Organic, paraben-free, cruelty-free and vegan are the biggest buzzwords in beauty today. But what does it take to go the conscious way with make-up?
In May, the Drugs Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) cleared a proposal making it mandatory for companies manufacturing cosmetics to specify whether a product contains ingredients that are of animal origin. The familiar green dot will distinguish vegetarian products from non-vegetarian ones, which will be marked with a red/brown dot.
Behind this latest regulation is a growing concern among consumers about the authenticity and actual benefits of natural products. Beauty brands now prioritize the use of natural ingredients and little to no chemicals or preservatives in their formulations, in particular a new crop of conscious labels that are based on the principles of eco-friendly composition and fair trade practices.
While organic and natural skincare has found a loyal following in recent years, natural make-up remains under the radar. Finding it is not easy—the options are fewer, and they can be expensive as well as inconsistent in terms of quality. Today’s consumer, however, is on an active quest for sustainable alternatives.
Taking the au naturel route
In India, natural make-up is usually limited to kohls, lipsticks and lip balms developed by skincare brands. Since 2017, a new home-grown label has caught the attention of make-up junkies—Ruby’s Organics, which markets itself as India’s first organic make-up range. For Rubeina Karachiwalla, its Mumbai-based founder, the brand took shape from her own quest for safe make-up products to combat issues like pigmentation. “It’s a personal experience, but my skin felt healthier once I stopped using make-up," she says. Identifying a visible gap in the market, Karachiwalla quit a career in PR and hired a team to research and develop chemical-free, natural make-up that includes lip colours, highlighters, concealers and blush, a marked expansion from kohl and lip balm.
Shankar Prasad, founder of vegan skincare brand Plum, acknowledges that kohl is among the simpler products to formulate in a natural avatar. “Kajal is essentially pigments mixed in a waxen base and there is just one colour, usually black," he says. “What is challenging is making kajal that lasts a long time." Plum offers two types of kajal—one is 100% natural, with mineral-derived pigments, while the second is a long-lasting formula. The latter is not entirely natural, but is nonetheless vegan and free of parabens, paraffin and artificial preservatives.
Though organic is the new beauty industry buzzword, both Karachiwalla and Prasad are clear that being 100% organic is no cakewalk. Organic certification requires stringent checks on ingredient sourcing and product processing to ensure that there are no traces of synthetics or chemicals in the formulations. Karachiwalla and Prasad rely on a mix of organic and natural ingredients, and minimize the addition of preservatives and synthetic additives in their products.
New beauty, new challenges
Natural make-up brands are at a nascent stage but it is a promising subcategory (within natural skincare), says Nitin Parikh, chief business officer of online beauty portal Nykaa, whose inventory includes, apart from Plum and Ruby’s Organics, cosmetics from natural skincare labels like SoulTree and Iba Halal. “The conversation around natural make-up is still starting out," he says. “But as more brands launch, we expect a bigger growth in the category over next year."
Taking the natural or organic route to make-up isn’t merely challenging for customers; it can very often be so for brands too. Sourcing raw ingredients can be a major challenge, especially in India. “We have abundant raw materials," says Prasad. “What we lack today is the ability to standardize and process these materials for safe, predictable and consistent use in cosmetics."
Performance, especially durability, is crucial to judging the efficiency of cosmetics. This is, after all, the age of non-transfer lipsticks and smudge-proof eyeliners. While organic products have their appeal, Karachiwalla acknowledges that manufacturing with natural ingredients can have its limitations. “Products like liquid eyeliners, mascara, nail paints and liquid foundation are difficult to manufacture using liquid ingredients," she says, adding that her emphasis is on multitasking products for greater value. Ruby’s highlighters double as eyeshadow and concealers are supposed to give foundation-like coverage. “We are actually telling the consumers today that less is more," she adds.
It’s all in the labels
Labels are intrinsic to cosmetic products. When it comes to beauty products, chemical is the big, bad wolf. As a result, the packaging information can be fairly specific, from labels mentioning exactly which chemicals are excluded, to eco-friendly packaging information.
Long before vegetarian labels, new-age conscious brands arrived armed with labels like “vegan", “preservative-free", and, almost always, “cruelty-free". Aware and wary, customers are willing to use social media and online platforms to find niche brands that come with these labels of assurance. “I certainly prefer make-up that is cruelty-free and vegetarian, even if I have to pay a premium," says Aditi Padiyar, a Delhi-based communications manager. A vegetarian and an animal lover, Padiyar relies entirely on natural skincare labels and is happy to try natural kohls and lipsticks (“even if they don’t last the day"). She adds: “It’s impossible to overlook the impact the beauty industry has on the environment and animals. The least I can do is make more ethical choices—for instance, I won’t buy a brand, no matter how iconic, if they test on animals."
For their part, entrepreneurs and brands are happy to propel the movement forward, depending on consumer interaction and technology to enhance the quality of products. Prasad says, “We get a lot of requests for make-up, and we are working on new products. The good thing is that the science behind make-up is continuously developing."
In a few years perhaps, an entirely organic highlighter or liquid foundation will be possible. Till then, consumers are happy to take small steps and spread the word on make-up that makes a difference