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The Brave New World of Cosmetics and Personal Care
by Murray Hunter
2014-05-27 09:55:04
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If one sits down to reflect upon the cosmetic and personal care industry over the last generation, it is easy for those with more than two decades of experience within the industry to see the massive changes that have taken place.

If one takes an even longer view, cosmetics and personal care production and distribution has transformed from a craft based artisan trade a hundred years ago, to the very eptimany of our commercial society today, an industry that fully embodies pure commercialism.

This is reflected throughout all parts of the industry, the raw materials used, production, regulation, logistics, marketing, promotion, selling, and not at least the people involved within the industry today.

cosmetics01_400The cosmetic industry once consisted of people who were generationally involved, often passing down businesses from father to son, and onto son again. These people had the products running through their blood metaphorically, and generally worked within an industry, and business, making the products they had great passion for,  year in and year out. The industry had a guild approach, as is seen by many of the cosmetic chemist societies that were originally formed upon this guild approach. 

Today these societies are full of people who are not loyal to companies and what they do within them, but to their professions. They are chemists who will work for the companies that offer the best pay and conditions. They are chemists who major in marketing. They are chemists who administrate. What  more, the industry is full of people with an "MBA" mentality, embedded with the belief that modern marketing will win over all, with the loss of passion that once was.

A product is now a campaign, a means, a way to grow and is seen in terms of market share, rather than being something that is loved and cherished by its family based producer.

And that's what happened, the family based producer has almost disappeared in favor of a multinational brand conglomerate that has bought up any semblance of anything good, and moved production, administration and marketing off-shore. The family craft and passion based business gave way to the  multinational to the point where the whole industry may now be concentrated into the hands of no more than a dozen major corporations.

This applies to retailers as well. The age of the independent shop is gone, replaced by single buyer chains who run their own merchandising agendas. Worse still, many chains create partnerships with the brand based multinationals making shelf space very difficult for smaller companies to obtain.  This has occurred through pharmacy, supermarkets, department stores, and other specialty and discount outlets.  Markets are now super concentrated with very few alternative modes of distribution available.

Market concentration is also seen in the nature of today's chemical suppliers around the world. Small specialty producers and traders have mostly been bought out by the larger chemical companies. There are now fewer suppliers who can provide door service around. Many chemical supply agreements are now internationally based, where big likes to deal with big.

Concentration has been promoted by the regulators. Regulations have been put in place that require enormous amounts of capital to comply. In the United States it's very difficult to be a craft based  cosmetic maker in fear of breaking FDA regulations. And in Europe the cost of introducing a new raw material is prohibitive. Many well and truly accepted aromatic materials have been banned in the EU.

The added costs of regulation with the generally high labor rates in developed countries today has been pushing cosmetic production off-shore, leaving very little local industry around today.

The consequences of this are that there are fewer players, but bigger players within the industry. With a few exceptions, the family business has been the casualty.

Internationalization is now the deep basis of the cosmetic and personal care industry. Brands are generally global in their application. Buying is also global, and there is little room for local innovation.

All this has resulted in the building up of high barriers to entry for anybody wanting to do something enterprising within the cosmetic and personal care industry. Market concentration, limited access and little support for new companies from chemical suppliers, and the high costs of regulatory compliance prevent almost anybody being entrepreneurial within the industry.

Perhaps the greatest change within the cosmetic and personal care industry has been technology. We are heading into the era of targeted treatments, where for example hyaluronic acids, peptides, polymers, silica, and specific proteins are used in anti-aging processes. We are also beginning to see the influence of stem cell research in new products that are aimed at invigorating skin and hair.

This is rapidly taking the industry into the age of physio and psycho-pharmacology, where cosmetics and personal care products will seek to act both physiologically and psychologically in enhancing peoples cognitive, emotional, and physical wellbeing. These are primarily feature enhancing and through "product theming", mood altering cosmetics.

The cosmetics and personal care products of today are designed to remove emotional pain. They assist people to see themselves in ways they want to be perceived. Cosmetic and personal care products are successfully modifying peoples sense of themselves.

In a world of 'photoshop' models displaying perfect features, peoples aspirations have become envious of perfection, where physio and psycho pharmacology steps in. Technology has integrated with product and brand themes, which only the large companies can adopt and support within the marketplace.

However on the negative side that can also be seen as a source of reduced social empathy on the part of today's society.

These trends within the cosmetic and personal care industry resemble Aldous Huxley's Brave New World which presents a dystopian society in which the mass distribution of soma enables the masters of the World-State to systematically control the citizenry, and maintain a strict and compliant social order. Cosmetics and personal care products are taking Huxley's fiction to new realities that are changing the very nature of people around the world, which is arguably going on today.

 However from the positive point of view, today's cosmetics and personal care products give an individual a right to self recreation. In this regards, cosmetics and personal care products are almost a type of therapy and exhibit some sense of spirituality replacement mechanisms where personal development is itself a part of 'looking good' within the expectations of our neo-capitalist society.

In this way cosmetics and personal care products play a major role in defining what it means to be us.




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