You might be surprised to learn that a handful of giant corporations own the entire beauty industry. Though all brands seem separate when you’re walking through Sephora, most of them are in fact owned by the same few conglomerates.
NARS, bareMinerals, Buxom, Shiseido, Laura Mercier? Owned by Shiseido.
Kat Von D, Marc Jacobs Beauty, Bite, Fenty, Ole Henriksen, the Sephora brand? Owned by LVMH, which also owns the Sephora stores.
Clinique, Too Faced, Bobbi Brown, Becca, MAC, Estee Lauder, Tom Ford, GlamGlow, Smashbox? Owned by Estee Lauder.
You get the idea.
The truth is that a few multinational companies own most popular brands in the beauty industry. These established brands acquire new brands to grow even stronger, and while this has been a common business practice for decades, there’s been an increasing number in beauty acquisitions in recent years:
Many global beauty companies have chosen to focus on acquisitions as a key strategy to drive growth. As a result, we have seen a steady rise in merger and acquisition (M&A) activity since 2013. In 2016, there were 91 beauty industry deals announced globally, up 25% from 75 deals in 2013.
Mergers and acquisitions are on the rise, and we can expect many more brands to be bought by companies like L’Oreal, Estee Lauder, and Unilever.
While these acquisitions are public knowledge and can be viewed on sites like Crunchbase, most people who purchase the brands are unaware of what’s going on behind the scenes.
While I don’t believe in boycotting every brand owned by a company that tests on animals, I’m bringing you this information with the goal of transparency in mind, in order for you be aware of the full picture, and ultimately to make better purchasing decisions.
We’ll start by looking at the biggest acquisitions of the last 3 years. Then, you’ll learn who the 8 largest beauty players are, along with a brief overview of each company and the beauty brands they own.
You’ll also find other beauty conglomerates which own several beauty brands, and near the end of the post, you’ll see which brands have remained independent.
March 2015: REN acquired by Unilever.
April 2015: Bourjois acquired by Coty.
May 2015: Kate Somerville acquired by Unilever.
July 2015: Murad acquired by Unilever.
July 2015: 43 brands (incl. CoverGirl) acquired by Coty from P&G.
June 2016: Laura Mercier (Gurwitch Products) acquired by Shiseido.
July 2016: IT Cosmetics acquired by L’Oreal.
August 2016: Dollar Shave Club acquired by Unilever.
September 2016: Elizabeth Arden acquired by Revlon.
September 2016: Seventh Generation acquired by Unilever.
October 2016: Becca acquired by Estee Lauder.
November 2016: Too Faced acquired by Estee Lauder.
January 2017: CeraVe acquired by L’Oreal.
January 2017: Younique acquired by Coty.
October 2017: Illamasqua acquired by The Hut Group.
November 2017: Sundial Brands (SheaMoisture, Nubian Heritage, Nyakio) acquired by Unilever.
December 2017: Oribe acquired by Kao.
December 2017: Schmidt’s Naturals acquired by Unilever.
June 2017: Hourglass acquired by Unilever.
L’Oréal owns the following brands:
- L’Oreal Paris
- La Roche-Posay
- IT Cosmetics
- Urban Decay
- Seed Phytonutrients
- Shu Uemura
- Yves Saint Laurent
- Ralph Lauren
- Giorgio Armani
- Maison Margiela
- Victor & Rolf
- Proenza Shouler
- Helena Rubenstein
- African Beauty Brands
- Atelier Cologne
- Style Nanda
- Guy Laroche
- Roger & Gallet
- Paloma Picasso
- Yue Sai
- House 99
L’Oreal was founded in 1909 in France, and has been growing its portfolio since 1967, when it acquired Lancome and Garnier.
L’Oreal currently owns 51 beauty brands, including some of the most well-known names in the drugstore (Maybelline, Garnier, NYX, Essie, CeraVe). They own several professional hair care and fragrance brands as well as big names such as Lancome and Kielh’s.
L’Oreal tests on animals where required by law and a lot of their brands have distributors in mainland China, though they’re trying to project a misleading cruelty-free image. Some of the brands they’ve acquired are cruelty-free (NYX, Urban Decay, IT Cosmetics) and they have remained cruelty-free after the acquisition.
In 1989, L’Oréal completely ceased testing its products on animals, thus 14 years before the regulation required so. Today, L’Oréal no longer tests its ingredients on animals and no longer tolerates any exception to this rule.
