Table of contents
The term “clean beauty” has surged exponentially in Google search volume, jumping from a 22% increase from 2018-2019 to a 41% increase from 2019-2020.1 On social media, the hashtag #cleanbeauty has seen plenty of use, with Instagram containing over 4.4 million posts and Tiktok boasting over 499 million views of posts using the tag. Both of these trends reflect an acceleration in consumer demand for clean beauty products and information. Sephora, Ulta, and Target, recognizing the potential of the product category, have built dedicated, prominent category pages around clean beauty offerings.
But even with all of this buzz, it’s been hard to come to a consensus on what “clean beauty” ultimately stands for. From Drunk Elephant’s “Suspicious 6” introduced in 20122 to FabFitFun’s No-No Ingredient List launched in 2021,3 brands and retailers have often decided on their own definitions. The United States FDA is of little help, its website saying: “The law does not require cosmetic products and ingredients, other than color additives, to have FDA approval before they go on the market.”4 No definition or ironclad guidelines are to be found. Companies like Goop are pushing for more safety regulation, arguing that “there are 11 cosmetic ingredients currently banned by the FDA, while in the EU, over 1,300 ingredients are banned. Companies operating in the U.S. face much less stringent regulations.”5
But nature abhors a vacuum, and the clean beauty industry is no different. Stepping in to fill this void, clean beauty retailer Credo, launched in 2015, has made huge strides in establishing accepted standards and practices for the category. While some brands and retailers have pushed back, arguing that “clean beauty messaging is either misinformed or basically laced with fear-focused rhetoric,”6 Annie Jackson, the founder of Credo, speaks about how “clean beauty at its highest expression is about safety, sourcing, sustainability and ethics, and being really transparent about all those things.” The retailer has positioned itself as an authority on the subject and a key partner for brands. And with more clean beauty brands launching each year, forging a partnership with Credo has meant a world of difference when it comes to getting noticed by bigger retail partners and consumers.
01. Glossy analysis of Google Trends 02. “Drunk Elephant’s Tiffany Masterson: ‘I want to be accessible to the consumer’”, Glossy.com 03. “FabFitFun releases its version of a clean beauty no-no ingredient list”, Glossy.com 04. “FDA Authority Over Cosmetics: How Cosmetics Are Not FDA-Approved, but Are FDA-Regulated,” FDA.com 05. “Clean Beauty—and Why It Matters”, Goop.com 06. “Beauty & Wellness Briefing: Is ‘clean beauty’ going through an identity crisis?”, Glossy.com
Credo’s path to authority on clean beauty
As growth in the clean beauty space continues to accelerate, clean beauty brands will have to choose retailers to best fit their needs. Among the major clean beauty platforms — a list that includes Credo, Detox Market and Follain — based on Glossy’s estimates of annual revenue Credo earned the top spot in 2020 with the highest estimated revenue, leading the pack with a 5% higher estimated revenue than its closest competitor, Detox Market.7
A time-based comparison of Credo and Detox Market’s list of carried brands shows a steady increase in the number of brands carried since 2019.8 Both retailers predominantly carried skin-care brands, but each also offered a growing assortment of brands across other categories such as color cosmetics, body, fragrance and supplements.9
But while there were similarities in the types of brands carried, the two platforms seemed to have different effects on those brands’ trajectories. Brands that retailed through Credo for three years and not through Detox Market during the same time period saw a higher increase in average Google search volume than those that partnered with Detox Market alone. In other words, brands that benefitted from Credo distribution saw better results when it came to increasing awareness.
n = 70 Credo brands carried for 3 years, 52 Detox Market brands carried for 3 years
Beyond its merchandising assortment, one possible reason could lie in Credo’s strategic decision made in 2018 to partner with Hero Technologies to create an online live shopping experience, Credo Live. It allowed “in-store experts to liaise with e-comm shoppers craving that same experience.”10 The early partnership with Hero Technologies paid off when Covid-19 hit the U.S. in 2020.
Another successful pre-pandemic move involved Credo’s launch of its first clean beauty brand summit in 2019.11 The retailer invited brands for an open discussion and introduced new clean beauty guidelines for its distribution standards. Taking this authoritative stance marked a turning point for its position in the clean beauty space.
By early 2020, Credo had caught the attention of Ulta Beauty. That resulted in a partnership positioning a Credo-curated product selection within Ulta Beauty’s Conscious Beauty assortment in its stores and online. That furthered Credo’s status as an authority in the sphere. “They have so much credibility and, as the biggest beauty retailer [in the U.S.], this is the way [for both of us] to take the clean [beauty] industry to the next level,” said Monica Arnaudo, chief merchandising officer at Ulta about Credo.12
In 2020, “Credo committed that it would eliminate single-use masks and wipes and that its brand partners would be required to use 50% PCR plastic or other sustainable materials by June 2023.”13 With their Conscious Beauty collaboration with Credo, Ulta Beauty also announced its commitment to sustainable packaging, pointing to Credo’s influence in setting standards for clean beauty. In tandem with Credo’s new policy, “Credo will connect brand partners with suppliers that have been vetted by Credo and can help the brands make sustainable transitions.”14 By meeting Credo’s initial distribution requirements, brands had access to the retailer’s network to stay ahead of competition in the clean beauty space.
