Nature is Not White: Why the Natural Beauty Industry Needs a New Look
Updated: Oct 7
Written in collaboration with Heather Grant
White has long been the signature colour of science, associated with spotless lab coats and hospital walls. It makes sense that this association has seeped into the skincare industry creating a preference for white and clear products.
What doesn’t make sense, however, is that with the rapid growth of demand for natural ingredients in the beauty industry, many brands are still focusing on keeping formulas to this one colour.
Why? Because nature isn’t white. From mud on the ground to fruits in the trees, you’ll be stumped to find bright white in the wild. Look around, and you’ll see faces of all kinds of colours too. The Fitzpatrick Skin Phototypes, for instance, classify the range of human skin types according to their colour and reaction to sunlight.
It’s time the natural beauty industry and consumers alike embrace the colours of nature and reap the benefits of other shades. In this article, we’ll explore how white gained its clean connotations, why natural beauty needs a new look, and the natural ingredients we create here at Kaffe Bueno.
The rise in natural beauty
How white came to mean clean
An argument for inclusive beauty
Skincare’s colourful makeover
Kaffe Bueno: Find beauty in coffee
The rise of natural beauty
We’re in the age of the informed buyer, where consumers need to know more about what they’re buying than its function and cost. A 2018 survey found that 65% of consumers expect that a brand will transparently disclose ingredient sources, and 54% are concerned about environmental impact. A more recent study found that 45% of Gen Z consumers surveyed prioritise sustainability over price.
People want to know what the ingredients are, where they came from, and their environmental impact. Hence the growing popularity of ‘natural beauty’ or ‘green beauty’: skincare and cosmetics made with ingredients from a natural origin that aren’t harmful to people or the planet.
As sustainability has moved from a niche selling point to a necessity, major industry leaders have looked at ways to make their formulas more natural. Rituals have pledged to make all its products at least 90% natural by 2023, L’Oreal has committed to being almost 100% natural by 2030, and P&G (Procter & Gamble) are working to provide more products with naturally sourced ingredients.
At the same time, product developers, formulators, and marketing teams across the industry insist on sticking to the century-old standard of white or transparent formulations. It’s a contradiction. Nature is rarely white or transparent. Natural ingredients are often bleached to achieve this colour. So why do they keep making natural products this way?
How white came to mean clean
The reason why white is favoured in the cosmetic and wellness industry is because of its deep-rooted associations with (cleanliness, purity, and health. We all want clean and healthy skin, after all. But the way white got its power isn’t such a pure story.
Courtney Humphries, in an article for Nautilus, describes the colour’s roots as a religious symbol of virtue, which evolved into a signifier of bodily purity. As dirt is easily visible on white clothing, it became an emblem of cleanliness and wealth in European fashion. It was even believed that white clothes would draw dirt from the skin and cleanse the body.
In another article, Mark Peplow points out that at the same time white clothing gained popularity among European elites, colonists encountered other groups in America and West Africa. The ‘white means clean’ symbolism played into the racist ideologies of the time.
During the 20th century, the colour’s connotation with ‘clean’ took it to the realm of science and health, where the picture of white soaps and pristine uniforms became the norm. In terms of beauty and skincare, then, it's no wonder the industry hooked onto the popular misconception that white and translucent products are the purest, healthiest, and most effective of them all.
An argument for inclusive beauty
It’s clear the ‘white is clean’ mindset sends the wrong message. It suggests that any other colour is dirty, less pure. With its historic associations in mind, this brings us to the topic of inclusive beauty.
To create products to be used by people from every race and ethnicity, it's contradictory to stand behind it with the idea that only the colour white is clean, even if it’s an unconscious association.
More than that, a myriad of colourful natural ingredients that have been traditionally used by people of colour have, until recently, been perceived as unclean and ineffective. Take turmeric, for example. You can’t get more colourful than this yellow-orange spice. Though it’s only now making its way into the mainstream, featuring in the beauty pages of popular magazines, for centuries its been used as a skincare remedy in Asian Communities.
Amanda Mitchell writes in a Refinery29 article, ‘‘the trendy ingredients of modern day are just things that have worked for us when there wasn’t something that existed on the market’’. The article goes on to describe how people of colour are often shamed for being ‘dirty’ due to their cultural beauty rituals.
It’s time the industry welcomes the full rainbow of ingredients in their natural glory.
Skin care’s colourful makeover
Many professionals still stand by the argument that consumers perceive non-white products to be less clean, or that something is off with them. But is this an outdated belief they continue to tell each other, rather than asking consumers?
Look at multipurpose products, such as CC and BB creams, for example. They’re selling point is the fact they’re not white, but tinted, and yet they’re still sought after for their colour coverage, sun protection, and even anti-ageing benefits.
L’oreal, for example, has developed a tinted cosmetic sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection. The sunscreen is suitable for dark skin photoypes 5 and 6 on the Fitzpatrick scale. They describe how consumers felt the white cast left by traditional sunscreen left their skin looking ‘ashy’ and ‘greyish’, which is due to the zinc oxide and titanium oxide, reflecting the demand for non-white natural ingredients.
Consider consumers’ growing concern with knowing the ingredients in their products too. Forbes found that over 90% of consumers say brand transparency is important to their purchase decision, and the natural colour of a product can vouch for its authenticity. ‘‘The green of avocado oil, the orange of Buriti oil, or the purple of elderberry extract are all signs that your product is loaded with precious skincare ingredients such as beta-carotene or polyphenols’, says Lorraine Dallmeier, biologist and chartered environmentalist.
The compounds responsible for nature’s hues are often the ones to thank for the ingredient’s efficacy and bioactivity. Whether it’s black charcoal, green tea, or, our favourite, brown coffee.
Kaffe Bueno: Find Beauty in Coffee
Did you know the beverage that gets us up and going every morning, comes from a plant that makes the perfect ingredient for natural beauty and personal care products? Packed with beneficial compounds, coffee can help your skin in many ways.
At Kaffe Bueno, we repurpose coffee by-products to produce ingredients that meet the rising demand for natural skincare:
KAFFOIL™ is the 1st upcycled cosmetic raw material derived from coffee by-products. It can be used in creams, lotions, and serums for its sun protection, anti-ageing, and skin barrier enhancing properties. It’s extracted in a non-intrusive, environmentally friendly way, preserving a whole spectrum of bioactive molecules.
KAFFIBRE™ can be used in products such as scrubs, masks, soaps, and cleansers. The natural exfoliant can replace microplastics, reducing waste washed up into oceans.
And, after years of research and development, we’re excited to launch 3 new products too:
KAFFAGE™ is a multifunctional upcycled coffee active. It’s SPF boosting, antioxidant, and mimics skin tone, making it an ideal ingredient for self-tanners, BB creams, and tinted moisturisers.
KAFFAIR™, also derived from coffee, is an active ingredient for hair and scalp treatments. It cleanses hair fibres from environmental pollutants and protects the hair and scalp from UV damage.
KA-ZUN™ is our solution to sunscreen's dreaded white cast. It consists of Zinc Oxide molecule coated in Kaffe Bueno’s bioactive fibre, which boosts the SPF and reduces the white cast.
Oh, and none of them are white. We embrace their coffee-coloured beauty and the holistic benefits that come with it.
Now before you go, we have a challenge for you. Gather all your skin care products and count how many are white. Most of them? It might be time to invite more colour into your personal care routine.