The beauty industry is fickle. One minute it's touting a 10-step K-beauty routine, and the next, instructing you to eschew it all in favour of a planet-friendly regime. How to navigate? Who to trust? It's tricky, we know. See, brands want your cash, and in order to get it they may dabble in misleading claims about ingredients, formulations and supply chains. Known as greenwashing and clean-washing, think of it as the catfishing of the beauty world. In 2021, they want in on ethical ethics, or at least to be seen to be in on ethical ethics, but just the guy who volunteers at the vaccine centre by day and arranges lock-ins by night, the facade is exactly that.
Morality aside, the temptation is clear. According to data insight company Neilsen, 66 per cent of people around the world are willing to pay more for sustainable goods, and this figure shoots up to 73 per cent where millennials, who are often considered the most powerful spenders, are concerned. A foaming cleanser is all well and good, but stick a nebulous adjective in there and... kerching! Natural Foaming Cleanser, anyone?
Lofty, unsubstantiated and unregulated categorisations like ‘clean’, ‘natural’ and ‘chemical-free’. Chemical-free, really? Given that water is a chemical it's a) bizarre and b) unhelpful to brandish them as evil. Beware of brands who use their own logos to denote their credentials - if they were accredited, they’d be using the official logos. And try where possible to read between the lines. If a brand says it's vegan-friendly, it means that some – not all – of its products are kind to animals. Deceiving indeed. If you want to do an inventory on your bathroom cabinet, Ethical Elephant has a section on its site dedicated to ‘100% Vegan Makeup & Skincare Brands’.
“More than ever, brands are aware that sustainability is a non-negotiable and that consumers aren’t willing to pay more for it,” says Net-a-Porter’s Global Beauty Director, Newby Hands. But there's been an attitude change too. Where previously sustainable brands might be thought of as ineffective or a bit drab, they're now some of the most covetable around. For proof, look no further than Net Sustain, the luxury e-tailer's conscious arm, which has grown a staggering 80 per cent since launching in 2018.
The thing to remember is that no brand is perfect and every brand could be doing more, whether it's educating consumers, offsetting emissions, sourcing ingredients responsibly, drilling down on supply chains and packaging, or ensuring products are formulated in the most efficient possible way.
Examples of progress include refills and recycling partnerships. The Isle of Paradise Self-Tanning Water Refill Pouch for example, uses 61 per cent less plastic than the original bottle, while Larry King’s refill shampoo and conditioner tubes, save for the lid, cut out plastic altogether. And thanks to TerraCycle, with whom Garnier, Maybelline, Unilever, The Body Shop, Ren, Westman Atelier and L’Occitane all have partnerships, brands can ensure their empties don't end up in landfill.
According to TerraCycle the cosmetics industry produces 120bn units of packaging every year, yet worryingly, according to Garnier 56 per cent of Brits don’t recycle bathroom products at all. Having two bins in your bathroom, just like you would in your kitchen, will not only remind you to recycle in the first place, but obligate you to think about what is and isn't recyclable. Before you chuck, make sure bottles are clean and without their pumps, flip caps or trigger heads - the vast majority are a no go. Next, check the number known as the plastic resin code, that sits in the triangle of the chasing-arrows logo This indicates how recyclable the packaging is. Green light for anything with a number one or two, but red for numbers six and seven which are multi-layered and unrecyclable. This is where TerraCycle comes in - with more than 2,000 stations nationwide, the recycling scheme accepts any beauty packaging that would be rejected by your local council. Check where your nearest station is here.
The below are by no means the only brands making strides, but to this end, we’ll keep the list rolling.
Hand washing brand FORGO (meaning ‘to do without’ in Swedish) is very clever, delivering soap in a sachet in powdered form. Designed to be tipped into its glass ‘forever’ bottle and mixed with water, it has a significantly reduced carbon footprint, and cuts out plastic altogether. First presented during Stockholm Design Week, it looks as good as it smells, as good as it does.