Certain health authorities may nevertheless decide to conduct animal tests themselves for certain cosmetic products, as it is still the case in China.
Their animal testing policy can be found here.
2. Estée Lauder
Estée Lauder owns the following brands:
- Too Faced
- Bobbi Brown
- La Mer
- Estee Lauder
- Rodin Olio Lusso
- Jo Malone
- Le Labo
- Bumble and Bumble
- Frederic Malle
- Tom Ford Beauty
- Ermenegildo Zegna
- Lab Series
- Tory Burch
- Michael Kors
- Tommy Hilfiger
- Donna Karan
Estée Lauder was founded in 1946 in New York City, and the Lauder family currently owns 40% of the company.
Estée Lauder owns 29 beauty brands, mostly in the high-end and fragrance categories. Their policy is not to test on animals, yet an exception is made when “a regulatory body demands it for its safety or regulatory assessment”. This means that most of their brands are not cruelty-free, which includes MAC, Clinique, and GlamGlow, all of which are sold in mainland China and engage in animal testing in order to market their products there.
They’ve recently acquired several cruelty-free brands (Becca, Too Faced, Le Labo) which have remained cruelty-free after their acquisition. At $1.65B, Too Faced was the largest acquisition in the history of Estee Lauder, and was an attempt for the company to add “millenial brands” to their portfolio.
Aveda is another cruelty-free brand they own. Aveda doesn’t test on animals, they don’t allow suppliers or third-parties to test on animals, and they don’t sell products or have salons in mainland China.
Estee Lauder claims that they will “continue to work in close partnership with industry, government and non-profit groups in countries that require animal testing to work together towards the elimination of this practice and the global acceptance of non-animal testing methods”. Their full animal testing policy can be found here.
Here are the brands owned by Unilever:
- St. Ives
- Kate Sommerville
- Lever 2000
- Seventh Generation
- Dollar Shave Club
- Schmidt’s Naturals
- Living Proof
- Love Beauty & Planet
- Q Tips
- Alberto Balsam
- Tony & Guy
- Mods Hair
- Block & White
- Clinic Plus
- Cream Silk
- Le Sancy
- Dusch Das
- Fissan Baby
- Fair & Lovely
- Elle 18
- Ayush Therapy
- Nubian Heritage
Unilever is a British-Dutch multinational founded in 1929.
While Unilever is a big player when it comes to drugstore brands (Dove, St. Ives, Simple, Vaseline, Tresemme), they’ve recently started acquiring brands like Hourglass, REN, Kate Sommerville, Living Proof, Dermalogica, Seventh Generation, and Dollar Shave Club.
In 2017, Unilever also acquired Sundial brands, which owns SheaMoisture, Nubian Heritage, and Nyakio.
Unilever still tests on animals in mainland China, where many of their brands are sold, and claims that some of their suppliers may test ingredients on animals:
“Occasionally, across our portfolio, some of the ingredients we use have to be tested by our suppliers to comply with legal and regulatory requirements in some markets; and some governments test certain products on animals as part of their regulations.”
This means that Unilever is not a cruelty-free company. You can read their full animal testing policy here.
Unilever has also deployed their marketing efforts to establish Dove as a cruelty-free brand, though Dove continues to sell some of their products in China, which means they’re subject to the post-market animal testing laws. Click here to read my detailed article on this topic.
Coty owns the following brands:
- Max Factor
- Sally Hansen
- Stella McCartney
- Roberto Cavalli
- James Bond 007
- Jil Sander
- Natural Instincts
- Nice n’ Easy
- Calvin Klein
- Katy Perry
- Hugo Boss
- Tiffany & Co
- Bottega Veneta
- Marc Jacobs Fragrances
- Alexander McQueen
- Bruno Banani
- Miu Miu
- Cenoura & Bronze
Coty was founded in 1904 in France.
Coty recently acquired 43 beauty brands from Procter & Gamble, making them the #1 leader in the fragrance industry. They own many popular beauty brands including CoverGirl, Rimmel, Bourjois, OPI, Philosophy, and Clairol. They also acquired Younique in 2017.
Coty is not a cruelty-free, and doesn’t own any cruelty-free brands. Some of their brands (for example Philosophy) is not sold in mainland China, yet still inherits Coty’s animal testing policy, meaning it’s not a cruelty-free brand and could enter the Chinese market:
“We do not perform, nor do we ever commission any third parties on our behalf to perform, testing of our products or ingredients on animals, except where required by law.”
