Consumers move to cleaner cosmetics

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For 24-year-old Delhi based graphic designer Megha Verma, using beauty products with chemicals such as sulphate, paraben and mineral oil is a strict no. “I’ve switched to products which are created using naturally derived ingredients and it is working well for me. I don’t mind paying extra since skincare is a long-term investment,” she added.

With demand for chemical-free and environment-friendly products witnessing a steady uptick, a clutch of new-age skincare and cosmetics brands are offering clean beauty products claiming chemical-free formulations, transparent labelling, sustainable practices, and recyclable packaging.

Unilever Venture Capital-backed skincare startup Pureplay Skin Sciences (India) Pvt. Ltd, which sells skin and hair care products under brands Plum and Phy, not only sells chemical-free products but also actively recycles product packaging.

“The clean beauty trend is picking up in India. Consumer awareness about product formulations and ingredients has increased multi-fold in the past five years. They are reading labels and therefore brands are increasingly realising the importance of being transparent about the ingredients they use,” said Shankar Prasad, Founder, and CEO, Plum.

While Indian brands are actively focusing on recycling and using toxin-free formulas riding on the affinity towards natural products, other key aspects of clean and sustainable beauty trend such as sourcing of the raw materials sustainably, using ingredients which are biodegradable remains an uncharted territory.

“The packaging driven sustainability is witnessing an increased level of awareness. We also have a program called ‘Empties for Good’ where consumers can send back their used bottles which we recycle. Since product packaging is tangible therefore consumers are thinking a lot about it. Having said that, other crucial aspects dominant in global markets such as traceability of the source of the ingredients is still far and few in India,” he added.

Toxin free and PETA certified skincare brand Mamaearth attributes this shift in consumer demand to a decade-old global clean label trend which brings transparency through ingredients disclosure. The brand claims that it is plastic positive having recycled 140 tonnes of plastic in September. Backed by VC firms such as Sequoia Capital and others, the skincare brand which caters to both baby and adult personal care segment said that it keeps over serves over five million consumers through e-commerce platforms as well as 3,000 stores across India.

“We have partnered with US-based not-for-profit firm MadeSafe which certifies brands to create toxin-free products. Our five to six no toxic ingredient list has now increased to 850 ingredients which we keep away from our 130 products. Consumers have responded well to our products,” said Varun Alagh, co-founder of Mamaearth.

Alagh said that Mamaearth is currently a 300 crore brand and aims to be more than 1,000 crore brands in the next three years. With a product range between 149 and 1,500, the brand has recently committed to planting a tree every time a consumer buys a product on our website as a part of its sustainability initiative.

Homegrown colour cosmetic firm Kiro claims to formulate its eye and lip products from vegan natural ingredients and targets conscious make-up consumers. “This segment is self-aware and well informed about the global best practices in the beauty and wellness segment,” said Vasundhara Patni, founder, Kiro.

Uma Talreja – customer care associate, chief marketing and customer officer at Shoppers Stop noted that in the last two years, approximately 1/4th of their customers have adopted brands that offer chemical-free beauty products.

“The trend is more prevalent with millennials in the age group of 25-30 years who start their care routine with clean products itself while the evolved consumers are seen including this into their routine especially for hair care, face masks and face treatments. We also see significant trials and adoption of natural products by men while most of the purchases today are still by women,” she added.

Promoted and distributed primarily through digital platforms, these products find takers but high price points continue to be a challenge for them as they look to go mainstream and target the masses.

Ankur Bisen, senior vice president, retail and consumer, at Technopak, a management consulting firm believes that while the efforts of companies such as Hindustan Unilever must be lauded for funding innovation and acquiring firms which show the prospect of growth, there is definitely an overestimation of Indian market about consumer willingness to pay a premium for such products.

“We often see ventures struggling to scale and create mass adoption of their products. This problem has further been amplified in the current times when the consumer is continuously trading down products,” he added.

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