The only thing better than clear skin is clear pricing, according to clinical skincare start-ups.

Brandon Truaxe, the founder of Deciem, believes that the beauty industry is “a scam”, where customers get overcharged for basic ingredients while old technologies are presented as ground-breaking. Many skincare enthusiasts seem to share this sentiment, given the recent success of Deciem, Orveda and Lixir among others. While the product prices vary greatly between these brands, what they all have in common is plain packaging, limited marketing and honest ingredient lists which explain exactly what the customers are paying for.

Meanwhile, traditional luxury beauty brands market their products by promising miraculous, life-changing results and innovative technologies, but avoid talking about the specifics. Clinique, for example, has launched a £115 serum “smart enough to understand your skin’s past and change its appearance in the future” – but the official website has no information on the active ingredients used to achieve this effect.

This strategy works well with customers who rely primarily on packaging and shop assistants to learn about beauty products. These days, however, a quarter of women research beauty products online prior to purchase. Influencers, blogs and articles help customers understand the science behind skincare treatments and appreciate the value of certain ingredients. This phenomenon has allowed clinical skincare start-ups to succeed and made customers more suspicious of big promises not supported by concrete evidence.

Despite their widespread success however, it is unlikely that clinical start-ups will radically transform the skincare industry in the short term.

Firstly, clinical brands currently use influencers and word of mouth as the only sources of marketing and make most of their sales online. This means they only reach a limited audience, especially given that high-end beauty consumers are on average older and less internet-savvy. In order to truly compete with established brands, these start-ups would need to expand their marketing strategies to more traditional methods. However, appealing to a wider audience might require them to give up some of the scientific terms and long ingredient names – the very things that helped them gain customers’ trust in the first place.

Secondly, even among well-informed customers, luxury brands remain the preferred choice when it comes to gifting or self-indulgence. Brand history and reputation, celebrity endorsements and beautiful packaging all contribute to a sense of unique experience associated with premium beauty brands. Again, it might be difficult for clinical brands to compete with that offering without losing their reputation of objective, science-driven expertise.

That being said, the challenger brands have successfully grabbed the attention of many consumers and are beginning to slowly change mainstream tastes and expectations. So while premium beauty giants are not endangered yet, sooner or later they will have to adapt to a more demanding, well-informed customer base.

Ada Pospiszyl