Sustainable Beauty: Five Products That Won't Cost the Earth

How and why you should make your beauty routine more earth-friendly 

Words: Amelia Jean Hershman- Jones

Our beauty routines should be a holistically positive experience, with the self-care movement recognising the time we spend preening as an essential component of physical, mental and emotional health. The problem is that these little pick-me-ups – from the palm oil in the products we take in the shower to the plastic packaging we buy them in – could be costing the earth. 

And your buying habits really can make a world of difference. Data taken from Zero Waste Week shows that in a single year more than 120 billion units of cosmetics packaging were produced globally. But Netherlands-based group LCA Centre found that if refillable containers were used for cosmetics, as much as 70 percent of carbon emissions associated with the beauty industry could be eliminated.

What is sustainable beauty?

"Put simply, sustainable beauty is about creating and using products that meet consumers' beauty needs without negatively impacting people or the planet," says Karen-Lee Thompson, founder of Wo Skincare.

"Sustainable beauty uses renewable ingredients and packaging," adds managing director at Weleda, Jayn Sterland, who co-launched the Planet Positive Beauty Guide as part of COP26 on behalf of the British Beauty Council’s Sustainable Beauty Coalition.

The guide defines sustainable beauty under four categories including: ingredients (preferably produced using regenerative farming practices); packaging )biodegradable, recyclable and plastic free, so less waste ends up in landfill sites); people (those making the products are paid equitably); and sourcing (from raw materials to packaging).

"But it’s not just about the packaging, or even microbeads," Sterland explains. "We need to be conscious of the hidden plastics inside many products – the semi-solid or liquid synthetic polymers that are not biodegradable and are hidden in a whole host of cosmetics, where they act as stabilisers or thickeners, for example."

Why is it important?

"In its report published in August 2021, the IPCC announced we were entering a ‘CODE RED’ for the planet, with a now confirmed global warming temperature increase of between 0.8 - 1.2°C pre-industrial revolution (circa 1850) and a predicted rise of 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase, causing havoc with our weather systems, our water supply, our food production and the natural world’s ability to thrive," says Sterland.

"We all rely on a limited amount of resources on this planet,’ says Thompson. "Without a doubt, we are all responsible for doing what we can right now to ensure the future generation will be able to survive. Buying sustainable products is one immediate action we can take. Overconsumption is a major contributor to causing damage to our environment."

What makes a beauty product sustainable?

A recent study by the British Beauty Council found that almost half of beauty shoppers are looking for more information, clarity and transparency about beauty brands’ values and commitments to the environment.

But that same study explained that 61 percent of us struggle to tell if hair and skincare products are ethical from the packaging alone. The arena is fraught with marketing jargon, misleading promises, and a surprising level of “greenwashing”. A glass container might be more easily recyclable than a plastic one, but if it has been imported, the air miles may negate that.

In other words: we want to make better choices for the planet but we don’t know where to start.

"While many of us want to purchase natural beauty for ethical and sustainable reasons there are many spurious “greenwashed” brands who claim a product is ‘greener’ than it really is," explains Sterland "This is because we do not have legal binding definitions and therefore, claims can be made without context or evidence.

"Brands today make sustainability claims about their ingredients, their supply chains, their packaging – but each in turn should be analysed and we as greenwashing-detectives should go behind the labels, challenging and holding brands to account."

But who has the time to do this? "My advice is to look for a shortcut via the independent certification on the packaging like the NATURE or Soil Association logos," says Sterland. "This will tell you the product has been independently certified to be free from 'chemical nasties' and this is a brand that cares about such things. It is these brands that are more likely to be following a truly sustainable strategy rather than one that gives marketing headlines without any real positive impact on the planet."

"The Green dot symbol indicates that a product is 100% recyclable," says Thompson

"You might also come across packaging that is not fully recyclable. You need to pay extra attention to the detail printed on the pack to see how recyclable each product is if the packaging has multiple parts and is complex in its construction."

You can find other symbols to look out for via this link.

Five essential sustainable beauty products

Weleda Ginger and Petitgrain Shower Bar (£4.95)

Formulated with an invigorating blend of 100 percent natural and biodegradable peppy ginger and refreshing petitgrain, this bar has zero-plastic 55 percent recycled packaging. It’s a concentrated formula that lasts as long as two 150ml shower gels but still works up into a luxurious organic shea butter lather, while plant-based glycerin cares for and cleanses skin.

Daily Base™Aqua Gel (£28)

With 28 doses, this three-in-one formula cleanses, hydrates and conditions skin in each 2ml dose with 100 percent recyclable packaging. Derived from nourishing, yet lightweight marine and plant-based actives, simply apply then wipe off with a damp cloth, rinse and reapply allowing the formula to sit on and sink into skin.

Bambaw Reusable Make Up Remover Pads - Pack Of 16 (£13.50)

Conventional cotton pads are bad news for the environment, requiring a massive amount of fertilisers, pesticides and water to create and ultimately ending up in either landfill or the ocean. These reusable pads are far more planet-friendly, reducing daily waste and saving you money. With 12 velvety pads that can be used around the eyes and four scrub terry pads, designed to remove daily debris, makeup and exfoliate skin - simply wash them with your everyday laundry at 40°C in their cotton bag so they don’t go AWOL.

Aesop Resurrection Aromatique Hand Wash, Refill (£28)

Each regular handwash pump dispenser contains 12g of plastic, but the brand’s refill options are made from 97% post-consumer recycled PET. This earthy scented, vegan gel handwash contains microscopic pumice grains to gently polish, antibacterial mandarin and rosemary extracts to cleanse, and lavender to assist in soothing and hydrating. 

Humble Bamboo Adult Soft Bristle Toothbrush (£3.99)

Just as effective as your regular, plastic toothbrush and designed and manufactured under the guidance and supervision of dentists, these bamboo brushes are as much about caring for the planet as they are about dental care. The bamboo is cultivated for between three to five years, and then harvested, re-generating itself naturally, with minimal rain and without the need for harmful pesticides - plus every purchase funds projects for the benefit of children in need.

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