Pronounced see-en-cha, this British brand is Leaping Bunny certified and approved by the Vegan Society. Merging natural ingredients with cutting edge science, don't let Scientia's Instagram-friendly aesthetic fool you into thinking that it isn't serious skincare. Packaging is FSC certified and printed with soy ink, and its ingredients – like its Argan Oil that's harvested by women’s groups in Morocco – are sustainably and ethically sourced.
Step away front the face wipes. And the cotton pads. These mini, fluffy rounds are made up of tiny microfibres that can remove make-up and cleanse skin with just water. When you’re done, stick in the wash - they’re good for up to 200.
The leaflet and box packaging of this cruelty-free range is made using recyclable paper from sustainable sources. Plastic containers are in the midst of being changed to recycled glass, and instead of cellophane wrappers, there will be sustainable cotton and velvet bags.
All active ingredients are sustainably sourced and the brand works to leave as light a footprint as possible on the environment. Its new refill initiative for its Cleansing Gel, Hand Soap and Shower Shampoo, uses packs that are up to 60 per cent lighter than the glass bottles, thereby reducing carbon emissions.
Even though Aveda was born cruelty-free having never tested on animals, in 2019 it removed beeswax and honey from its formulas, making it fully vegan. The first brand to use 100 per cent post-consumer recycled materials, more than 85 per cent of its packaging is made from PCR materials. It manufactures its products using 100 per cent wind power and has just announced Arizona Muse as its first ever Global Advocate for Sustainability.
Pledging to save 20,000 tonnes of virgin plastic a year, Garnier has committed to using only 100 per cent recycled and recyclable PET plastic. When you consider that 80bn bottles of shampoo and conditioner are thrown out each year, the above is a worthwhile switch.
At the vanguard of the plastic-free revolution, this brand uses all aluminium packaging and 1 per cent of sales go towards finding non-plastic alternatives to notoriously hard to recycle components of packaging such as pumps.
REN is on track to becoming a zero-waste brand by the end of 2021. It uses ocean plastic in its packaging, vegetable-based ink for its labels and 100 per cent recyclable boxes. Despite investing in sustainable packaging, it's promised that no product will increase in price in order to offset the costs. And proving that small changes are cumulatively where it's at, the removal of pump-caps from its cult Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic is estimated to stop 4.2 tonnes of plastic entering landfill this year alone.
The recyclable pumps on these body wash bottles are made from 50 per cent post consumer recycled plastic. The brand is trying to get this figure back up to 100 per cent but, sadly and almost unbelievably, stress how difficult it is to source recycled plastic. Its ingredients are naturally-derived and it’s a hefty supporter of the charity WaterAid.
This packaging is PE, a polyethylene made from sugar cane. It’s 100 per cent recyclable and reduces Codex’s carbon footprint anywhere between 50-80 per cent. In addition, all the cardboard it uses is sustainably sourced.
The first fully recyclable and biodegradable packaging in perfumery, Floral Street is made up of delicious scents in glass bottles and pulp cartons. All fragrances are cruelty-free, vegan and made using sustainably-sourced ingredients. Bulky boxes and unnecessary cellophane packaging, begone.
The brand has already achieved carbon neutrality for packaging production and holds B corporation certification, which highlights a company's dedication to balance, purpose and profit.
Try: LOVE Shampoo, £17.50
After you've mourned the last spritz of your fragrance, take the empty bottle to a Le Labo store and you'll get 20 per cent of your next purchase, though there's also the more sustainable option to refill it. With all boxes and bags made from recycled cardboard, there's no plastic in sight.
This botanical body and hand wash comes in a glass bottle that's designed to be kept forever, refilled by a recyclable aluminium can. The brand is also part of the One Tree Planted scheme so for every can sold it does exactly as the name suggests.
Try: Starter Set 1, £24
All Gucci Westman's formulas are clean. The handles of brushes are made from FSC-certified sustainable birchwood, while secondary packaging is made from a paperboard with one of the lowest carbon footprints available. The brand is working to make products refillable but in the meantime they can be recycled with TerraCycle.
With biodegradable bamboo handles, cruelty-free synthetic bristles and recycled aluminium ferrules, these are the most eco-friendly brushes around. All packaging is made from recycled paper, and as above, the brand offers detachable heads meaning you only need a couple of brush handles.