As reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "an estimated 5,437,988 (2.21%) adults in the United States and 1 in 36 children have autism spectrum disorder (ASD)." ASD, which is characterized by "ongoing social problems that include difficulty communicating and interacting with others" and "repetitive behaviors as well as limited interests or activities," can result in "symptoms that hurt the individual's ability to function socially, at school or work, or other areas of life," as detailed by the National Institute of Mental Health.
ASD can also be characterized by sensory issues or sensory processing disorders (SPD), which can be exacerbated by sounds, lights, colors, scents, and textures, as detailed by the non-profit Autism Speaks. With so many people personally or directly impacted by ASD, it can, therefore, be argued that the cosmetics and personal beauty care product industries can better accommodate the needs of this consumer population through NPD.
To discuss how different products and services for those with autism can inspire NPD in the cosmetic and personal beauty care spaces, CosmeticsDesign spoke with Helga Hertsig-Lavocah, Senior Forecaster and Founder of Hint Futurology for her thoughts on accessible product development in the cosmetics and personal care product industries.
"Inclusivity is a two-way street, and we don't acknowledge this often enough," Hertsig-Lavocah shared regarding the need for more accommodation in beauty NPD. When considering the textures of beauty products, formulators are typically focused on creating pleasant skinfeel and an enjoyable experience for the average consumer – but for a consumer with ASD and sensory issues, some developments can create more inclusive products with an even broader appeal.
For example, said Hersig-Lavocah, "Some people with autism find that deep pressure helps them to feel their body limits and be more peaceful, which was the rationale for the hugging chair" developed to help those with ASD. Therefore, she explained, "extrapolating out to a wider audience… we need more body care products that hug us." Regarding beauty NPD, this could include "denser, longer-lasting foams for wash and care," she suggested, adding that "maybe these foams should sit longer on the skin" for a more accessible sensory experience.
Another example of products from other sectors that can inspire beauty NPD, Hersig Lavocah shared, is fabric softener. While it has traditionally been a "milky" liquid, "Japanese consumer goods giant Lion has recently launched a transparent line," she explained. This innovation is significant, she said, because "the products still deliver on fragrance and softness, but they have a more sophisticated and calming appeal."
While she conceded that this product was probably "never developed for those on the spectrum, it's an unexpected benefit" for those with ASD. It can serve as an example to cosmetic and personal care product formulators, ingredient manufacturers, and suppliers for another way to meet this consumer demographic's needs better.
In addition to product textures and colors, fragrance formulators can be inspired by other sectors. For example, Hertsig-Lavocah shared, "Some supermarkets have quiet times when they don't play music so that this community can feel more comfortable buying groceries because the neuro-diverse community appreciates dialing down the sensory noise."
She continued to explain that "while we typically focus on loudness, many neurodiverse people report that it's actually complexity that causes an issue, e.g. many voices at the same time." Therefore, she said, "extrapolating out to cosmetics and toiletries," ingredient manufacturers, suppliers, and fragrance and beauty product formulators could "highlight the calming, less complex fragrance and ingredient profiles." In this way, she concluded, "less is more has never been more appropriate."
These examples, as well as many others, are not "the first time products or services for those with a particular need has found wider appeal," said Hertsig-Lavocah, but there is much more that can be done to formulate and produce more inclusive products for those with ASD and sensory processing issues.
By taking inspiration from other sectors, manufacturers, and suppliers in the cosmetics and beauty care industries can not only widen their audience by expanding the mass appeal of their products but also become more accessible to an underserved consumer population.