By Nele Steinmetz, Mar 16

Nele Steinmetz

Beauty and Biodiversity

Think about how many cosmetic products you use every day. It starts first thing in the morning after breakfast: If you want to brush your teeth you need toothpaste. If you want to take a shower you need shampoo. During the day you wash your hands with soap and at night you may moisturize your hands or face. Everyday each of us uses at least one cosmetic, toiletry or perfumery article, often more. The beauty industry reflects this: In the shops we are presented with a wide array of different beauty products, and the choices seem limitless. 

Behind the supermarket shelves lies big business. In 2006 the European market size of cosmetic and toiletry articles was valued at € 63.5 billion and the US market at € 38.2 billion.1 Furthermore, in recent years consumer concerns about health and adoption of more ‘wholesome’ lifestyles have refocused attention back to the ingredients used in cosmetic products, as affluent consumers are keen to buy products that enhance (or are perceived to enhance) their well-being. Consequently the Natural Cosmetic sector is growing.

A study by Organic Monitor put the global market in natural cosmetics at US$ 7 billion in 2008, driven by the EU and US markets.2 A report for the European Commission found that demand for natural cosmetics is being mainstreamed, driven by growing awareness of human environmental impacts and a desire to eliminate the use of products containing harsh chemicals. The natural cosmetics industry has already achieved a 10% market share in the US.3

A recent study by Kew and partners has revealed that one fifth of all plant species are at risk. This could have major impacts on the cosmetic industry. Plants and their derivatives form an important cornerstone for most cosmetic products. One common natural ingredient in cosmetics is the Aloe family. Both the Aloe ferox  and Aloe vera produce a thick gel which can be used on the skin to solve a variety of problems from dry skin to burns. The everyday common rice plant is essential for its starch and oil extracts. The oil is used in sun care products to absorb UV-rays as well as in conditioners for hair care and in shower and shampoo products. Sugar is used to exfoliate skin and in soap-making. Many plants produce gums and resins which are used commercially as an aromatic addition to soaps, cosmetics and perfumes. Sandalwood oil is a beneficial skin treatment and used in a range of skin and hair care products and Henna, one of the oldest cosmetics known, is used as a dye to stain nails, hands, feet and hair.

The Business of Plants

The cosmetics sector relies on biodiversity for many natural ingredients. As the variety of species and habitats continue to decline, both the quality and quantity of these natural ingredients may be jeopardized. In its activity report for 2008, Colipa, the European Cosmetics Association, identified respecting the scarcity of natural resources, reducing biodiversity damage and developing resource efficient product life cycles as among the primary challenges for the sector.4

According to the Union for Ethical BioTrade, the top 20 cosmetics and personal care companies communicate the most about biodiversity.5 This number is likely to increase as a growing number of companies in this sector take steps to integrate the principles and practices of sustainable use in their supply chains.

Brazilian cosmetics company Natura, for example, adopted the sustainable use of biodiversity as the main driver of innovation. Natura developed vegetable renewable alternatives to petrochemical raw materials, reducing the company’s carbon footprint, and created an entire product line (Ekos) based on the sustainable use of biodiversity. Ekos has since grown to account for a substantial share of company sales.6 Another company, L’Oréal, has developed approaches aimed at ensuring sustainable sourcing practices for plant-based ingredients.7

One might say that the cosmetic industry are the pioneers in leading the way to incorporating biodiversity and business. Natural and organic cosmetic companies were the early adopters of organic and fair trade products, sourcing these ingredients and launching certified products well before other industries. Some of these companies have set up fair trade and organic projects to protect endangered plant species and encourage sustainability. Others are using fair trade to guarantee long-term supply of organic ingredients. Major companies in the organic cosmetic sector reported positive growth for 2008, including Weleda, with a sales increase of 9.5% to 238.3 million; Wala, with ‘Dr. Hauschka’ brand sales increasing by 7.3% to €103 million; and Lavera, with an increase of 16% to €35 million.8

Beauty, Business and Biodiversity

Businesses have much to gain from helping to manage biodiversity sustainably. Provence With its beautiful landscapes famed for its colourful and fragrant lavender is another example of this. These famous lavender fields, which offer a feast for pollinators, also attract recreation and tourism benefiting the local community and farmers as well as producing side products such as honey. At the same time the lavender is of great value for the cosmetics industry for lavender products and lavender from Provence can fetch a healthy premium in the shops.


The cosmetic industry derives much of its ingredients from natural sources, and can boost much of its business by promoting nature both in its products and through its approach to sourcing natural products. It is up to businesses to take the next steps in delivering products which meet the market demand of increasingly environmentally aware consumers- the business opportunities are there and they have great potential to grow.

  1. Global insight (2007) A study of the European Cosmetics Industry. last access: Jan 19, 2011 []
  2. TEEB for National Policy Makers, Chapter 5 Pg 50   []
  3. TEEB for National Policy Makers, Chapter 5 Pg 50 Global Insight (2007) A Study of the European Cosmetics Industry. Prepared for: European Commission, Directorate General for Enterprise and Industry The Beauty of Plants Last Access February 1st 2011 []
  4. TEEB for Business Chapter 2, page 21. Colipa (2008) Value & Values: In Today’s Cosmetics Industry, Annual Report 2008, the European Cosmetics Association, Brussels. []
  5. TEEB for Business Chapter 2 Page 22 Union for Ethical BioTrade (2010) Biodiversity Barometer 2010 []
  6. TEEB for Business Chapter 2 Page 22 Natura (2008) Annual Report 2008 []
  7. TEEB for Business Chapter 2 Page 22 L’Oréal (2009) 2008 Sustainable Development Report []
  8. TEEB for business  chapter 5, p.9 BioFach (2009a) “Weleda on the road to success”, BioFach – Vivaness Newsletter Nº 203 (7 August 2009). BioFach (2009b) “Natural cosmetic growing against the trend”, BioFach – Vivaness Newsletter Nº 204 (21 September). []
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