Beauty Innovation
How Clarins uses blockchain and regenerative practices to remain a beauty pioneer
When modern beauty consumers increasingly look for traceability, new technology is here to help.
2 Jul 2024

As the Responsible Communication Manager and brand spokesperson of Clarins, Marie-Helene Lair highlights the fact that most of the brand’s formulas — especially for the oils — were created back in 1960.

— They are made of only plants — botanical collected ingredients — without surfactants in glass packaging, so quite modern even today in terms of sustainable values, she says, continuing,

— Now we are working with the granddaughter of the founders, Virginie Courtin, and she kept exactly the same values. It’s authentic. Nowadays, consumers want this authenticity and transparency. It’s not a matter of generations but of values and social trends.

— Three years ago, when Virginie started as the Global Director of the company, she wanted to highlight a new strategy to speak about sustainability with new goals. The commitments we made in 2020 allow each person to measure our progress and expect concrete results. Our commitments guide our decisions and set up the framework for our performance.

One main pillar of the brand’s work with transparency is a platform called T.R.U.S.T. (Traceability, Responsibility, Uniqueness, Security, and Transparency), developed together with the startup Neurochain.

— It’s using blockchain technology (a highly secure and reliable network that records data in a distributed ledger that is not controlled by a central authority, Ed’s note), Lair explains. Today, we’re the only skincare brand highlighting all the main steps, information, and data to our consumers concerning our key active ingredients coming from nature. It’s easier for skincare than makeup because, for skincare, we develop all our products in our labs and plants. For makeup, we have to work with external producers, mainly in Italy, due to regulations.

— In our global herbarium, we have more than 200 plants. Today, we are able to follow 110 products and 100 plants in T.R.U.S.T. When we are the owners of our fields, it’s very easy. When we buy plants from other producers, it’s not. Our goal is to make this traceability available for all our plants and all our products.

— Now, the most difficult challenge is to provide access to the information. If you want to use blockchain technology, you have to work with batch codes, which are very difficult to find on our products. They’re very small, almost hidden, so even if the consumers are fond of traceability, it’s tricky to enter the batch code in the special platform we’re using. So we have to make it more simple in terms of access. It’s a matter of communication, to simplify it.

What other difficulties and challenges did you face when developing T.R.U.S.T.? 

— We faced issues concerning data management. We have several internal tools — according to different teams and functions — to manage them and we had to ensure their standardisation. Furthermore, we had to deal with data transmitted by our suppliers. They didn’t systematically match with ours and weren’t reliable. We had to onboard suppliers but not only. We had to closely accompany them, because of the constant evolution of interfaces. Furthermore, we had already developed T.R.U.S.T. in 35 countries but the Chinese market was tough because of local specificities, such as legal, regulatory, and IT. We also had to face the possibility or not, according to local regulations, to claim labels, such as ’organic’.

What have you learned from developing it? 

— We have increased our ability to collaborate with other teams and other expertise, Lair shares. We had to clarify meanings, and vocabulary, to share common tools. We learned how to build links between supply chains, plants’ specificities, and consumer needs. And we noticed that huge suppliers wish to collaborate with us to improve their own traceability process — and to increase the awareness of this approach.

What would you recommend for other brands when developing a similar solution?

— To implement verticality in their strategy processes. And we noticed that the good quality of our relations with suppliers was a key issue to facilitate this long-term development.

— We had to stay agile and select a partner, a blockchain expert — Neurochain — and develop programs with the same agility. It was not obvious to select one because it was not the most well-known on the market, but the one most able to embed the specificities of a skincare business.

”We want to go further than the global standards for working with organic products — those standards are not enough”

In 2016, Clarins’ Global Director Virginie Courtin, together with her father, bought a domain, a field, in the French Alps. The goal was to be able to produce plants, mainly for the cleansing range, and to make the brand start working with regenerative practices. This type of agriculture aims to increase soil carbon sequestration, with potential benefits for human and ecosystem health, climate mitigation, and biodiversity.

