There’s no need to shaft the planet in the name of beauty. It’s possible to use great quality beauty brands that give great results without compromising your values. But it’s not always easy to know what to look for, even if you’re an experienced beauty enthusiast. From packaging to ingredients, from ethics to manufacturing processes, allow us to present our guide to all things ethical, eco-friendly, sustainable beauty.
Millennials and Gen Zs are generally more conscious of their impact on the world than previous generations, (go you good things!), and expect businesses to do better in terms of their sustainability and ethical practices for people and planet. The result? Eco-beauty is having more than a moment.
Sustainable, ethical, non-toxic, clean beauty, organic, cruelty free, vegan, green beauty… The list of green credentials brands can claim is long, and it would be remiss of us if we didn’t start our guide off with a few quick definitions.
There’s no clear definition here – which is confusing – but UK Vogue reports that most clean beauty advocates are concerned with aggressive ingredients and synthetic chemicals.
Non-toxic and clean beauty are often used interchangeably. A non-toxic product is one made without a long list of ingredients that have been linked to harmful health effects. Look for certifications from organisations like Made Safe (who certify Sienna) who screen ingredients against an Ingredient Database of known harmful chemicals which are found on scientifically authoritative lists from organisations and agencies from around the world. They also screen to examine ingredients for bioaccumulation, persistence, and general and aquatic toxicity.
Put simply, cruelty free (or cf as you will often see it, particularly on products from the UK) means that a product and its ingredients were not tested on animals, nor are they sold in countries where animal testing is mandatory. Leaping Bunny has an informative FAQ section if you want to explore this further.
A vegan beauty product contains no animal ingredients. Confusingly though, it is possible for a vegan product to have been tested on animals, and a cruelty free product not be vegan.
Natural products contain ingredients from plants and nature and are minimally processed. Organic products are made with non-GMO ingredients that are free of chemical herbicides, pesticides, fungicides or antibiotics. In Australia, a product must be certified by a government approved body before a brand can claim it’s organic.
In the context of beauty and personal care products, ‘ethical’ usually refers to the treatment of people. An ethical brand will pay their workers properly, make sure they have proper breaks and are of the proper age (ie: no child labour), and will also apply the same standards to their supply chain. Some people also expect ethical brands to contribute more broadly to the communities where they work. Education, charity initiatives and partnerships with local organisations are a few examples of what this can look like in action. A rising tide lifts all boats.
Transparency is everything and knowledge is power. We deserve to know what’s in our products so we can be empowered to make decisions that reflect our values. As beauty guru Sali Hughes says in her feature on sustainable beauty brands: “not all brands are doing everything, some are better than others, and still others could be doing more… but we don’t have time to wait for perfect”. So when you’re researching your next beauty purchase, look at what’s important to you – be it the treatment of animals or a non-toxic formula that prioritises health and efficacy – and spend your hard-earned accordingly.
Most of the terms on this list of definitions aren’t regulated by governments, which is actually pretty shocking. This gives less-ethical companies carte blanche to use terms like “natural”, pure” and “organic” to lull consumers into thinking they are making positive, health and environmentally-orientated choices. It’s not okay. Most brands with strong environmental, health and ethical credentials will list ingredients on their website and, in many cases, be certified to show they are walking their talk. Certifications to look for are B Corporation, Leaping Bunny, Made Safe, Choose Cruelty Free Australia, Vegan Action and PETA.
If animal welfare is a deal-breaker for you, look for a brand that is both cruelty- free and vegan. The New York Times has this super-informative article which explores the reasons why the future of the beauty industry is vegan and not animal-tested. Hello, green science!
There are a few different roads to go down here and research shows consumers want to travel them. A 2018 study found 72% of people surveyed in the UK are interested in buying beauty products packaging made from PCR (post-consumer recycled) plastics. We can be the change! Innovations like creating packaging from sugar cane waste are starting to gain traction, while other brands offer a refilling service so you can reuse the same packaging on repeat. Easy-to-recycle glass is making a comeback as well and some companies (like Sienna!) offer an in-house recycling program. And we can’t go without mentioning Terracycle, an innovative organisation who partner with companies to create zero-waste solutions for beauty and personal care packaging.
Thanks to people like you who care about how their actions impact our world, things are changing for the better. We’d love to hear from you about what’s important to you when you’re considering how a brand and how their values align with your own. Get in touch!