Eco-consciousness has maintained an awkward space in the beauty world. Products bedecked with words like "natural," "organic" or "sustainable" have typically come in two distinct groups: the crunchy-granola health food store kind with clipart labels that you hide in the cabinet for your curated vanity-scape Instas, or the ultra-luxe, highfalutin type with celebrity endorsements and price tags that make your wallet reflexively cringe. All of that has started to change in recent years, as the mass market beauty industry has begun to take a good hard look at the growing business value of going green.
The last few years have seen a significant spike in brands like Pacifica, Yes To and Honest Beauty making natural beauty products more accessible, as well as major mainstream brands like Neutrogena and Aveeno beefing up their offerings of synthetic-eschewing lines. With the natural personal care industry projected to represent close to $6 billion in the US this year, it's no surprise that we're seeing more and more brands commit to the eco-consciousness of their brands, and yet most of these developments have come in the form of long-standing lines reformulating their product offerings or as homespun brands being acquired and supported by larger conglomerates and retailers. Very few have comes as mass from-scratch launches taking eco-consciousness into account — until now.
Monday marks the nationwide launch of Love Beauty and Planet, a mass-retailer selection of body and hair products focused on sustainability. Born of Unilever, the parent company of drugstore mega-brands like Dove and Tresemmé, Love Beauty and Planet brings much of that polished-yet-affordable sensibility to its initial offering of shampoos, conditioners, styling products, body washes and scrubs, each clocking in at a thrifty $8.99 each.
"Today's consumer is extremely discerning in what she expects from a beauty brand; not only in terms of efficacy, but in terms of sustainability, eco-friendliness and a certain 'naturalness,'" explains Molly Landman, Global Marketing Director for the brand. "We really felt like there was an opportunity to speak to that consumer who was raising her hand, to not only give love to her beauty but also give love back to the planet."
So what, exactly, does giving back to the planet mean in Love Beauty and Planet terms? Much has been made since the natural beauty craze first hit of the fact that terms like "natural" and "organic" are essentially unregulated — at worst, actively misleading and at best, so murkily defined that they're next to meaningless. Perhaps that's why the new Unilever brand has gone out of its way to emphasize sustainability rather than fixating on getting specific about what percentage of its ingredients are natural. "We believe as a brand that we have a responsibility to the planet and we're really honest about the fact that we're at the beginning of a journey," says Landman. "We realized there were a lot of little acts that we could take in terms of the sustainability of our product that could add up to a bigger impact."
Those "little acts" include things like the development of labels that can be easily and completely removed from their 100 percent recycled-plastic bottles, a move that makes the packaging more easily recyclable, as leftover paper labels and glue can gum up recycling machinery, causing some of such plastic containers to wind up on the garbage pile instead. Love Beauty and Planet is also committed to being open about its carbon footprint and has put in place a self-imposed tax of $40 per carbon ton to the Carbon Tax Fund, which benefits moves to lower carbon emissions and landfill waste as well as developing new technologies to help cut down on water usage.
There's also a new innovation at play in some of the product formulas as well. The line's conditioners feature "fast rinse technology," which the company's Research and Development Partner Matthew Seal refers to as, "one of the prides and joys of Love Beauty and Planet." It works, according to Seal, by allowing the conditioner to break down into smaller molecules when you start to rinse, meaning it requires less time spent in the shower (and less water) to get to a residue-free, squeaky-clean feel. But in terms of results, says Seal, there's no compromise. "The analogy that we use is safety glass: If you just look at safety glass, there's no difference from regular glass. However, when an impact force hits the glass, it behaves differently as it shatters. Our conditioner is made very similarly, it's just that that impact force is water."
Another innovation on the water-saving front may sound a bit more familiar, at least for those of us who keep dry shampoo stashed in our gym bags. Billed as a "body refresher," the brand's Showerless Cleansing Mist is a new product category for body. Just like dry shampoo can perfume and freshen hair, this spray can supposedly clean away oil and sweat on the body while also deodorizing, so you could theoretically skip the rinse-off after yoga. (Though it will be interesting to see whether that's a concept American consumers are ready to get on board with.)
Of course, while the brand may not bill itself as natural, it does make a point of highlighting the fact that its products are vegan, cruelty-free, paraben- and sulfate-fre, and enriched with organic coconut oil in place of silicones. Additionally the range's fragrance profiles — which Landman cites as the top driver of in-store purchasing decisions for hair and body products — are built around ethically-sourced essential oils and extracts.
And yet, even with that thoughtful approach, Love Beauty and Planet is careful to note that it isn't laying a claim to "all-natural" scents. "Fragrance is the number-one driver of consumer preference in terms of hair and skin, so we wanted to ensure that the fragrance is as balanced and rounded as possible while keeping ethically sourced essential oil as a key point in the fragrance design," notes Seal. "We use an essential ingredient to provide the focus, but then we use other ingredients as well to provide other notes."
So while catering to an increasingly eco-conscious consumer is clearly a bet on the bottom line for Unilever as a business, the notion of balancing idealism with consumer preferences seems to cut right to the core of Love Beauty and Planet's brand identity. As the first crop of products hits shelves, there's already a list of goals to improve on their "little acts" to make consumers' lives and the planet a more beautiful place — developing caps from 100 percent recycled plastic to match the bottles, for example. "We're not satisfied with this," says Landman. "We're going to keep driving the agenda forward."