The beauty industry was particularly badly affected by the recent pandemic, with global sales in 2020 down around a quarter. One area that’s been surprisingly resilient during this time is nutricosmetics, a category of beauty products that combines nutrition and cosmetics.
Nutricosmetics advocates the practice of taking supplements or consuming products that improve how you look and feel from the inside out. For years beauty brands have focused on topically-applied products claiming to penetrate the skin and deliver medical benefits. These are known as cosmeceuticals.
Cosmeceuticals have now intersected with nutraceuticals, edible products that make claims to improve health and deliver other wellbeing benefits. The result is nutricosmetics – products and ingredients that stand at the intersection between food supplements and items sold at the beauty counter.
In practice, nutricosmetics usually means food supplements that are marketed as beneficial to the user’s looks and general wellbeing. It’s an approach that chimes well with consumer interest in general wellness and health. It also aligns with cultural beliefs such as traditional Chinese medicine and ayurvedic practices, which take a holistic approach to health and wellbeing.
Nutricosmetics tend to be backed by scientific claims. They might claim to improve the user’s skin elasticity via drinkable collagen or improve gut function for better digestion by offering “good bacteria” in one-a-day capsules.
Beauty culture worldwide seems to be taking something of a ‘back to foundations’ approach. In past decades, beauty has been about changing looks or concealing problems using makeup, surgeries and other interventions.
The focus has shifted now to improving the skin using high-performance products that improve the health and therefore the appearance of the skin. Nutricosmetics is part of this trend – making the most of consumers’ natural looks by optimising a healthy appearance.
Reframed by the contemporary cosmetics industry, nutricosmetics tends to focus on offering various foods, drinks and supplements that promise to improve the appearance of skin, hair and nails and generally support a healthy appearance.
So-called “oral beauty” (that’s food supplements that are ingested in the form of vitamin tablets, drinks and sprays) also focus on concerns for general wellbeing. They might make claims about supporting good sleep, or better digestion, with wider health and wellbeing being the goal as well as looks.
In 2020, consumers in the UK, US and Japan reported lower rates of intended spending on beauty products such as skincare and makeup. Cosmetics sales fell around the world as consumers socialised less during the pandemic.
US prestige beauty product sales were down over a third in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
Total US makeup sales were down 50% during lockdown. What sales there were in this period tended to be online, with eCommerce sales volumes up 90%, according to NPD data. Nail polish sales were also up 24% as consumers did their own nails at home.
By late spring 2021 makeup sales spiked as consumers re-emerged. In the UK, prestige beauty boomed as lockdown ended with huge spending on product categories such as foundations and tinted moisturisers, according to data from NPD Group. Fragrance spending was also impacted by the pandemic, although hand soap sold well during this time. All in all, it’s just been a tumultuous 18 months for beauty vendors.
It’s not clear how the abrupt changes in customer behaviour over the last 400+ days may translate into longer-lasting trends and ingrained behaviours. One likely change is that the switch from in-store to online spend may leave a lasting impact as consumers were forced to become familiar with eCommerce.
Having experienced growth of around 7% each year from 2014 onwards, Nutricosmetics were one of the more buoyant categories during the turmoil of 2020 but vendors still suffered because of disruption to global supply chains and shutdown of manufacturing in some key parts of the world.
As things settle down, some sources predict nutricosmetics could grow at over 10% during 2021. Nutricosmetics have over 40% of the beauty market share in Asia. Europe shows the fastest growth rate for this category of beauty products, whilst the North American market continues to mature. There’s something of a difference in focus between consumers in different age groups.
Older women tend to seek science-backed products they believe will be most effective, whilst younger consumers tend to be interested in natural products and claims such as minimal processing. They’re also increasingly interested in plant-based, vegan beauty products.
Older consumers are seen as a key driver of growth in nutricosmetics. In markets known to have an ageing population, such as Japan, nutricosmetics are expected to grow strongly.
Growth is also anticipated in Asian markets where consumers are increasingly health-conscious. This includes China’s massive market. Finally, North America is also expected to see huge growth helped by the presence of many key players in this market.
A radical approach
From a consumer perspective, nutricosmetics are about approaching beauty from the inside out and taking a whole-body approach to your looks. This approach may align with the consumer’s existing values.
We know consumers are generally interested in wellness and general wellbeing. In fact, Google Trends shows this is not the seasonal concern that it has tended to be in the past. Consumers no longer do a deep dive into wellness in January which tails off as the year unfolds. Concern for wellness is now a more durable and permanent interest.
