The cosmetics and beauty category has been one of the organic industry’s biggest success stories in recent years, growing in double digit figures across Europe.

The beauty and organic cosmetics sector globally

Globally, analyst Persistence Market Research estimates that the organic cosmetics sector will be worth $22 billion by 2024, growing at between 8-10% annually. Skincare and haircare are highlighted as the two most valuable segments, accounting for over half of the organic beauty market by value.

A combination of factors is driving this growth: Increasing consumer demand for short ingredient lists and strong eco credentials; an expectation that beauty products should be ‘cruelty-free’; and more attention being given to what we put on our bodies, to name a few. Wider availability, helped by the growth of specialist retail outlets (online and physical) and increased interest from major multiples, is playing a role too.

The organic cosmetics and beauty sector has also benefited from the ‘Covid-boost’ that has lifted sales of organic food, as consumers have prioritised personal health and eco issues (sales of soaps and sanitisers notably spiked in 2020). And, as Ecovia Intelligence reported recently, the pandemic has accelerated the greening of the conventional cosmetics industry, nudging some major actors in the direction of natural and organic principles.

Definitions matter

Before we explore some of the trends that could shape the future for organic cosmetics, it’s worth reminding ourselves of some definitions. Perhaps more than any other organic category, definitions matter when it comes to organic cosmetics.

Cosmetics fall outside of the scope of the European Organic Regulation, so there is no legal protection of the term ‘organic’ when applied to the majority of beauty products (it’s a very similar picture in the US). This has created a distinctly unlevel playing field. For example, it means that cosmetics containing just 1% of organic ingredients can be labeled ‘organic’ with impunity.

Globally, analyst Persistence Market Research estimates that the organic cosmetics sector will be worth $22 billion by 2024, growing at between 8-10% annually

To complicate matters further, organic cosmetics are often bracketed with the natural beauty sector. On one hand this is both accurate and understandable, since organic beauty products are arguably the purest expression of ‘natural’. On the other hand, it can be problematic, as the natural beauty industry is rife with misleading claims – as well as being a conveniently elastic term in the wrong hands. Phrases like ‘naturally inspired’, or ‘contains herbal essences’ frequently adorn products made with petrochemical based ingredients and synthetic fragrances

Setting the standards

Fortunately, there are well established internationally recognised standards for organic (and natural) beauty products, that help guide consumers to brands and products with genuine organic credentials. The best known are the COSMOS and NATRUE standards, each which has a global reach. COSMOS (formed by Ecocert, the Soil Association, BDIH and Cosmebio) operates COSMOS Organic and COSMOS Natural standards. NATRUE, meanwhile, partners with certifying bodies around the world through its NATRUE Approved Certifier initiative.

Both of these leading schemes champion supply chain transparency, set out strict criteria for use of the terms organic and natural, and actively campaign for clear and rigorous international standards for organic and natural cosmetics.

Both schemes also claim high consumer recognition of their logos, a significant achievement in a category that Ecovia Intelligence notes is swamped with “a blizzard of logos and labels”.

So, what are the most striking trends being seen in the organic and natural beauty categories, and which of them are most likely to endure? We’ll divide this into two – the industry defining trends that will shape the whole sector for years to come, and the ‘buzz trends’ currently grabbing the attention of industry watchers.

Industriy defining trends

Circular beauty: Many commentators believe the move from linear to circular design models, in which as many materials and ingredients as possible are reused or upcycled at the end of their use, will transform the beauty industry. Lorraine Dallmeier, founder of the international organic cosmetics training school, Formula Botanica, says “circular beauty is creating a seismic shift”, and forcing us all “to completely rethink the way we purchase, use and dispose of cosmetic products”.

Sustainability: Circular beauty fits directly into the more established trend of sustainability. From sustainable sourcing and the protection of endangered botanicals, to ‘climate smart’ packaging and brands’ efforts to demonstrate alignment with international Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), this is a mega-trend no one can ignore.

Buzz trends

Microbiome-friendly: Growing understanding of the vital role of the microbiome (the good bacteria that live on, and inside, the human body) in maintaining overall health, has spawned a whole new category of topical prebiotics and probiotics, formulated to nourish this microbial ecosystem.

Regime change: For decades, global beauty corporates set the agenda in beauty and cosmetics. Not any more. Today, it’s independent brands – many of them organic and natural – who are setting the agenda, and shaking up the whole industry. Just as quickly as multinationals buy up these noisy upstarts, new ones launch.

Inclusivity: Inclusion across gender and race is a powerful trend in organic and natural cosmetics that is already feeding through to brand marketing. Products that suit all skin tones, a new generation of brands with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) founders and cross-gender marketing messaging are all part of the trend.

Beauty from within: Supplements and nutritional products that support ‘beauty from within’ are becoming a significant category in their own right. There are a growing number of certified organic products entering this market. Since supplements are ingested, and classified as foods, certified organic supplements (when they are made from agricultural ingredients) can use the EU Organic Leaf logo.

Phrases like ‘naturally inspired’, or ‘contains herbal essences’ frequently adorn products made with petrochemical based ingredients and synthetic fragrances

Novel green ingredients: Advances in ‘green chemistry’ are creating a host of novel green ingredients. This creates opportunities for the organic cosmetics sector, but challenges too. For example, some of the processes and ingredients involved would not be considered acceptable by organic consumers (or standards bodies), creating a ‘natural versus sustainable’ dilemma. Ecover’s now suspended project to replace palm kernel oil as a feedstock with a more sustainable bio-equivalent oil produced by engineered algae, led to fierce criticism from environment and anti-GM campaigners who branded the process ‘synbio’ (considered by many to be a form of genetic engineering).

Packaging free: As the zero waste movement gathers pace, more beauty brands are offering packaging-free alternatives in the form of in-store refills (soaps, haircare and skincare), or solid soap and fragrance products. Organic and natural brands are right at the front of the curve of the packaging-free trend.

By-product beauty: Side-stream ingredients (by-products of food manufacturing, for example) are increasingly being featured in – and extolled by – organic and natural beauty brands.

Vegan beauty: More cosmetic ranges are now actively promoted as vegan. ‘Vegan’ signals multiple benefits to consumers (cruelty-free, eco-friendly and sustainable, among them), and for many consumers is a more understandable term than organic or natural. In response, a growing number of organic brands are keen to show their vegan credentials (and certification) on-pack.

Retail revolution: The rapidly changing retail landscape is advantaging organic cosmetics. More shelf space devoted to the category by major multiples, and the growth of specialist e-tailers have significantly widened accessibility. Meanwhile, organic stalwarts like Weleda have been expanding their branded stores and spas, while European health chains such as Holland & Barrett have been rolling out exciting new beauty concept stores.