Asian markets, like the rest of the world, are increasingly demanding natural and organic personal care products.
The natural and organic personal care market is expected to reach nearly $20 billion by 2022, and the most rapid growth is coming from the Asia Pacific (APAC) region. In 2016, 34% of beauty products launched in APAC nations carried a sustainable or organic claim. Formulations for these products must, of course, remain shelf-stable and safe, perhaps for increasingly long periods of time. Asian beauty trends are taking hold worldwide, increasing the opportunity for personal care manufacturers to export their products to Western countries. I spoke with one of my colleagues, Anahita Lion, global business manager, Vertellus Personal Care, for more perspective on these opportunities. She observed: “For some time, the Asian market has been characterised by regional brands, with products staying relatively local. This has been particularly true in China. However, we’re seeing a lot of interest in Western countries for Eastern beauty trends. Europeans and Americans are catching on to the multi-step routines popular in South Korea, for example, and they’re seeking authentically Asian products for that experience. This creates a great export opportunity for Asian personal care product manufacturers. It’s to their advantage to have formulas that are export-friendly.”
In this article, we will explore 8 trends in the Asian personal care market and how those trends may affect preservative choices in your formulations.
Trend 1: Increasing eco-consciousness
Traditional wisdom has been that APAC and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are behind the curve of their Western counterparts when it comes to environmental concerns. In fact, surveys in developing countries show high levels of concern for human impact on the environment and a desire to preserve natural resources.
As many Asian nations have experienced surges in urbanisation, populations have become increasingly concerned about environmental issues, with pollution and climate change top-of-mind. Governments have responded with sometimes aggressive plans to clean up the environment. China’s ‘war on pollution’ is just one example that has forced rapid transition to greener sources of power and made measurable improvements to the environment. In ASEAN nations, renewable energy production is expected to increase by more than 4% by 2025.
Concerns about pollution have been a major driver of personal care product trends in Asia as well, opening a whole market for pollution-protection skin care products featuring ingredients like antioxidants designed to prevent damage from particles in the air.
The increase in eco-awareness translates to concern about manufacturing processes as well. To meet consumer and governmental requirements, manufacturers are looking for greener ways to produce products, striving for zero waste, reduced carbon footprints and less water use.
Consumers also have increasing concerns about the persistence of personal care products in the environment. The recent backlash against plastic microbeads is one example. For Asian consumers already on high-alert for the health effects of air pollution, increased awareness of how their personal care and cosmetic products might impact the world around them naturally follow.
While personal care products have always been associated with emotional sales appeals, it is interesting to note that eco-sensitivity is now one of the emotions beauty brands are working to evoke in their advertising, drawing out consumers’ senses of responsibility and social consciousness.
“Asian consumers want to take a more active role in preserving the environment, and even reversing the damage that’s been done,” noted Mark Lewis, Vertellus general manager. “Like people everywhere, they want clean water, clean air and a cleaner world for the next generation. Choosing environmentally friendly personal care products, produced by manufacturers who use eco-friendly processes, is seen as a simple way to make a difference and also not add to any existing environmental burdens.”
For formulators, every ingredient choice needs to support this growing environmental awareness. Preservative choices need to align with green manufacturing goals, as well as consumer demand.
Trend 2: Expansion of manufacturing capabilities
In many Asian markets, particularly emerging ASEAN economies and China, manufacturing technology and infrastructure have lagged behind countries like Japan and South Korea. This lag has limited the use of innovative ingredients and processes, including the utilisation of green manufacturing techniques. This is changing, however, as global personal care companies see new opportunities in emerging markets and are sharing their expertise to help bring more advanced manufacturing processes online, and enable delivery of personal care products suited to local markets.
Advances in manufacturing are also driving the emergence of more independent cosmetic makers in the Asian market. These boutique brands—many of which are being snapped up by larger, global companies—gain followings through social media and tout a natural, simpleingredient approach that fits into existing natural/organic/eco-friendly trends.
Lion noted: “I think these indie cosmetic brands resemble tech startups. They provide a really specific innovation, and a global personal care company decides a new company would make a great addition to their portfolio. Once they’ve bought that brand or product, the larger corporation might need to tweak formulations for larger-scale production, and again, long-term stability for global export. But they don’t want to lose the qualities of the product that earned it a loyal following and made it such a great investment in the first place.”
As manufacturing capabilities expand, legacy chemistries may not only be out of pace with consumer demands, but with manufacturing techniques and new ingredients as well. Formulators need preservative options that can accommodate both a broader range of innovative active ingredients and advanced manufacturing processes. For growing brands, this may mean expanding manufacturing to contract or toll facilities that can produce products with economies of scale and offer comprehensive quality control.
Trend 3: Local, exotic ingredients
Along with growing populations of middleand upper-class consumers with disposable incomes comes a desire for more premium personal care products. This complements the larger, global trend toward natural and organic ingredients, spurring the creation of products that feature local, natural and often exotic ingredients that have traditional cultural associations. In Japan, for example, consumers are interested in personal care products that include ingredients like sake and pearls. In other markets, costly ingredients characterise ‘cosmeceuticals’—personal care products associated with health benefits, often also tied to traditional Asian medicine. While many of these premium products tout local ingredients, sourced ingredients from locations like Africa and the Amazon also continue to be on-trend. For formulators who choose to use them, imported ingredients can be expensive.
The use of natural, harvested ingredients is also prompting different environmental concerns, with consumers expressing growing interest in how ingredients are sourced, to ensure sustainability.