We know it’s occupying the mind of many Chinese consumers, particularly young ones, as the Chinese consumer market matures. In the UK’s mature market we know it’s a UK-wide trend rather than confined to London as it has been in the past.
Wellness is also influenced by a change in cultural norms. We know younger consumers aren’t drinking quite so much as the same age group has done in the past. Smoking isn’t such a cultural norm any longer. Taking regular exercise is now a normal thing to do. There’s real interest in plant-based lifestyles and veganism is no longer the preserve of a small countercultural movement. Consumers are also much more fluent in conversations about mental health and beauty is a part of self-care.
There are a couple of takeaways from this. For starters, consumers are a bit more clued up than before. They may be well-informed about various issues surrounding wellbeing approaches, such as nutrition or exercise. This changes the way brands can approach consumers on these types of issues.
Instead of approaching consumers as if they are novices to wellbeing, brands need to think about offering ‘advanced’ approaches and perhaps thinking about repeat buyers rather than first-timers.
For beauty brands, it can bring new challenges depending on the regulatory environment. In many markets, food supplements have specific regulations that they need to work within.
In Europe’s tight regulatory environment brands often choose to focus on wellness messaging and talking about how ‘natural’ their products are rather than make any beauty claims. It’s also the case that consumers are less cynical about product claims in some markets than they are in others.
From a competitive perspective, the advent of nutricosmetics has seen new market entrants that are gaining ground from established players. Consumer values are changing quickly and it can be relatively easy for new entrants to meet emerging consumer interests, such as zero waste or minimalist packaging.
Such trends can really catch out the more established players who may be very invested in old ways of doing business.
There’s certainly a shared global trend towards interest in natural products and botanic ingredients. But consumer preference for product ingredients can be unique to each market. Consumers have their own beliefs and expectations about health and beauty around the world. Often this affects their receptiveness to the actual ingredients and claims made by nutraceuticals.
Chinese customers particularly value natural ingredients. There’s a crossover from the Asian diet and the components of traditional Chinese medicine into beauty products. Ingredients such as donkey milk, bird’s nest and pig collagen are currently more familiar to Asian consumers than Western ones.
Although green tea, rice powder and ginseng were all popular Asian beauty ingredients that crossed over to the West and are now well-established product ingredients, it’s likely that Asia’s animal ingredients may be less palatable in the West.
Vegan products are a rising category in Western beauty markets which means ingredients such as pig collagen wouldn’t be as well received.
Meanwhile, the Indian ingredient, turmeric, is currently having a moment of popularity in Western nutricosmetics. However, ashwagandha and manjistha aren’t yet as well known. Japan has contributed kelp and rice bran oil to Western beauty products. Camellia oil hasn’t yet gone as mainstream as green tea as an ingredient on everyone’s bathroom shelf.
Sometimes these products just take off because of clever marketing. Other times, they don’t quite align with local market beauty values and expectations. Balm and oil cleansing using a washcloth is popular in the UK, perhaps because many consumers are familiar with using a flannel.
In the US, many consumers are very attached to using disposable cleaning wipes. And with Asia’s obsession with hydration, gels and hydrating mists are always more popular than the thick creams preferred by Western consumers.
Products sold in Asia also focus on beauty concerns specific to Asian consumers – such as skin whitening. Problematic as it may be to Western cultures, paleness is a major concern for many consumers in markets including China and Japan. Brands such as Whiteasy offer food supplements such as pills and drinks that offer to blanch the skin.
Consumers in this region are also focused on preventing ageing and hair loss. Whilst women over 60 are particularly interested in managing the ageing process, hair loss is a concern that’s more spread across the age groups. Skin hydration is also a particular beauty concern in Asian markets, reflecting local beauty standards.
Targeting the consumer
The beauty industry is good at spreading trends around the world. In recent years, we’ve seen the South Korean market exerting influence on other beauty markets, particularly China.
Nutricosmetics is a good example of how trends spread around the world but how each culture tends to have its own cultural take on things. Despite the unique approach consumers bring to beauty in each market, all consumers tend to be interested in science-backed innovation.
The one key factor that all markets seem to share is a rising interest in wellbeing and a belief that beauty can be achieved through wellness.
As the beauty industry emerges from turmoil, there’s real opportunity to be seen in nutricosmetics and many will pin their hopes on an area that’s projected to grow at 10% this year.
We’re likely to see huge innovation in this category, with a cross-cultural exchange happening at full pelt. The beauty market remains highly competitive and this should impact the volume of innovation being seen around the world in this highly international industry.