Cosmetics & Personal Care

The macro-trend of clean beauty

By Sarah Harding, PhD

Karen Young, CEO of The Young Group, explains that consumers are demanding more than ‘natural’ ingredients – they are g

Karen Young, CEO of The Young Group, explains that consumers are demanding more than ‘natural’ ingredients – they are going deeper and forcing the industry to re-evaluate every link in the supply chain.

Clean beauty is wide reaching, covering ethical sourcing, sustainable packaging, thoughtful manufacturing and transparent business models in a cruelty-free environment. It means taking care of the planet as we take care of ourselves. Karen Young, CEO of The Young Group, spoke to Sarah Harding, PhD, about the macro-trend of ‘clean’ living in the beauty industry.

Karen Young in-cos 2019-05.jpg

What is driving the macro-trend for clean beauty?  
There’s been a huge shift in consumer behaviour towards clean beauty across many regions of the world. Consumers are more acutely aware of lifestyle choices and the wider impact that ingredients used in personal care and household products have on the world. What was once a micro consumer trend, focusing on personal health and the environment, has now become a macro-trend, driven by increased cases of asthma, allergies and skin problems, as well as heightened consciousness about climate change.

How is the North American market responding to the trend?  
From a marketing and consumer perspective, the clean beauty category is exploding with double-digit growth. The challenge lies within the supply chain, which is not fully prepared to keep up with this unprecedented consumer demand. The pressure continues to mount on the supply chain as close to a thousand indie brands launch annually in the US, with the majority prioritizing ‘clean’ within their brand vision.

How can speciality chemicals manufacturers ensure that they are part of this trend? 
Since nothing about ‘clean’ is clearly defined, it’s difficult to address the topic rationally. It can encompass ethical sourcing, the sustainability of ingredients (including whether they are naturally derived, cruelty-free, vegan or green), as well as transparent manufacturing – the list is long and confusing. 

Raw material suppliers need to find an authentic path to address this movement if they want to be part of the change and benefit from it. This could be achieved by focusing on a number of their ingredients that fit the bill, or by examining their processes for manufacturing or sourcing. Perhaps suppliers can create a corporate social responsibility (CSR) plan where they ‘give-back’ to the communities that they source the ingredients from.  There are endless opportunities, but the effort needs to be genuine and transparent because consumers are savvy.

Clean beauty is not yet regulated – should it be?  
At the moment, we can’t even come to a consensus on the definition of ‘clean beauty’, so I would imagine regulating it would be very challenging indeed. We haven’t yet regulated ‘natural’, which has been on our horizon much longer. 

I suspect we will see organizations popping up that will try to define and showcase what ‘clean’ means. For example, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) defined ‘cruelty-free’ by highlighting that in China animal testing is still required on personal care products, whereas most of the western world (with the EU leading) is trying to abolish this practice.

Is clean beauty here to stay? 
In some iteration, yes.  Consumer awareness has definitely risen; many are now convinced (not always from reliable sources) that there are countless toxic ingredients in cosmetic products that need to be substituted. 

Certainly, as more and more consumers are adopting wellness into their lifestyles to reap the rewards of meditation, exercise and nutrition, meaning ‘clean’ living will remain a focus.
Karen Young, CEO of The Young Group, will lead a session at in-cosmetics North America on ‘Beauty and clean living – How is the cosmetics industry adapting to this trend?’ – on Thursday 24th October at 12:45 pm. The session will explore the macro trend of ‘clean’ living in the beauty industry as consumers demand more than just ‘natural’ ingredients, as they scrutinize every link in the supply chain. For more information on the in-cosmetics North America 2019 education program, visit