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Natural beauty: how sustainability is driving consumer buying decisions

Phil Sumner, VP Research Operations and Henry Vernon, Head of Insights at Teads

by uma
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While environmental activists may question the commitment of global political leaders in tackling the issue of sustainability, there is ample evidence to suggest that, in 2022, ordinary consumers are choosing to support sustainable businesses and brands with their hard-earned cash. Indeed, recent Capgemini research revealed 60% of consumers are hesitant to buy products from organisations they perceive as non-sustainable. 

Nowhere has this consumer trend been more apparent than in the beauty and toiletries sector. The UK cosmetics industry is currently valued at £12.14 billion, and is one of the largest markets in Western Europe. A growing part of that revenue is driven by the natural beauty market, which is worth £209 million and is projected to grow a further 8% in 2022

Environmental awareness and regulation are promoting natural beauty products

Shoppers’ increased concern with environmental and health impacts are driving this growth, along with enforcement of the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) Green Claims Code, which came into effect at the start of 2022 and requires companies to be more specific about their sustainable credentials. Sustainability looks set to remain on shoppers’ agenda, but how important is it when consumers are selecting cosmetics and toiletries products?

To provide new insight on this topic, we worked with some major cosmetics and toiletries (C&T) manufacturers and retailers and employed Kantar to survey 1,189 UK consumers (16+) between Mar 8th – Mar 10th 2022. 

The survey examined aspects such as the factors driving purchasing of different C&T product categories and how important sustainability is to consumers versus other factors. We also looked to understand the barriers consumers face when considering making more sustainable purchases, and looked at what messaging around sustainability is most impactful.

Sustainable credentials are a must for cosmetic and toiletry brands

The research found that nearly half of consumers have bought a C&T product due to its sustainable credentials. Interestingly, skin, hair and body care are the products where sustainability has most impacted purchase decisions: 1 in 5 see sustainability as an important factor when purchasing skin/hair/body care and make up.

What’s more, 6 in 10 consumers agree that recyclable packaging is an important factor when considering a purchase and nearly half are influenced by package-less or refillable products. A product being ‘carbon neutral’ was an important factor for 39% of respondents, while 24% would be influenced by a  product being ‘vegan approved’.

The survey also found that consumers are influenced by a product being made from natural ingredients. While price and quality remain the main drivers for making a purchase across the categories, for hair, body and skin care products natural ingredients are seen as more important than brand familiarity. What’s more, when it comes to beauty products, messaging around natural ingredients resonates more strongly than claims that may be harder to interpret, such as ‘planet friendly’, vegan-approved, plant-based, or bio-organic.

Tread carefully when it comes to sustainable messaging 

While the majority of consumers are influenced by sustainability messaging, our survey also revealed that one in five consumers feel they are doing all they can to live sustainably, while one in ten seem disenfranchised, and don’t see how their actions can make a meaningful difference.

The research found that the biggest barrier to buying more sustainable products is ‘price’, followed by sentiments relating to ‘lack of knowledge’ and ‘trust’ around brand’s sustainability messaging. Indeed, half of consumers surveyed said that they find the way brands talk about sustainability confusing, and have difficulty comparing the sustainable credentials of different products.

So, what tips and hints can marketers draw from our findings? The research highlights the importance of sustainability as a mainstream consumer trend but also conveys how brands must tread carefully when conveying sustainability messaging.

Findings suggest 70% of consumers have checked a brand’s sustainability credentials, with a quarter doing so at the point of purchase by checking product packaging. So brands should bear this in mind in terms of the design and content of their packaging, making any environmental claims clear, accurate and easy to understand.

News is the most relied on channel for sustainability facts

In a separate study conducted with Kantar early last year, Teads asked consumers what factors helped trigger their environmental concerns. One very interesting finding for marketers, PRs, and media planners is that mainstream news sources remain a powerful influence over the population and this effect becomes more pronounced with age.

The results overall show the relative power of credible, verified journalism with regards to this most important of subjects. As a result, more than half of the UK population now want to hear what brands are saying around their sustainability credentials, but almost 60% don’t trust social media as a credible source for this to be conveyed. Online articles are the most used independent source, ahead of social media and blogs.

Contemporary consumers of C&T products are actively considering issues around sustainability when making their product choices. Brands would, therefore, be wise to put sustainability at the core of their efforts and communicate this honestly and transparently. In short, their commitment to sustainability needs to be more than cosmetic. 


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