In our label-reading age, it’s no longer jarring to spot shoppers prowling supermarket aisles, scrutinizing food and beverage labels with magnifying glasses and ingredient “watch” lists compiled, if not by reputable advocacy groups, then at least by the latest beauty blogger du jour. And judging from what winds up in their baskets and what stays on shelves, it’s pretty clear that 1) a not-insignificant number of these shoppers has gone all-in on the notion that “you are what you eat,” and 2) they neither want to eat nor to be a bunch of scary-sounding chemicals.
By that same token, it should come as little surprise that such consumers aren’t especially interested in rubbing scary-sounding chemicals all over their faces, elbows, or hair, either. And indeed, the success of “naturally” formulated skincare, haircare, and cosmetic products leaves little doubt that the power of product purity extends beyond the kitchen and into the powder room, as well.
Bright Spot in Beauty
Indeed, despite seeing sales decline in 2015, the U.S. facial skincare and antiaging market is basking in the glow of a very bright spot—growing consumer interest in natural formulations that supplant unpronounceable “chemicals” with trusted, familiar ingredients, according to new research from Mintel.
Casting even more light on the category are results of the second annual Green Beauty Barometer survey, commissioned by Seattle-based ”eco-luxe” brand Kari Gran and conducted online by Harris Poll in August 2016. Among the findings: 35% of women surveyed plan to purchase more all-natural beauty products over the next two years, with Millennial women expressing that intent at a rate of 48%.
Their support makes sense to Paula Simpson, nutricosmetic formulation and branding expert and principal, Nutribloom Consulting (New York and Toronto). “Natural skincare is the fastest-growing market in personal care in the U.S.,” she says. The belief—Simpson calls it a philosophy—that “living clean will help you look and feel your best is stimulating the growth of natural nutricosmetic and beauty brands that abide by naturally derived and clean-based products,” she says.
Good Enough to Eat
And it all comes back to the public’s increasingly unified theory of how to live well. As Paige Leyden, a natural products researcher at SPINS (Chicago), says, “Clean or natural eating has been a gateway to being healthier overall, and that approach has taken on an even more holistic nature to include more aspects than just diet—which is why simpler skincare and beauty are thriving.”
Leyden definitely detects a correlation between concerns about what’s in food and beverage choices and the ingredients that are in “all types of products.” Clean eating and clean beauty “go hand-in-hand,” she believes, and just as consumers “look for products with fewer or easier-to-understand ingredients when it comes to food, I believe that’s becoming apparent in beauty and skincare, too.”
Of course, clean comes at a cost, and Simpson is quick to note that “in the past, natural-based products fell short on shelf life and stability,” while also often lacking sufficient clinical evidence for their efficacy. More recently, however, “Industry formulators, researchers, and manufacturers have improved this to the point that many natural-based ingredients and products have similar stability profiles and are shown to be equally efficacious compared to many traditional products,” Simpson concludes.
Is it magic? Hardly—but if consumers choose to think of it that way, so be it. “I believe consumers enjoy the idea that an ingredient found in nature has ‘magic-like’ qualities,” Leyden says. “It’s almost like searching for the fountain of youth—finding something effective and sourced from nature that has comparable benefits to something created in a lab.” These days, that’s no longer wishful thinking.
Ahead, we highlight some natural beauty and skincare ingredients that will convince even the skeptics.
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Powered by Probiotics
Probiotics: They’re not just for breakfast anymore. In fact, Mintel’s latest gaze into the future of global beauty and personal care trends finds that 72% of consumers either already use or are interested in using facial skincare products featuring probiotics.
And why are they happy to see good gut bugs in their day creams and
their kombucha? “Dysbiosis,” says Paula Simpson, nutricosmetic formulation and branding expert and principal, Nutribloom Consulting (New York and Toronto). When the body’s microbial flora tips out of balance—either in the GI tract or on the skin—problems can ensue, including chronic skin disorders like acne and rosacea. “A growing body of clinical studies now suggests that certain skin conditions are related to this imbalance, and research continues to source specific strains to manage and rebalance the skin microbiome,” she adds.
And while not all probiotic experts believe probiotics work
—at least not in topical beauty products—formulations already on the market tout probiotics’ ability to hydrate, smooth, and reduce skin’s redness, and Simpson expects their ranks to expand in the coming year. “Probiotics for healthy skin inside and out will continue to resonate,” she says. “Both oral and topical applications will build momentum in 2017.”
