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Naturals in the Age of Sustainability

By: Jeb Gleason-Allured, Editor
Posted: March 17, 2009, from the March 2009 issue of P&F magazine.
Perfume Bottles

The lingering question for ethical naturals is: can sustainability be accomplished when economies falter? And how do companies measure sustainability and ethics in the first place?

 During her presentation at the 7th Centifolia International Congress on Perfumery and Natural Materials in Grasse, France, Mintel analyst Nica Lewis acknowledged that eco-friendly beauty products remain a small subset of the whole, though there is significant growth potential. “We need to show consumers that luxury can be ethical,” she said.

“I believe sustainability equals protection,” Lewis added, defining the term as both protection of humans from the damaged environment and defending the planet from human activity. And while there are legitimate drivers behind this growing trend, there is a dangerous downside: totophobia.

Addressing Consumer Jitters Beginning with Ingredients

Totophobia, or the fear of everything “out there,” is a contemporary phenomenon that has manifested itself as a risk-averse society. “There are a lot of scares that are appearing in newspapers and online that are fueling this,” said Lewis. These stories—founded or not—generate societal anxieties about global warming, pollution, allergens, and most worrying for the flavor and fragrance industry, synthetic materials, genetically modified foods, and allergens. “We have the mass of consumers who are scared,” Lewis said. “As an industry, we need to reassure them and communicate clearly the benefits [and safety] of the products we produce.”

Lewis presented Mintel data showing the sharp rise in products offering UV protection across categories from cosmetics to hair care—although fragrance was strikingly omitted. Meanwhile, other products (predominantly skin care) now feature claims about protecting consumers from the elements—pollution, tobacco smoke, environmental aggressors, “urban damage,” “harsh elements,” and even cell phone signals. In short, said Lewis, beauty products now do more than beautify; they shield one from harmful elements.