‘Free From’ Competitors?

“Unable to find skincare products free from parabens, petroleum derivatives and SLS, our founder decided to create her own!”

I have lost count of the number of press releases we at Skins Matter have received over the years containing variations of the above sentence. Quite often a first-time pregnancy seems to be the life trigger for a new ‘free from’ formulator to get cracking in her natural cosmetic laboratory, but sometimes it’ll be a newly developed skin sensitivity, perhaps in one of her children.

Either way, I’m afraid we’ve rather reached the point of no return with such claims.

If you are unable to find ‘free from’ skincare products in the market, then I’m afraid you can’t possibly have looked very hard. There are countless natural cosmetics producers, both large and small, now in business and our master mailing list contains 800 brands, these being just from UK and Ireland. Bloggers such as Sugarpuffish uncover new small producers on a weekly if not daily basis, and tend to cast their net wider, including to North America and mainland Europe, where thousands of other brands lie waiting to be discovered. Natural health stores carry shelves groaning with ‘free from’ skincare, and supermarkets such as Waitrose are starting to increasingly stock them.

So why, when launching a new brand, do their founders so often deny that all of the above exists? It was believable perhaps six, seven years ago; but is believable no longer. Manufacturers: honesty is your selling point in this market. Honesty in ingredients, honesty in their derivation, honesty in absent ingredients, honesty in your promise of ethical values. So why risk all that with a spurious claim in your marketing material?

I wonder whether new start-ups make such claims because they don’t want to be seen as following the herd? By denying any bandwagon exists, do they feel protected from accusations of trying to hop on board it?

It would be a pity if this were so, as, although ‘free from’ is expanding hugely, from our experience of running various free from food sites, there is always, always room for an innovative brand for consumers to get excited about. Ilumi is a good recent example: a brand with a wide range of products, including lots of ambient long-life ready meals for the store cupboard, which are free of all key food allergens. Bloggers and food allergics have mainly welcomed them with open arms, and I’ve yet to see any bandwagon accusation levelled at them.

Let’s be clear here: we do want to see more launches, more innovation, more products on the market, more growth in ‘free from’ skincare, as well as more consumer literacy on the subject of cosmetic ingredients. We love ‘free from’ skincare and we care about ingredients. We’re thrilled when a new brand launches, and only wish them well.

But making as if you’re unique for shunning petrochemicals or one of a rare breed for side-stepping parabens is a foolish marketing manoeuvre, which insults clued-up journalists, natural beauty bloggers, ethical consumers and, yes, competitors too.

It’s a big, huge market – embrace that reality and try to find some other reason why your products have arrived. Your sales pitch should concern your brand and your products, not the imagined inadequacy of the competition. Have a strong USP – or even a YouSP, in that it should be about You and Your brand. If you’re claiming your range is so good, that’s great – you have to believe in the products, after all – but tell us why it’s so good. Tell us about those terrific ingredients, those ethical values, those ‘free from’ qualities which will be such a help to those with skincare sensitivities.

Please don’t tell us how supposedly empty or uninspiring the market is, when it quite transparently has never been healthier.


  1. Polly

    Good post. Of course, some people founded their companies a long time ago, when natural products WERE a lot harder to find. Also, there are a lot of products out there that market themselves as natural (which I guess shows how attractive the natural market now is, with mainstream companies trying to get in on it!) when they are anything but, so the choice is perhaps less huge than first appears!
    I totally agree that honest marketing is essential. In fact, I wrote a blog post myself along those lines:

    1. Alex (Post author)

      Thanks Polly. And absolutely – some did found their companies a long time ago, but it’s the ‘new launch’ press releases that we receive making these claims that are particularly frustrating – I should have made more clear that’s what I was referring to, rather than established brands.
      And I agree with you re: the oft-quoted 60% figure. It really depends on the skin, and the chemical in question.

  2. Sarah

    I never gave this much consideration but now you mention it you have got me thinking. I do not necessarily look at the age of the company when I’m searching on the web. I agree with Polly some have been around for a while but perhaps only now being discovered? If I look at it from a costumer perspective (rather than a blogger) it makes no difference what the back story is I’m only interested in the ingredients.

    1. Alex (Post author)

      Yep, some brands of course have been around some time and may be discovered late, and of course such claims will probably have been perfectly valid then. But when we hear of a new brand launching this year or last year making the claim, it really doesn’t add up. We don’t think it benefits them, either. It makes us sceptical of them – and we don’t want to be sceptical of brands entering the market. We want to support them, encourage them, and tell our readers about why they’re innovative, original and worth exploring. Brands need to help us by highlighting these qualities, not focusing on the supposed poverty of the ‘free from’ market. As you say, quite agree that ingredients are the most important – but we’re also desperate for innovation too. We see quite a lot of very similar products sometimes, distinguished only by branding / packaging. Something ‘different’ (both in backstory and ingredients!) will catch our eye! 🙂

  3. Alix Cockcroft

    With so many products on the market already, what I would like to see is something pretty basic, not a cream with a list of ingredients a mile long, however good they are. As someone who suffers from severe dermatitis which requires me to coat my entire body with grease of some sort every night, and sometimes during the day in addition, I can only give a sarcastic “Huh!” every time I read another ecstatic review of yet another wonderful moisturizer which costs £30 for 50ml. That might last me 2 days if I was lucky!

    1. Alex (Post author)

      Have you tried something like pure natural shea butter? I will ask our followers on Twitter to make a suggestion …

    2. Alex (Post author)

      Tweeterers have suggested Balm Balm and Balmology – although both may not quite be affordable enough for your purposes …

  4. Alix Cockcroft

    Thanks for responses. I’m acually trying a shea-butter preparation at the moment, though not the pure stuff which might have been a better start. Coconut butter next on the list!

  5. Janice

    You are definitely right. Consumer literacy is the biggest issue why many fall victim of deceptive marketing strategies in skin products. I for one have very sensitive skin. For the products I use, even though I read the ingredients list, I am not familiar with everything they put in the list. I only know a few of the allergens I must avoid. It is hard not to be hooked or be caught in their trap especially in their tv and print ads with models and stars that claim to use their product to achieve their clear and fair skin complexion. Who wouldn’t want to be like them? I think responsible and honest marketing policies should be enforced by the government to protect the consumers.


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