Having lived in hot countries such as Tchad and Burkina Faso and currently living in a cold country such as Canada, I came to realise how important it is to take care of my skin in accordance with where I live. Bringing a special care to the most exposed parts of the body, such as the lips, is really crucial. That is why I’m constantly searching for products that will moisturize and protect my lips the best. In this pursuit for THE product, I came across NIVEA original care lip balm, which has done wonders on my lips. It has now become one of the products I use the most. As sustainability became something that I am more and more mindful about, I couldn’t help but wonder: how sustainable is this product that has become part of my everyday self care routine? While conducting my little investigation, I came across a multitude of environmental and social accomplishments that NIVEA made over the years and the numerous ambitious goals they have for the future. However, I was also shocked learning about the frequent controversies the company has been involved in. Far be it from me to forget or minimize its accomplishments, but I believe that NIVEA still has a long way to go to deserve to be considered as a sustainable company.
This NIVEA balm contains quite a lot of ingredients : Octyldodecanol, Ricinus Communis (Castor) Seed Oil, Hydrogenated Rapeseed Oil, Beeswax, Octyl Stearate, Cetyl Palmitate, Cetearyl Alcohol, Polyglyceryl-3 Diisostearate, Copernicia Cerifera (Carnauba) Wax, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil, Flavor, BHT.
The ingredients used are either antioxidant, emollient, emulsifying, perfuming, preservative, solvent, surfactant (cleansing) and/or viscosity controlling. Overall they are pretty good for the lips and have been proven safe for health. Also, most of them (especially the oils and the Shea butter) have lots of virtues for the skin, especially for the lips. In fact, the avocado oil for example, used as an antioxidant and emollient, is loaded with nourishing and moisturising fatty acid. It also contains a bunch of minerals and vitamins A, E and D. It has extraordinary skin penetration abilities and can nourish different skin layers. The jojoba oil has “skin balancing” properties because of its similarity with human sebum (its the oil the most similar to sebum). It moistures the skin through a unique and dual action and makes it soft and supple. The shea butter soothes the skin, protects it from external factors such as UV rays and wind, and is rich in antioxidants (among other vitamin A, E, F). These ingredients are good, that’s a fact. But do they come from responsible sources? Well, the answer seems to be yes. NIVEA has, on its website, a whole section dedicated to its sustainable approach on the sourcing. The company states that it strives to use sustainably sourced raw materials wherever and whenever possible. It is also said that their research teams keep looking for new and even better ingredients and alternative sources in order to reduce their environmental impact as much as possible. All of this sounds good but, despite the plethora of information given, I still feel like there is a lack of clarity. It’s not enough to just say that they do good here and there, the consumers needs to know exactly where and how it’s done, with clear and measurable data. They also need to know what is happening on the extraction sites, and how exactly NIVEA is working to improve the working conditions there. Because this is not shared, I think that consumers are deprived of crucial information that may influence their decision to keep supporting the brand or not.
Next to all these ingredients considered beneficial to health, the product unfortunately also contains components that are not so good. Indeed, limonene, linalool and citronellol are 3 ingredients that oxidise on air exposure. Once oxidized, they can cause allergic contact dermatitis and sensitize the skin. Since the product is a lip balm, it is then destined to be often opened hence, to be in constant contact with air. It then has a high probability of causing the said problems to consumers, especially the ones with already delicate skin or skin issues. It is actually funny to see the company bragging about the product being for all type of skin when it has components aggressive for one specific skin type. NIVEA had the responsibility, when making the product, to add a warning on the packaging notifying the users on the possible effects of some of the ingredients of the product. It would have been then on the consumers to decide if they are willing to use the product or not. This is how transparent a good and sustainable company, who cares about the wellbeing of its consumers should proceed. In addition, those 3 ingredients have not been proven to have any kind of positive skin benefits. They are solely used as perfuming and deodorant. I think that, knowing this and the side effects they can have, they definitely could have been removed from the ingredients list. We, consumers, could surely have understood and even agreed with this decision. The fact that it was not done just reveals that the company doesn’t listen and doesn’t have a good and open dialogue with their consumers, even when it’s about something that directly affects them.
In regard to the testing of the components and products, Beiersdorf (who owns NIVEA), claims to not test on animals. This has been their policy long before the directives regulating animal testing in cosmetics took effect in the European Union in 2004. For more than 20 years, the company has been working on in-vitro procedures (tests performed in test tubes) and is one of the leading and accepted research companies in the world. They even have developed a procedure which will, in the future, along with other tests, be able to assess the allergy potentials of substances without the use of animal testing. That is how dedicated they are to this cause!
When searching on NIVEA’s website, on Youtube, and in a couple other articles, I couldn’t find information on how this lip balm is made. However, I found an interesting video on the making of Badger balm and I think the overall process should be approximatively the same. So first, the oils, the butter and the waxes are added and melted in a big heated machine. Then, all the other ingredients are added and mixed while still heated. The tubes are then dropped, held in place on a conveyer belt and are filled of the mixture through a piston. After the filling, they are sent to a cooler and closed one by one with their caps by a machine. As we can all imagine, through the making of this product, as with any other NIVEA’s product, the transportation of the raw materials and the finished products involve a lot of heavy machinery that have a huge environmental impact. For a few years now, NIVEA has been committed to reducing their CO2 footprint with ambitious goals. They went from producing 78,605 tons of CO2 in 2016, to producing 52,960 tons of CO2 in 2018. By the end of 2018, the company reached 59% reduction. They switched all their facilities to renewable energy, including their large production centers in Germany and Spain, with the exception of their plants in Mexico and Nigeria. Their objective for 2020 was to use only renewable energy wherever they make NIVEA products. However, there was no update on the company’s website, so we still don’t know if they achieved it or not. Their next objective is fixed for 2025. They want to reduce their energy-related CO2 emission by 70% compared to what they produced in 2014. NIVEA also committed to not send their waste to landfills, and apparently they have achieved this. None of their production plants send wastes to landfills. Instead, it is recycled or incinerated to create heat and electricity. Then, the heat and electricity created can be used to supply the plants. This way, in addition to preserving the environment, they can aspire to become self-sufficient in energy. If that is not inspiring!
