The rise and rise of herbal cosmetics

Low side effects and growing awareness about long-term benefits are fueling the growth of herbal beauty products in India. A report.

The concept of beauty and cosmetics dates back to various ancient civilizations. Cleopatra, the legendary Egyptian queen from the 1st century B.C. was known for her flawless beauty and famously used milk and rosewater while bathing. Ayurveda, the Indian medicinal science, and a rich reservoir of herbal remedies, prescribes several easily available herbs that can enhance natural beauty.

Demand drivers for herbal

Over the past few years, a range of factors have contributed to the growth of herbal cosmetics. Low or no side effects, growing awareness about their long-term benefits, changing lifestyles, rising assertiveness of the middle class buyer, and the increasing disposable incomes of households have fueled growth of the herbal beauty products market in India.

From the first store set up in 1971 by Shahnaz Husain, India’s Czarina of herbal beauty products, to multinationals and Gurus like Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, everyone is looking in their backyard for herbal remedies. Future Group is also looking at acquiring Iraya to enter in the Indian herbal beauty space which is currently dominated by Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Ayurved. Patanjali sells ayurvedic products worth more than ₹ 10,000 crore annually. Iraya sells a range of personal care products, and its brands include Hair for Sure and D’Free.

A huge market

According to a research by Coherent Market Insights, the herbal beauty products market was valued at $91.99 billion (₹ 6.26 lakh crore, approximately) in 2016, and is expected to expand at a CAGR of 4.71 percent in terms of revenue, over the forecast period of 2017 to 2025. Asia Pacific is the dominant region in the global herbal beauty products market and was valued at $32.56 billion (₹ 2.21 lakh crore, approximately) in 2016. In India the herbal beauty products market is already a $2-billion market, growing at close to 20 percent. This spells good news for Indian exports. An article by Economic Times pegs India as the second largest exporter of herbal cosmetics, after China.

It is not just the beauty products that attract consumers to herbal products. Growing cases of skin conditions like eczema and various other ailments like spondylitis, arthritis, etc., have also led to patients walking the herbal path. Kottakkal Arya Vaidya Sala in Kerala, the leading name in Ayurvedic treatments, has been seeing a surge in tourists from across the world. Over 2.65 lakh tourists from the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries that visited India in 2017, and the nation was deemed as the most sought-after destination for medical / wellness for tourists from the GCC countries.

Navigating the maze of claims

Even though herbal based ingredients assure several advantages, these green herbal shoots have a shade of grey too. The first question that pops up is: What really qualifies as herbal? Conscious buyers who look at the ingredients with a microscopic lens will be surprised to find that many of the herbal products are fortified by synthetic material. For instance, the base material in soaps or the colouring pigments and fragrance could be synthetic.

In an interview with Economic Times, Ram A Vishwakarma, director, Indian Institute Of Integrative Medicine-Jammu, the oldest institute under the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, working on pharmaceutical and cosmetics research, highlighted the dire need for companies to offer a modern scientific proof to herbal products.

Guidelines and compliances

In 1993, the World Health Organization (WHO) published guidelines to define basic criteria for evaluating the quality, safety, and efficacy of herbal products that could be used to assist national or regional regulatory authorities, research organizations, and herbal manufacturers. In 2003, a global survey of international health authorities indicated that the most responding member countries (92 countries, or 65 percent) had regulations covering herbal products, whereas 85 countries reported having a registration system for herbal products. Germany has the most advanced herbal medicine processing technology and most developed herbal market in Europe. It is also the single largest market in Europe.

A uniform body needed

In India, the regulations are complex with primarily three regulatory bodies looking into the efficacy of the products. Herbal products are governed by the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940. The Drug Controller of India is the authority for specified categories of drugs while the Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy) has introduced strict guidelines for ancient codified ayurvedic preparations. Then there is Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) for herbal dietary supplements that have to be ingested. Additionally, French certification body ECOCERT also has an arm in India and certifies natural/herbal products.

However, with rising exports, growing awareness and demand for herbal products, it is time for India to look at international guidelines and set up a uniform body to regulate all types of herbal cosmetics and drugs. The establishment of such regulatory body will help improve quality standards of herbal ingredients used in cosmetics and cosmeceuticals and lead to a strong consumer adoption of herbal cosmetics, cosmeceuticals and personal care products.