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Nov 01, 2023

Ingredient-led beauty is becoming the norm in beauty and personal care, developing into a key area of interest in recent years for both consumers and manufacturers across categories, such as fragrances. Consumer focus on health, safety and ingredients has naturally expanded and become a prominent theme within hair care, as more players embrace the "skinification" of hair through launches containing skin care ingredients that target scalp health.

Overall, consumers have become more mindful of ingredient formulations. Euromonitor International's Voice of the Consumer: Beauty Survey, fielded June to July 2022 (n=20,320) found that in 2022, 17% of global respondents were influenced by ingredient formulations when purchasing hair care (up from 15% in 2019).

A contributing factor has been the growing frequency of high-profile recalls, lawsuits and discontinuations - of which recent events include dry shampoos in 2021 and 2022 and now chemical perms and relaxants. Stronger consumer interest in ingredient-led hair care also coincides with educational content online, particularly through apps such as TikTok. Access to this content has enabled consumers to foster a closer examination of a product's safety and be more aware of issues, particularly when negative reports or court cases emerge. A recent example of this comes from Olaplex - one of the fastest growing brands in recent years - which experienced negative social media publicity amid concerns and lawsuits.

While there is certainly still demand for hair care products that treat pre-existing symptoms, such as hair damage, dandruff and hair loss, consumers are becoming increasingly aware that a healthy scalp can also reduce shedding and dandruff prevalence, and protection from heat and sun.

Source: Euromonitor International's Voice of the Consumer: Beauty Survey, fielded June to July 2022 (n=20,320)

Interest is particularly prevalent among Generation Z and millennials, who want to protect and maintain healthy hair from a younger age due to stronger hair care knowledge compared to previous generations.

Consumer education is key for brands to find success with ingredient-led positioning. Ingredient-checking apps (such as Yuka and Think Dirty) and exclusion lists are effective strategies, but companies need to do more and provide clearer evidence of ingredient transparency and traceability. UK skin care specialist Clarins rolled out T.R.U.S.T. in November 2022, a web platform that provides consumer access to the manufacturing, harvesting and geographical origins of 24 SKUs.

As concerns surrounding ingredient safety grows, more brands are launching free-from SKUs, with ingredients such as parabens, silicones and sulphates considered to have a detrimental impact on hair health. Although usage of these ingredients has fallen due to broader availability of these products, consumption remains relatively high. This is particularly evident among sulphates, following new evidence to suggest some sulphates are not as harmful as previously feared. As such, more products are being accompanied by "no strong sulphate" claims, with brands such as R+Co, opting to avoid strong sulphates such as SLS and SLES.

With more consumers viewing the scalp as an extension of the skin, an increasing number of hair care players are formulating with ingredients traditionally found in skin care. Driven by the entry of skin care brands into hair care (such as The Inkey List and Drunk Elephant), this strategy also helps existing players like Philip Kingsley to expand their offerings.

One ingredient growing in prominence is hyaluronic acid, due to properties that reduce dryness and brittleness. Previously, the ingredient was commonly found in salon professional brands but has recently grown in popularity through masstige launches. In the UK, L’Oréal extended Elvive with the Elvive Hydra Hyaluronic Acid range, while Procter & Gamble recently rolled out the Head & Shoulders Derma X Pro series, which additionally contains aloe and vitamin E to help the skin barrier retain moisture and reduce hair loss.

Salicylic acid has also grown in popularity due to its scalp benefits. OUAI launched its first anti-dandruff shampoo with salicylic acid in December 2022. Elsewhere, the microbiome has emerged as a niche area within scalp care, and demand is growing as scalp microbiome maintenance reduces irritation and fragile hair. L’Oréal's Kérastase has helped drive consumer awareness of microbiome-incorporated hair care.

As consumers’ ingredient knowledge strengthens further, hair care players will have to be more transparent and specific about the ingredients they use, their origins and the manufacturing processes. Negative press surrounding brands such as Olaplex has led consumers to express a growing desire for brands without a history of controversy, creating opportunities for newer, "clean beauty" brands to gain market share going forward.

Even in the most unregulated of markets, the US passed the Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act of 2022 ( MoCRA), which gives the Federal Drug Administration new authorities to access brands’ safety records. Similarly, the European Commission proposed a new law in March 2023 to clamp down on companies making vague or misleading "greenwashing" claims. Consumer appetite for ingredient safety is showing little sign of deceleration in hair care, so beauty brands should reframe this momentum as opportunities to show expertise and gain trust.

Read our articles Ingredient-led Beauty: Beauty and Personal Care Innovation in Botanicals and Functional Fragrances and The Rise of Ingredient Led Beauty for further analysis on ingredients in beauty and personal care. And for more on hair care drivers, take a look at Global Survey Offers Insight into Latest Hair Care Spending Habits and Inclusive Beauty: Hair Care Opportunities on the African Continent for further analysis on drivers in hair care.