— Virginie is fond of the regenerative approaches. She wanted to regenerate the soil of the domain, to work without pesticides and chemicals, and push the regeneration and biodiversity of these Alp environments. Today, we are producing six plants at Domain Clarins — lemon balm, golden gentian, houseleek, petasite, soapwort, and alpen rose — and they are embedded in 5 different ranges of products, including cleansers, makeup removers, and Clarins men. Because of climatic risks in the alpine area, such as avalanches, storms, and extreme cold temperatures, we are working with 9 supplier partners for double sourcing, guaranteeing the right amount of available plants.

— We want to go further than the global standards for working with organic products. Those standards are not enough. When you speak about them, it’s only about the fact that you don’t put pesticides in the soil. We want to go further, to push the global biodiversity and create a good fauna, for birds, bees, and everything else — without greenwashing.

It’s also important, of course, to scale these initiatives in order to make real change.

— Exactly. And it’s a long-term approach together with the expertise and partners working there. We can’t do all that alone, we have to work with the local producers to ensure the production. On our website, we have a sourcing chart explaining all the demanding standards we have to ensure all the plant productions.

Domain Clarins.

Clarins’ goal for 2025 is to reduce the amount of plastic used by 30% — and to make 100% of the packaging recyclable.

— Packaging is a very, very important issue for us. All the skincare brands and producers are working with the same partners for the plastic supply — and we are consuming a lot of plastic! That’s why we have decided to, first of all, decrease our consumption of it, and to use a lot of recyclable plastic. We are also sponsoring an association named Plastic Odyssey. They are so smart on how we can find solutions not only to decrease the quantity of plastic in the seas but also to decrease the input of plastic and reuse the waste. It’s a long-term approach and more clever than only catching plastic from the seas.

You also have a special approach called Permanent Innovation. How’d you describe it?

— The skincare distribution is a very dynamic retail field, often driven by marketing reasons only. At Clarins, we give priority to new R&D insights. That is why we improve our formulas only when new R&D findings and technological breakthroughs are available. We integrate these innovations in our formulas, without changing product names and sensoriality criteria, such as texture or perfume. It is key for our loyal consumers: they are very disappointed when their favourite products disappear. As an example, we have developed 8 successive generations of our best-seller Double Serum, regularly changing active ingredients and packaging, while increasing our sales.

The Double Serum.

What about material innovations in packaging? What do you forecast?

— I think we can be very inspired by nature — including algae and mushrooms — to find, for instance, a new way to replace silicones and sun filters. Today, we are obliged to maintain our formulas using, for example, chemical sun filters. We have no choice — it’s a health matter — but we would like to find alternatives to these active ingredients with exactly the same efficacy. 

— It’s the same for silicons. Today, we are working with very, very small polymers to have a blurring effect in our makeup. It’s not so easy to replace these molecules and polymers but we would like to go further in terms of planet protection. I hope we will be able to find solutions from the cycles of nature, to reuse and always with a circular economy in mind — in our packs, in our active ingredients, everywhere.

Marie-Helene Lair.

Lastly, a future perspective. What’s the next big thing in sustainability?

— For me, the most challenging matter is with the packaging and the plastic issue. We are facing a matter with the quantity of recyclable or bio-sourced plastic. I mentioned how all the skincare brands are working with the same producers, so there is now a matter of availability. We can’t use only glass for products. We’re going to work together with other brands on new possibilities, as a task force approach to imagining the future with new kinds of packaging. It’s smarter and more successful to work together, also with our competitors. Very soon, we will be able to share the first results of these works. It’s very complicated — and it’s also a worldwide approach. 

Can you be more specific about this work with other brands?

— Packaging is a fascinating field, reflecting sociological trends and CSR issues. For ages, plastic has been a tremendous raw material, leading to new habits, gestures, and ways of product application. But the food and skincare industries are using the same components, the same packaging: alternatives are dealing with available quantities issues, while we are using the same tubes, bottles, and jars. The refill process has great potential — but it is just only getting started. We are facing a new era, with the necessity to find alternatives, Lair concludes.