The biggest problem humans today have with communication is that we do not listen (or even read) to understand. We listen/read to reply and swipe left!

Until very recently, in consumers’ eyes, advertising has been littered with irrelevant and incomprehensible images and statements (claims) that have little or no bearing on the product itself. Designer fragrances and colour cosmetics are a good example, where prior to 2013, the use of sexual imagery and nuances was rife. However, from industry knowledge, today’s consumers, are not easily influenced by promises, e.g., of eternal youth, and even if some consumers are not highly educated, more often than not they have generated knowledge (credible or not), through a variety of outlets such as the internet, press, and social media in order to gain a better understanding of cosmetic products and what they are claiming. Furthermore, today’s consumers also tend not to consider product claims in isolation - they bring their past brand experiences and associations with them when they shop, which is key in the decision to purchase.

In order for cosmetic claims to be made, an understanding of consumer needs is a key requirement - this is called consumer insight. Standing out from the crowd is very important to humans. We all have this need to be someone. We see this with superstars and socialites especially. Yet, how far is too far? Is this the role of cosmetics today? Do cosmetics even have a role here? Or, can we in this twenty-first century just focus on our skin’s real needs to show and enhance our real beauty, rather than hide it behind colour masks and aesthetic intervention? Are we still human beings, or have we finally become nothing more than pixelated objects for social media digestion? We see consumers latching onto every word of some superstar and buying into their half-truths about what cosmetics do and don’t do. Stirring up dreams and desires reduces cosmetic products to mere snake oil, especially when we see the ‘sexing up’ of consumer desires through inappropriate advertising imagery claims, e.g., fragrances and makeup. Maximising profit, through overt claims, has come at the expense of the consumer and the integrity of the industry itself.


As someone who evaluates cosmetic claims as part of my job, I am still shocked every time I walk into a store or open the internet and observe the oceans of cosmetics products. From an amazing array of colours, to bottles of fragrances, potions, and lotions and more besides. In department stores, it is a case of hit and miss running the gauntlet of zealous sales staff. We have to face up to the fact that as humans, our pride and vanity have succeeded in giving us an insatiable gluttonous appetite for consumerism. This observation reminds me of the triffid from the musical Little Shop of Horrors. The absolute plethora of cosmetic products available to consumers is mind- boggling, and as marketing colleagues are always telling me, ‘There is always room for another moisturiser’ - as long as the consumer says they need it!

Seriously, however, there really is a justified need for some types of cosmetics. We need to protect our skin and, as such, keep it in good condition. It is a vital organ of the body, which requires care. If it breaks out in dry itchiness there is a cream to soothe it; if it is dirty, there are soaps and detergents to cleanse it. Furthermore, we also know that if we do not look after our body’s internal environment (healthy diet), then no topically applied product is going to work effectively in protecting the skin from the external environment, or to improving its wellbeing and condition. Generally speaking, lifestyle is one of the biggest influencers on skin health and condition. We are indeed what we eat!

Understanding the emotional need of the consumer is vital for any product success too and the question of the emotional need for cosmetics is as old as history itself. Yet it is the emotional need for cosmetic products, and the intimate relationship we have with them, that is most apparent in terms of sales and marketing and advertising. Humans are vain beings - we are insecure, narcissistic, proud, and worry about self-esteem rather than dignity and value. The mirror never shows us who we really are. How we think we appear to others feeds our vanity. Peer pressure, selfie-kings & queens (are they actually a cry for help?), the workplace, the press, etc., are additional drivers. It is clear from cosmetic marketing reports and the press, that despite arriving at the twenty-first century, the desire to be beautiful (at least in our own mirrors) continues to grow. According to business reports, the global cosmetic-products market was valued at around USD 532 billion (466 billion Euros) in 2017. It is expected to reach approximately USD 863 billion (768 billion Euros) in 2024, growing at a rate of slightly above 7% between 2018 and 2024.


In the EU the legislation defines claims as ‘texts, names, trademarks, pictures, and figurative or other signs that convey explicitly or implicitly product characteristics or functions in the labelling, making available on the market and advertising of cosmetic products’. In other words, whatever the consumer observes, perceives or feels when interacting with a cosmetic product, can be described as a claim. To be successful, products need to meet consumers’ real needs and expectations, while being compliant with regulatory requirements. Without consumer insight, a product could not effectively meet consumer need, and the product claim would not be effective because it too was not addressing the consumer’s need. If the industry cannot get these right, then they will struggle to produce a credible product in the eyes of the consumer.

INCI labelling is a great  opportunity for the industry to educate the consumer on cosmetic ingredients more effectively (despite some debunking websites available), and not leave it to the consumer to guess at their own risk, especially with so many dubious and scaremongering apps available. Remember the paraben debacle? More debacles are currently brewing just nicely, and I’m sure they prove to be a great sell! The rise of beauty apps is astounding, and I have had the (mis) fortune to be in conferences and events where so-called ‘beauty experts’ have presented so-called ingredient apps to the audience and ended up as mince-meat because of the ‘fake-it-til-you-make-it’ approach they chose to take! The industry does have its own ingredient resources for safety and toxicology, as well as what they are used for. Is it not time the industry launched its own app with ‘real experts’? Leaving it organisations such as CodeCheck is not enough. If the industry cannot resolve the complications of the INCI declaration with consumer understanding and educate consumers about the value of ingredients, we will continue to spin on the ‘merry-go-round’ of non-progression. Cosmetic scientists owe it to marketing managers, as well as the consumer and it is time the industry addressed this. Although in the UK, for example, despite a great web forum called Sense about Science, for some reason, consumers choose to disbelieve what is written at times. Are they distrusting knowledgeable, trustworthy scientists because they are seen as ‘the establishment,' and, that ‘the establishment’ is to be distrusted at all costs? Or, is it fear of appearing uninformed or not circumspect, when the purpose of these establishment figures is to actually help?

ⒸCallaghan Consulting International