I’ve never been on a motorcycle, I avoid roller coasters and I only cross the street when the light turns green. I consider myself a pretty safe person – tottering around in stilettos after two glasses of prosecco is probably as close to living dangerously as I get. I tend to buy Big Brands because with a recognizable logo comes an assurance of quality and of safety. I think that’s why I have been so unsettled by a recent series of headlines questioning the safety of household and personal care products. One news story claims that household cleaners are as deadly as smoking 20 cigarettes a day, while another suggests that perfume is making us sick; who knew I had been living so dangerously?
It appears that even the badge of a global recognized brand, built with a robust marketing budget and blessed with prime placement on shelf, can’t protect us from the ingredients found in our favorite everyday products. One could suggest that we brought this upon ourselves –– when we as consumers constantly demand BIGGER! BETTER! FASTER! – it’s not surprising that there is a price to pay for meeting those hyperbolic needs. In this case its products so potent that they may actually be dangerous. So, as we place increased scrutiny on the ingredients in the products with which we clean our floors and faces, consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies will need to find ways to meet consumer demand for safety.
Go Au Natural: Anticipating a shift in consumer shopping patterns, the big CPGs have already made acquisitions and bought ‘natural’ branded products, products that presumably have kinder, gentler ingredients. Unilever added Seventh Generation plant-based laundry detergent to their portfolio, while P&G picked up natural deodorant brand Native. Packaged goods companies are also launching new brands and lines to feed our appetite for nature; including Unilever’s Love Beauty & Planet personal care line and P&G’s recent introduction of Pampers’ Pure Protection diapers, free of fragrance, lotion and chlorine.
Put it out there: Products from even a semi-reputable manufacturer will list all of their ingredients because, well… that’s the law. However, the most disruptive, and dare I say, exciting, force in CPG, Brandless takes it one step further. Every Brandless product – whether it is food, household, beauty or personal care – proudly features what’s in it, and also declares what’s not in it. For example, a dish soap proudly displays that it is non-toxic, non-GMO, contains no dyes and has no phthalate, triclosan or chemical residue. As the conversation around ingredient safety intensifies this may become the new norm. After all, the more aware we are of what’s, and what’s not, inside of the products we choose, the more we can make informed purchasing decisions.
Change the Rules: Beautycounter is a new force in the beauty industry focused on making beauty and skincare products that are free from ‘questionable or harmful chemicals’. Think of them as sort of like a woke Avon. While other companies take a far more ‘cosmetic’ approach, Beautycounter is committed to educating about ingredient safety, and galvanises its salesforce and customers to advocate for a change in legislation.
Reset Expectations: There is currently an implicit expectation that the stronger the ingredients, the better the result. I’m guilty of this – if my skin cream doesn’t burn off my face, I’m convinced it doesn’t work. As brands recalibrate their closely guarded formulations, we will need to readjust our expectations. Maybe our homes don’t need to be as sterile as hospital operating rooms, and maybe, in the name of our personal and planetary wellbeing, we need to get comfortable with that…
Whether its dictated by legislatures, initiated by CPG companies, prompted by disrupters or mandated by consumer demand, our days of ‘living dangerously’ are coming to an end. While I’ll miss the frisson of a sparkling clean floor and the heady exuberance of a strong perfume… in name of what’s good for me, my family and the planet, I’m willing to play it safe.