I admit (and maybe this makes me an unconventional beauty editor), I’ve never been super into looking into ingredient labels. Do I look at them? Yes. Will I buy a product *just* because of an ingredient list? No. I’m on team “Sometimes a product ingredient list is only a small factor of a product, I also care about texture, smell, feel on the skin, how it works with other products in my collection.”
And I might be the only one on that team, because not only are consumers really leaning into the whole “ingredient first” skincare trend, which has fueled the huge clean/natural beauty craze (a.k.a. they want to know the exact amount of each ingredient in the formulation, how “clean” the formulation is, etc.), they want brands to be even more transparent. Which brings us to today’s topic: the rise of the transparency beauty trend.
At first glance, you might think this is another glass/milk/mirror/dolphin skin thing, but it is not. Transparency beauty is all about pushing for brands to be more upfront about … well, everything.
Not only are consumers leaning into the “ingredient first” trend, they want brands to be even more transparent—hence, the rise of the transparency beauty trend.
In the Beginning
So, how did we get here? Well, I think we can trace it back to the start of beauty companies allowing reviews. For the first time ever, we could actually read and see what *real* people thought about the products, instead of just believing whatever marketing the brand came up with. I’m an *old*, so I remember what times were like when you just showed up at the M.A.C counter at your local mall and prayed for the best. But now, you can log on to sephora.com as you’re browsing in the store, scan an item, and read reviews in real time. Revolutionary!
But with that, came the obvious bad reviews—of course, not everyone is going to like your product. So what did brands do? Well, some paid people for positive reviews, allegedly deleted reviews, and even wrote fake reviews on their sites to make their products seem more favorable. So, of course, people started side-eyeing companies.
On top of that, there have been those beauty companies that have touted their products as doing one thing, but then come to find out, the product doesn’t perform as claimed or is labeled incorrectly. Krave Beauty’s recent sunscreen debacle comes to mind, or Glossier claiming one of their lash products was vegan but it contained beeswax. As stated at the Consumer Goods Forum’s Global Summit 2019, “Millennials drove brands to be purposeful, but Gen Z are demanding proof.” It’s not enough to simply say you’re “clean,” “natural,” “green,” or “sustainable”—you need to be able to back it up.
What Transparency Beauty Means
According to provenance.org, transparency beauty means that brands need to prove the following things:
- their ingredients are safe and effective;
- they don’t test on animals;
- their packaging has a limited or positive impact on the environment;
- they have a positive social impact in their production and ingredients supply chains;
- they are not only supporting causes but also doing more to ensure their production doesn’t damage the environment.
Of course, you can claim all of this, but like Whitney Houston famously said, “I wanna see the receipts.” Brands can say they are being transparent, but what does that really mean? As stated in beautyindependent.com:
“Clean beauty brands frequently tout ingredient transparency, but both they and their conventional counterparts operate under the same Food and Drug Administration rules for disclosure. Cosmetic ingredients have to be listed on labels in descending order of their concentrations, although ingredients at less than 1% concentrations can be listed willy-nilly following the heavier-hitting compounds. Fragrance and incidental ingredients aren’t required to be disclosed.”
So basically, brands can say one thing, but underneath it all, they can still skirt the rules. M.A.C is famous for this: They claim they don’t test on animals, but they sell their products in China, which means they do have to pay for and conduct animal testing to be able to sell in that particular market. So what’s really the truth here? It’s tough to say.
The Future of Transparency
My two cents? I think brands will make some of these changes—I mean, at this point if they want to retain their growing customer base they’ll have to make some effort—but it won’t be as transparent as some consumers want. After all (and you can call me cynical!), the brand’s main objective is to turn a profit. And if they can skirt the rules a little bit (a.k.a. labeling something natural/clean/green because there aren’t any regulations stating what these words actually mean), then why wouldn’t they? I think it’s going to take an even bigger push from consumers, and then possibly the FDA or some other governing body to step in and regulate.
So, what’s your take on transparency beauty? Let me know in the comments!