A Five-Point Plan For Creating Healthier, Safer Beauty Products

It’s a scary concept: that sweet-smelling, SPF-fortified lotion you rub on your face to prevent cancer could one day be the cause. And your daily lotion isn’t the only beauty product with potential hidden dangers: Peek at the label on your shampoo, face wash, and even your lipstick, and you'll likely see a series of hard-to-pronounce, unrecognizable ingredients.

If you’ve already noticed, you're not alone: Consumers are increasingly worried about the formaldehyde, parabens, and other chemicals commonly found in health and beauty products—and they’re hungry for alternatives. Recent BBMG surveys asked conscious consumers about their habits and attitudes toward beauty products. We've heard concern and confusion over everything from ingredients and manufacturing processes to environmental impact. The main takeaway? It's nearly impossible to find beauty products that are healthy, environmentally safe, and easy on the wallet.

Today’s New Consumers—those 70 million influential shoppers looking to make practical yet values-driven purchases—are eager for a brand that's authentically natural, safe and, of course, effective. As with any market gap, this one presents an opportunity. Now's the time for a large beauty brand to step up: Erase the clutter and address consumer concerns in a way that will decrease confusion and amplify shopper loyalty.

But not without first addressing these five key areas of concern:

Ingredients: Make it clean, make it safe.

When products are made from non-toxic ingredients, consumers take notice and take out their wallets, as evidenced by the unflagging devotion to brands like Mrs. Meyer's, whose ingredient lists are recognizable and straightforward. The company started from humble beginnings and still contains humble ingredients; today, thanks to distribution from parent company SC Johnson, you can’t walk into a pharmacy without spying one of Mrs. Meyers' friendly soaps. Which means—contrary to popular belief—it’s possible to achieve mainstream scale without compromising your sustainable values.

But mass distribution from a large parent company doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. Earlier this year, Burt's Bees, the beauty industry's beloved stalwart, saw its growth projections cut (by about $250 million) by parent company Clorox.

Labeling: Why all the secrets? Make the complicated stuff easier to understand.

Or, as one consumer told us: "With all those lengthy chemical names, who could know what’s safe and what isn't?" Sure, not every good-for-you product has ingredients with simple names, and sinister-sounding ingredients like diethanolmine and stearalkonium chloride can be handy foaming and softening agents. But, you would be surprised by how many consumers just want to know what it all means. If you must include it, explain it—something Gerber has put into practice with detailed answers and explanations on its baby-food website.

Certification: It's time for a trustmark with mainstream appeal.

Consumers love turning over a package and spotting a seal of approval like USDA Organic or FSC Certified. Third-party certifications have the ability to sway purchasing power—but only when the certification is clear and universally recognized. Although the Leaping Bunny logo has a long way to go toward mainstream awareness, it's a good start. This beauty industry trustmark, administered by the Coalition for Consumer Information, certifies that no animal testing is used in any phase of product development. More often than not, when New Consumers see this logo, they add the product to their shopping cart.

Conversation: Social Media is your friend.

When it comes connecting with consumers, wannabe sustainable beauty brands can learn from success stories in other industries. Whether it's gDiapers empowering like-minded moms to connect on Facebook, Warby Parker encouraging stylish shoppers to compare photos of their new specs, or Lululemon's yoga devotees discussing training tips, it's about having a unique, authentic voice and steering—not dictating—conversations with your most influential followers.

Packaging: Simple doesn't always mean boring.

Sure, a fancy bottle might attract a certain consumer. But for the New Consumer, all that potential waste is a turn-off. Our survey respondents repeatedly mention Seventh Generation's cardboard laundry detergent container. With 66% less plastic than the average bottle, it not only attracts consumers, but can also serve as inspiration for beauty products, which have liquid consistencies that aren't much different than a detergent's.

Of course, successfully addressing these concerns won’t mean much unless your product actually works. Consumers want safer choices, but efficacy is still the number-one purchase driver—which explains why BBMG's Triple Value Proposition is such a powerful concept. Innovative brands willing to invest in the research, development, and strategic marketing of natural products that also deliver results will get that most beautiful of rewards: customer devotion.

[Image: Wikipedia]

Gina Masullo is a media maven, social-network connoisseur and lifelong communicator who heads the PR and social media division at BBMG, a brand innovation firm dedicated to the intersection of branding, sustainability and social purpose.

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  • Sarah

    There is a great company out there already doing these things, MIessence.  All of the ingredients in their products are listed and considered active ingredients.  Many of their products are certified organic to food standards.  Their packaging is recyclable and the company is carbon negative by offsetting its freight emissions through Greenfleet and using wind power through Greenpower.  Importantly, the company's products are unrivaled in purity and effectiveness.  I invite you to try their products and learn more about the company at www.purelivingusa.com.  I am very proud to be an independent representative for this company.  

    Bob, I thought I was sensitive to smells, but it turned out that I was sensitive to the synthetic chemicals they put in fragrance to make it last longer.  It turns out I can enjoy smells if they are organic!

  • M'lou Arnett

    This is a great post. I am glad to see that the demand for safe and
    effective beauty products is shared by others. I am the co-founder of a new
    anti-aging skincare brand, Puristics. We believe in products that are pure,
    safe and effective, without compromise. All five of the areas you discuss are
    key to being an honest brand and helping consumers become label literate.
    Please excuse the shameless plug, but this is what we are all about…if you’re
    interested, find out more about our products at the Puristics site: http://www.puristics.com
    and let us know what you think at http://www.facebook.com/Purist.... I am proud
    of what we’ve accomplished so far and look forward to spreading the message of
    this article further. Thanks!  M'lou Arnett

  • Bob Kosberg

    This article is a start.  Besides the toxic aspect of each new product is the smell of every product made today.  Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.  Maybe this is becoming a big problem because of what they subject us to everywhere we go.  I get headaches almost everyday now.  I try to get my wife to be fragrance free, but it is impossible.  The strength of the smell, and the toxic chemicals that make the smell are unrelenting.  How can this be stopped???  Every restroom today is filled with automatic perfume sprayers that if you are not careful, will spray a scent on you that will stay with you for days.  You can't buy a product at Bed bath & beyond without the product caring a scent so strong, you could tell where it was purchased without looking at it.  Abercombie and FItch, they should be closed down.  The scent they emit from there doorways is criminal.  How can they get away with that?  I could list a million more stories.  What can be done?  And since the everyone seems to want to Hug everyone they see today, people put there scent on everyone they meet.  Compound 10 hugs a day and the toxic scent you carry is... I besides myself on what to do.

    Where are the lawyers today who want to make a name for themselves.  Sue every company that makes products until they are required to list every ingredient.  So much can be done to turn the tide with a few good lawyers.

    I would move to a place in the world that didn't allow fragrance made from chemicals that.... too many causes to list.  Something must be done.

    Is there a job within this industry to start spear heading the terrible news about what we are putting on ourselves and hugging and putting on each other.

    The toxic smells are my number concern in this world and I want to do something about it.  NOW!