Sarah Parsons, writes for the respected Cosmetics Business website about the dairy beauty trend.
As an alternative to vegan skin care, these brands are proudly showing their sustainable farming credentials.
Who hasn’t been told as a child: drink your milk and you’ll develop strong bones? A developmental staple, rich in calcium and protein for growth, milk and dairy-based goods have long been marketed as a beneficial food group. But the beauty benefits were ignored by the masses, until recently.
According to market research firm Mintel over 1,500 beauty launches contained milk last year.
But for thousands of years milk has been celebrated for its healing and anti-ageing properties. So much so that ancient Egyptian queen Cleopatra’s beauty secret, according to ancient texts, is said to have included bathing in milk from 700 lactating donkeys, as did Poppaea Sabina, the wife of Roman Emperor Nero.
Even ancient philosophers heralded the benefits of bathing in milk: “It is generally believed that ass milk effaces wrinkles in the face, renders the skin more delicate, and preserves its whiteness,” wrote Pliny the Elder.
“It is a well-known fact, that some women are in the habit of washing their face with it seven times daily, strictly observing that number.”
While milk baths may have been a beauty tip for the rich and powerful of old, for modern skin care developers dairy ingredients are experiencing something of a revival.
Lorna Radford, cosmetic scientist and founder of formulation centre Enkos Developments, whose clients include Coty and Primark, explains to Cosmetics Business: “Animal milks contain a complex mixture of naturally occurring chemicals which can be utilised in whole or part by manufacturers to create a multitude of cosmetic ingredients.
“Animal milks, such as goat milk and donkey milk, are commonly used in skin care products, particularly in Asia.
“Cosmetic ingredient manufacturers also process animal milks in various ways to form new active ingredients. For example, there is a specific whey protein ingredient that contains a complex of natural signalling molecules from milk and various in vivo studies suggest that it can help with skin firming and elasticity.”
Laura Ball is UK Branch & Marketing Manager of MooGoo Skincare, whose range includes Skin Milk Udder Cream and contains milk protein to soothe damaged skin after chemotherapy.
She echoes Radford’s sentiment: “Studies have found that milk protein in a cream increased skin elasticity by around 20% compared with the same cream without it. The amino acid profile of milk protein is very similar to the natural moisturising factor of human sebum. We also use this ingredient in our hair products.
“Milk protein is easily absorbed by hair fibres and creates a protective protein layer. It also penetrates into every layer of the cuticle, which revitalises the hair’s natural protective layer by providing support where it’s needed. The result is protected and healthy hair.”
Put out to pasture
So if dairy is this beneficial, why was it put out to pasture? While versatile enough to be used across categories, the booming vegan beauty movement can be blamed for brands and developers looking elsewhere. Worldwide vegan cosmetics launches more than doubled over the past five years, according to Mintel. The global marketing firm revealed that new cruelty-free and vegan cosmetics launches increased by 175% from July 2013 to June 2018.
Meanwhile, Google searches for ‘vegan beauty’ in the UK have doubled every year since 2012 and Pinterest reported a 75% increase in vegan hair product ideas saved in 2018, as well as a 50% increase in both vegan make-up and vegan face mask ideas. Driven primarily by younger customers, brands of all sizes are tapping into the trend; most recently Avon unveiled its first vegan sub-brand Distillery.
“We are increasingly asked by brands to develop bespoke formulations that are cruelty-free and suitable for vegans,” says Radford. “There are so many personal care products that are suitable for vegans nowadays that it’s not surprising that consumers are starting to expect all new products to carry this claim, even if neither the brand owner nor the consumer follow a vegan lifestyle.”
On top of that, the growing vegan movement has impacted the dairy industry as sales of ‘alt-milk’, made from oats, almonds and coconuts, have surged 10% over the past two years (Mintel). Once a fridge staple, milk is rapidly falling out of fashion as the average person’s milk consumption in the UK has fallen 50% since the 1950s.
However, GlobalData’s consumer survey found that only 2% of consumers would be willing to describe their diet as vegan. And it’s this fluid approach to lifestyle choices that new body care brand Byre is betting on. The brainchild of Quentin Higham, Managing Director of Yardley London, the brand idea was pitched to parent company Wipro after the industry veteran was inspired by his dairy farmer grandfather.
