ALL THE BEAUTY INDUSTRY SECRETS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT
My passion for beauty started at a young age, when I knew not much more than blue eyeshadow and pink lipstick really didn’t go together. After I graduated with a degree in marketing, I was fortunate enough to land a role at a global beauty brand that changed my life and career path forever; responsible for helping to develop and launch new products, with a specific focus on ingredients, claims and EU legislation, I quickly found myself absorbing all the knowledge from those around me and spending my evenings swatting up from textbooks with more enthusiasm than I could’ve ever mustered during my GCSEs. A decade later and I’d worked for household brand names and spent my weeks at the HQ of retailers negotiating promotions, in-store marketing and new products to launch on their shelves; this was an industry that had me hooked.
This blog was born out of a passion for something that’s always been with me and inevitably always will, but those years working behind the scenes (and the years since continuing to do so) has provided me with insight and understanding that’s relatively unique in the world of blogging. I’ve been the one developing the products you use in the bathroom, coming up with those campaigns you see in magazines or on TV, designing those promotions you see in Boots and developing the strategies you see come to life through social media accounts.
And over the years I’ve learned so much about how the industry works – and (more importantly) the tricks they use to get you to part with your cash. So with almost fifteen years of experience working in the world of beauty, here are fifteen of my best ‘insider’ beauty industry secrets to help you shop wiser and feel your most beautiful.
1. You can get the same formula for a fraction of the price – if you do your research. So many brand names are owned by huge conglomerates and as a result are party to the same labs, scientists and techniques as their premium counterparts; their technology, formulations and ingredients are inevitably cut from the same cloth, it’s only the packaging and brand name that are different. Knowing who a company is owned by can inevitably give you the knowledge to shop smart and find cheaper alternatives to your favourite products. For example L’Oreal own brands including Lancome, YSL, Maybelline and NYX; Coty produce the James Bond perfumes, but they also produce them for Gucci and Burberry; Unilever own Tresemme and VO5, as well as professional hair brand Tigi. Many more brands just outsource their product development to factories overseas, meaning that a huge proportion of the market is peddling essentially the same product in different packaging; what’s even more interesting is that a lot of brands don’t even own their technology or innovation, but instead are granted exclusive access from the factory for usually between 1 and 3 years – which is why soon after there’s often a flurry of copycats available. (I could talk about this topic for hours!)
2. After about the £20.00 mark of a moisturiser, you’re mostly paying for brand name and packaging. A moisturiser is really just a skin hydrator and a lot of formulas will have more or less the same ingredients, with a few added extras if they’re genuinely delivering an extra benefit. You don’t need to spend a fortune to get a decent product (although I’m a firm believer in buying into brands that you believe in and those that bring you pleasure – after all, beauty is emotive and it’s often worth splurging in the interests of feeling good.) Where it is worth spending money though, is on your serum; that’s where you’ll get your targeted and more potent ingredients that can make all the difference.
3. Buying from sites such as Amazon and eBay doesn’t guarantee you an authentic product; a huge number of beauty products sold via these platforms are counterfeit, have been acquired by dodgy means or are simply out of date. Amazon acts purely as a shopping platform, offering no guarantee on the products you buy nor any checks as to where they’re coming from – they just take a cut of the price. Although this is great for smaller brands wanting to access a global market, but it also means consumers are vulnerable to buying sub-quality products in good faith. Don’t get burned by buying that sold out palette from third party channels, because it may not be genuine. (If you want to know more about this, there’s a great documentary on Netflix called ‘Broken’.)
4. Ingredients are always listed in quantity order, so if a brand is telling you it includes something wonderful then it’s always wise to check where it appears on the INCI (the ingredients list on the reverse of the pack.) Some brands (particularly the more affordable ones) will put a smidge of an ingredient in so they can claim all of its benefits, whereas in reality there’s hardly enough present to make any real difference.
5. Own brand products are often more potent and affordable because they don’t have the high retailer margins. Many retailers take anywhere from 40-75% of the retail price as profit; the brand is therefore making a profit from selling it at 60-25% of the retail price, meaning it probably costs around half that to produce. In essence, this means that your £40.00 face cream may only cost around £5.00 to make. When buying from own label they don’t have to give as much of that cost away to the stores selling it on their behalf, so they can keep the prices down for their customers; that means brands like Boots No7, Superdrug’s ‘B’ and Aldi’s Lacura are really great value vs other names offering similar products.
6. Free from claims are going into overdrive because of consumer interest. Trends are driven by what’s going on in the wider world, so we’re seeing far more brands claim to be free from ingredients including parabens, SLS and formaldehyde – even if there’s little evidence to prove they’re damaging. Names including Drunk Elephant have built their entire ethos on being ‘toxic free’ without substantiating much of what they say, while others claim to be free from things like gluten and silicone when there was never any need to have them in the formulation anyway! It’s a bit of a minefield, so my advice is to do some research and find out what’s important to you; then ignore the rest. (Read my post on ‘clean beauty’ and why it can be problematic here.)
