As consumers have become more conscious in their consumption, the wellness category has naturally expanded into adjacent markets. Beauty, specifically the “clean beauty” segment, is one that is making its mark, with spending projected to hit $21.8 billion by 2024. Today’s informed beauty consumer — who understands that looking good encompasses all the facets of wellness, including diet, exercise, sleep, and mindfulness—demanded more from the products they put on their skin. And the market responded. It’s now the norm for beauty retailers to come clean on what exactly is in that eye serum—and to have customers flocking to them as a result.
Despite the category’s buzz, it’s difficult to come to a consensus on what exactly constitutes clean beauty. It means something different to every consumer, and is defined differently by the competing clean beauty brands. While the term “clean” seems similar to the term “organic,” it’s not the same. Personal care products aren’t subject to the same strict FDA food standards that must be met before a manufacturer can use the term “organic” on packaging. That means companies eager to fill customer demand for clean beauty can, and often do, slap the word “organic” on products that are full of synthetic materials and known carcinogens. Consumers know there’s greenwashing going on, and will do their homework. The social backlash against the Honest Company is a case in point. It’s a better brand move to be transparent about ingredients and assume their customers will do their homework—and make it easy for them to do so—rather than just taking their marketing message at face value.
Even the most committed wellness advocates can find it overwhelming to adopt a clean beauty regime. How can you know which brands to trust and which ingredients are truly better for you? In April 2018, Credo introduced their “The Credo Clean Standard,” a “dirty list” that lays out the ingredients and practices that aren’t compliant with their clean beauty philosophy. The list includes dozens of ingredients that brands must avoid due to safety and/or sustainability reasons. All new companies Credo distributes must comply immediately; existing brands have until October 2019. Credo’s Standard gives consumers who seek clean products, but don’t have the time to research, the confidence to choose products that meet their standards. And it makes their conversion to clean beauty an easy one.
Sephora recently announced its own Clean Beauty category and the “Clean at Sephora” seal. Now, consumers can see at a glance if their potential purchase has been vetted by the Sephora beauty pros. Clean beauty brand Drunk Elephant benefitted largely, becoming the fastest-growing brand ever to launch at Sephora with 600% YoY growth. “With so many buzzwords in the beauty space, Sephora has chosen the Clean at Sephora seal,” Cindy Deily, senior director of skin care merchandising at Sephora, told Well+Good. “The seal helps clients more easily identify brands that are formulating without many of the ingredients that they might be looking to avoid.”
Beauty chains Credo and Sephora grabbed the clean beauty trend and transformed it into a movement, one that has elevated beauty as another way to signify good health and giving beauty purchases greater value than just the immediate benefit to their appearance. While many define wealth by the accumulation of things, some (particularly the next generation of buyers) value experiences more. Treating oneself, indulging, and #livingyourbestlife more often comes in the form of knowledge, social capital, and wellness. For clean beauty fans, an organic cucumber face mask or sunflower oil lip tint is an asset that doesn’t just makes them look good, but defines their priorities and reflects their status in achieving them.
Tara is Director of Retail Strategy at Narvar. Her passion for innovative retail came from working in merchandising & ecommerce at leading global brands like Louis Vuitton, Walmart.com and Gymboree.