5. Procter & Gamble
These are the brands owned by Procter & Gamble:
- Herbal Essences
- Head & Shoulders
- First Aid Beauty
- Old Spice
- The Art of Shaving
Procter & Gamble is the oldest company on this list, founded in 1837 in the United States.
Procter & Gamble’s portfolio is smaller after selling 43 of its beauty brands to Coty, but they remain a big player in the beauty and personal care space. With brands like Pantene, Olay, and Secret, they can be found all over the drugstore.
In 2018, they acquired cruelty-free brand First Aid Beauty, which remained cruelty-free and doesn’t share the Procter & Gamble animal testing policy, which is not to test on animals unless required by law:
At P&G, we believe that eliminating animal testing is the right thing to do. We do not test our products or ingredients on animals anywhere in the world unless required by law.
You can read their full policy here.
Shiseido currently owns these brands:
- Laura Mercier
- Majolica Majorca
- Ma Cherie
- Cle de Peau
- Aqua Label
- D Program
- Sea Breeze
- Dolce & Gabbana
- Elie Saab
- Issey Miyake
- Narcisco Rodriguez
- Serge Lutens
- Zadig & Voltaire
- Pure & Mild
- Revital Granas
- AG Deo 24
Founded in 1872, Shiseido is a Japanese multinational beauty comapny.
Shiseido focuses on Research and Development and their animal testing policy reflects this:
“Shiseido does not test its cosmetic products or ingredients on animals except when absolutely mandated by law, or in the rare case where there are absolutely no alternative methods for guaranteeing product safety.”
This means that the Shiseido Group is not a cruelty-free company, as they may not only allow the Chinese authorities to perform animal tests on their products, but they may also perform animal testing on ingredients themselves. You can read the full policy in this document.
Shiseido has also entered the Chinese market with one of their formerly cruelty-free brands, NARS, which prompted me to remove NARS from my list of cruelty-free brands. Shiseido currently owns 2 cruelty-free brands, bareMinerals and Buxom, though I don’t personally support them as they could follow NARS’ path and enter the Chinese market.
7. Johnson & Johnson
These are the brands owns by Johnson & Johnson:
- Clean & Clear
- Le Petit Marseillais
Johnson & Johnson was founded in New Jersey in 1886, and originally focused on medical devices and personal care.
Johnson & Johnson is a giant of the health and personal care space, but they also own a few beauty-related brands like Neutrogena and Clean & Clear. They do test on animals, and this is their animal testing policy:
“Johnson & Johnson is committed to ensure the ethical treatment of animals used in laboratory settings to advance patient safety and well-being. Johnson & Johnson operating companies have policies and guidelines in place that drive the ethical and humane treatment of the animals we use, and that promote the use of non-animal alternatives whenever feasible.
Personnel involved with the care and use of animals must be educated, trained, and/or qualified in the principles of animal welfare and compliance to help ensure quality science and animal well-being.”
For cosmetics, however, Johnson & Johnson only tests on animals where required by law:
“The Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies does not test cosmetic or personal care products on animals anywhere in the world except in the rare situation where it is required by law or governments.”
You can read their full animal testing policy here.
LVMH owns these brands, though some are under their Kendo brand:
- Make Up For Ever
- Kat Von D (Kendo)
- Marc Jacobs Beauty (Kendo)
- Fenty Beauty (Kendo)
- Bite (Kendo)
- Ole Henriksen (Kendo)
- Francis Kurkdjian
- Acqua Di Parma
- Christian Dior
- Hard Candy
LVMH was founded in 1987 in Paris after the merger between Louis Vuitton (the famous fashion house) and Moët Hennessy (the alcohol company). The Christian Dior company owns 40.9% of LVMH.
LVMH is the company behind Sephora stores as well as the Sephora brand. They own several perfume brands (Guerlain, Givenchy, Fendi) and focus on high-end cosmetics (Make Up For Ever, Benefit) and skincare (Fresh).
They own the Kendo group, which I consider to be their “cruelty-free branch”: Kat Von D Beauty, Marc Jacobs Beauty, Bite, and Ole Henriksen are all cruelty-free and under the Kendo umbrella. Formula X was one of their brands but is now discontinued. Fenty Beauty also falls under the same group, although the brand hasn’t yet posted a clear animal testing policy.