7. There’s no legislation around the use of ‘natural’ in cosmetics. Natural ingredients are usually sourced from the earth or sea; however, this is an extremely ambiguous statement that could mean anything from collecting seaweed to harvesting crops that are soaked in pesticides. In all honesty it doesn’t mean a huge amount, as it could still mean those ‘natural’ ingredients are manipulated in an artificial scientific environment, or even mixed with all kinds of chemicals to produce the end product. It’s a marketing term that’s often used to give the impression of organic or ‘good for you’ ingredients, just like adding a few green leaves to a pack or use nuances that subconsciously make us believe the formula will be better for us than the alternative.
8. A lot of ingredients are simply made up by the marketing teams behind the brand, as a way to make their product feel more complex and to ensure you buy into their claims. They may re-name an existing formula, develop a short-hand term for a combination of ingredients that together offer a benefit, or simply copyright something they’ve developed; L’Oreal and Olay are great at doing this – ProXylane® is ‘exclusive to L’Oreal’ because they developed it! The easiest way to identify this is via the ® mark next to the name, which means it’s a registered trade mark (i.e. nobody else can use it,) or via a quick google; if no other brand comes up in search you know it’s something probably developed and named in house. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does give the impression that there’s often something new and innovative going on when it’s just the brand re-naming a complex of ingredients they could’ve been using for ages.
9. Terms such as ‘dermatologically tested’ (tested on human skin) ‘hypoallergenic’ (causes fewer allergic reactions vs other prodcucts) and ‘noncomedogenic’ (unlikely to block pores) are marketing terms with very little meaning. Although they’re handy as a trigger and to communicate benefits to consumers, there’s no regulation of their use and brands don’t need to prove anything to use them.
10. SPF is the number one anti-ageing ingredient. Exposure to UV rays and pollution can wreak havoc on our skin, right down to its DNA; in fact it’s suggested that 80% of all signs of visible skin ageing are due to environmental aggressors, and therefore preventable (to a certain extent!) Once UVA rays penetrate into the skin’s surface, they attack free radicals (such as Vitamin A & E) and zap our hydration levels; they also destroy the natural collagen and elastin fibres found in the deeper layers of the skin, which results in dreaded wrinkles and creases over a longer period of time. In order to look after your skin as effectively as possible, it’s better to invest in a great SPF than it is any number of fancy serums or moisturisers.
11. Fragrances are considered trade secrets, so brands don’t have to declare them on their ingredients lists; although this isn’t a problem for the majority of us, if you’re allergic to an ingredient in particular you have no way of knowing what’s in your product.
12. The majority of eye creams are basically just moisturiser sold in very tiny tubs. Although there are some great products out there that are formulated specifically for this very thin and delicate skin, many more (usually on the cheaper end) are a complete waste of money and offer no other benefit than your regular mosituriser.
13. The reason you can’t find your favourite shade of product in store? Limited shelf space. In the UK ‘self selection’ cosmetics (i.e. the ones on big stands in Boots and Superdrug) are held to ransom over their on-shelf space; they have to make every single inch work as hard as possible for them, and there are whole teams that analyse the performance of each SKU (individual product) on a monthly basis. Often a poor performing shade will be removed, or an entire product range withdrawn, in order to maximise the money made from the stand – and if a brand doesn’t perform, their stand size is often reduced at the end of the financial year and given to someone else. Brutal, but true! With the digital world though, it does mean these shades should be available online instead.
14. A dupe is only technically a dupe when the ingredients are similar, not just the look of the product and packaging. However, brands are getting into increasing trouble for taking a little too much inspiration from premium names – resulting in court cases ordering them to pay a share of the profits and remove the ranges in their current form from store. You may have notice Aldi’s home fragrance range changing from baring a very similar resemblance to Jo Malone, to more of a generic home spa range; that was court ordered! Brands can trademark colours, designs or product names to prevent others from jumping on their bandwagon, and are doing so increasingly successfully.
15. Some of the best beauty treatments are free. Drinking plenty of water hydrates from within while helping to flush away any toxins, reducing inflammation and irritation; facial massage can help to provide a ‘natural’ face lift, increase circulation, reduce the appearance of wrinkles and relieve skin irritation, remove impurities and toxins, curb congestion, relief tension and boost your mood; facial steaming helps to open up your pores, softens blackheads and make them easier to remove, loosens dirt for a deeper clean and promotes blood circulation (essential for a healthy, glowing, plump complexion.) Sometimes you don’t need all the fancy products and treatments – stripping it back can often just be as effective.
Which of my beauty industry secrets has most surprised, shocked or delighted you?
Pictures used taken as part of a collaboration with Panasonic Facial Steamer. Read the blog post here.