Microbiome drives discussions at in-cosmetics North America 2018

Health and wellness in beauty and personal care is branching out from a curative positioning to one focused on holistic health and preventative products. Although the concept of health and wellness has positive associations among consumers, the specific benefits, criteria and features of what constitutes “health and wellness”, “natural” and “clean” varies widely, not only in North America but globally. For example, the term “natural” can be both proactive, as a benefit-seeking behaviour, and reactive, as a concept determined by brands.

The emerging segment of microbiome personal care is experiencing a similar proliferation of terms that allude to the microbiome, but without defined criteria to communicate benefits to consumers. This lack of standardised criteria for “natural” and “microbiome” was apparent at in-cosmetics North America with beauty brands developing their own ideas of the two terms.

The microbiome in skin care and beyond

Microbiome was a hot topic at this year’s conference. Presentations about the microbiome offered a wide variety of perspectives—business opportunities to incorporate various aspects of the microbiome (e.g. prebiotics, probiotics, prebiotics, biome-friendly) in skin care; technical explanations from skin delivery scientists on how the microbiome functions and why research limitations exist; exercising intellectual property rights on the skin microbiome; marketing claims and substantiations for probiotics and prebiotics.

Exhibitors like DSM also debuted microbiome shampoo, recognizing the opportunity for skin health benefits translating to scalp health benefits. From various angles, the microbiome is a growing landscape that can be linked to a narrative of holistic wellness when weaved into familiar consumer territory of gut health and oral health. Still, industry experts all echoed that quality control is needed globally to standardise how microbiome benefits and formulations are communicated to consumers.

The interpretive world of “natural”

One of the significant challenges in today’s beauty industry is defining “natural”, which, due to health and wellness megatrends, has become a popular healthy lifestyle choice that carries different meanings and weights to consumers. Euromonitor International’s 2018 Beauty Survey reveals several variables consumers weigh alongside “natural”, ranging from “organic”, “hypoallergenic”, “environmentally friendly and/or ethical” and “medicated / clinical formulation with therapeutic ingredients”.

Even founders of the leading “natural” brands define “natural” in different ways. Interviews published in Allure reveal that Tata Harper defines “natural” as free from synthetics, whereas Nancy Leung, head of new product development at Biossance, distinguishes “natural” as not necessarily being “safe” or “better” (“Poison ivy is natural, but it’s dangerous,” she says). Drunk Elephant founder Tiffany Masterson, who spearheaded one of the best-known brands in the US “clean beauty” space, considers “natural” to mean “of plant or mineral” origin but not necessarily good or useful to skin function. Natural is also tied to concepts of transparency and ethical labels, in addition to sustainability or recyclability of ingredients and environmental impact of production and packaging processes.

The multiple ways to interpret “natural” and the proliferation of labels and certifications that aim to communicate natural positioning to consumers, contribute to “natural” being one of the top four misused terms among consumers, according to in-cosmetics North America presenter Fraser Hill, founder and CEO of Skinega.

Despite the plethora of ways to interpret “natural”, brands have the opportunity to establish their own standards. Catchy tag-lines, such as “six-free” (products free of six questionable ingredients), “The Villain List” (Beauty Heroes’ list of ingredients to avoid that are not present in its products) and “farm to face” (Tata Harper’s founder story of the role her farm plays in sourcing the brand’s ingredients), serve as opportunities for companies to educate both premium and mass consumers on a particular ethos of “natural”. Due to its subjective nature, “natural” may never be defined by a regulatory body. However, in lieu of any standardised definition, beauty brands have opportunities to develop and create messages to further engage their consumers about how “natural” strengthens the brand story. in-cosmetics North America’s content, exhibitors and presentations not only highlighted the beauty industry’s request for guidance in navigating the interpretive world of “natural” but also presented success stories on how brands extended “natural” messaging to further engage with consumers.

Download Euromonitor International’s presentation, “Dermocosmetics: The Junction of Skin Care and Health and Wellness”, from in-cosmetics North America for an overview of the evolving skin care and dermocosmetic environments.