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Greening up – How the beauty market became green?

Sustainability has been a topic of high importance in the Beauty market for some years now. The pandemic has further accelerated the rush of brands for more natural products, ecological formulas and contributory packaging. The whole world is concerned with sustainability issues and the consumer expects brands to adjust to new demands. But how did this interest in natural cosmetics come about and how far can the industry go?

The shift from the cosmetic world to greener and more natural products started slowly; when as a society we started to deal with the negative consequences for the wrong way we were using natural resources. Global warming, pollution and the emergence of a large number of diseases and allergies emerged from society’s unbalanced relationship with nature and also from the way we were producing consumer goods.

As a society we started looking for alternatives to create a better world. Many reflections on how we deal with natural resources have emerged and new policies to control the use of natural resources, reduce waste and deal with global waste have been implemented. All countries and industries began to rethink their sustainable credentials and began to reflect on what the alternatives would be to create a more sustainable world.


The idea of ​​sustainable development came from the concept of eco-development. This concept was proposed during the First United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1972. Sustainable development was considered as the ability to meet needs without compromising the capacity of the planet and future generations.

But at what point, as a society, do we start to change our behavior and create the basis for a more sustainable global movement? Everything indicates that these concepts of eco-development influenced many hippies of the 70’s. And soon afterwards they emerged as entrepreneurs in the 80’s and brought some naturalistic philosophies to their business.

At this moment the seeds were born for a more sustainable and natural entrepreneurial vision. Some well-known green brands were born at this time, such as Dr. Hauschka, The Body shop and Burt´s Bee. Companies with a more natural vision emerged in all sectors, especially food.

These consumers who were former “hippies”; and who were part of the counterculture of an era, started to relate to the modern world, create machines and live in a more accelerated and consumerist society.

However, many of them maintained their natural roots; and kept in their memory the positive experience in dealing with the simplest and most quality products.

In addition, they were aware of their good influence on their health and life. This group of people is believed to have grown and started to influence consumer markets, especially in the second half of the 1980s and early 1990s.

From food to cosmetics

The first industry to bring a more strongly green and natural vision was food. The choice for more natural, less industrialized and preservative-free foods began to shape a new consumption behavior.

The consumer started to evolve and seek the same quality standards for food in cosmetics. So cosmetics made with food-based ingredients, free of toxins and healthier began to have a greater demand.

If an ingredient could be used as a food and was positive, it was immediately understood that it would also be good for cosmetic formulations for skin and hair care for example. Thus Kosher, Vegan, Non-GMO and Gluten-free, food-based standards began to appear in the cosmetic world.

The growing interest of consumers to understand what is present in the composition of foods and the consequences on their consumption, also influenced the cosmetic market. Thus the consumer started to try to understand the cosmetic compositions of the labels and to identify possible actives that caused allergies, irritations and harms.

At this time, a need for cosmetics and products with cleaner and more transparent formulas started to be more concretely fulfilled with their functionalities without creating undesirable effects.

In 1998 “The Green Consumer Guide” was published, written by John Elkington and Julia Hailes and this was the first book to identify this emerging green consumer. This book was a success and sold over 1 million copies, it was the first of its kind to focus on green consumer choices.

The guide detailed the chemical composition of products in several different categories, such as food, cleaning and gardening, and included lists of resources for purchases, references for other publications and even gave recipes for homemade green cleaning products. So it was clear that there was a real demand for a green consumer market and that was just the beginning.

The 90s marked the appearance of many green brands and a more informed consumer who demanded improvements and solutions in natural products from industries.

Thus concerned with avoiding allergic reactions or undesirable reactions to health, the demands for greater cosmetic safety and thus the growth of tests arose. Thus, the terrible tests on animals intensified.

This theme was already on the rise in the period – combating cosmetic tests on animals, and a growing view of concerns about the planet and avoiding all kinds of cruelty to the beings that lived on it grew.

We thus started to observe a more conscious and sensitive consumer, who tried to understand the formulations, and to identify which ingredients were present and what impacts their production or use could bring to the world.

Inventor consumer – Green base

Consumers ‘lack of confidence in the industries’ intentions and in their ability to make the necessary changes has led many people to create their own cosmetics in their kitchens, as they have done for a long time.However, these homemade and very natural solutions were not very stable, and although they worked, they signaled a consumer movement for cleaner products that needed to be served by the industry, which became increasingly green day after day.

From the concept that the quality of ingredients is important, two movements emerged: the growing interest in the traceability of ingredients and the concern with the responsible exploitation of resources. The awareness that it was necessary to respect nature, the beings that live in it and the communities that depend on it has matured a lot.

After all, what is a green cosmetic?

Green cosmetics under the view of the industry need to be developed to have a minimal impact on nature and, if possible, try to reduce the negative environmental effects already present today.

The balance with all the natural resources involved is fundamental, from the raw materials, to the consumption of energy generated to produce, the expenses with water and the impacts that the packaging can have on nature. All the effects of the product need to be planned and controlled, in what is today called “product design” and they must contribute to leaving the smallest possible carbon footprint.

For the consumer, green products are known as organic, vegan or natural and inside the “bottle” they must have been formulated with genuinely natural ingredients, extracted and produced in a responsible manner.

But these definitions are confusing and it is important to understand that not all natural products are organic. The natural cosmetics technically can contain synthetic ingredients and the organic ones cannot. Organic cosmetics, in addition to having a natural formula, must be free of synthetic ingredients and must also not have genetically modified ingredients.

Thus the distinction between natural and organic cosmetics is based on the standard of purity of the ingredients. The natural concept is easily used by brands, but the organic concept is safer as it requires sanitary control and limits on the concentration of ingredients to comply with the standards. The use of green seals and credentials is a greater security for brands and consumers, but there is still no global consensus on these parameters.

Green credentials still reach manufacturing techniques and include sustainable packaging choices. Despite being in fashion, green products have a high quality standard and are able to guarantee the necessary functionality, without causing harmful effects to nature or users.

How green are we today?

The Organic and Natural Cosmetics market is a market dominated by Europe 39% and the United States 49% mainly. In Europe, Germany and France are the main countries, with 35% and 20% market share respectively in 2018, according to Eurovia data, published in a premium Beauty news article.

Green products increasingly demand a purpose from brands, they need to have truly sustainable values ​​and attitudes. Today we have seen the movement called “Farm movement” and also “Face to Farm”, in which brands grow their ingredients on their own farms, create a stronger connection with their roots and green values, and control the quality of their ingredients. Much more than a simple marketing or claim position, green credentials are growing every day and both the market and consumers have become more demanding.

We can say that today we have shades of green permeating the entire industry globally. The rules in each world market for classifying products as natural, organic and vegan may vary. However, the biggest problem lies in the difference between the list of ingredients accepted in Europe and the rest of the world.

The disparity in standards between the European and American markets for example is very large. In cosmetic ingredients, the EU has banned or restricted more than 1,300 chemicals, while the US has banned or restricted just 11. This makes the green concept very volatile and is moving towards a smaller gap between markets in the future.

But how far can these distances between green concepts go? Well, what we do know is that more and more countries sympathize with or adhere to European standards and there is divergence even within the American states. In the world there is a respect for the European standard but the discussion is still heated.

It is expected that green cosmetics will become a normal credential and that there will be no more “non-green” cosmetics in the near future. Simpler formulas can be more positive and safe, in addition, a new evolution of the green vision we know today is expected. We will have new “shades and quality of green” that are being designed by the market at the moment, but that we still don’t understand. This market will still develop a lot and that new variations for the green concept in cosmetics will come.


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