Did people ever want organic personal care products in the first place?

I love getting comments on my blog.  I love you all, especially the people who are kind enough to comment regularly.  But aside from giving me a boost, it is also educational.  Sometimes you get a comment that really hits the nail on the head.  This is how Carolyn responded to my blog post about organic personal care products suffering a 27% fall in sales in the UK last year.


I have a different attitude toward organic, natural, local, etc. products than what I usually see written about; I have no idea how common it is. I buy these things not (entirely) because I think they’re better but because I care about the supply chain. I’m happy to pay more for things if the money is going to local farmers and fairly-paid producers, and if making and selling the products is reducing the amount of petroleum-based fertilisers and pesticides in the biosphere or CO2 to the atmosphere–even if I don’t personally see an appreciable difference in the product that’s worth the extra money to me.


Well that is an interesting point of view.  Not much sign of Carolynn being a LOHAS consumer there.   A pragmatic down to earth common sense consumer would be a better label.

If I were judging by my own friends, what people want is something that works, that is safe and doesn’t wreck the planet or exploit anyone.  I am not sure that making personal care products fit into the organic framework really addresses those issues.

But if you read the trade press and talk to people in marketing you would soon get the idea that loads of people out there are demanding organic products.  Well maybe there are and I just don’t know them.  It is very easy to misjudge these things.  So I had a look on Google Trends – the service Google offers that allows you to track how the volume of searches changes over time.  This is what I found for the search term ‘organic skincare’.



You might persuade yourself that the trend has just started going up again, but it looks to me like the overall trend is down and has been since 2007.

This is far from conclusive evidence of course, but it does seem to make sense.  People never wanted organic products as such.  It was just a good proxy to what they actually wanted, i.e., effective, safe, fair and sustainable with local as a bit of a bonus.   This will probably be unwelcome news to companies that have gone down the troublesome ‘accreditation’ route.  Meeting some standard or other is hard work and definitely compromises the quality of the end product.  It can also be expensive.  But you do get a warm satisfying feeling when you have got through the hurdles and you have finally made it.  It is a bit like finishing a particularly fiendish crossword.

It is also very appealing to marketing types.  It offers a way of putting a product into a particular category – one with good margins – simply by applying a symbol to your pack copy.  And it is so easy.  Just pay your fee to a certification body, pass the inevitably lengthy and incomprehensible standard to the guys in the lab to sort out and a year or so down the line you are good to go.  What’s not to like?

The only trouble is, if the consumers don’t actually care then it might turn out that you might just as well have spent your time actually doing a crossword.

But as a formulator I find it quite heartening.  I hate having to comply with standards, most of which show not the slightest understanding of what is good either for the end user or the planet.  But making good safe products that are good for the planet?   That sounds a lot more interesting.  Personally I hope the trend towards sustainability continues.  And if the trend away from organic personal care does too, even better.

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After writing this post I took a look at the logic behind organic skincare.


5 thoughts on “Did people ever want organic personal care products in the first place?

  1. astrorainfall @ beauty box

    Actually, just reading from blogs and what my friends tell me, organic products have a tendency not to work as well in terms of efficacy and could actually irritate the skin with gorgeous smelling botanicals that are not that great in a skincare product – not all, but generally speaking.

    I think the idea of fairtrade and sustainability are bonus points in a product but never the deciding factor for me. I also shy away from organic products that are priced exorbitantly for what they are…So….I’m a very “practical” buyer though attracted to anything natural, paraben-free, silicone-free, etc…

  2. Ed

    So you’ve got a dip in Google search trends for the search term “organic skin care” and extrapolated from this that demand is tanking for organic skin care products.

    Although….if you type in “skin care” – looks like fewer people are searching for this term too – so I guess the skin care industry is dead and buried too?

    How about anti-ageing? People aren’t getting any younger are they?

    You might persuade yourself that the trend has just started going up again, but it looks to me like the overall trend is down and has been since 2007. Maybe Colin has formulated the secret to eternal youth, so that explains that!

    There is a ray of sunshine in all this – searches for “sex cream” have exploded in 2011:

    I can deduce from this that people got really horny at the start of 2011, so that’s great news for the manufacturer of the Male Arousal Cream, eh Colin?!

  3. Colin Post author

    Good points Ed, it probably would be a mistake to read too much into Google trends alone – but I am not in any doubt that the organic skin care market is not as strong as it was a couple of years ago. But if you read the trade press, which presumably you do, you would get the impression it was steaming ahead.

    My prediction is that the organic skin care market will not go away, but it will settle down and be dominated by a few large companies much like the rest of the business.

  4. Colin Post author


    What you say makes perfect sense when you bear in mind that most organic products are formulated by the same people who formulate non-organic products. It is obvious that they can do a better job without the extra restrictions imposed by the organic standards.

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