As Covid forced store closures, Credo had the ability to quickly pivot its in-store experience to Credo Live, seeing a 10% increase in conversion through the channel during the early pandemic.15 Many of Credo’s competitors, including Detox Market, did not provide the same service until later in 2020 when Hero announced its Hero for Shopify partnership providing a more accessible solution.16 That early 2018 partnership with Hero Technologies allowed Credo to be a first mover in online live shopping within the clean beauty category, providing a vital solution to its brands at a pivotal time.
- Credo has cemented itself among its peers as an authority figure on clean beauty, and its partnership with beauty giant Ulta Beauty has further solidified its position in the clean beauty space.
- Its early livestream technology investment and decision to include brands in its clean beauty summit discussion on new guidelines have propelled the retailer ahead of its competitors — and carried its partner brands along with it.
- Credo’s authority in clean beauty serves as a launch pad for clean beauty brands seeking to grow awareness.
07. Source: Glossy estimate based on analysis of zoominfo.com, growjo.com, and owler.com 08. Source: Glossy analysis of Wayback Machine (Graph in appendix) 09. Source: Glossy analysis of brand sites (Graph in appendix) 10. “Breakthrough startups and influencer-led campaigns shine at the Glossy Awards”, Glossy.com 11. “Credo Beauty hosts first summit focused on clean beauty guidelines”, Glossy.com 12. “Ulta and Sephora bet on the original purveyors of the clean beauty movement”, Glossy.com 13. “Beauty retailers dip a toe into sustainability, but fall short of sweeping change”, Glossy.com 14. “Credo rolls out new sustainability standards for brand partners”, Glossy.com 15. “Coronavirus closings create virtual consultation uptick in beauty”, Glossy.com 16. “Introducing HERO® for Shopify” Usehero.com
The Credo effect on brands
Credo’s site includes an “Only at Credo” category that displays brands with exclusive distribution through the retailer. While even brands without exclusive distribution saw benefits from having their products carried by Credo, the platform’s effect is nonetheless clearest on brands that have relied on it more heavily.
Among exclusively distributed brands, Kinship, a Gen-Z focused clean beauty brand, saw great benefits from the partnership. Kinship started exclusively retailing through Credo in June 2020.17 By August 2020, Credo carried the brand over to Ulta, and Kinship expanded distribution via the Conscious Beauty collaboration between the two retailers.18 Through Credo’s connection with Ulta, Credo funneled Kinship into Ulta’s distribution.
Along with access to Credo’s partnership network, Kinship also gained broader brand awareness as demonstrated by an increase in average Google search volume following its launch with Credo. One year in, Kinship showed incredible growth from its Credo partnership and earned an investment from early-stage investment firm True Beauty Ventures. At the time, the firm said its prerequisites for investments include “brands that are beyond proof of concept and have demonstrated measurable growth; usually around $1-2MM of sales [and] good unit economics to start with a clear path to overall profitability within the first 1-2 years post-investment,”19 noting Kinship’s growth over its time with Credo.
Other brands that distributed with Credo and had no distribution through rival retail platforms Detox Market and Follain also saw strong results from their partnership with Credo. After their launch with Credo in March 2019, Corpus Natural Deodorant saw an immediate increase in search volume and has continued to have higher average search activity since its addition to the retailer’s portfolio.
As seen above, Credo’s guidelines set a standard in the industry, and brands that meet that standard earn a stamp of approval that shows the world that they’re walking the walk. In 2019, Credo announced its Fragrance Transparency Policy that required brands “to categorize the source of their fragrances for every product… [and]… challenged brand partners to fully disclose all fragrance ingredients.”20
Phlur, a clean fragrance brand, highlighted the importance of Credo’s guidance: “In 2020, more retailers will follow Credo and institute new guidelines around ingredient disclosure in fragrances, and more brands will make the smart and proactive move to do the same”21 said Eric Korman, founder of Phlur fragrance about Credo.
Phlur retailed through Credo prior to the new policy announcement, but the year of Credo’s new policy (2019), Phlur enjoyed its all-time highest average Google search volume and maintained a search volume higher than pre-Covid as the pandemic affected the U.S. throughout 2020. By early 2021, Phlur’s success attracted The Center, an incubator and investor, to acquire the brand. The Center’s founder Ben Bennett linked Phlur’s success to Credo’s transparency policy: “Phlur was really one of the first brands to say… ‘We think it’s more important to fully disclose every ingredient in our products including in the construction of fragrance oil.’”22
While by no means the only factor in these brands’ success, as Credo continues to flex its ability to set key standards, associated brands such as Phlur, have benefitted.
