Purchasing Patterns for Natural, Organic Beauty Products

Women's beauty buying habits and concerns

April 17, 2008

5 Min Read
Purchasing Patterns for Natural, Organic Beauty Products

The Benchmarking Co. recently released its Pink Report™, The Age of Naturals, in which more than 1,800 women across the United States who regularly buy beauty products were surveyed. The report uncovers the attitudes, fears and aspirations of two specific groups of women: those who regularly buy natural/organic beauty products, and those who buy traditionally-made beauty products.

It is clear that women who normally buy natural/organic beauty products have higher makeup and skin care aspirations than traditional beauty brand users, higher expectations for natural beauty product efficacy, and a higher tendency toward personal wellness and self health.

Eighty-two percent of natural/organic beauty buyers want to look beautiful, yet natural, compared to 64 percent of their traditional beauty buying counterparts. Natural beauty buyers want both cosmetics (84 percent) and skin care products (84 percent) to be free of harmful chemicals, compared to 56 percent of traditional beauty buyers for makeup and 54 percent for skin care products. In nearly every category, natural beauty users simply expect more from the products they purchase.

Of women who normally buy natural and organic brands, 45 percent said they do so because of their fear of chemicals in traditionally-made beauty brands. When natural beauty buyers were asked why they continue to purchase natural/organic beauty products, the top two reasons were they were better for their skin (80 percent) and they didn’t want chemicals on their skin (64 percent). Another 27 percent claimed the ingredients in traditional beauty products were harmful to her health.

Grey Area: Claims & Regulation

Seventy percent of women who buy natural beauty products, and 31 percent of those who buy traditional beauty products, claim to read labels carefully before buying beauty products. While it might be expected that women who already buy natural/organic beauty products—those already living a more holistic lifestyle—would know more than their traditional beauty-buyer counterparts about which beauty ingredients are perceived as harmful and what percentages of certain ingredients must be in a product to be labeled as pure, natural or organic, this wasn’t necessarily the case.

While women who buy natural beauty products appear to know a little more about ingredients and labeling requirements, women in general still have a lot to learn.

As of this writing, there are no U.S. guidelines on the percentage of “natural” ingredients a cosmetic product must contain to include the word natural on its label. Does natural mean an ingredient derived from nature that has been scientifically enhanced, watered down or otherwise distorted? Or is it an untouched, straight-from-the-ground ingredient? Women surveyed certainly don’t know, and who can blame them?



Although most women understand the U.S. government does not regulate label verbiage other than “organic,” 64 percent of all women believe a beauty product claiming to be “all-natural” must contain 80 percent or more natural ingredients. Most had no idea what percentage of natural ingredients must be in a product that simply “features” natural ingredients, with the highest percentage guessed at less than 60 percent.

The term botanical raises similar questions. Sixty-six percent of women feel a product with botanicals contains some ingredients from plants; 35 percent feel it must contain mostly ingredients from plants. A product labeled “pure” is the vaguest of all, although half of all women felt a product labeled pure must contain 100 percent all-natural ingredients.

One-third to more than half of all women surveyed believe cosmetic products labeled pure, natural, all-natural, botanical or organic are regulated by the U.S. government. Fifty-six percent of women said beauty products claiming to be 100 percent organic are regulated by the U.S. government. Sixty-two percent of women also believe the term “certified organic” is a guarantee of the absence of pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides.

Baffling Ingredients

With a sea of ingredients in beauty products, confusion abounds regarding which ones are beneficial and which are potentially harmful. When asking women to indicate which ingredients they might want in their beauty products and which they’d rather avoid, responses were both predictable and surprising.

Predictably, women who normally buy natural beauty products know the “good” ingredients they want in their products far more than their traditional buying counterparts. Interestingly, of the conventional shoppers, 58 percent indicated they didn’t know whether an ingredient was beneficial or harmful. However, some of the borderline ingredients, or those highly touted in consumer circles as “bad” ingredients, such as parabens and hydroquinone, were not altogether dismissed by either group. On the whole, the top three ingredients women do not want in their cosmetics were artificial fragrance (54 percent), silicone (43 percent) and gluten (34 percent). The top three ingredients women were unsure about were coffeeberry (70 percent), hydroquinone (69 percent) and parabens (69 percent).

Organic Matters

Women want to feel safe, and 89 percent of them feel U.S. companies should be more forthcoming about which products are truly natural and which are not.

Amidst the confusion over which ingredients are harmful or beneficial, and which claims are regulated or not, one thing is clear. The USDA Organic Seal is something they see as a tangible piece of evidence that a beauty product is free of harmful chemicals. In fact, nearly a third (30 percent) of traditional beauty brand buyers would be motivated to try a natural/organic brand if it passed a USDA test indicating it were safe, even though only 19 percent of those buyers believe natural/organic beauty products perform as well as beauty products with synthetic ingredients in them. Ninety-three percent of all women said they might or would be willing to buy a beauty brand that has earned the USDA Organic Seal.

Alisa Marie Beyer is CEO of The Benchmarking Company (TBC), a consumer insights and branding firm focused exclusively on the beauty industry. TBC (BenchmarkingCo.com) is the publisher of the Pink Report™, consumer research reports driven by results from the women-only, permission-based Pink Panel and other sources.

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