PackMojo Blog / Packaging Design

Challenges in Cosmetic Packaging Design

When exploring packaging design, cosmetic companies can face challenges with production speed, recyclability, functionality, hygiene and transparency. Join us as we delve into future trends, opportunities and challenges to ultimately unlock the secrets to creating captivating cosmetic packaging.

Charmaine Luk
Charmaine LukPublished 12 min read
Challenges in Cosmetic Packaging Design

As the first impression a cosmetic company makes on their consumers, packaging is vital to a product experience. Many beauty brands thus face the challenge of designing cosmetic packaging that effectively protects their products and expresses their brand values accurately. As the industry continues to shift and change in the modern age, there continues to be a demand for companies to be adaptable and ingenious when designing packaging solutions as they can often pose a unique set of challenges. 

With ever-evolving trends and consumer expectations, packaging is expected to not only look aesthetically pleasing but also remain eco-friendly. Beauty brands are faced with the hurdles of considering design components that can affect the speed of production, finding a balance between functionality and eco-friendliness and using packaging to promote hygiene and transparency. The complex interaction of product needs, consumer demands and beauty industry trends makes designing packaging for cosmetic products an intricate experience. Achieving the delicate equilibrium between aesthetics, functionality and environmental consciousness is no small task, bringing a range of challenges every step of the way.

Speed & Throughput in Beauty & Personal Care Packaging

Effects of Shape

In the world of cosmetic packaging design, shape can often be a determinant for the efficiency of production. While unique and eye-catching designs can often attract buyers, they often require additional attention during the production process. The specialized machinery and manual handling needed can often result in slower production rates compared to packaging with more common and standardized shapes. While these simple shapes can often be achieved through injection molding, we can expect more complex shapes to be more expensive as they may require more time-consuming CNC machining or 3D printing. Thus selecting packaging shapes that we often see in cosmetic packaging can often lead to an expedited process as a result of their ability to enable automated processes. 

Take, for example, this packaging design for Clemen sunscreen which has a unique shape. Due to its irregular shape, it may require specialized procedures or manual intervention to facilitate production. This could thus increase the financial and time investments required to accommodate this packaging design. On the other hand, sunscreen using general squeeze bottles may be able to use automated machines that are programmed to fill, cap, seal and label packaging with a similar structure. Thus, if the ultimate goal is to optimize packaging speed, cosmetics companies should seek to use simplified and standardized packaging designs which can help to streamline manufacturing processes and thus maximize automation efficiency.

Clemen Sunscreen Unique Shape Packaging Design

Effects of Size

The size of your packaging can also be a factor that affects the speed and throughput of production. Larger packaging sizes will often require more raw materials, and greater storage space and can potentially pose challenges during transportation. As a result of their larger volume, they will often also require more time to be filled and labeled. On the flip side, smaller packaging sizes can often lead to faster production and greater throughput in addition to lower costs due to their increased speed and reduced use of materials. Thus, cosmetic companies should consider optimizing the size of their packaging such that materials and resources are minimized without sacrificing functionality and user appeal. PackMojo offers a structural design service that can allow you to consult packaging engineers to achieve this. Choosing packaging that physically takes up less space can be beneficial for production efficiency and cost-effectiveness and the environment.

Effects of Count

With product count, it is quite obvious that with a higher number of units, it will generally take more time to produce. However, when product count for packaging is low, it actually often leads to more manual production processes and lower efficiency. Thus, in order to increase the speed and throughput, cosmetic companies should actually consider increasing product count to enable automation. Consolidating variety and thus increasing the count of a single packaging design can reduce the need for machine component swaps, resulting in expedited production and even decreased costs per unit thanks to economies of scale. Cosmetic companies can achieve this by using the same packaging design for multiple products whenever possible. If the products have specific labeling needs, companies can even consider using the structural base for their packaging so that portions of the production process can be streamlined.

