18 October 2022

Is beauty only skin deep? Research shows sustainability buzzwords are leaving shoppers skeptical

A whopping four in five of shoppers have difficulty trusting the sustainability and social claims made by beauty brands.

New research has shown a startling discrepancy between the sustainability claims being levelled by beauty brands, and consumers’ perception of said messaging, according to new research published by Provenance

From reports of widespread greenwashing to dodgy positive impact claims, Provenance’s inaugural ‘Skin Deep Beauty’ report delved into why there is so little trust in the industry’s sustainability commitments, and what needs to be done to rebuild it. Data shows that nine in ten consumers value sustainability and other ethics-related considerations, but a whopping four in five have difficulty trusting the sustainability and social claims made by companies.

It should come as no surprise; in recent years, beauty heavyweights such as SKKN, Bondi Sands, and L’Occitane have been called out for greenwashing, and have seen regulators clamp down. Provenance cites the number of “wishy-washy” buzzwords in advertising copy, social media and packaging, as a culprit here, with much of the wording deemed to be deliberately ambiguous, such as “clean” or “natural”. Likewise, there is vast evidence of packaging that is cited as “recyclable” or “compostable”, but these being claims unsubstantiated and self-accredited. 

Read more: These plastic-free beauty picks don’t skimp on efficiency 

Breaking down the findings to HUNGER, Provenance’s founder, Jessi Baker, says that the distrust has much to do with the recent prevalence of sustainability-focused marketing. “Sustainability used to be a story told by a relatively niche set of brands, however, due to a huge shift in consumer demand, and proven market results for brands, speaking about sustainability in some way has become more mainstream.” She adds: “These things all threaten the brand, particularly as government guidance grows. In the UK with Competition and Markets Authority is cracking down on greenwash. Brands won’t get away with it for too much longer, which is why we recommend they solve the problem sooner rather than later.”

So what do beauty brands need to do to regain trust? According to Baker, the Skin Deep Beauty report found that “sharing proof of independent verification is the most effective way to assure shoppers that your claims are fact, not fiction.” Consumers, she continues, trust this information more than details on packaging, social media, or even shopper reviews. Baker recommends looking at Provenance brands for sustainability done ethically — including SBTRCT, Pai, and Evolve Organic Beauty — the latter of which have organic, natural, vegan, cruelty-free, living wage, plastic-negative and climate-positive certifications, which are all independently verified. 

  • Writer Nessa Humayun

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