How Labeling Helps Satisfy The Ethical Cosmetics Buyer
Our Chief Deliver Officer, Beth Peckover, recently caught up with a prominent executive from the cosmetics sector to find out about consumer demand for complete sourcing clarity.

Beth Peckover
Beth Peckover
Chief Delivery Officer


Ask practitioners in the cosmetics sector what they think are the drivers of change in their industry and the answer comes back pretty quickly: consumer demand for complete sourcing clarity. I recently caught up with a prominent executive from the cosmetics sector to find out more.

Today, consumers — especially Gen Z ones — are more conscious than ever about the effect of what they buy or consume on the environment. As a result, they have high expectations about the brands they buy from around transparency of ingredients and guidance on how best to safely recycle what they’ve just purchased.

This is nowhere more true in the cosmetics world, where concerns about potentially harmful ingredients or allergens and ethical concerns around the supply chain are a priority for buyers. Consumers now pay closer attention to the information provided by cosmetics brands across their labeling, from physical packaging to online resources. Indeed, being clear about these aspects is even starting to be seen as a differentiator; a 2019 survey by NPD Group found that skincare brands pledging ingredient transparency are gaining new traction in the market, over half of American women consciously now seek out skincare products that have organic ingredients, while 46% say they will only now pick products without sulfates, phthalates and gluten, a six-point increase from 2017.

Dealing with Multiple Market Contexts

Clearly, the public is paying very close attention to product information, and know what’s in products and how ‘natural’ they are — research which often starts online. It’s a trend that regulators are supporting too: they are putting more and more pressure on brands to ensure they provide complete, accurate and up-to-date information on all of their products, and that they make no unauthorized or false claims about them.

This ends a long period of self-regulation, and authorities have signalled they are going to be more proactive in keeping consumers safe. The challenge for international cosmetics leaders, is that this changes decades of practice, especially around labeling. There’s a big push now to keep it consistent, transparent, consumer-friendly and on message, which can be tricky if each market has its own special regulatory requirements, different cultural reference points and ways of wording safety messages.

So ensuring that each product carries exactly the right label content for the intended market and target consumer group is the mission now, from eye liner to sunscreen. Unless the cosmetics company has a clear line of sight across both evolving market requirements per country and how these affect each product and its different forms of labeling/customer information, however, the risk of wrong or out-of-date information getting through could be significant. Risks to consumer safety, reputational damage, potential fines and loss of revenue if products are rejected or withdrawn from affected markets all need to be avoided...

But labeling encompasses a lot! It’s everything stated on the product itself, which could be designed or embossed directly onto a bottle to promotional inserts in magazines and product information published online. This adds up to a lot of collateral to coordinate and control for accuracy, currency, quality and compliance. But if these different elements are handled by different teams, or wheels have to be reinvented time and again, the demand on resources but also the danger of something going wrong are considerable.

Centralized Quality Control

To alleviate spiraling workloads, mitigate risk and keep pace with evolving requirements without compromising label quality, cosmetics brands should consider introducing some form of central control and visibility across everything that is going out to the market, anywhere in the world. This means creating a single source of labeling truth that acts as the foundation for all forms of future labeling, so if anything changes — to you as a company, to the product or its ingredients, or to regulatory requirements — this can be managed in a controlled and robust way from a single, central vantage point.

Hence the useful approach of centralizing and organizing the construction and quality control of global labeling. When introduced correctly, this can also help transform the processes involved, for instance in discovering label inter-dependencies if requirements or other conditions change, as all global label activity is mapped and tracked. And great shortcuts like ‘phrase managers’ for different languages can reduce the translation burden too, by eliminating repetition of routine tasks such as the construction of common directions for use in each target language/country.

Offering What The Ethical Consumer Is Demanding

In cosmetics, the ability to treat each labeling item as a composite of pre-approved text or artwork components eliminates unnecessary process duplication, leaving your skilled professionals free to focus more of their time on the elements that do need to change. As well as substantially reducing the safety implications, cost and reputational damage associated with product recalls, doing your product labeling will help to safeguard the brand and maintain public confidence in the quality and safety of its products — as we’ve seen, increasingly an operational necessity in our highly competitive, global market.