Beauty market

79% of Beauty Shoppers Doubt About Sustainability Claims – How Can Brands Restore Trust?

My role at Provenance puts me in meeting rooms and video calls with amazing people working to transform the beauty and wellness industry into a force for good. From product development innovators and industry bodies advocating for the environment, to e-commerce managers developing sustainable editions and certification bodies ensuring best practices. Every day, I’m inspired by forward-thinking leaders to do more for people and our planet.

But to what extent are these efforts trickling down to customers? Do shoppers feel empowered to make “sustainable” purchases in 2022? How transparent do they think the beauty industry is? And what are the issues they want brands to do more around?

We decided to find out. So, with London Research, Provenance surveyed more than 1,500 beauty shoppers across Europe and America, and spoke to executives from a number of brands and organizations across the industry, including Cult Beauty, Elemis, Douglas, Noble Panacea and B Corp Beauty Coalition.

What we found sheds light on why trust in the beauty industry‘s green commitments is so low. But it also gives us a blueprint for how to do better, and how brands that make real progress in sustainability can earn the trust of sustainability-minded shoppers.

Buyers look beyond price and performance

To retain customers, beauty and wellness brands can’t afford to focus solely on efficiency and value. Our research shows that 9 out of 10 shoppers believe sustainability and other ethical considerations are important when purchasing beauty products. But what’s even more striking is that 15% of shoppers now consider sustainability information more important than price, effectiveness or product description when shopping for a beauty product – and that number is rising. 18% for UK buyers.

If you’re holding your breath and waiting for the fad to pass, keep reading. Our findings indicate that interest in the social and environmental impact of brands will only increase as younger, more environmentally conscious shoppers make up a larger portion of the market. Today, 44% of 18-36 year olds say sustainability and ethical considerations are very important when buying beauty and wellness products – this is twice as many as people aged 55 and over (22%). I was incredibly excited to see Faith in Nature’s decision to appoint Nature to their Board of Directors last month – it may not have been a business decision, but research suggests they will reap the rewards with time as a mark.

What does “sustainability” mean to beauty product buyers?

Many brands are already responding to growing consumer expectations for sustainability. But what exactly are buyers looking for? Our research suggests that most brands focus on nature-related issues (e.g. vegan) – when in fact shoppers’ understanding of sustainable beauty is much broader.

Of all the claims beauty brands have published with Provenance to date, two-thirds are about nature – this includes claims like Vegan, Coral Reef Safe or Organic. While this is indeed a crucial area for beauty, brands’ tunnel vision about nature isn’t reflected in what shoppers focus on. Yes, 93% of beauty consumers believe that nature and animal welfare are an important consideration, but 90% also believe that the treatment of workers is an important purchasing consideration, 88% say so for the impact on climate change and 82% say so for commitment to the community. Brands looking to enable customers to buy for value also need to consider the impact of their products in these areas.

Confusion and skepticism reign among beauty shoppers

When it comes to talking to shoppers, even the best-meaning brands leave them confused by a slew of buzzwords and ambiguous claims. Shaun Russell, Founder of Skandinavisk and Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the B Corp Beauty Coalition, said it well: “The beauty industry has always made a lot of noise about how it can make you feel your best and now there is a cacophony of noise about ‘clean’ and ‘environmental’ promises. You can understand why buyers are confused and unsure who to trust.

Only a quarter of buyers find it very easy to understand the criteria behind sustainability and social impact claims. Almost three-quarters of consumers (71%) don’t know what brands really mean when they say “eco-friendly” and 62% say the same for “green” claims. “Clean” is yet another controversial term, which recently drew heavy criticism from Stella McCartney ahead of the launch of her skincare line. A Deloitte study tells us that 48% of buyers believe that a lack of information prevents them from adopting a more sustainable lifestyle. To truly empower their customers, we need to see brands provide clear and specific information about the impact of their products.

And it’s not just ambiguous language that’s keeping beauty customers from buying more sustainably. In the wake of increasingly high-profile controversies over “green laundering,” brands are also having to contend with justifiable cynicism about “green” claims. Our research shows that 79% of beauty product consumers have doubts about whether to trust industry sustainability claims. Additionally, less than 25% strongly agree that brands are transparent about the environmental and social impact of their products.

Independent verification is key to restoring trust

The data shows shoppers are both confused and wary of misinformation, but it also clearly points to a way forward for brands.

Sharing proof of independent verification is the most effective way to assure buyers that claims are fact and not fiction. 41% of buyers we surveyed viewed independent verification as very reliable, making it by far the most trusted source of sustainability information when consumers are in buying mode.

If beauty and wellness companies want to stay relevant to values-driven shoppers, they can’t afford to score their own homework when it comes to their impact on people and the planet.

As Laura Rudoe, Founder of Evolve Organic Beauty, said, “Independent certifications really help [us] stand out in a confusing market and provide our customers with transparent information about the cutting-edge work we do to be ethical and sustainable.

Download your copy from Skin Deep Beauty, the Provenance 2022 report.

To find out how Provenance can help your brand share verified claims with online shoppers, Click here.