The personal care category is uniquely intimate, and consumer motivations for product adoption primarily involve personal health-and-wellness needs, with external, “greater good” sustainability considerations being Secondary.
As is the case in the food and beverage categories, assessment of the safety and nourishing attributes of personal care products is primarily based on the absence of ingredients that consumers perceive as having detrimental effects on their physical health, effects both immediate (e.g., irritation) and long-term (e.g., damage over time to skin or hair).
In addition, certain positive attributes can suggest personal benefit while also conveying environmental and social sustainability. Many consumers look to personal care items to stimulate the senses and provide a luxurious experience. These benefits aren’t in opposition to the desire for safety; instead, sustainable versions of personal care products should provide pleasure while also being personally, environmentally and socially Responsible.
As with the ingredient panel on edible items, consumers use the ingredient list on personal care items to determine how, where and of what a product is made. Shoppers look to recognisable, pronounceable ingredients as an indication of “naturalness.”
Food-grade ingredients such as botanicals, fruits, vegetables and herbs can suggest that the product has undergone few chemical processes. This attribute connects to environmental sustainability, as consumers perceive that such use of natural ingredients takes less of a toll on the environment in terms of sourcing, manufacturing and eventual Disposal.
Because until recently there was no governing organisation to oversee the validity of organic claims for personal care products, the organic designation has had little influence on consumers’ perceptions of the quality of these products. That said, the use of organic ingredients – particularly for herbal, food-grade items – resonates as more Earth-friendly.
One step beyond organic is a growing interest in products made from wild-crafted or hand-harvested ingredients, which are seen as even more natural than organically farmed ingredients. Wild-grown, hand-harvested designations not only resonate with individuals as intrinsically natural and artisanal, but also tap into consumer concerns regarding the depletion of natural resources through corporate farming. To preclude potential personal and environmental health issues, consumers look for evidence that personal care products are “chemical- free.” Here again, the strong presence of recognisable, real ingredients helps in this perception.
Sustainability in personal care products also involves the humane treatment of animals. Animal testing can reflect poorly on companies that use it, and create a compelling reason to avoid purchasing a product. Additionally, animal testing raises doubts about the quality of a product. According to consumer reasoning, products that are natural and contain benign ingredients shouldn’t require animal testing to determine their safety or efficacy.
Sustainable cosmetics, as well as fragrances/perfumes, are typically the last products in the personal care category for which consumers substitute sustainable versions. Because of the heightened emphasis on product efficacy and consumer pleasure in cosmetics and fragrances/perfumes, these products are the “final frontier” in terms of sustainability. Even so, consumers are increasingly receptive to alternative makeup types, specifically mineral makeup and use of organic ingredients, as long as these alternative products meet the same quality and efficacy thresholds.
According to Experian Simmons consumer survey data for July 2009 through March 2010, 7 percent of U.S. adults agree “a lot” that they seek out organic or natural health and beauty care products, while 12 percent agree “a little,” bringing the consumer base up to 41.5 million. These organic/natural personal care consumers are significantly more likely to buy organic products across categories ranging from meat/poultry (at an index of 228, or 128 percent above the average) and yogurt (index of 216) to pet food (index of and baby food (index of 153).
As consumers move into broader patterns of sustainable shopping, sustainable versions of personal care products are claiming their place beside such counterparts as foods and beverages, nutritional supplements, and household products.