April 20, 2023
Although skincare products such as Chapstick, Vaseline, and baby powder were invented in the 1800s, the 1900s (following on the heels of the industrial revolution) are really where we see the industry take off. Products the became widespread during this time range from sunscreen to Botox treatments, and this is where we start to see large cosmetic companies making their mark. Eventually, the need for regulation became apparent, and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 set the stage for important, but basic consumer protections, and a growing awareness of what ingredients and production systems were behind mainstream brands and products.
As consumer awareness grew and trends changed, the environmental movement finally began to assert itself in the beauty and cosmetics industry. Consumers started influencing the skincare market in the 1980s when they began choosing natural skincare products over others, and began asking more pointed questions about how products were made and what they contained.
One recent skincare and beauty trend born out of social media is K-beauty. This Korean influence on skincare routines and products has become mainstream with social media, and has expanded to many other countries, including the U.S. Korean skincare products are being exported worldwide, and Korean influencers are gaining massive followings promoting these products. K-beauty beauty principals work to facilitate a youthful look with natural products such as soybeans and tea leaves. Unconventional products also include mushrooms, snail mucus, and kelp.
People do not want unhealthy ingredients in something they will put onto their body and face, as what you put on your skin is readily absorbed into your bloodstream — skin is the largest human organ, after all. Many skincare companies have listened and adapted to these preferences. It doesn’t matter if it is driven by money or morals; to stand out and survive as a skincare company, more businesses are providing natural moisturizing oils and soaps from unconventional yet highly effective and healthy sources.
More recently, consumers have taken it upon themselves to demand ethical, sustainable sourcing and ingredients; they may prefer pure, natural oils and artisan soaps over the complex, chemically-dense ingredients lists on many products. The consumer-led search for sustainable and natural skincare products has yielded products like all-natural ostrich oils and soaps for their 100% natural moisturizing and healing properties.
However, that doesn’t mean they’re without room for improvement. Take vitamin C, which is notoriously unstable. Formulators are now exploring equally effective yet more stable forms of it, such as tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate (THD ascorbate). “This allows for high efficacy and stability without additional supporters and boosters needed,” says Dr. Nazarian. That sort of flexibility will give an ingredient more staying power.
In other cases, however, the drawbacks lead to entire categories being replaced. “Products that remove surface hydration, disrupt the natural moisturizers of the skin, or threaten the microbiome of our skin are [becoming less popular and] being replaced by gentler, smarter alternatives that support our natural skin state,” says Dr. Nazarian. That makes sense, seeing as the rise of probiotics and subsequent chatter about the microbiome has made everyone much more conscious of their skin barrier.
Among the big trends in skin care over the last decade, clean beauty stands out. It’s what Wilson believes will challenge the skin-care industry for years to come—as well as stringent formulation rules set by clean-beauty retailers like Credo Beauty, Follain, and NakedPoppy. “We no longer can use ingredients that we have relied on forever to create stable, texturally interesting formulas that are effective,” Wilson explains. “Ingredient stories come and go, but getting the actual formulas right pose the biggest issues.”
Already, clean beauty has assumed the role of gatekeeper for what makes it into new products. For instance, “hydroquinone, octinoxate, and oxybenzone are ingredients that have fallen out of favor due to safety concerns,” says Wilson.
Hydroquinone, a skin-brightening ingredient popular among dermatologists, has already been banned by the EU, Japan, and Australia, although the FDA still permits it in certain concentrations here in the United States. Meanwhile, “octinoxate and oxybenzone are sunscreen actives that are on many brands' banned lists because of safety and environmental concerns,” says Wilson.