Natural Cosmetics Make Mainstream Push In 2007

Consumer awareness of global warming, the ozone layer and other environmental issues emerged front and center last year after Al Gore's documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" and its media tour. The beauty industry, which had already latched on to the natural and organic-ingredients bandwagon, shows no signs of slowing down the pace of activity in 2007--a year that may be ultimately more revealing of mainstream consumer acceptance levels.

"I think we're going to see an explosion [of organics, natural products, and more acquisitions] this year," says Candace Corlett, beauty and retail consultant at WSL Strategic Retail.

Estee Lauder's Aveda--positioned as an Earth-friendly producer of cosmetics with natural ingredients--has extended that green position all the way to the manufacturing floor. Since last fall, Aveda has been using 100% wind energy in the primary manufacturing facility in Blaine, Minn. that makes 60% of its products, according to The Daily Mail.



In just the past 12 months, beauty giant L'Oreal bought eco-friendly personal care/cosmetics chain The Body Shop, in addition to organic manufacturer Laboratoire Sanoflore, and Tom's of Maine was picked up by Colgate-Palmolive.

New entries in beauty aisles and behind cosmetic counters include wine and grape seed skin care products from Carlo Mondavi, an organic skin treatment line by Stella McCartney for YSL Beaute, and a slew of mineral-based color cosmetics and foundations from marketers including Neutrogena, L'Oreal, Jane, Physicians Formula and Avon, not to mention mineral-based cosmetics from Whole Foods Market.

But whether or not consumers on a larger scale--especially those who shop at the larger mass retailers--are willing to spend more on organic products is another story. "The jury is still out on organics ... there's confusion around organic, natural and homeopathic products," says Corlett.

Consumers were split 50/50 on whether organics were better for them and the environment, she says, citing WSL's October "How America Shops" survey focusing on organic products across the board. In addition, consumers surveyed were skeptical about organics, with 36% unsure whether products labeled organic are truly organic.

More people are becoming aware of natural and organics items, and many will pay more for them, says Corlett. Drug stores and specialty shops are a natural retail fit, she says. But people associate organics with being "precious," she adds, so warehouse club product sizing and Wal-Mart may not be the best places to merchandise these items.

Industrywide, marketers positioning products as natural are more vulnerable to critics.

In fact, as Aveda is rising, Samuel Epstein, M.D.--chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, and one-time consultant to Aveda--questioned in a recent press release the use of several ingredients in some of the products under Estee Lauder's other nature-based brand, Origins.

Ingredients that Epstein challenged in his release include parabens--which CPC said may produce negative, possibly toxic hormonal effects--and certain surfactants, which can be carcinogenic if not purified.

Specifically, Epstein took issue with the brand's new line, Dr. Andrew Weil for Origins--products he said he looked into because he "respects Dr. Weil." Epstein says he was a consultant for Aveda for more than three years, starting around 1999 after Lauder purchased Aveda. Epstein said he was brought on "to help reformulate products" since the brand "was concerned with safety."

This time around, he says, Dr. Weil was unresponsive, and Estee Lauder executives "challenged his evidence."

Origins' story on the matter is vastly different.

"We had extensive conversations with [Epstein] and addressed every one of his points individually, so we're very disappointed he put out that release," says an Origins public relations rep.

"We don't formulate with parabens and haven't for three years," says Daria Myers, president of Organics.

However, there are trace amounts of parabens in some of the Weil line, which Myers said is due to minute amounts found in other ingredients purchased from suppliers. Those ingredients are being removed and will be completely phased out within nine months, even though the trace levels of parabens found in certain Weil SKUs were deemed safe for cosmetic use by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Board, Myers says.

As for the surfactants, Myers says surfactants used in Origins products are purified, but have not been labeled as such. However, the brand is "looking into relabeling."

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