- Brands that exclusively distributed through Credo saw benefits by gaining access to Credo’s network and increased awareness by association with Credo.
- Credo continues to set guidelines influencing the clean beauty space, and brands have taken note of the importance of Credo’s guidance and have seen the benefits of following the retailer’s policies.
- In cases where brands distributed through Credo and not its clean beauty competitors, brands saw improvement in awareness through an increase of Google search volume and benefited from proximity to the retailer.
17. “Say Hello to Kinship, Only at Credo”, Milled.com 18. “Ulta ‘democratizes’ clean beauty with Gen Z-focused Kinship launch”, Glossy.com 19. “MEET THE MONEY: TRUE BEAUTY VENTURES”, Beautymatter.com 20. Fragrance. Smells so good, but there’s more…, Credo.com 21. Predictions on the biggest trends in beauty in 2020, Glossy.com 22. “EXCLUSIVE: The Center Acquires Phlur, the Clean Fragrance Company”, Yahoo.com
The future of clean beauty
Based on Glossy’s analysis, the term “clean beauty” is expected to see an average increase of Google search volume by 34% year-over-year in the coming year. With an estimated growth from $5.4 billion in 2020 to $11.6 billion by 2027, the clean beauty market has an expected growth value of $874.12 million per year. Both data points signal that consumer interest — and spending — will continue to surge.
Related clean beauty ingredient terms — paraben free, fragrance free, sulfate free and non-toxic — also continue to see an increase in growth based on their rising Google search volume over the last five years. While contributing to overall growth in clean beauty awareness, increases in these specific terms also signal a maturing of consumers’ understanding of clean beauty trends, indicating to marketers the importance of more detailed and ingredient-based messaging.
But as clean beauty authorities like Credo get more specific, they’re likely to experience more pushback. Certain ingredient policies have come under fire, particularly in the case of “paraben free” standards.
Most clean beauty companies set guidelines in the form of an exclusionary list of ingredients, such as Credo’s “The Dirty List”.23 The exclusion of parabens (“chemicals commonly used as preservatives in cosmetic products to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and mold”)24 by clean beauty companies has divided the industry, with “various people and groups, like Dobos and Cancer Research U.K., [saying] the discussion over parabens is fear-mongering and unsubstantiated. [Meanwhile] others like Credo Beauty and Goop [say] the inclusion of parabens is at best reckless and at worst injurious.”25
And while clean beauty companies set new standards on ingredient usage, many chemists and formulators oppose “clean” standards altogether, calling them marketing ploys. Perry Romanowski, a cosmetic chemist and founder of cosmetic chemist resource website, Chemists Corner, notes the cherry-picking habits of clean beauty brands: “Clean beauty [brands] said, ‘We’re going to say some synthetic ingredients are good, but some are bad.’ Clean beauty is about picking the good stuff that is synthetic, but mostly natural, and is a way to make products that work but also have the allure of being [seen as] natural.”26 Without universally accepted standards or a governing body, the perception will continue to be that clean beauty retailers like Credo define “clean” to best suit themselves.
Regardless of the criticism, “consumers and companies alike would be hard-pressed to find a new brand launching today that isn’t ‘clean’ or an established player that isn’t trying to reformulate to some clean standard.”27
With an increase in both search behavior and spending around clean beauty, brands will continue to compete for consumer attention and awareness. Within the space, Credo and similar platforms do seem to offer an advantage for new or less-known brands aiming to increase awareness and capitalize quickly on the growing movement. And compared to its competitors, brands carried by Credo seem to have gone on to increase brand awareness and stay ahead in the clean beauty space through Credo’s guidance. Credo’s guidance has extended to other retailers following their assortment as well, or as Jackson puts it, “the pattern has been, Credo launches a brand and three months later, we see it at other retailers.”
- Despite criticisms, clean beauty will continue to grow and increase in popularity and market value size.
- Related clean beauty terms have also seen increased awareness based on an increase in Google search volume indicating attention shift towards the topic.
- Credo offers a space where brands can increase brand awareness and capitalize on the growing clean beauty market.
23. “The Dirty List”, Credo.com 24. “Parabens in cosmetics”, FDA.gov 25. “‘There’s a stigma’: Clean beauty insiders weigh in on the ‘paraben-free’ label”, Glossy.com 26. “Teledermatology brand Apostrophe pushes back on clean beauty industry”, Glossy.com 27. “Beauty & Wellness Briefing: Has beauty reached peak ‘clean’?”, Glossy.com