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Spicing Up Skincare
When Simpson observes that “spices are hot in skincare,” she’s not just making a clever pun—for ingredients that most of us have on our spice racks are finding their way into all manner of personal-care formulations, both in response to the current vogue for food-based ingredients and because, as Simpson says, they work.
Take cinnamon, which is popular in lip- and skincare products, where the active ingredient, cinnamaldehyde, “stimulates circulating and blood flow, bringing oxygen and nutrients to the skin,” Simpson says. Cinnamon’s astringent tannins also create a gentle tightening sensation.
Clove is finding use in both in cleansers, thanks to the surfactant effects of its oil’s eugenol, as well as in antiaging formulas, where it helps “improve the absorption of skincare ingredients,” Simpson says. In oral-care products, it even acts as an antifungal and antibacterial.
Ginger, a staple of Ayurvedic treatments, shows up in hair products, where its antiseptic properties may combat dandruff and its “natural vitamins, minerals, and essential oils rebuild dull, thinning hair,” Simpson continues. As if that weren’t enough, the rhizome’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actives “offer a soothing and calming effect to the skin.”
Another Ayurvedic essential is turmeric, whose main active, curcumin, is an antioxidant capable of quenching free radicals that damage skin. But the spice also shows potential to promote collagen synthesis, so it’s no wonder it’s appearing in topical antiaging products where it “helps renew the skin, acts as an antioxidant, and stimulates skin elasticity and firmness,” Simpson says.
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Take It from Asia
You don’t have to be a beauty blogger to know that Asian skincare products are a sensation in the West. And for good reason: a considerable amount of science goes into designing their effective formulations and innovative delivery systems.
Conveniently enough, many of their ingredients also strike contemporary consumers as being “natural”—not to mention just plain interesting. Snow mushroom (Tremella fuciformi) is a case in point. The fungus can hold 500 times its weight in water, says Paige Leyden, a natural products researcher at SPINS (Chicago), which helps it “draw moisture to the skin.” With Asian brands already putting it to use, Western counterparts are now catching on: Olay recently released a line highlighting snow mushroom “as a natural alternative to the popular hyaluronic acid,” Leyden notes.
Another Asian favorite is lotus (Nelumbo nucifera), which has benefits both inside and out. Rich in antioxidants and linoleic acid, it hydrates skin and hair and has earned a marquee spot in Asian serums and toners. “It can also be fermented to increase its benefits—think of it as more concentrated,” Leyden notes—“which seems to be picking up traction in the skincare realm much as it has in foods.”
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Built to Last
“Natural ingredients tend to be harder to stabilize when packaged,” says Leyden, “which can decrease product efficacy over time.” And though conventional formulations might feature, say, tetrasodium EDTA, benzylalcohol, parabens or other synthetic preservatives to protect against the contamination and oxidation that occur when product comes into contact with dingy fingertips and air, such ingredients “can be seen as compromising an otherwise clean label,” she says.
Fortunately, “Leading clean-label formulas are now incorporating botanical preservatives like rosemary extract and other recognizable ingredients,” she continues. While these natural preservatives tend to act more narrowly—many are organism specific, for example, and don’t tackle a broad range of invaders—careful blending can confer a workable degree of protection while also keeping clean consumers at ease. As Leyden sees it, “Compromising quality for clean labeling is becoming an antiquated concept.”
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What’s Old Is New Again
Of course, being an “antiquated concept” isn’t always a drawback in natural skincare. Consider rumors that Cleopatra bathed in milk “to maintain her youth,” Leyden says; that might explain why “milk components like lactic acid and even goat milk have been popping up everywhere over the past few years,” including in soaps, lotions, serums, and exfoliators.
Similarly, oil-based products—once blamed for greasy skin and pimples—“have come back in forms ranging from face washes to moisturizers,” she adds. Even solid fats are showing up in products as effective natural moisturizers.
Leyden believes this “blending of natural ingredients with modern science” encourages trial of products like “a face wash that combines oils with an emulsifier to wash away easily with water instead of a cloth,” for example, “or sheet masks infused with botanicals that make the ingredients more effective through the use of an occlusive barrier.” As such, she says, “The reemergence of trends and ingredients dating back thousands of years combined with innovative new applications makes me hopeful that we’ll be seeing a lot more research in this field.”
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