Melanie Williams Consulting

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Natural cosmetics come in sweet packages

Bioplastics received another boost recently as Buhbli Organics chose Braskem plastic, made from sugarcane, as the package for its Himalayan Bath Salts. The product will be available in over a 1000 Walmart stores in the US. So are plant-based personal care products and cosmetics, together with their packaging, closer to becoming mainstream at last? 

The desire for natural cosmetics has grown as consumers become aware of what they are putting on their bodies. Fear mongering stories about synthetic chemicals and health gurus espousing a ‘clean’ lifestyle are part of the story. More broadly, consumers wish to reduce their use of chemicals made from oil and they are turning to plants as an alternative. ‘Natural’ and ‘organic’ are terms used by cosmetics brands to influence customers who are on a quest to find the elixir of life for their skin. This message is reinforced if the packaging supports the same principles.

The potential impact of this change is huge. The number of personal care products used by an average adult each day is 9, totalling up to 126 different ingredients. But how much of these ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ products actually comes from bio-based sources rather than oil? Some companies, like Buhbli Organics certify the organic or bio-based content. But some other cosmetic brands are secretive about what is in their products. In the printed list of ingredients, those from plants often come near the bottom of the list, indicating that they are minor ingredients.   

Oil-derived chemicals in cosmetics can be difficult to replace. For instance, preservatives protect us. Without preservatives we could risk infection, or at the very least have to replenish our bathroom cupboards every month. Packaging is also essential to seal and preserve the product.  But as consumers become aware of the environmental impact of packaging and turn away from oil-derived chemicals, many cosmetic brands are looking at their strategy. Lush was an early mover, designing solid products sold under their ‘naked’ slogan. This is particularly clever as solids require less packaging and less chemical preservatives. But we are used to liquids in our make-up bags, so packaging is likely to stay with us. 

Packaging design is a key part of the brand identity. Some brands are increasingly going back to glass, which can be recycled; but glass is heavy and energy intensive to transport.  Others though, like Natura and Shiseido and now Buhbli Organics are trying bioplastic. And if beauty really is only skin deep, the importance of the package can only increase in the future.

Grace Martin

Published: 2 October 17

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