Beauty and pain – a whistle stop tour through beauty tensions and struggles for women globally

Written by Victoria Duckworth

At RDSi, we are beauty specialists – for many years we’ve been talking to women all over the world about beauty behaviours, desires and fears.  From the US to Indonesia, key tensions come up again and again.  In this article we will highlight the trends we find particularly interesting…

The tension at the heart of the ‘natural’ trend

Around the world, women are looking for ‘natural’ products and ingredients more and more. Naturalness is comforting and safe, enhancing beauty without causing harm.  Beauty products need to avoid signalling ‘artificial’, the opposite of naturalness, which might imply the presence of chemicals working against rather than in harmony with the body.  But there can be a concern; will natural products really be effective? How can women get the benefit of natural products but also the effectiveness they need to look as good as they desire?  Hence, it is often the impression of naturalness rather than radically different products that are sought.  Natural ingredients and fragrances reassure women, the majority of whom do not scrutinise the ingredient lists of beauty products.

Beauty in the work environment

All over the world, more and more women are joining the work force, leaving behind a solely domestic life. Along with this comes increased anxiety around appearance. Women want to present themselves as professional and capable, but maintain their feminine identity. In developing markets, this means projecting at all times that you are coping with juggling work and family life. In developed markets; vying for the top jobs and looking the part, in what can be a male dominated environment. In some cultures, such as South Korea, this trend is more extreme where including headshots, height and weight information with a resume is commonplace.

The ‘effort’ of effortless beauty

Women want to look as beautiful as they can, and put a lot of effort into achieving this goal. But, in many markets they don’t want to look like they’ve tried too hard or their look is fake. There is a widespread aspiration for an ‘effortless’, ‘natural’ look, which can be surprisingly difficult to achieve. However, markets like Brazil and Argentina are on the other side of the coin, favouring more extreme ‘fake’ looks. Which side do your key markets fall on?

Product fatigue

Nowadays, consumers face a huge proliferation of products; both advertised and on shelf. This leads to anxiety – maybe they should be doing more to enhance their beauty? Maybe that next product will make a real difference? Consumers feel overwhelmed and can respond with scepticism or rejection of products. They need reassurance, guidance and focus on what products could work for them.  In some markets, this has led to a whole host of ‘multi-tasking’ products that promise to simplify beauty routines and save precious time and money.


With the rise of social media, pressure has increased to look good at all times. It’s second nature for this generation to update their pages most days, with new selfies and pictures, and whatever is uploaded will be on the internet forever. Not only that, but someone else could take a picture of them and upload it at any time. There are no ‘off days’ when they are under constant scrutiny!

Making it count when consumers have limited disposable income

Consumers, especially in developing markets, have limited money to spend on beauty products. They face pressure to look beautiful, but how can they keep up? Consumers need to be reassured that the one product they invest in, will give them an added benefit, so they know their money has been well spent.

Mini beauty stars

Girls are accessing the internet at younger and younger ages, and encounter a world saturated with beauty bloggers, models and Instagram celebrities. These very young girls are feeling the pressure to live up to what they see. They may be occupied with learning beauty skills using tutorials, buying the right products and achieving the right body shape. Manufacturers need to be aware that these mini beauty stars may be consuming content intended for an older cohort and ensure their advertising and promotional messages and executions are responsible.

That Mirren magic

People all over the world are living longer, and so their expectations for looking good as they age have risen. Icons like Helen Mirren create the aspiration for growing old gracefully – looking beautiful for longer without resorting to plastic surgery. But it is hard for women to accept changes in their appearance as they age, and heighten their looks in a positive way that doesn’t project ‘mutton dressed as lamb’.

What does it all mean for brands and businesses?

In categories where anxiety and tension are evident, it might be tempting for businesses to invent new problems that women didn’t even know they had. But is that the major opportunity for brands? Resolve a tension and a brand is on the side of the consumer, in beauty as in other categories. Brands that can turn anxiety into enjoyment and appreciation are likely to be the winners.