The QuelCosmetic application is claimed to help consumers spot undesirable substances in over 6,000 listed cosmetics by scanning the product bar code. Financed by UFC-Que Choisir - a French consumer association - with their endowment fund and through user crowdfunding, this new source of information seems to meet consumer expectations, just like its competitors. “We are living in a society where people question everything, tests, public authorities, and companies. Consumers want trustworthy third parties that can help them really understand formulas and products,” explains Gildas Bonnel, President of responsible communication agency Sidièse.
Still, this approach has sparked debate about the objectivity and scientificalness of the information provided. Although they are aware and concerned about the need to give consumers information, FEBEA, the French Federation of Beauty Companies, has pointed out flaws in these applications.
“These applications make judgments that are not based on scientific data. It can be disparaging, and above all, it can make consumers believe products are not safe, when they actually are,” explains Anne Dux, Scientific and Regulatory Affairs Director.
This point of view is shared by Céline Couteau, PhD in Pharmacy at the Nantes University and author of the blog ‘Regard sur les Cosmétiques’, who endeavours to analyze cosmetic products from a global and scientific standpoint. “We should not let ourselves be destabilized by the noise we can hear here or there. We do our best to guide you and give you a clear idea of the compared interests of such or such cosmetics category,” she explains on her website.
To this scientist, the information provided by these applications is not based on any scientific evidence, it does not take into account individual specificities, and above all, it plays on irrational fears.
“There is a lack of knowledge on this issue, there is this unreasonable angst about certain ingredients which are completely harmless to us chemists. In addition, what suits certain people does not suit others, and the problem is that the application does not make this distinction. Denigrating conventional cosmetics without evidence is not a good solution. When you try and make people scared, they end up being scared of everything,” she comments.
An unquestionable need for transparency
Starting from the principle that ignorance is at the core of all evils and fears, the need to inform consumers to reassure them is the main conclusion to draw from this phenomenon. FEBEA and European authorities have already anticipated it.
“We are partly responsible for this,” Anne Dux admits. “The cosmetics industry thought that labelling the product composition before all sectors provided a satisfactory answer to consumers’ need for transparency. But this list is there for products to travel the world, and it can actually contain names likely to leave users puzzled. The industry should take into account this legitimate need for information and meet this expectation differently.”
After tests in France, the Federation is now working with Cosmetics Europe, its European counterpart, on systems that can provide consumers with better information using packaging scanning. Launched on a large scale in five European countries, the experimentation consists in dematerializing objective, thorough information on cosmetic product compositions.
Although shopping based on test applications still only concerns a small part of the population, the need for reassurance cannot be ignored given the current deconsumerism trend. “No one can estimate to what extent brands are impacted, but what is for sure is that the current climate is favourable to organic products, which definitely partly explains the market contraction,” Anne Dux analyzed.
Indeed, according to the latest Kantar Worldpannel study, the beauty hygiene sector is declining in France. Volumes are now in the red, with -1.5%, and there has recently been a reduction in value (-0.9%), although this figure is better than in 2016, due to the price rise (+0.6%). “People buy less, but better, and their choices are more qualitative,” comments Business Development Manager Anaïs Dupuy. This can be partly explained by the search for more natural products, which involves being vigilant as regards the ingredients used, among others.
“The decline of beauty hygiene is 78% related to the naturalness target, meaning people search for more natural products and are willing to take action to preserve the environment. They have next to no impulses to buy and pay attention to ingredients,” adds Anaïs Dupuy.
Here is another way for consumers to express their need for confidence!