  • Set realistic conscious packaging goals, like reducing plastic usage or increasing recycled content.
  • Analyse suppliers to ensure that packaging supplies are reliable, ethically sourced, and delivered in a suitable fashion.
  • Socialise the strategy and integrate it with other ethical or conscious beauty elements to gain further support from C-level execs and backers.

The final word on conscious beauty

Conscious beauty may still be in its relative infancy but the growing demand from consumers, along with regulatory changes, have forced brands to take note. The great news is that businesses that accept the responsibility can gain a better response from employees and clients alike, which ultimately translates to a better bottom line.

Consumers are actively trying to adopt greener lifestyles, but businesses make a far bigger impact. Yours can help reverse the damage caused to the environment and inspire other beauty companies to follow suit over the years to come.

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