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A Maslow pyramid for cosmetics - from needs to values

  • December 8, 2020

The celebrated psychologist Abraham Maslow taught that we humans are motivated by five levels of needs, ascending upwards in his famous pyramid.

In the class of basic needs, near the bottom of the pyramid, are safety and security. Once we are safe, next in importance to us are relationships and psychological factors such as self-esteem. Further on, at the top of the pyramid, the third category of needs relates to self-realisation, which includes fulfilling our potential, and engaging with moral or ‘transcendent’ issues.

Using a bit of imagination, we can think about cosmetics in terms of our hierarchy of needs.

We learned during the COVID crisis that products such as soap are fundamentally important in keeping us safe from infection. But more than this of course, our consumers would not buy our products if they were not sure they were safe – this is a primal need and will not be swapped for anything else.

And then, we know cosmetics make us more attractive to others. But they also make us feel better inside, or better about ourselves. They both help us interact with others, and to face the world with confidence. These psychological needs, halfway up the pyramid, are an underappreciated aspect of our industry.

What about Maslow’s last category, self-actualisation, and transcendence? I don’t claim cosmetics are fundamental in helping us achieve our potential (although they can contribute to it in terms of product choices for specific needs). In our modern industrial societies, where there is so much abundance, there is a clear and growing tendency for us to value things that cannot always be fulfilled by material possessions alone. This can be seen in wellness practices such as yoga and concern with nutrition. Very notably, it can be seen in the engagement with environmental issues so prevalent in our societies now. As such, our industry, like others, needs to respond to people’s values not just their needs. We are making very good progress in doing so. No doubt there is more we can do.

Earlier this year, Cosmetics Europe, together with BBC StoryWorks as producer, launched Essentials for Daily Life, a series of films which explore in greater depth what makes our industry tick. The series was based on the themes of People, Planet, Products. Many of the films touch on some of the issues I refer to above. This week we are taking the opportunity to look a little bit more closely at our themes in a series of three articles. The articles will look at issues such as how we make sure products are safe, how cosmetics help us feel better, and how our industry is tackling the challenge of environmental sustainability.

Abraham Maslow liked to talk of ‘the thrill of discovery’. While we can’t promise thrills (although I can assure you there are some in the films), our hope in presenting these articles is that readers will discover a few things, and look at our industry with fresh eyes.


John Chave, Director General, Cosmetics Europe

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