Multi-Material Construction Design for Recyclability in Beauty Packaging

Multi-material packaging designs can often come with functional versatility, extended shelf life for products and enhanced product protection, their complex composition can often limit the packaging’s recyclability. This complex makeup often results in the packaging going to waste thus increasing pollution and resource depletion. As consumers continue to desire to have a low impact on their environments, cosmetic companies are forced to innovate to have a more circular economy approach when it comes to packaging. One approach is for brands to carefully consider the material makeup of their packaging. Brands can help simplify the recycling process by choosing to use materials with similar melting points and have compatible recycling streams or ones that can be more mechanically separated.

Minimal Mono-material Paper Packaging Cosmetics

Cosmetic companies may also choose to design multi-material packaging with disassembly in mind. Research shows that 84% of consumers are unintentionally contaminating their recycling. By designing easily disassembled packaging, beauty brands can empower buyers to increase the amount of packaging that is correctly recycled. With 84% of consumers seeking clear recycling instructions on product packaging, it’s clear that clear instructions along with snap-fit or interlocking mechanisms, that enable easy disassembly, can significantly reduce the amount of packaging that ends as waste in landfills and increase the volume of packaging that follow circular packaging protocols. Making the recycling process accessible to consumers can help them take the crucial step of sending their waste to recycling centers confidently.

To cap it all off, cosmetic companies can help to streamline recycling by facilitating efficient sorting and recycling through the use of standardized recycling symbols. These symbols can help facilities identify and separate materials easily especially as advancements in recycling technology enhance automation and accuracy in material sorting.

Cosmetic companies can also lean on innovative technological advancements and hybrid materials that offer eco-friendly alternatives. Often made of one material and considered a mono-material structure, this type of packaging can support closed-loop recycling such that materials are recycled and reused within the same product lifecycle. By unlocking the ability to simplify the recyclability and reusability of the packaging, mono-material packaging works to promote sustainability through a circular approach to packaging in the beauty industry.

Careful design considerations can also help to lower the environmental impact of multi-material packaging. By simplifying designs such that there is less variety of plastics being used, cosmetic companies can help to facilitate recycling. Beauty brands may also look to design modular packaging where different components are reused or recycled differently to reduce waste. The incorporation of interchangeable parts and refillable products helps to decrease waste however it’s important to note that these solutions can sometimes require specialized equipment or additional control measures which can increase the financial investment required.

Cosmetic Products Origins Sustainability Material Considerations

Balancing Functionality & Eco-Friendliness in Cosmetic Packaging

Material Considerations

In the modern age, product packaging’s purpose is no longer simply to act as a container. It is now used as a communication tool to help brands make statements regarding their ethos, product quality and ecological responsibility. Research shows that although 90% of kitchen waste is recycled, this number drops to 50% when it comes to bathroom waste. To achieve a premium look, beauty products are traditionally packaged in single-use and multi-material packaging which is a large contributor to landfill waste. The beauty industry faces unique challenges when it comes to balancing functionality and sustainability in its packaging due to the need for product protection against contamination and degradation.

Plastic is a highly durable and versatile option that is effective at product protection. However, we see 2.5 billion plastic bottles hitting landfills annually, making it a not-so-eco-friendly choice. Cosmetic companies can look to achieve a balance with functionality by exploring the use of different materials. For example, while glass is luxurious-appearing, fully recyclable and encourages repurposing, it is also a heavier alternative that can generate more carbon emissions and financial burden during transportation. 

Paper, though biodegradable, compostable and recyclable, may not be as protective as other materials and is susceptible to moisture damage. Bioplastics, though most closely resemble plastic, have reduced carbon emissions during production and may require specific industrial composting conditions to achieve complete degradation. Thus, it is important to consider which alternatives will better fit your product’s needs best whilst minimizing its impact on the environment. With constant innovation, each beauty brand is guaranteed to find one that fits their needs.

Lush is well-known for their use of alternative materials for packaging. They use a variety of materials such as recycled plastics, biodegradable materials, paper-based packaging and sometimes even naked packaging which refers to products sold without packaging. Their iconic shampoo bars are wrapped in minimal amounts of recyclable paper and their bath bombs come in paper bags truly exemplifying the ability to find a balance between functionality and sustainable packaging that minimizes waste. To design similar paper-based packaging, make sure to check out PackMojo’s selection of packaging products.

