Cosmetics firms heed calls for organics

Big and small makers' sales growing quickly

US sales of natural and organic cosmetics are projected to approach $7 billion this year amid growing concern about chemical additives.

US sales of natural and organic cosmetics are projected to approach $7 billion this year amid growing concern about chemical additives.

Consumers who are vigilant about what they put into their bodies have proved they also care about what they put on them, making naturals and organics the fastest-growing segment of the cosmetics industry.

According to Organic Monitor, a London consulting company, sales of natural and organic cosmetics are soaring, with revenues projected to approach $7 billion this year in the United States, up $1 billion from last year.

Players like Target and Wal-mart launching their own natural and organic lines, but even small local companies are reaping the rewards.

For example, Iredale Mineral Cosmetics Ltd., of Great Barrington, (janeiredale.com) was begun in 1994, selling products made without fillers and binders (such as talc and mineral oil) and without chemical dyes or preservatives. The company started with 10 products and now offers 345.

Retail sales have climbed from $51.6 million in 2004 to $88.6 million in 2006. Projected retail sales for 2008 are $120 million. Iredale has expanded into more than 35 countries.

Interest in natural and organic products can be attributed in part to social responsibility – preserving the environment using sustainable ingredients and biodegradable packaging. But concerns about carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, and neurotoxins have consumers searching for more than the season’s newest colors.

“Women want their makeup to make them feel glamorous, but they also want it to be good for their skin,” said Candace Craig, from Manhattan based Tarte Cosmetics. “They don’t want to put ingredients like sulfates, phthalates, and petrochemicals on their face.”

Tarte Cosmetics (tartecosmetics.com), which promotes paraben-free products created with vitamins and natural oils, has seen a huge increase in retail sales since it debuted in 2001. First-year sales rang in at $600,000, jumped to $15 million in 2006, and to $20 million in 2007, the company said. Sales for 2008 are estimated at $25 million.

According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (safecosmetics.org), a coalition of women’s public health, labor, environmental health, and consumer-rights groups founded in 2002, ingredients like parabans, mercury (often listed as thimerosal), and petrochemicals (which can be found in some shampoos, mascara, perfume, foundation, and lip balm) are widely used in the cosmetics industry. Environmental groups warn of the risks, and manufacturers assure consumers the ingredients are safe in small doses, but now even the big retailers are making changes.

CVS Caremark, the largest US retail pharmacy chain, with about 6,300 stores, sent out a news release this month announcing a safety policy.

The company said it will remove chemicals that have been linked to health problems from its house-branded products and replace them with safer alternatives. The company committed itself to continuously evaluating and improving its house-brand products.

This is the first cosmetics safety policy from a major drugstore chain in the United States.

Colette Chandler, principal of the Marketing Insider, an Ohio firm, said that in three years the global marketplace is expected to reach $425 billion.

“As companies realize this marketplace exists, and that more consumers are gravitating in this direction, all of a sudden they say this is where I need to be,” Chandler said. As consumers become more knowledgeable, she added, they want to know what’s in their bodies.

According to the market research group Mintel International, the number of natural-organic beauty and personal care products launched in the United States rose 5 percent between 2005 and 2006, and 62 percent between 2006 and 2007.

In addition, the Global New Products Database reports that the number of organic claims made on new products grew 273 percent from 2005 to 2007, while “all natural” claims grew 71 percent.

“Naturals for us in personal care and cosmetics is a quagmire right now, as everybody wants to take a marketing advantage, yet nobody quite knows how to do it,” said Jeff Falk, a senior editor at the trade magazine Global Cosmetic Industry, referring to the lack of consistent standards.

The most recent attempt, Falk said, was the formation of OASIS, for organic and sustainable industry standards. But some rules, Falk said, allow for “green chemistry,” meaning using a replacement when there is no viable natural or organic ingredient. Other organizations, he said, would argue this is deceiving the customer.

Maureen Kelly, chief executive and founder of Tarte Cosmetics, said that company is looking into working with the Natural Products Association and to standardize things.

In 2004, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics wrote to 250 cosmetics manufacturers, asking them to sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics (also known as the Compact for the Global Production of Safer Health and Beauty Products), a pledge to remove toxic chemicals and replace them with safer alternatives in every market.

By March 2006, there were 300 companies, and by January of 2007 there were 500 signed up. Today, more than 900 companies from all over the world have signed the compact; 40 of them are in New England.

NaTrue, an organization that represents natural cosmetic companies, recently said that it’s developing its own standard; in March, Whole Foods Market Inc. unveiled its “premium body care” seal, placed on products screened for safety, efficacy, environmental impact, and labeling. It is the first private standard for personal care products created by a major US retailer.

Marilyn Dale, a North Atlantic region buyer for Whole Foods, said she’s seen significant changes over the past decade.

“When I started [10 years ago], a market study stated the number one reason people came into our department was to buy products for their babies,” Dale said. “Over the last five years, the reason has shifted to face care.” It’s not that baby care has slowed down, she said, rather that face care has surpassed it.

Dale attributes the surge to increased awareness of organics and natural foods, which people are now translating into what they put on their bodies.

Susan Chaityn Lebovits can be reached at Lebovits@globe.com.

© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.

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