Trend background: millennial drivers
Consumer trends may be cyclical, but there is no denying the current interest in raw and natural products.
This applies to cosmetics as much as to food. Millennials appear to worry more than previous generations about the impact of products, ingredients and production processes on the environment.
They are also comparatively more aware of what they put onto and into their bodies, so pure and wholesome products have increased in popularity.
At the same time, with allergies and intolerance on the rise, product manufacturers need to think especially carefully about any additives in their formulations that could be harmful and increase their exposure to risk. This includes many preservatives.
Side effects: consumers less keen for the trade-off
In cosmetics, compared to other strands of life sciences, sensitives are elevated because products’ perceived value is less clear-cut.
For example, while patients may be willing to put up with some side effects if a medicinal product is working well for them, the appreciable benefits of a skincare product, shower gel or make-up application would have to be significant before consumers will subject themselves to any risk of skin reactions.
Without distinct curative properties, the benefit-risk ratio does not balance; safety is paramount. This is especially the case in Europe, where cosmetics regulations are becoming increasingly stringent.
Strong regulatory influence
As regulatory bodies have responded to such concerns in Europe, reducing the preservative options available to manufacturers, cosmetics companies are finding themselves exposed to new risks though.
As well as extending the life of products, preservatives protect consumers against contamination - as creams, lotions and make-up come into contact with skin before being returned to the bathroom shelf (fingers being put in face cream, etc). Contamination can also happen on the production line.
Companies must walk a fine line between minimising non-essential ingredients, and the stability of their products; between maximising the shelf life of their goods, and keeping consumers safe. Removing one risk could introduce another.
Every action has a reaction
At a time when public awareness is heightened, and emerging product insight can quickly go viral among target customers globally, manufacturers need to work twice as hard to protect their reputations.
To stay ahead of consumer trends, manufacturers need regularly to refresh their knowledge of ingredients and alternatives to additives that have fallen out of favour.
Consumers can so easily access online resources and look up ingredients for their health/hazard properties, that cosmetics companies can no longer expect customers simply to trust them to get the balance right.
To stay in the public’s good books, cosmetics companies need to invest in the latest development expertise and knowledge, from raw materials and formulation design to the manufacturing process and packaging.
Ideally, the entire R&D department should be working towards improving and updating products to reflect the emerging market mood (as highlighted by social media, for instance).
Staying current won’t happen by osmosis: it’s something that manufacturers need to actively strive towards. That could be by tuning in more closely to evolving consumer preferences, or by more proactive peer networking to understand the latest scientific discoveries.
It is this kind of activity that separates leaders from followers, but it is something the whole industry should be doing.
Diaraf Yaradou is a consultant with ProductLife Group, a firm specialising in the changing R&D landscape.