In partnership with 200 British farms, Byre harnesses whey – the dairy industry annually wastes 870,000 tonnes of the by-product – and each supplier is Red Tractor certified to assure the safety and conditions of the animals. A percentage of Byre’s annual net sales will be donated to the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RABI) to help farming families in hardship.
“I do think dairy farmers are given ‘bad press’”, says Higham. “Many of them went out of business due to the unsustainable economics of producing milk and selling to the multiples [supermarkets].
“All of the farmers I know are passionate about the welfare of their dairy cows. They look to manage their farms on a sustainable model, whereby most of the animal feed is sourced from their own land. In fact, most dairy farmers are carbon neutral and they actively promote effective land management and diversity. I think we should celebrate rather than berate our dairy farmers.”
He continues: “I think it’s important to remember it is in every farmers’ interest to look after the land, to me they are the most qualified to be our country’s gatekeepers.”
Available from Sainsbury’s on 19 October, Higham believes that dairy-inspired products and vegan beauty can co-exist, under the overarching banned or cruelty-free. Initially launched as a three-strong line of body washes, conveniently called Full Cream, Semi-Skimmed and Skimmed, if successful, the brand is tipped to expand into lotions and hair care.
Radford argues that dairy-inspired brands are in a prime position to tap into the microbiome skin care trend sweeping the industry, complementing the upward trend for gut-friendly drinks such as kefir.
“There is a lot of new research into the skin microbiome happening at the moment. Instead of the traditional approach of trying to remove all microorganisms from the skin (for example, antibacterial hand soap), the new line of thinking is that it’s important to have a plethora of different microorganisms present on the skin in order to have a balanced microbiome,” she explains.
“This closely ties in with the idea of probiotic yoghurts for the gut microbiome, and we are starting to see prebiotics and probiotics gain a lot of popularity in skin care too. For example, there is a cosmetic ingredient that combines the natural components of yoghurt (proteins, peptides, dairy lipids, lactose, lactic acid, vitamins and minerals) with prebiotic inulin to offer a prebiotic yoghurt complex for skin care.”
While the increase in dairy-free lifestyles could be down to ethical reasons, increasing awareness of food intolerances is undoubtedly contributing. However, dairy-inspired brands are generally safe for sufferers.
“For people with lactose intolerance this ingredient isn’t usually a problem, however for the small percentage of people who are in fact allergic to the protein in milk, this ingredient would not be suitable,” Ball explains with a disclaimer. “It is widely recommended that all natural products should be patch tested before use, so please do this especially if in doubt.”
Have you heard the moos?
As sales of dairy products decline, running costs increase and supermarkets slash prices, farmers are being forced to innovate. As James Osman, Chief Dairy Advisor for the National Farmers Union tells Cosmetics Business: “British dairy farmers are proud to produce high quality dairy products for the nation and are always on the lookout for new markets and opportunities. This has become even more important in recent years as the market has become increasingly challenging and volatile.
“Many farmers are diversifying their businesses, improving their productive efficiency and looking for new market trends which will deliver for the public and help their businesses thrive.”
But can cosmetics help? It certainly looks like brands are open to the possibility, as companies across all price points – from Too Cool For School to Kate Somerville and Lanolin – have embraced different aspects of the dairy industry. But it’s also an opportunity for brands to expand their green credentials and embrace the upcycling movement. “Sustainability is a huge topic that spans across all industries. One area that the personal care industry excels at is the upcycling of by-products from other industries,” Raford adds.
“For example, there are active ingredients made from wonky vegetables that have been rejected from the food industry and polyphenol-rich extracts from tree bark off-cuts from the wood industry. It is therefore easy to imagine that dairy farmers could similarly give second life to their waste by upcycling their by-products into cosmetic ingredients.”
Higham agrees: “People always have a choice and dairy farmers play an important role in providing milk and milk-related products to the population. Utilising whey is a good start in adhering to a circular economy.”
While it is incredibly likely vegan beauty is here to stay, it looks like there is plenty of room in the bathroom cupboard for dairy beauty to thrive. As consumers seek eco-friendly alternatives that work, it might not be long before brands and shoppers lap up the trend.