The phrase natural makeup could be considered an oxymoron. There's nothing natural about being made up, especially when you consider traditional makeup styles, which consisted of cakey foundation, heavy eye shadow and, well, unnatural lip colors. But just as Madonna traded her bright red lipstick of the 1980s for sheer gloss in the new millennium, makeup and the people who wear it have changed.
Nowadays, more shoppers are turning to natural makeup, not only because it creates a more down-to-earth look, but also because it's made with healthier ingredients. In fact, the segment is growing by leaps and bounds. According to SPINS, San Francisco-based information and service provider for the natural products industry, cosmetics and beauty aids revenue grew by 20.9 percent from 2004 to 2005, making it the top seller in the natural body care category last year.
It's easy to see why consumers are gaining interest in natural cosmetics. Just as they've become more vigilant about watching for dangerous ingredients in other personal care products, like sodium lauryl sulfate in soap and parabens in lotions, they're beginning to learn that makeup can also be a carrier for potentially harmful chemicals. The inclusion of these types of ingredients is "part of a much bigger problem in the U.S.," according to Bryony Schwan, Missoula, Mont.-based national campaign director for Women's Voices for the Earth, a founding member of Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. "We don't have a good regulatory system; the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] does not have the authority to require premarket testing on health and beauty product ingredients, and so it's left up to the public to prove that they're unsafe."
The FDA can pull products off the market once consumers have complained about their effects. But because many of these chemicals don't inflict immediate, visible damage—they're more insidious, causing things like cancer and birth defects that can't be linked to any sure cause—the FDA is generally helpless. "For acute effects where someone is immediately sick, you will see much more action from the FDA," Schwan said.
The makeup of makeup
Phthalates, a group of chemicals used to create smooth application and to suspend other ingredients in a substance, are among the chief contaminants in makeup. According to the Environmental Working Group, a watchdog organization based in Washington, D.C., "Phthalates are linked in animal studies to birth defects of the male reproductive system and are used in a wide range of beauty products including shampoo, hair spray, nail polish, deodorant and lotion." In a study published in the December 2000 issue of Toxicological Sciences, researchers found that phthalates "demasculinize" male fetuses by inhibiting testicular testosterone production and encouraging vaginal pouches and undescended testes.
Phthalates are just one of many chemicals to be wary of in most conventional cosmetics. Darlene Zembrod, national trainer and educator for Ecco Bella, a natural and organic beauty care company based in Palm Coast, Fla., said that while some synthetic materials make producing makeup easier, they also make it worse for the skin and body. "We don't use sodium lauryl sulfate, alcohols that dry the skin, talc, which is a possible carcinogen, synthetic dyes or fragrances or animal byproducts. We also avoid propylene glycol and glycolic acid, which are toxic petrochemicals that can penetrate the skin and cause reactions like headaches, dizziness, dermatitis and eye problems," she said.
One reason natural makeup sales are increasing is because shoppers are beginning to see that rumors of the ineffectiveness of natural makeup are untrue.
"Not only are [natural cosmetics] as effective, but they also provide therapeutic benefits to the skin," said Jill Price Marshall, spokeswoman for Hatfield, Mass.-based Dr. Hauschka Skin Care. For instance, she said, Hauschka's waterproof black mascara, the company's top-selling cosmetic, contains ingredients such as black tea to calm and soothe, neem extract to strengthen and prevent bacteria, and rose wax to nourish and protect. Hauschka has had 50 percent growth in its cosmetics category over the past two years, Price Marshall said. "Customers respond because our decorative cosmetic products are held to the same stringent quality standards that our skin care products are held to. None contain synthetic dyes, synthetic fragrances, ethoxylised raw materials, silicones, parabens or other petroleum products."
The concept of not only masking imperfections, but also working to improve them, is another reason the natural makeup category is booming. Annemarie B?rlind of Germany's Vice President of Education and Training Linda Upton said her company's Caring Color Collection is made with nontoxic botanical base ingredients that are compatible with the skin's natural oils and sebum, and also contain jojoba oil, vitamin E, lecithin, wheat germ protein, carnauba wax, candelilla wax and shea butter. "These ingredients nourish, hydrate, replenish oils and protect against free-radical and other environmental damage," Upton said, and also contributed to a doubling of B?rlind cosmetics sales last year.
Putting customers' best faces forward
When marketing natural makeup, the two most important strategies are to offer a clean, inviting sampling area and to have a staff member available to answer questions, not only about ingredients, but also about how to choose the most flattering makeup. "It would dramatically improve retailer sales if there were someone on staff dedicated to talking to consumers about skin care, who was able to recommend products based on color and skin tone, such as an esthetician or some other trained professional," said Laura Setzfand, director of marketing for Culver City, Calif.-based Zia Natural Skincare.
Upton said while customers might not need an initial incentive to peruse the natural makeup section, it is important to create a friendly sampling atmosphere to prevent them from walking out the door empty-handed. "Customers are actually coming into stores and requesting natural makeup because they're learning that just like with food, you can get purer beauty enhancement products that have no potential for side effects. The retailer's job, then, is to create an area where people can experiment and do so in a sanitary manner. We're talking presentation, as opposed to having problems with key selling points," she said.
And, as always, ensure that you're knowledgeable about the benefits of natural beauty care products. "Retailers can focus on educating their consumers about the safety and effectiveness of natural cosmetics. A consumer needs to know that they are not sacrificing quality for health when choosing a natural product," said Price Marshall. And by stocking your shelves with natural makeup, you certainly won't risk sacrificing your sales gains, either.
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Christine Spehar is a freelance writer in Boulder, Colo.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 6/p. 64-66