12 months ago

The herbal cosmetics industry has recorded an impressive growth in the last decade. From small cottage industries to multi-million dollar businesses, there are today many contenders in the market. With rising concerns about the long-term impact of chemicals in beauty products, its international scope is also looking very impressive.

However, there are also some severe challenges that the industry has to overcome.

Scarcity of raw material:
The raw material for a herbal cosmetics company cannot be mass produced in a factory. Neither can one reproduce these in a matter of minutes in a laboratory. Instead herbal cosmetics require the careful cultivation of plants and herbs in their natural environment.

Two factors have added to the problem in sourcing here. One is the disappearing land for cultivation. In a country where land itself is a premium, land for large scale cultivation of plants and herbs is almost impossible to procure. The solution has often been to grow these in a nursery where the environment can be controlled. Yet, supply chain is severely limited.

The other factor that affects the cultivation is the lack of any sustained agricultural/horticultural practices. Because we are dealing with living beings and not chemicals, attention to a sustained growth pattern is essential.

Poor quality of raw material:
The problems with sourcing are compounded by the poor quality of raw materials. In herbal cosmetics the quality of raw materials is critical. Since the end products are completely dependent on what we put in, any adulteration can spoil the entire batch. The problem here is not intentional adulteration, but unintentional adulteration.

Poor soil quality and rampant use of pesticides and fertilizers means that most of our plants and herbs actually have a very high content of harmful chemicals. These are then carried on to the cosmetics. As a result, many of the products manufactured by Indian herbal cosmetics company are found to contain harmful chemicals like lead. This has led to problems with standard compliance, especially in the international markets.

Not enough R&D:
Most herbal cosmetic companies rarely invest in serious R&D. Most of them are reliant on age old practices and formulations. While that is perfectly acceptable, given some of Indian’s ancient traditions, it has severely hampered development of manufacturing practices. There is not enough attention paid to improving processing techniques in order to enable mass production.

In the beginning herbal companies were not really competing with the really big names of the cosmetics industry. Instead, they were in a niche of their own. However, even this niche is getting overcrowded with many companies now in the contention. Even the bigger corporations have now diverged into their own herbal line as demand for herbal products increase.

Internationally, Indian companies face even stiffer competition. Although the herbal cosmetics industry is predicted to grow at a very healthy rate, most of the market is dominated by Chinese companies. Indian companies have to catch up in price and availability.

Lack of documentation:
Unlike conventional cosmetics, there is extremely insufficient documentation of herbal cosmetics. Most herbal cosmetics depend on traditional methods or Ayurvedic formulations in their manufacturing. Some of these are passed down through generations, while some are documented. Even when documented, few of these can compare to the extensive clinical, pharmacological, and toxicological documentation available for conventional beauty products. This further hampers the herbal industry when it comes to the international market.

Failure to comply with international standards:
A number of herbal and handmade cosmetics products have failed when testing for international standards. One of the reasons is the poor quality of raw materials as specified above. But the other more worrying aspects is the lack of standardization of processes within the industry. Since the processing of one batch often differed from another, a single company’s own product line may not have a standard output. This makes compliance with certain rules difficult, especially in some developed markets. One solution is to make the processing more organized and industrialized. This ensures the same ingredients and quantities are used.

The herbal cosmetics industry will continue post impressive growth in the next decade. However, to reach its full potential it must also address some very serious challenges, especially regarding the quality of raw materials. Research and development in improving processing and sourcing could have a major impact in meeting these challenges.

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