All of this contributes to letting makers and marketers tell a richer product story for personal care products. This strengthens consumers’ connections to brands, builds loyalty and further fuels a demand for natural, sustainably sourced ingredients.
For formulators, natural ingredients, from the exotic to the traditional, can pose special challenges for preservation. Some ingredients may degrade more quickly or increase risks of bacterial, fungal or yeast growth. Experimentation with more exotic ingredients may also create challenges with product texture. Preservatives with more emollient qualities can help offset these issues.
Premium ingredients also mean an increased investment for manufacturers and consumers—an investment that needs to be protected right in the package. Formulators need to ensure preservative strategies will not compromise ingredients, product performance, formulation appearance and consistency or safety.
Trend 4: Fewer ingredients, simpler labels
The Asian market has long been a leader in ‘free-from’ product labelling. Today, products may be labelled not only as ‘free from preservatives,’ but ‘worry-free’, too, as manufacturers assure consumers that products were produced with sustainable processes, from ingredient procurement through testing, manufacturing and packaging. Asian consumers also continue to value products seen as less ‘chemical’ and seek to avoid preservatives viewed as harsh and damaging to the skin. While the Asian market for cosmetics is booming, skin care continues to dominate, with the emphasis still on maintaining skin health as the path to beauty (versus using makeup to cover flaws). The desire for simpler ingredients does not make beauty regimens any simpler, however. Asian consumers still practice complex, multi-step routines that are becoming more popular worldwide.
As formulators seek to create products with fewer, more natural ingredients, the remaining ingredients often have to fulfill multiple roles: delivering moisture and keeping a product thick, for example. Formulators who want to simplify their labels can look to preservatives that do more than keep products fresh. Cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC) for example, works against a broad range of bacteria, mold and fungi, yet also stabilises emulsifiers and can enhance products’ emollient properties.
“To keep labels simple, formulators really need preservatives that can pull double- or even triple-duty while still meeting ‘free from’ labelling requirements,” Lewis said. “That does limit their options, but the good news is that preservatives like CPC do all those things capably. They don’t have to compromise.”
Trend 5: Innovative product textures
As Asian consumers look for products with cleaner, simpler labels, they are also seeking products with a clean appearance. Fast-absorbing, clear skin care products are growing in popularity, but are tricky to formulate. These products often have to strike a delicate balance of oil and water, protective but light, minimal in form, but maximum in benefits.
Another formulation trend is transformative products, made popular by cushion makeup that provides an effortlessly fresh, selfie-ready look. Other trends include products that go from oil to foam, powder to serum and more. These products play into the larger cosmetic layering trend seen across the region. With these types of formulations, the right preservative choice can play a key role in maintaining texture, clarity and emollience.
Trend 6: The boom in men’s grooming
Asia has been on the leading edge of growth in men’s personal care products, including cosmetics. The global men’s grooming market grew by an estimated 70% from 2012-2014, and Asian men accounted for 60% of that growth. Interestingly, male consumer demands closely match those of women. Men place emphasis on skin health and sophisticated skin routines. Like women, Asian men tend to practice complex skin care regimens with 8 to 10 steps. Men closely associate grooming with economic opportunity. In particular, men cite looking young and fresh as important to their job prospects. This drives a larger market for clear, natural products like those described in Trend 4.
As the men’s personal care product market is expected to grow and expand into more product lines, formulators will continue to need preservative choices that allow for the same kinds of clean, clear, natural formulations already in-demand from women.
Trend 7: Return to tried and true solutions
The movement toward natural and organic personal care formulations was rapid, with formulators struggling to keep pace. While the industry long-recognised the need for less harsh preservatives, newer, natural options did not always work as expected.
As a result, formulators have been looking for tried and true preservative options, without returning to legacy chemistries like formaldehyde. This has made options like CPC more attractive. While CPC is relatively new to the cosmetics market, the product has been used for decades globally in personal care, with a proven track record of safety and effectiveness in oral care products.
“We’ve had several customers come to us for solutions because their natural or organic preservative options just weren’t working for them,” Lewis observed. “Either the preservative effect itself wasn’t strong enough, or they found the new preservative really changed the qualities of the product. Innovation is vital, but sometimes it’s important to take a fresh look at ingredients we’re already familiar with and see how they might work in the new paradigm of personal care formulation.”
Trend 8: Merging the natural and the synthetic
Biosynthetics are poised to become the next big ingredient in personal care products, bringing together technology and nature in consumer-friendly formulas. Bio-based, organic and seen as a sustainable replacement for petroleum-based ingredients, biosynthetics do not typically carry the negative consumer perception of most man-made personal care ingredients. Instead, biosynthetics tend to be perceived positively, combining the best of nature with the advances of science. Indeed, technology itself is increasingly seen as part of the answer to making the world more green, with biosynthetics fitting into that narrative for personal care.
Biosynthetics can allow products to do more with less as well, contributing to the desire for fewer, simpler ingredients. However, as with the inclusion of new natural, exotic ingredients, biosynthetics create a new variable in formulations, affecting texture and performance differently than the legacy, nonbio-engineered ingredients they replace. As more innovations like biosynthetics become a part of personal care product formulations, it becomes even more important for formulators to have a stable of proven preservatives with a reliable, yet flexible, profile that can accommodate new ingredients.
What these trends tell formulators is not a new story, but it remains critical: The market for personal care products continues to grow rapidly in Asia, and consumer demand for greener, cleaner products is likely to expand across the market and into emerging economies. As formulators look to keep pace with this evolving market, tried and true, label-friendly preservatives present a distinct advantage, enabling formulators to focus on innovation in ingredients, texture and delivery knowing their products will remain protected.