Aluminum Tubes Are Everywhere in Beauty. Here’s Why.
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Aluminum Tubes Are Everywhere in Beauty. Here’s Why.

Aug 16, 2023

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The Summer Fridays Jet Lag Mask has been one of the most hyped and popular skin care launches of the season. The $48 leave-on mask/moisturizer hybrid became the best-selling skin care product at Sephora less than two weeks after launching in March, and it has subsequently sold out there three more times. While some of its popularity can surely be attributed to the fact that Summer Fridays’ founders, Marianna Hewitt and Lauren Gores, are lifestyle bloggers and influencers with a huge social media network (Kim Kardashian even shared it on her app), I’m convinced that the metal tube is a huge part of the appeal.

A post shared by Officine Universelle Buly 1803 (@officine_universelle_buly) on Jan 15, 2018 at 4:06am PST

The founders of Summer Fridays savvily chose a cornflower blue tube, ensuring that it would immediately stand out in a sea of millennial pink beauty packaging. But the real genius decision here? They put it in an aluminum tube, an Instagram shelfie-savvy move if there ever was one.

"The aluminum really stands out," says Hewitt. "We wanted it to be this beautiful piece on your beauty counter. We loved that regardless if it was used or if it was brand new, it still looked really good. With a lot of plastic tubes, when they start to become empty, they just look a little deflated. We wanted it to be photogenic."

It's no secret that packaging is important to consumers. Humans are hardwired to be drawn to things we find attractive, so no matter how good the goop might be inside, the outside is often what makes us pick it up at first. A commonly shared statistic in the marketing world is that at least one-third of consumer choices are based on packaging.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly what makes an aluminum tube so much more aesthetically pleasing than its uglier plastic counterparts or other types of packaging, but I’m going to try because it's a trend in beauty packaging at the moment.

A post shared by A S A R A I (@asarai) on May 8, 2018 at 8:06am PDT

Anyone who was alive in the ’70s and ’80s likely remembers metal toothpaste tubes. They were utilitarian and had sharp edges. You could actually cut yourself while folding it up from the bottom in an attempt to squeeze out more paste.

As plastic packaging technology got better, consumer products ditched the metal. Even Tom's of Maine, which famously adopted metal tubes for its so-called natural toothpaste because they’re recyclable, got rid of its aluminum tube in 2011. Reportedly, 25 percent of consumers had gripes about the tube, ranging from leaks to complaints that it was hard for kids and elderly people to squeeze out.

Tubes in general for cosmetics product packaging are trending, with the market projected to hit $9.3 billion globally by 2021, up from $6.65 billion in 2016. (Multiple increasingly desperate calls and emails to the Tube Council, an industry professional organization I’d hoped to glean a lot of really esoteric tube data from, sadly went unanswered. I’ll be sure to update if they respond.)

A post shared by Grown Alchemist (@grownalchemist) on May 17, 2018 at 4:07am PDT

In recent years, there's been an uptick in metal tube usage in beauty, at least anecdotally based on the brands and products I’ve seen launch. Deciem's newly available Abnomaly lip balms come in aluminum squeeze tubes adorned with whimsical cartoon drawings. Natura Brasil, which just launched in the US last year, uses aluminum tubes for its various creams. The tubes are also common among natural skin care brands like Grown Alchemist, Asarai, and Red Earth. The fragrance brand Byredo, popular among fashionable folk, offers hand creams and squeezable hand sanitizers in minimalist metal tubes. Farmacy sells a honey salve in a tube with a folksy wooden lid. The famous hand creams at & Other Stories (owned by H&M's parent company) come in metal tubes meant to look like oil paint tubes. You get the idea.

Metal has a satisfying heft to it, which makes the product feel more substantial, and therefore, more expensive; plastic still has a reputation of being cheap. (I’ve learned over the years that luxury cosmetics companies weight their compacts so that they feel heavier in your hand. Heavy things = better, apparently.) Metal, a natural material, conveys a handcrafted quality and an artisanal imperfection in a way that glossy plastic can't. It helps explain why we are willing to drop $27 on Aesop's hand cream, which a Racked writer admitted she purchased solely for the ’gram.

One also cannot discount the pure pleasure of using that sharp point recessed in the cap to puncture the metal seal on a tube. It's like a treasure hunt, and that little "pop" when you break the seal is very satisfying, sexual innuendos aside.

Paul Windle, the co-founder of the new UK-based hair care brand Windle & Moodie, explained to me recently why the duo chose an aluminum tube for its really wonderful Invisible Day and Night Cream. The product is meant to evoke skin care for the hair, which can partially explain the tube packaging. But also, "[A metal tube] is just very tactile. It has that wrinkly texture. I just liked it," Windle told me somewhat sheepishly, though he shouldn't be, because he's absolutely right. He said using the aluminum tube is the first part of "a sensory journey" you embark on with the product. Tube poetry, seriously.

A post shared by Windle & Moodie (@windleandmoodie) on Apr 30, 2018 at 3:21am PDT

Aluminum tubes can be attractive enough that they even win awards. Last year, when the quirky, artsy French apothecary brand Buly 1803 launched in the US, founder Ramdane Touhami told me that the brand had won European packaging awards for its tubes. It's really not hard to see why. This virgin! A snake!

Touhami was blasé about the whole thing, saying, "It's a very stupid thing. It makes me laugh every time." But he then went on to proudly show me the embossing around the neck of one of the tubes.

Aluminum tubes can be high-maintenance, as evidenced by the Tom's of Maine decision. There is a lot of new tube technology out there wherein plastic can be given a metallic sheen, but it doesn't have the same feel as the real deal. It doesn't have that coolness to the touch, or the bendiness.

Hewitt and Gores told me it was difficult to find a tube for the Summer Fridays mask at first, due to the need to stability-test the formula. Not all formulas work well in a metal tube. "It took a lot of trial and error before we were able to find something that we aesthetically loved but that also was a good home for our mask and it was not easy," Hewitt said. "Our manufacturers were like, ‘You guys win for hardest packaging!’"

Dr. Heather Rogers, the dermatologist who launched Restore, a kind of natural Vaseline, was interested in the sustainability of aluminum but conceded that it required extra work. The brand had to line its tubes to protect the product, but liners made in the US apparently contain small amounts of BPA. She went with a more expensive liner made in Switzerland that is BPA-free.

A post shared by BYREDO (@officialbyredo) on Mar 20, 2018 at 10:08am PDT

Sustainability is a much-cited reason for why brands are choosing aluminum tubes. Deciem chose the packaging for its lip balm based on both form and recyclability. Rogers chose it because it's recyclable and she was worried about the plastic burden on the environment and on human health. Hewitt admits that aesthetics were the duo's first consideration, but she's happy the tube is recyclable. (While the tubes can be recycled, as Tom's of Maine discovered, a lot of people weren't actually doing it, so it's unclear how much this packaging trend will actually help the environment in the long term.)

Brands claim tubes also can potentially function to help protect whatever is inside, at least until they are opened, a particularly important issue for so-called clean brands that tend to eschew traditional preservatives. Patrice Rynenberg, the co-founder of Asarai, which packages several of its skin care products in eye-catching yellow tubes, said, "For our natural formulations, unlike plastic tubes, our aluminum tubes are pressure-sealed to protect against bacteria. This is very important for more delicate formulations."

On its website, Aesop states: "Our preference at Aesop is to minimize the need for preservatives by packaging in dark protective glass and anodized aluminium tubes (and thus minimising UV spoilage of product) and incorporating micro amounts of scientifically validated preservatives."

But to me, this is all secondary. Aluminum tubes look great. The end.