Once a bit daggy, “green” skincare and cosmetics are now the show-offs that jostle for your attention on the beauty shelves.
Functional but uninspiring packaging has been superseded by recyclable, biodegradeable, graphically superior alternatives while product promises – anti-aging, rejuvenating, revitalising – have been souped up to compete with multi-national cosmetic giants.
Spectacular returns have followed.
In 2013, the global natural personal care market reached USD 29.5 billion, according to a recently published study by research firm Kline & Company.
For solely organic personal care products, a report by Transparency Market Research puts the demand at $7.6 billion in 2012 and forecasts $13.2 billion in sales by 2018. In Australia, the annual growth in organic cosmetics and toiletries is about 18 per cent with revenue now at $236 million, according to IBIS World.
Says Valentina Zuban, Group Product Manager at The Body Shop Australia: “The eco movement has gained momentum since consumers became more educated and sceptical about modern farming and manufacturing processes.
“They started using using social media to ask questions and spread the word, which drove awareness of the efficacy of organic personal care products.
“Simultaneously, mainstream multinational brands began to take notice of the organic trend and produce products to fill that void, increasing accessibility to the mass market and broadening awareness.”
The push into organic skincare correlates closely with the increasing demand for organic food, believes Tamara Eacott, director of Green Living Cosmetics, which distributes the Hungarian-brand Eminence Organic Skin Care established more than 50 years ago.
Increasing demand and profits have been accompanied by more intensive research and development so that it is no longer necessary to choose between bunny-friendly and low-chemical, or something that does what it says, she adds.
“Formulations now are quite different to 15 years ago. Chemists and dermatologists are used … people expect and are happier to pay for an organic brand that works.”
Beyond efficacy, consumers' choices are still multi-layered and potentially confusing.
Do you want 100 per cent pure, certified organic ingredients; products that have zero impact on global warming, those that give back to the third world, or those that are completely chemical-free. Should the packaging be recyclable or biodegradable; or the creams and potions handmade, containing ingredients that are picked according to lunar cycles, or cultivated via biodynamic principles. Even “certified organic' claims can vary, according to certifying body Australian Certified Organic.
Besides an understanding of international certification standards, social media, where the pros and cons of product ranges are debated, may be your best guide.
The Body Shop, founded in 1976, was the first green mainstream global beauty brand to use ingredients carefully selected for their high levels of purity and consumer safety, according to Zuban.
“Our reputation is further enhanced by a commitment to using natural ingredients and sourced ethically from Community Fair Trade suppliers worldwide. We were one of the first cosmetic brands to sign onto Ethical Trading Initiatives - today 80% of our products contain at least one or more Community Fair Trade natural ingredient.”
Aveda, founded by Horst Rechelbacher in 1978, can also boast some impressive tree-hugging firsts.
It was the first beauty company to launch a 100% certified organic beauty product, All-Sensitive Body Formula in 1996, to use 100% post-consumer recycled PET, to manufacture with 100% wind power at its primary manufacturing facility in 2007 and to market a hairspray with net-zero impact on the Earth’s climate (through funding of renewable energy to offset the CO2 associated with the manufacturing, transportation and use of Aveda aerosol hair sprays) in 2010.
It also assists third world workers with partnerships such as its sourcing of turmeric and amla through Indian firm Nisarga.
“Aveda became a lifestyle and global movement that changed the industry for good,” says Dave Rapaport Aveda Vice President of Earth & Community Care.
Britain's first certified organic health and beauty brand, Neal's Yard Remedies, which has recently made a foray into the Australian market, also trumpets impressive green achievements.
It was the first beauty company in the world to produce Soil Association certified organic skincare products and to launch skincare enriched with Fairtrade certified ingredients as well as the first high street retailer in the UK to be awarded the CarbonNeutral status.
However, while the larger brands may have forged the path into the green beauty market, a plethora of boutique and bespoke brands are capturing the imagination of the burgeoning eco market.
Eminence Organic Skincare may have been established, in Hungary, 50 years ago, but its handmade products, jammed with herbs, fruits and vegetables, are now favoured by celebrities such as Jessica Biel and Madonna.
Australia's Lily Loves Pearl, that has built its philosophy around the cycle of the seasons, preparing limited amounts of product, more often, to retain its efficacy, now ships to Singapoore, the UK and Taiwan.
Founder Samantah Molineux, who started a naturopathic degree before getting involved in her own start-up, uses only organic ingredients and absolutely no chemicals.
French brand Absolution, with its stylish black and white containers, prepares then ships product in 48 hours. The range is based on a shorter range of products, more simplicity and highly organic certified skincare that are customizable to the different skin’s moods.
Founder Isabelle Carron, who hails from a strategy and design agency, says her own desire to have the best cosmetic products for her and her skin finally pushed her to create her own cosmetic line: a brand that mixes nature and care, design and modernity.
Bondi's Beauty Chef, established in 2009 by beauty editor, stylist and author Carla Oates, today has cult-like following. It was the first beauty company globally to formulate an inner beauty powder that uses fermentation, while Oates has since developed a small clean, green, organic skincare range.
Increased competition will, ultimately, mean even more desirable products from small or large players with Rapaport predicting: “We'll see new developments in using the natural power of plants to achieve high impact results while sourcing the ingredients sustainably and in ways that benefit the communities around the world where they are grown.”
Zuban believes future profits may come from innovations on how to improve shelf life of organic products without using parabens and other preservatives.
10 Green Brands
The Paris-based brand was one of the first to offer organic certified makeup. Try: Terre Caramel Bronzer, $31. couleurcaramel.com.au
Organic, chemical-free skincare, haircare and cosmetics with medicinal herbs and ingredients picked in fine conditions whenever possible. Try: Regenerating Intensive Treatment $153. drhauschka.com.au
Eminence Organic Skin
European certified organic ingredients used in 160 specialty masques, fruit cleansers, moisturisers, herbal serums and luxury body lotions. Try: Blueberry Soy Night Recovery Cream $107. eminenceorganics.com.au
Naturopaths, nutritionists and chemists are used to create certified organic skincare. Try: Dream Repair Serum, thebeautychef.com.au
Plant-based products that are professionally developed, clinically tested, and respectful of the earth. Try: Shampure Composition aromatic oil, $49. aveda.com.au
The Body Shop
The original, ethical, natural beauty brand. Try: Vitamin E Moisture Cream, $20.95 thebodyshop.com.au
The brainchild of model Miranda Kerr, this young brand is organically certified and chemical-free. Try: Energising Citrus Mist $39.95. koraorganics.com
Products are completely free of parabens, synthetic fragrance and genetically modified ingredients as well as phthalates, mineral oils, silicones and nano technology. Try: Seaweed & Arnica Foaming Bath, $29.95. nealsyard.com
The pioneer and leader of Ayurveda in Australia, OmVeda uses only 100% natural plant and herbal ingredients, organically grown and sustainably harvested. Try: Honey Sandalwood Moisturiser, $53.50. omveda.com.au
Lily Loves Pearl
Inspired by the natural skincare products once made by the founder's aunt and grandma, these products apply current scientific research into the plant world. Try: Moisture Recovery Serum $46. lilylovespearl.com.au
This story originally appeared in Life & Leisure in The Australian Financial Review