When we buy beauty products, we usually don't consider much more than the price, the purpose and whether the product will work for our skin or hair type. But now, more than ever, it's important for brands and consumers to start thinking about how our beauty shopping choices impact the planet.
These days, there are so many beauty brands using labels like "sustainable," "vegan" and "eco-friendly," but it's not always clear how the brand has interpreted or actioned these claims. For this reason, it's easy for us consumers to fall for greenwashing marketing techniques, whereby brands use misleading jargon like "clean beauty" or quite literally house their products in green or brown packaging which looks natural but isn't.
Yep, it's overwhelming, and sustainable beauty is complicated for many reasons, but by understanding how beauty brands are able to be more sustainable, we as consumers are able to make better-informed purchasing decisions. The beauty industry has a massive waste problem, so in order to be environmentally responsible, brands have to consider things such as how and where they are sourcing ingredients, what their packaging is made from, if it's recyclable and the amount of carbon emissions that transporting ingredients and products creates.
Ultimately, there's really no way to be 100% sustainable, but what we can do as consumers is champion the beauty brands that really are trying to do their bit for the environment. Small everyday actions such as swapping out a moisturiser or lipstick for a more sustainable version and opting for a refillable shampoo over a new plastic bottle are just a few ways we can take a more sustainable approach to shopping for beauty products.
Ahead are the sustainability-minded beauty brands we're currently obsessed with that prove shopping for beauty sustainably doesn't mean you have to compromise on affordable prices or a luxury beauty experience.
Newly launched in the UK, Ulé is a French skincare brand which grows all the ingredients used in its products on a vertical farm just outside Paris. This innovative farming technique means that the origin of every ingredient used in every product is 100% traceable, which massively reduces the brand's carbon emission contribution. What's more, all of the plants grown on the eco-farm are pesticide-free, and 95% of the water used on the farm is recycled. And not only is this great news for the environment, but it also enhances the product quality. Since the products are formulated so soon after the ingredients are harvested, they're incredibly fresh and potent.
2. The Body Shop
The Body Shop has been advocating for a more sustainable approach to beauty for over 40 years, and every year, the brand releases a report detailing everything it's doing to work towards becoming more ethical and sustainable. The brand is B-Corp certified, which means it lives up to strict social and environmental standards, and it caters to sustainable beauty shoppers with a refill program, a mission to eliminate virgin plastic from its packaging, vegan formulas and a packaging-recycling scheme.
3. Neal's Yard Remedies
Being sustainable and ethical has been an important focus for Neal's Yard Remedies since the brand was first founded in 1981. It created the first Soil Association–approved beauty products and was acknowledged as the world's first carbon-neutral high-street retailer back in 2008. These days, the brand uses 92% certified-natural ingredients in its products, and its eco-factory in Dorset operates on 100% renewable energy. When it comes to packaging, the brand is on a mission to use entirely recycled plastic bottles by 2025, and all card and paper is responsibly sourced to limit deforestation.
On a mission to become the world's most sustainable professional-led skincare brand, Medik8 is a great example of how a brand can be sustainable and take a science-first approach to skincare. It targets waste within its manufacturing and operations processes (as well as packaging) and has a bold target to be a zero-waste-to-landfill company by 2025. Other key commitments the brand has made are to have 100% traceable and responsibly sourced ingredients by 2030 and to be B-Corp certified by 2024.
5. Tata Harper
Everything from sourcing ingredients to manufacturing packaging has a planet-first focus for Tata Harper. All products are formulated, filled and shipped from the founder's farm in Vermont, and only what's needed to be made is made in order to limit excess and expired products. What's more, the farm-fresh formulations are packaged within either infinitely recyclable glass bottles or bioplastic made from corn and sugarcane. Even the text on the packaging is printed using biodegradable soy ink.
L'Occitane's sustainability mission is split into four pillars: traceability, sustainability, fairness and quality. It aims to make positive changes in each area in every possible way. From building long-term partnerships with local pickers to sourcing local ingredients whenever possible, L'Occitane understands that true sustainability covers the entire process, from the traceability of extracts right up to the finished products. It offers an impressive refill scheme across its hair, skin and bodycare lines, which on average saves 85% of plastic compared to the original product.
Of course, in addition to the products we use in our beauty routines, it's important to consider the tools we use. Things like cotton buds, cotton pads, and tissues are easy to overlook, but if you're in the habit of using them every day, they are contributing significantly to waste. LastObject is a B-Corp-certified brand on a mission to cut down on single-use items in the beauty industry. It offers up innovative multiuse solutions such as reusable cotton pads and sanitary towels.
BYBI's goal is to become the world's first carbon-negative beauty brand. In order to achieve this, it has an internal auditing system, the Susty Score, which grades an ingredient's carbon footprint before even considering using it within a product formulation. It takes into account everything from the harvesting process to the source location, transport and manufacturing. Where possible, the brand uses upcycled ingredients and formulates products in-house in its green energy–powered lab.
Sustainability is a core value for Italian haircare brand Davines—its tagline is (and has been for over 20 years) "beauty + sustainability." The brand has been using renewable energy sources to power both its plants and offices since 2006 and has a zero-impact policy that offsets emissions generated to ensure packaging production is carbon neutral. Despite selling products all over the world and with a number of big-name retailers, it sources ingredients from small family farms in Italy, highlighting and nurturing those ingredients at risk of extinction.
10. RMS Beauty
Since launching in 2009, RMS Beauty has utilised easy-to-recycle materials like glass and aluminum to package its products, and in 2021, it debuted its first refillable products. This same innovation is even used when considering the materials used to create in-store display units.
UpCircle's story started with the idea that coffee grounds could be given a whole new lease of life, and the brand has since transformed more than 450 tonnes into sustainable skincare. From flower petals saved from wedding venues to blueberries salvaged as a by-product of the juicing industry, the brand strives to repurpose and upcycle ingredients wherever possible. Packaging used is 99% recyclable (there are plastic-free refills for the 1%), and you can even return empty packaging to the brand to be refilled with a 20% discount.
Aveda was the very first beauty brand to use post-consumer recycled materials in its packaging—it's now used in at least 85% of the products' bottles and jars. In addition, its primary manufacturing site is powered by wind and solar power, and the brand uses 90% natural ingredients in its products. Supply-chain integrity and traceability are also important topics for the brand, and it works to create jobs in the places it sources ingredients from, teaching suppliers more sustainable farming techniques in the process.