Lush Sustainable Packaging Recycled Plastic Paper

Design Considerations

In locating the intersection of functionality and eco-friendliness, cosmetic companies need to ensure that they are keeping their consumers' user experience at the forefront of all decisions, ensuring an enjoyable and easy-to-use product. As a result, we have seen the rise of refillable packaging systems. Refillable packaging systems can encourage consumers to reuse containers from their previously purchased products and thus minimize future packaging waste. They can also be used to foster brand loyalty as product refills tend to come at reduced prices. 

It also presents a unique opportunity for beauty brands to tap into subscription-based revenue models. Similarly, modular designs can allow for specific parts of packaging to be swapped out, thus extending the life cycle of the parts that remain unchanged. An example might be a lipstick case with interchangeable colored balms. Though this can be good at reducing waste, brands need to ensure that they design components of modular designs to be easily used.

Sol De Janerio’s popular Brazilian Bum Bum Cream comes in a bright yellow container made of sturdy plastic. With a cult-like following, the brand has opted to design refillable pods made with less material that can be placed directly in the original container. This solution is able to minimize landfill waste as the original cream container can be reused indefinitely. This cost-effective solution tackles the need for functionality, aesthetics and eco-consciousness. Similar to this, we will continue to witness an emergence of minimalist packaging as modern consumers begin to associate luxury with social and environmental responsibility. Minimalist packaging eliminates unnecessary components and materials thus reducing waste whilst simultaneously simplifying products for users without compromising the protection and transparency of the product.

Sol de Janero Bum Bum Cream Refillable Pod

By carefully considering the balance of functionality and eco-friendliness, brands can build loyalty amongst consumers who look to align themselves with brands that are actively making environmentally conscious efforts. Catering to the growing market of eco-conscious consumers allows cosmetic companies to gain more brand visibility and build a stronger market presence. However, as many brands look to shift in this direction, cosmetic companies must keep up with evolving sustainability standards and consumer expectations to gain a competitive edge while avoiding greenwashing.

Hygiene & Transparency in Beauty Packaging

Role in Maintaining Hygiene

Packaging is paramount in maintaining the hygiene of products through delivery and day-to-day use. Due to the nature of cosmetic products, they are often susceptible and sensitive to contamination from external factors making packaging a crucial barrier to preserve product integrity. Traditional packaging options which often have open lids pose challenges in maintaining hygiene prompting brands to adopt packaging with dispensing mechanisms such as pumps or sprays. Since they are able to control product release, they are able to minimize the exposure to contaminants thus allowing products to remain hygienic thus prolonging product life.

Role in Maintaining Transparency

In the era of consumer empowerment, transparency has become a key purpose of packaging. With 72% of consumers believing that brands should be honest with their products and ingredients, packaging serves as a powerful communication tool to provide comprehensive information regarding ingredients, potential allergens and eco-friendly initiatives. Ensuring that the labeling is clear and legible is imperative in effectively conveying ingredient lists, instructions and sustainability claims such that font sizes and color contrasts should be prioritized. Staying informed on regional requirements and internationally recognized labeling guidelines can also help brands maintain transparency across global markets.

With the rise in ethical brands, brands should prioritize openness and sharing information regarding the sourcing, production and environmental impacts of their products. With more consumers seeking safe, sustainable and cruelty-free products, educating consumers can help to empower them to make informed decisions. By including certifications in packaging, brands are able to communicate their ethos, making it easier for conscious consumers to align with their brand. In such an oversaturated market, trust can help cosmetic companies build trust while distinguishing themselves as responsible and reliable.

Glossier Clean Beauty Transparency Packaging

Sustainability To Drive Innovation

Cosmetic brands are challenged with seamlessly integrating low environmental impact design elements into packaging while maintaining aesthetics to appeal to the growing consumer base of environmentally conscious consumers. We see this come through in trends such as minimalism which is aimed to reduce excessive elements to convey a sense of sophistication and let the product shine. We are also seeing natural elegance where eco-friendly materials are used to show elegance. The texture and feel of unique materials such as bamboo casings are dressed up to exude opulence. 

