How to Leverage the Cruelty-Free Trend in the Beauty Industry

Not long ago, the gold standard for beauty brands was to deliver a great product. Now brands are expected to go much further, to stand for something beyond their products.

Beauty brands must prove there’s a reason for their existence. Those that promote their positive impact on the environment, support progress, individual expression, and cruelty-free values have the leg up on their competitors.

Addressing some of the key market challenges

Finding ways to positively impact the environment is a core focus of today’s forward-thinking organizations. The global cosmetics market must also ensure that they are honest about their progress, or lack thereof. Thereby they avoid conveying the false impression they’re more sustainable than they are.

Consumer scrutiny over unregulated terminology used in beauty—terms such as ‘natural’ and ‘clean’ beauty, for example—require conclusive definitions. The cruelty-free movement also requires brands to be honest about what those terms mean to them, and build consumer education around this.

As conscious consumers become more aware of their impact on the broader world and how they can benefit the greater good, they expect the companies they support to do the same.

This is particularly the case with young consumers. A new Facebook report, Gen Z: Getting to Know the ‘Me is We’ Generation, found that 68% of Gen Zers expect brands to contribute to society.

This makes it more challenging for beauty brands to build a loyal consumer base among young generations. At the same time, they are faced with the difficulties of competing with the wave of agile, innovative smaller brands that are founded on the same values, and a strong sense of self-expression of this age group. We can say the cosmetics industry is experiencing “The innovator’s dilemma” to the fullest. 

However, companies that communicate authentically, with honesty and simplicity, in a meaningful way, will connect with consumers most effectively in the years ahead.

The Future of Beauty: Overview

As of 2020, the beauty industry should prepare to take on its most prominent role yet. The expectations of brands across all sectors are growing. But within beauty, consumers have higher expectations for everything from efficacy to ethics, and in the years ahead, their demands will evolve even further. 

Ethical consumerism

Over the past year, dozens of brands across the board have gained certification according to ethical standards. Cruelty-free and 100% vegan claims are becoming increasingly common within the industry—and an expected standard for consumers.

According to MUA Makeup Academy, 62% of consumers now buy vegan, cruelty-free beauty products despite not following a vegan lifestyle. Also, consumers’ efforts to cut back on consumption have created further shifts within the market this year.

Peak beauty

We’ve seen a variety of movements emerging in the beauty industry that are encouraging us to buy less, shop mindfully, and generally stop conspicuous consumption. People are becoming overwhelmed by having so much stuff. It might well be that we’ve hit, and gone, past Peak Beauty.

So how can the global cosmetics market encourage consumers to cut back while maintaining their business? Offer multi-benefit, cruelty-free, practical products that make consumers’ lives simpler and more accessible, look fantastic on the shelf, and also tread lightly on the planet and engage the consumer while doing it.

Packaging in 2020

More widely, brands will be looking at reducing waste by removing unnecessary packaging. Across make-up, skincare, and fragrance, we can expect to see more brands adopting refillable and reusable packaging initiatives in 2020. From primary and secondary packaging to transport packaging, brands are willing to communicate to their customers that they are using more planet-friendly packaging.

Fully recyclable products will become a baseline, and compostable packaging will be introduced more widely.

Beyond packaging, consumers are starting to question the sustainability of natural ingredients used in their beauty products and how natural ‘natural’ products are. Brands need to have the confidence to explain exactly why they are using naturals or synthetics, particularly if the latter is more sustainable, long-lasting, or effective.

Now brands educate consumers about safe synthetics. Also, new brands have come to market that use innovatively engineered natural ingredients optimized for safety and sustainability, as well as efficacy. The divide between natural and synthetic that has polarized the industry for so long is blurring.

The conscious beauty diet

From meat to make-up, consumers are buying less. As awareness grows of the impact that the amount and types of purchases have on the planet, it is clear that conscious consumerism is here to stay.

In the beauty industry, this movement has become especially pronounced. Trends such as ‘slow beauty,’ ‘minimalist beauty,’ and ‘skip-care’ all point the same way. Consumers are encouraged to buy less while uncovering the beauty benefits of using fewer products on themselves.

Mindful minimalism

Whether it’s beauty dieting or beauty fasting, brands in 2020 will need to support consumer shifts towards a ‘less-but-better’ attitude. Fundamentally, companies should adhere to the idea of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ to encourage consumers to continue mindful spending.

Multifunctional products, removing unnecessary packaging, refillability, and bring-back, loyalty-based recycling schemes are further ways for brands to help consumers tread more lightly on the planet while making their lives simpler and easier.

Bioengineered ingredients

Fear over chemicals and how they can harm our skin, body, and environment has fueled one of the beauty industry’s biggest influences over the past two decades: the natural movement. As consumers switched to ‘green’ or organic alternatives, natural and engineered were at opposite poles.

But the boundaries are now blurring due to two reasons. Consumers realize that natural does not necessarily mean better or more environmentally friendly, and new materials are emerging that straddle the line between natural and engineered.

The EU and FDA still have no legal definition of natural for beauty products, which means that brands can greenwash or tout natural ingredients with little regulation or oversight.

This tendency has resulted in consumers scrutinizing ingredient lists and questioning products that claim to be ‘green’ or ‘clean,’ while at the same time prioritizing product performance.

The rise in beauty consumers looking for products, services, and brands that can deliver targeted information about their skin condition and health illustrates this, and the developments in this area are plentiful.

Bottom Line

Ethical and sustainable beauty will continue to rise in popularity, while brands will be required to display more honesty and transparency.

If you want to operate in the global cosmetics market—one that’s flooded with thousands of new launches every year, yet within a context of rising conscious consumption—it’s time to justify the legitimacy of your products.

You should make it a priority to define your reason for existence—and passionately explain why you’re operating in such a saturated market.

These tendencies can be quickly leveraged into your planet-positive company. It's difficult but possible to show your customers that your brand is conscious down to each detail, from packaging, ingredients to concept.


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