Mixing It Up – Ingredients, Claims, and Covid-19

When I started thinking about this post, Covid-19 was an ‘unknown factor’ and its impact on the cosmetics industry wasn’t even a consideration.

Today’s Reality
The international crisis that this modern plague has inflicted on the world, goes beyond moisturisers, shampoos and lipsticks. It has struck at the heart of our global society and has brought to light the ‘good, the bad, and the ugly’ of our humanity. We are indeed a vulnerable lot, and our skin and its appendages are not immune to the consequences of increased hygiene awareness, skin side effects of the virus in some people, and of course, the benefit of cleaner air.

Formulating for this new reality will be both challenging and opportunistic. Challenging, in that our ‘common sense’ needs to prevail to prevent useless products exploiting consumer fears, and opportunistic, to provide for products which really do benefit the skin. Not to belittle the industry, the key driver in all of this is the consumer, of whatever age or gender.

Ingredients & Formulations
The main drivers in formulating for a new reality and the future will continue to be ‘transparency’ of ingredients (e.g., traceability, safety, etc.), and of course credibility in terms of efficacy, as well as factual information — not misinformation. This is challenging since we have a beauty market, which is highly fragmented and very diverse. Moreover, with products often relying on ingredients in order to stand out in an enormous ‘crowd’.

Although there is an expectation for brands to formulate their products with natural ingredients, consumers ultimately choose a product based on its efficacy (1) and performance. Truth is the key driver.

One of the challenges going forward is how to manage both perceived and real undesirable ingredients via effective formulation, with very effective and transparent non-misleading communications. Where an ingredient is deemed undesirable by the consumer, this requires an immediate resolution to either put the consumer right with the correct facts, or to remove the ingredient before ‘social media’ explosions occur. Remember the paraben debacle? (2). Product safety will always be paramount.

Furthermore, consumers are becoming more research-driven, making it increasingly important for brands and formulators to be transparent about ingredient practices and moreover their product claims (2).

Products formulated for well-being, healthy skin, diversity of skin types, etc., are a ‘perpetual’ consumer need, and it is expected that formulations addressing the microbiome (once we fully understand the real impact of scientific research), environmental damage, and clean sustainable conservation-caring formulations, will continue grow and develop further (3).

Our skin types and the diversity within each skin type will enable further developments in personalised cosmetics, but only if so-called personalised cosmetics are not misleading - you do after all, have to conduct stability and safety testing as well as proving the product works on the 'personalised' consumer!

Claims & Misinformation
Anyone thinking that they can use the Covid-19 crisis as an excuse not to comply with cosmetic legislation, particularly claims justification (yes, I’ve heard this!), is heading for trouble. We have recently even seen claims as far fetched as ‘…contains clinically approved ingredients…,' ‘…medically approved…,' and ‘…goes beyond regulatory requirements….’ All are non-complaint claims. We have also seen ‘…chemical-free…’ claims which are clearly misleading. Life is made up of ‘chemicals’, and those industry associations recently bowing to ignorance, by giving a definition to ‘chemical-free’ in order to appease such ignorance, instead of putting ‘sense about science’ at the forefront, will continue to drive this industry backwards.

Bowing to misinformed pressure to appease the ignorant and re-create definitions which are strictly untrue will further drive this industry into a definition of its own — incredulous fantasy.’

Consumers (will) continue demand the truth when it comes to product claims, and increasingly demand precise clear messages. Ingredient claims within a product formulation still have to be proven (here in the EU it is the law (4)).

It does not matter what the marketing trend is, nor what the product trend is, the legislation remains the same: safety, legality, truthful, honest, fair, and a demand for evidential support.

Efficacy studies do need to be performed with the final cosmetic formulation (5), and that claims based on the efficacy studies of the ‘active’ ingredient supplier are not sufficient. Covid-19 has provided a key opportunity to re-think the way develop products. Product development pathways have to be turned on their head and re-drawn. Time and money to build a body of evidence has to be a first priority in the product development process, and not at the end — as is commonly the case. Building a body of evidence for a product can no longer be an afterthought. Key steps in any claim development process are: consumer insight, product raison d’être , claim development strategy, body of evidence, and communication. If the developer (marketing and R&D) cannot get these processes right, it does not matter what the trendy claim might be, they may well fail in the overall compliance, and disappoint the consumer.

1. Mintel Report - Ingredient Trends in Beauty. USA October 2019. www.mintel.com

2. Callaghan, T. Help! I’m Covered in Adjectives - Cosmetic Claims & The Consumer. KDP publishers, Amazon (Sept. 2019) ISBN: 978-1-687-89860-9. https://www.amazon.co.uk/

3. Mintel Report: The Future of Facial Skincare 2020 (February 2020). www.mintel.com

4. Commission Regulation (EU) No 655/2013 of 10 July 2013 laying down common criteria for the justification of claims used in relation to cosmetic products Text with EEA relevance

5. Callaghan, T. The Limitation of Cosmetic Ingredient Claims - It’s All In The Mix. Eurocosmetics (March) 2020.