The Beauty Industry Has a Lot to Learn About Transparency, According to a New Survey

Students from FIT's 2018 Cosmetic and Fragrance Marketing and Management graduate program polled consumers on a global scale.
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Jennifer Nuttall, global marketing director, Elizabeth Arden Fragrances/Revlon at the 2018 Capstone Research event on Transparent Beauty. Photo: Courtesy of FIT

Jennifer Nuttall, global marketing director, Elizabeth Arden Fragrances/Revlon at the 2018 Capstone Research event on Transparent Beauty. Photo: Courtesy of FIT

Full transparency isn't necessarily something the beauty industry is known for. Companies have turned obfuscation into an art, skirting their way around communicating product ingredients and sourcing. And, according to a study conducted by the Fashion Institute of Technology, it's led to a mini-revolt by consumers.

Students from FIT's 2018 Cosmetic and Fragrance Marketing and Management graduate program conducted extensive global surveys and gathered troves of data to create the Capstone Research Presentation, a comprehensive report on the problem with transparency in the beauty industry. The 19 students, all mid-level executives at major corporations — Coty, Unilever, LVMH, Shiseido, L'Oréal, Chanel, Revlon, and Estée Lauder — identified the major hurdles currently facing their companies and suggested actionable changes they need to make in order to stay relevant and gain consumers' trust.

After surveying 1,800 respondents, the findings from the survey weren't exactly encouraging for companies: Only 30 percent of consumers felt that they had enough information on a product's ingredients, 42 percent don't think brands provide enough information on ingredient safety and more than 60 percent want brands to identify the sources of their ingredients. It's this mistrust, posited the students, that has led to the rise of so-called "clean" beauty.

"Lack of clear information is impeding the path to purchase," says Lindsay Powell Schwartz, the senior manager of US influencer marketing for Coty and a Capstone leader. "Consumers are turning to naturals because they think green is clean, but it would be unrealistic and inauthentic for all brands to suddenly become natural."

So instead of jumping on "clean" band wagon, the students suggested that companies provide that authenticity using accessible technology, or more specifically, one they've dreamt up: the clearBEAUTY app.

Their proposed technology is based off of a similar one being used in Korea, called Hwahae. It provides everything from product reviews to active ingredient info. It also allows you to click on any ingredient in the product to find out exactly what it is, possible side effects, and its Environmental Working Group hazard score.

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Whereas Hwahae is a searchable database, the clearBEAUTY app, said the class, would be visual, allowing customers to take a photo of a product and bring up all of its data. Users would be able to click into ingredients to learn about their sourcing, aggregate reviews, and even comparison shop. They also want their app to clearly state a product's batch date, production date, and expiration date — a "source to skin" open-source verification.

It's this type of radical transparency and consumer-focused content, the report explains, that would gain back customers that companies have lost by not adapting to the changing climate around beauty. "Beauty industry leaders must work together, whether partners or competitors," says Schwartz, "to answer the consumer demand for transparency in order to gain the trust of their collective consumers or run the risk of irrelevancy." As consumers and industry insiders, we're more than ready to see what that kind of collaboration might produce.

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