All other brands (outside of the Kendo group) are not cruelty-free. This is the case for Benefit, Make Up For Ever, Fresh, Sephora, and all the fragrances listed above.
“The LVMH Group’s policy on the sensitive issue of using animal-testing as part of assessing the safety of finished products has always been clearly defined: the aim is to ensure the safety of our products’ consumers while taking respect for animal life into account. This is why the Perfumes & Cosmetics companies stopped performing tests on animals for the products that they brought to market in 1989, well before the official European Union ban, which dates from 2004. […]
The LVMH Group is particularly vigilant in terms of complying with regulations, the opinions issued by scientific committees and the recommendations of professional organisations, both in Europe and throughout the world. […]
This level of standards enables LVMH to guarantee the safety of its cosmetic products when they are brought to the market. […]
A similar approach is currently under development in China. This post-marketing follow-up of the products enables new research avenues to be explored and the quality and high tolerance of the products to be improved on an ongoing basis.”
The segment above is from the LVMH 2015 Environment Report, which you can read here.
Other Beauty Conglomerates
Markwins Beauty owns cruelty-free drugstore brands like Wet n’ Wild, Physicians Formula, Black Radiance, Lip Smacker, and LORAC. Most of their brands are cruelty-free, excluding LORAC which has an ambiguous policy.
Kosé is a Japanese beauty conglomerate that owns Tarte, Paul & Joe, Anna Sui, as well as many Japanese brands. They also own the license to sell Rimmel in Japan. Kosé is not a cruelty-free company, though Tarte has remained cruelty-free after the acquisition.
AmorePacific is a Korean company which owns many popular K-Beauty brands (AmorePacific, Etude House, Laneige, Innisfree). They also own brands that are lesser-known in the West (Sulwhasoo, Mamonde, Primera, Odyssey, Espoir, Hera, Iope, Hanyul, VitalBeautie, Mise en Scene, and more) as well as perfume brand Annick Goutal. To the best of my knowledge, they test on animals where required by law.
Revlon owns Almay, Elizabeth Arden, Borghese, Mitchum, Natural Wonder, CND, Institut Jeanne Gatineau, as well as a plethora of celebrity and designer fragrances (Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Elizabeth Taylor, Curve, Giorgio Beverly Hills, Ed Hardy, Jennifer Aniston, Lucky Brand, PS Fine Cologne for Men, Halston, Geoffrey Beene, Alfred Sung, White Shoulders, Electric Youth, Charlie, Juicy Couture, John Varvatos, Wildfox Couture). Revlon is not a cruelty-free company, and none of their brands are cruelty-free.
Kao owns some popular drugstore brands like Jergens, Biore, and Curel. They also own Oribe (acquired in 2017), John Frieda, Molton brown, Goldwell, KMS, Ban, and Guhl. Most of their brands are not cruelty-free, though Molton Brown and Oribe are cruelty-free.
Milani and Jordana were recently sold to the Gryphon Investors, who don’t typically invest in the beauty industry, though they have a giant portfolio of brands.
Beiersdorf owns Nivea, Eucerin, La Praire, Labello, and other personal care brands.
Clorox owns Burt’s Bees, which is their only beauty brand… at least so far.
Though it’s not a multinational, Seed Beauty is the company behind Colourpop, Kylie Cosmetics, and KKW Beauty.
Lastly, I want to list the big brands that have remained independent and are not owned by any other company. These brands include Anastasia Beverly Hills, Milk Makeup, Jouer Cosmetics, Stila, Huda Beauty, Glossier, ELF, Cover FX, Nudestix, Charlotte Tilbury, Josie Maran, Beautyblender, Kevin Aucoin, and Pixi.
Some of these brands have investor backing, meaning they receive an investment in exchange for stake in the company. As a result, a percentage of the business might be owned by investors, but the brands remain indepdently-owned. This is the case for Glossier, Huda Beauty, and Anastasia Beverly Hills among others.
For instance, Huda Beauty has received an investment from TSG Consumer Partners, which also invested in brands like Smashbox, ELF, and IT Cosmetics. Huda Kattan, founder of Huda Beauty, stated that she wants to compete with the big conglomerates rather than sell them her company:
“We have been contacted by every big conglomerate [for acquisitions]. It just didn’t feel right. There’s so much to do for this brand. Why can’t we be the next Estee Lauder of our time?”
Meanwhile, I believe we’ll be witnessing more beauty acquisitions in 2018 and 2019, some perhaps mentioned in the list above.