Is Sustainability Only Skin Deep?

Last month we travelled to Amsterdam for In-Cosmetics Global, the premier European salon for personal care ingredients.  New Angles has recently been retained by a leading player in the cosmetics and personal care sectors and we were curious to take a look at what was trending, particularly from a sustainability perspective.

When we asked exhibitors at In-Cosmetics what sustainability means for their industry the reply was usually to do with ‘natural ingredients’, ‘organics’, or ‘biodegradability’.  This reflects pressure from big name customers such as Unilever or L’Oréal, who are in search of raw materials and formulations that support their brands’ claims to be ‘natural’ and ‘environmentally friendly’.  In practice most of the industry’s basic success criteria (reliable stability, pleasant skin-feel, technical performance, neutral odor…) can be met most economically and reliably by petrochemical ingredients.  For example, surfactants and polymers are critical to the majority of current mass-market offerings.  Suppliers able to produce technically equivalent agents from natural raw materials, or even giving serious R&D investment to finding natural alternatives to these standard components, are still rare.

One prominent trend at In-Cosmetics that seemed to promise hope of breaking out of the petrochemical routine was the idea of delivering beauty and health by harnessing the power of the ‘human microbiome’: working in harmony with the armies of bacteria that inhabit our skin to reinforce people’s natural capacity for looking and feeling good, rather than simply applying external solutions.  Products with related claims are coming on to the market regularly in recent years, and whether it’s in prebiotics or probiotics we expect the buzz around the power of the microbiome in skincare, and particularly facial applications, to increase dramatically over the coming 12 months.

An unexpected discovery among the hundreds of exhibitors from over 35 countries at In-Cosmetics Amsterdam was our fellow B Corp, Expanscience, the latest recruit to France’s B Corp community.  They were distinguished from their neighbors not only by their all-natural cosmetic ingredients offer but also by a strong visual presence, with staff sporting the French B Corp uniform of red berets and Brittany sailor shirts!  It’s no coincidence that Expanscience is both a B Corp and a family-owned firm; protection from investor short-termism is one enabling factor behind their commitment to develop sustainable solutions in what is still fundamentally a petrochemical sector.  We look forward to seeing their influence grow in the European cosmetics space and beyond.