Finally, we are seeing brands begin to incorporate sustainability into their brand identity making packaging a physical representation of their shift towards eco-friendliness. We are seeing embossed logos or QR codes as opposed to plastic packaging to communicate a brand’s sustainability mission. With this, we do and will continue to see a shift towards circular economy principles and innovation in techniques and materials such as vegetable inks or upcycled packaging.

Shift Towards Clean Beauty 

Consumers are also growing a preference for clean beauty consisting of products that are natural, non-toxic and chemical-free. There will be an increased need for consumer education such that buyers feel empowered in selecting their cosmetic products. To lean into this trend, brands should expect to increase the transparency of their ingredients and processes. As influencers continue to share their experiences and advocate for ethical and sustainable products, we will also see the clean beauty message continue to spread across social media. 

Clean beauty can also often be reflected in packaging designs where the focus is on simplicity and elegance. The challenges that come along with this are to provide clear and concise messaging whilst maintaining a clutter-free aesthetic. Brands can leverage smart packaging to achieve the desired results, they may also look to innovative printing techniques such as embossing to create visually appealing packaging designs that still employ distinctive branding elements.

Digital Meets Physical

As the digital era continues to grow, cosmetic companies will have to look to seamlessly incorporate technology such as augmented reality into unboxing experiences. The challenge for brands will be to maintain the practicality of digital elements without getting swept up in the excitement of technology when designing a truly immersive experience for consumers. However, with this in mind, brands should still continue to prioritize creating a user-friendly experience in order to stay competitive whilst the technology landscape evolves rapidly.

We will also see technology and smart packaging used to provide tracking information. This can include information about product usage, expiration dates and sustainability information. However, as with all technology, brands have to be wary about data privacy concerns and look to establish standardized recycling processes for smart packaging components such as sensors and RFID technology.

Opportunities & Challenges for Cosmetics Packaging Suppliers

As the beauty industry grows towards innovation in sustainability, we are seeing more and more environmentally friendly packaging materials and solutions emerge. To meet the demand of customers, suppliers can look to implement more alternative packaging materials. Suppliers can also look to get the appropriate certifications, such as the FSC certification, to exhibit their commitment to following the strict certification guidelines. As brands are expected to provide sustainable solutions, we can also see suppliers expected to fill this demand. Fortunately, with the increase in technological advancements, we can expect to see sustainable materials and practices become more approachable and affordable for suppliers to implement. 

3D Printer Packaging Innovations Technology

As the market of packaging suppliers increases in saturation, suppliers will be expected to find ways to stand out from their competition. Thus, maintaining a high quality in products and staying on top of packaging trends will be crucial to building brand resilience. The competition will also lead suppliers to meet cost pressures as raw materials rise in costs and prices for packaging continue to get more competitive. Suppliers will need to find novel avenues to optimize production processes and streamline operations whilst maintaining high quality. 

As more certifications and guidelines emerge, suppliers will also have to ensure that they are following strict regulations and requirements, particularly as they may differ in different regions. As product development increases in pace, suppliers will be expected to streamline operations whilst implementing more complex designs and smaller batch sizes to keep up with the shorter product life cycles and rapid trend cycles.

Closing Thoughts

As the cosmetic industry never ceases to change with the uprising of new trends, beauty brands are forced to navigate packaging design challenges to stay competitive. Cosmetic companies must keep up with the dynamic nature of the constant innovation and shifting consumer demands and subsequently find creative solutions to overcome such obstacles.

The technology of innovative materials and processes will continue to play a pivotal role in allowing companies to stay ahead of trends such as sustainability, transparency and clean beauty. As long as beauty brands take the time to understand and consider these challenges and their potential solutions, there is no doubt they will be able to take them head-on and dominate the cosmetic market.

Start your Packaging Journey Today

Explore our range of custom boxes & printed packaging solutions.