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Innovation and Future Trends in the Cosmetics Industry


The European cosmetics industry plays a leading role in product development and is a science-driven and highly innovative sector. Our R&D programmes delve into all imaginable aspects of beauty and well-being, from investigating consumer behaviour and beauty aspirations, the biology of skin, hair, teeth and oral cavity, to new innovative technologies and bettering sustainable development methods.

Collectively, this helps to select and develop the best ingredients that are that are safe for humans and the environment, and to subsequently create or re-develop products that respond to the ever-changing expectations of consumers. Total expenditure on R&D in Europe is estimated at 2.35 billion Euros.

Innovation in our industry is not short-term. It can take over 5 years of innovative research and formulation to bring a new product to the market.

Nor is it static: every year, a quarter of all cosmetic products on the market are improved or are completely new. Patent activity is a useful indicator for innovation: a large proportion of patents granted in the EU are for our industry’s products (the record being 10% of all patents awarded in the EU in 2009)!

Although innovation in our industry is a constant process, revolutionary breakthroughs are rare. But we only need to look back a few years to appreciate how significant progress has been. Think of the thick and oily consistency of high-UV protection sunscreens 20 years ago. Or the difference that cosmetic science has made by discovering the underlying cause of dandruff (Malassezia), leading to drastically improved anti-dandruff formulas.

The role of science

We are a fast-moving consumer goods industry that is driven by science. What may seem as a simple improvement might at times represent a major scientific breakthrough. For example, it took 20 years of scientific advancement to remove the smell of ammonia from hair dye and there are at least 30 separate, scientific steps involved in the development of every new lipstick. It is through this step-wise process that scientists developed lipsticks with reduced oil content that retain their shine while providing a long-lasting finish.

The European cosmetics and personal care industry employs approximately 28,800 scientists from a wide range of disciplines including physics, microbiology, biology, dermatology, dentistry, toxicology, rheology, analytical chemistry and genetics. There are at least 77 scientific innovation facilities in Europe carrying research in relation to cosmetics.

On average, large industry companies have a product portfolio of around 10,000 different cosmetic products and reformulate around 25% to 30% of their products every year. Out of these reformulations, about 10% depend on ingredients that are new to the market or to the cosmetics industry. Large companies introduce around 80 new ingredients to their product portfolio each year, while SMEs introduce on average 22 (with 40 to 160 products in their portfolio).


Listed below are just a few further examples of the advances brought to our industry throughout the last century:

  • Sunscreens with broad, high performing and waterproof UV protection
  • Waterproof mascara that does not run in the rain or shower
  • Toothpastes that help prevent tooth decay and plaque
  • Hair-care products that have been developed for specific hair types and colours
  • Hair colorants with reduced allergy potential
  • Self-tanning products that provide natural non-streaky coverage
  • Deodorants that reduce unpleasant odours by allowing fewer bacteria to grow.
  • Antiperspirants that work inside the sweat gland to provide a dual action system that helps prevent perspiration and deodorise at the same time
  • Hair care products with ever improved anti-dandruff performance
  • Ingredients designed to inhibit the growth of microbial organisms in personal care formulations
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The latest trends

As impressive as innovations have been until now, the 21st century will represent a whole new horizon for scientific innovation in the cosmetics and personal care industry.

Some scientists are returning to traditional substances to create new formulations. For example, an extract from the root of panax notoginseng is believed to have been used as a herbal medicine centuries ago in the Ming Dynasty, and is now being adapted to help the skin’s natural defences.

On the other end of the scale, scientists are using materials at a molecular level (nanotechnology) to develop a whole new generation of products, not only for cosmetic products such as sun creams but also medicines, electronics and telecoms.

Here are just a few remarkable developments on the cards within the main product categories:

  • Sun care: Sunscreens containing a fixed ratio of UVB and UVA filters; products with light and transparent textures, spray-on sunscreens up to SPF50+.
  • Body care: Cosmetic patches as delivery systems; increased adoption of organic and natural products; scientific advances in sweat management.
  • Decorative cosmetics: Natural, mineral-based cosmetics offering full-but-light coverage; foundations containing skin-clearing benefits; products that adapt to personal features.
  • Skin care: stem-cell research that helps address skin at the molecular level, focusing on epidermal DNA protection. 
  • Oral care: New understanding of plaque as a three-dimensional biofilm is enabling development of a new generation of oral hygiene products to fight dental plaque.
  • Perfumes: Major improvements in analytical methods allow better knowledge and usage of natural ingredients.
  • Hair care: Particles containing emulsions improve the delivery of active ingredients and enable the use of natural and organic substances as ingredients; innovative anti-ageing technology uses hair keratin to repair and rebuild ageing hair structures.

For further detail on innovations within consumer safety in areas like allergies, read Cosmetic products: safe by design.

To learn more about innovation in alternatives to animal testing read about our work on promoting science and research.

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How consumers are driving innovation

Ultimately, it is consumers’ desire for new, better and safer products, delivered by dynamic and responsible companies, that drives our need to constantly innovate. Yet with every new innovation, the capacity to innovate further becomes more challenging. Gone are the times when all that was required was making a product less irritable to the skin or making it smell better.

Different forces are driving consumer expectations

Though the world is more and more interconnected, paradoxically it is also more and more local and individualistic: consumers are seeking products and services that are personal to them. For our industry, this means meeting demands for products tailored to diverse individual factors such as age, gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs, geographies and climate, lifestyle, health and wellbeing.

Consumers are increasingly conscious of the environment, and the social and ethical ramifications of consumption and production. They expect businesses to share their concerns, which means we as an industry must commit to a responsible use of resources in development and production, across our entire value chains, which gives rise to a whole new level of innovation across all areas of our industry.

Read more about how we are driving sustainable development in our industry

In our fast-moving world, we want to ensure a “future proof” environment conducive to a thriving industry that enables us to continue to deliver to the expectation of consumers. Partnerships with other key stakeholders are key. We have evolved our dialogue with stakeholders across many topics and aim to develop partnerships for change that enable policy and regulatory solutions for our industry to adapt and flourish in a changing world.

Specifically, we offer to partner with relevant stakeholders around:

  • Upholding scientific, risk-based, consumer safety regulation.
  • Ensuring an enabling framework for innovation embedding the “Innovation Principle” in policy making.
  • Supporting freedom to pursue economic activity best suited to business models in an omnichannel trading environment.
  • Driving international regulatory convergence towards a harmonisation of cosmetics regulations, on the basis of best practices.
  • Promoting sustainable consumption and best sustainable business practices.


Learn more about our partnerships and goals in our Partnership for Change document.

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Innovation to shelf: The story of cosmetic product development

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