The Uniqueness of Emerging Markets

Author’s note: This column was inspired by a presentation by Dr. Zoe Draelos1.

“We have to choose between a global market driven only by calculations of short-term profit and one which has a human face.”
—Kofi Annan

The beauty industry has long served the domestic ethnic market, often with mixed results. For example, successfully delivering products tailored to a wide spectrum of skin tones has been a challenge for the recent flood of alphabet creams. Now these challenges have been extended to a global scale and a diverse range of issues by the growing importance of emerging markets.

It is important to look beyond individual ethnic groups and consider the uniqueness and challenges of entire regions. The seven largest emerging economies are the BRIC countries (China, Brazil, Russia and India) plus Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is the largest regional emerging market in the world (ASEAN members include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam).

Looking at emerging markets shows large areas that are either too mature to sustain high growth or too lagging in development to provide a viable consumer base. Europe and North America have limited opportunities for growth because their markets are so saturated with consumer products. Areas such as sub-Sahara Africa have profound developmental challenges, but their basic needs must not be neglected by our industry.

Differences in Local Regions

Before heading off to analyze the consumer market in Kyrgyzstan, consider regional differences closer to home that impact the efficacy of beauty and personal care products. The environment for skin and hair care is not the same in Phoenix and Minneapolis, or similarly between Beijing and Guangzhou. This creates an interesting situation when global companies have R&D in one place and a major market somewhere else. One can develop a wonderful prototype in Paris to showcase a new concept and send it off optimistically to São Paulo only to find it completely unsuitable for local needs.

One critical problem is humidity, which has a profound effect on skin and hair. The common measure is relative humidity, how much water vapor is in the air compared to how much the air can possibly hold. This is deceptive because it changes dramatically with temperature. Absolute humidity is a much more accurate measure of the effect on skin and hair, but is rarely used. Failure to take this into account will result in substandard product performance. Everywhere we confront different climates, different local skin and hair types, different water quality, and different sanitary conditions. The most obvious factor to consider in emerging markets is skin type. A useful standard classification is the Fitzpatrick scale of skin types. Ethnic skin is typically in the range of Fitzpatrick skin types III–VI.

Different UV Protection Needs

Surely we want to protect everyone from the sun, with a minimum of say SPF 15. But besides applying sunscreen, clothes can have SPF, and different skin types have different intrinsic SPF values. For example, the SPF provided by the epidermis of dark skin is 13.4 versus 3.4 for light skin.

We all know that darker skin doesn’t tan or burn like lighter skin, and there is naturally a scientific reason for this. Skin color comes from melanin. There are two types of melanin: eumelanin and pheomelanin. And there are two forms of eumelanin: black and brown. Eumelanin can donate an electron to a reactive oxygen species (ROS), thus functioning as an antioxidant. It also dissipates 99.9% of absorbed UV as heat, preventing DNA mutation. Pheomelanins account for red skin tones. It cannot function as an antioxidant, and consequently provides no UV protection.

Melanin is packaged into melanosomes, which sit on top of the cellular nucleus. Dark skin has 200 melanosomes per mm2 in the basal layer. Light skin has less than 20 melanosomes per mm2; located in the stratum corneum. Melanosomes degrade more rapidly in the stratum corneum, so fair skin provides less UV protection. Thus, different skin types don’t just tan differently—they provide fundamentally different UV protection.

Very dark skin also gets hotter than very light skin, so it can be uncomfortable to lie in the sun. Heat dissipation should be a formulation goal for darker skin. Organic sunscreens also dissipate UV energy as heat, so reflective sunscreens such as inorganic filters are best for dark skin. In addition, formulations of inorganic sunscreens are needed that do not whiten the skin or result in excessive skin shine.

Seeking an Even Skin Tone

Beyond UV protection, consumers in emerging markets desire even pigmentation, skin lightening, and the elimination of an ashy appearance.

Skin pigmentation can either increase or decrease, depending on circumstances. Increased pigmentation occurs in skin folds and in areas where the skin is irritated or injured. Dry skin leads to decreased pigmentation, and sun exposure causes irregular pigmentation. Examples of uneven pigmentation are lentigenes (a small, flat, pigmented spot on the skin) and melasma (a patchy brown discoloration of the skin on the face). The use of sunscreens and skin lighteners can help even skin tone.

Ashy skin is the result of light reflected by surface skin scales. Dark skin produces brown skin scales while light skin produces white skin scales. Reflection of loose brown scales appears grey, thus the ashy look. Emollients smooth the scales and reduce or eliminate the problem.

Light skin has always been valued for cultural reasons. It indicates a lifestyle spent indoors in luxury rather than outside performing manual labor. Skin lightening is harder with darker skin where more melanin is produced. It is easier to treat epidermal pigment than dermal pigment. While many products are available, officially in the U.S. we have been limited to hydroquinone, a very problematic ingredient. Fortunately, in most emerging nations a wider array of active ingredients are permitted.

Global Hair

Another challenge comes when dealing with different hair types. Often people with naturally curly hair want straight hair, while those with naturally straight hair want curly hair. The processes to accomplish this are damaging to the hair, as are environmental impact and intrinsic aging. The goal is to find less damaging methods of straightening and curling hair, better post-treatment products, and mild and effective cleansing and conditioning formulations.

Globally, consumers of African heritage have not been well served by the hair care manufacturers. The majority of products are designed for Caucasian hair, leaving a large potential market for effective ethnic products. Millions of consumers are hungry for products that meet their needs. Improvements in chemical relaxer technology will be one major key for opening this market.

Other Elements

Another fundamental need in emerging markets is the prevention or containment of infectious disease. Disease is often spread by the hands, and common areas for infection entry are the eyes, nose and mouth. Hand sanitizers can help prevent the spread of disease. There is also a need for cleansers that work in dirty cold water, and that are nontoxic, low-foaming, cheap and safe for oral consumption.

We now live in a world divided into three regions. One region, concentrated in Europe and North America, is mature and cannot sustain high growth levels for personal care and beauty products. The emerging markets like China and Brazil have vibrant and growing consumer markets—and are already targeted by multinationals. The third region, with sub-Sahara Africa a key example, has a growing market, but is hampered by significant burdens of poverty and disease. Our industry must not only serve all these markets, it must also customize products to satisfy the needs and desires of a widely diversified population.


  1. ZD Draelos, “Understanding Skin and Personal Care Needs in Ethnic and Emerging Markets,” SCC Annual Scientific Seminar, June 7, 2013

Steve Herman is president of Diffusion LLC, a consulting company specializing in regulatory issues, intellectual property, and technology development and transfer. He is a principal in PJS Partners, offering formulation, marketing and technology solutions for the personal care and fragrance industry. He is the New York Society of Cosmetic Chemist’s 2013 chapter chairman and an adjunct professor in the Fairleigh Dickinson University Masters in Cosmetic Science program. He is also a Fellow in the Society of Cosmetic Chemists.

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