The lip balm is contained in tubes made of plastic. Once the tubes are filled, they are put in a package made of plastic and paper. NIVEA wants to make sure that everything about their products is sustainable. But plastic, as we all now are aware, is far from being sustainable. That is why, as early as 2009, the company put environmentally friendly packaging on their agenda. Following the principle “avoid, reduce, reuse and recycle,” they use packaging that keeps their products safely fresh while lowering their impact on the environment. They are working toward a circular economy by increasingly using recycled materials in their packagings. On their website, NIVEA explains how switching to lightweight tube caps for their hand creams in 2016 helped them save 50 tons of polypropylene (thermoplastic) in the first year only. In 2013, the brand introduced refill packs like those for NIVEA Creme Soft Shower Cream. By refilling your bottle instead of buying a new one, you can save 75% of waste. It really is incredible how much you can save by making small changes, and NIVEA understood that. Bravo! Now, what I can’t figure out is why the company hasn’t introduced these measures for the packagings of their lip balms. Don’t misunderstand me, it’s already really good that their tubes are recyclable, as it shows that they are making progress and trying to take more sustainable actions. BUT, why haven’t they make the tubes refillable yet (especially when they introduced refill packs in 2013)? Why haven’t they used lightweight caps (like for their hand cream) or changed their design to use less plastic? Probably because it’s not that easy, some will say. Sure, I hear you, that might be the reason why, I don’t know about the potential technical difficulties. But they haven’t even announced it as a future goal or even at least explained why it can’t be done for the lip balms for now. So for me, it looks like they don’t really care and think that making them recyclable is enough to please the consumers. Wrong! We acknowledge and congratulate the progress, but we also expect a supposedly sustainable company to show us that they will keep doing better.
In 1890, the pharmacist Oscar Troplowitz (cofounder of Beiersdorf) bought a laboratory from another pharmacist, Paul Carl Beiersdorf. In 1911, Isaac Lifschütz, a german chemist developed the first stable water-in-oil emulsion. Oscar then used it to develop a skin care cream. That is how NIVEA, a German personal care brand that specializes in skin and body-care, was born. As of 2011, the year of its centennial, the brand totally belongs to Beiersdorf. Beiersdorf is a German multinational company that manufactures and retails personal care products and pressure sensitive adhesives, founded in March 1882 by Paul Beiersdorf.
In addition to fighting for the environment, NIVEA, through Beiersdorf, has committed to engage in fights for people. In fact, during the pandemic, the company has converted their facility in Tennesse to produce 500,000 units of medical-grade sanitizer to provide to the medical community and to non-profit organizations servicing those most in need in local communities across the US and Canada. They also donated 50 million Euros to aid crisis relief, which includes a donation of sanitizers and skin and hand care products to medical personnel, as well as their local offices and employees.
On another note, NIVEA have been part of a lot of controversies that brought them media attention that they certainly would have preferred to avoid. In 2011, NIVEA was fined $900,000 by the US Federal Trade Commission for falsely claiming that consumers could slim down by regularly applying NIVEA MY Silhouette! cream to their skin. The same year, a lot of media network including the Arutz Sheva or Israel National News (Israeli media network) was reporting in an article that the company published a world map on its website that omitted Israel. This incident caused so many indignant reactions that The Simon Wiesenthal Center (in Paris), a Jewish human rights organization established in 1977 by Rabbi Marvin Hier, wrote to NIVEA. The letter stated, “Mr. Chairman, just as hate speech presages hate crime, so virtual Holocaust aspires to its recurrence. This is one cosmetic that Nivea should not be selling.” The matter was later solved as the company’s website was updated adding Israel to the world map. In 2017, NIVEA was accused of racism after using “White is Purity” as their tagline on an ad for their “invisible for Black & White” deodorant. In that same year, they had the same kind of issue with an ad broadcasted in Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroun and Senegal, where NIVEA was promoting a cream that “visibly lightens” the skin. The advertisement greatly concerned the population, as it was promoting skin whitening in countries with predominantly black people. The troubles reappeared when in 2019, marketing and media industry journal Ad Age reported that FCB (Foote, Cone & Belding), NIVEA’s long-time ad agency, had ended its centennial relationship with the company. Among the primary reasons cited was NIVEA's rejection of a proposed ad that featured two men's hands touching because, according to a NIVEA executive, “we don't do gay at NIVEA.” Thinking about all those events involving NIVEA really makes it hard to focus on the company’s achievements. As a POC and an enthusiastic consumer of the brand’s products, I was greatly impacted by the incidents of racism. I was hoping for so much more, especially when the company displays such a detailed sustainability plan on their website, boasting about being sensitive to both humans and the environment. I was totally taken aback!
NIVEA needs to do better.