3 Easy Ways to Shop for Sustainable Beauty


According to Olivier Zimmer, cofounder of trend tracking platform Spate, what seems like a recent interest in sustainability is not a new thing. “From 2018 to today, you can see that there has been an overall increase of 18% year-over-year [search for sustainability], and we have over 700 thousand searches a month. Since 2018 we have seen a linear increase for sustainability.” 

So, what are we looking for when it comes to our modern-age beauty hauls? “Four other big terms we have seen with a positive year-over-year growth rate: ‘reusable,’ ‘refillable,’ ‘waterless,’ and ‘eco-friendly,’” he adds. So, what does that look like on store shelves and in our online shopping carts? Here, we outline a few key ways to shop more sustainably and how many brands are making the process seamless for conscious consumers. 

Look for Refillable, Recyclable and Compostable Products

In 2018, Zero Waste Week reported that that the beauty industry produces a 142 billion pieces of packaging each year. Many products end up in a landfill, taking years to decompose. In order to meet consumer demands while also reducing the carbon footprint, many brands are adopting a refillable and reusable model. “With Hairstory, our cleansing and styling products have taken people’s routines from potentially five to six items down to two,” explains Hairstory head of product development Jackie Gilbert Baur.

“That means, obviously, a lot fewer skews. When someone has a routine that they love, the logical thing to do is to give them a container to keep in their home with the largest refill possible so that they can refill when they want in the comfort of their bathroom. A larger refill means we’re sending it one time. It means that people are potentially only throwing something out every three months, or sometimes six months. And that’s a huge reduction.”

For luxury makeup brand Kjaer Weis, the sustainability approach is 360 degrees, from their products, packaging and shipping materials, all are recyclable, compostable and refillable, sourced from FSC-certified materials, and printed with water-based ink. 

Avoid Plastic Packaging if Possible

More than 70 percent of plastic waste is estimated to end up in landfills or in the ocean where it takes more than 400 years to decompose. “The idea that plastic literally disappears once in the ocean or littered on land or in landfill is nice, but it’s not actually possible. Nothing disappears completely. Something might dissolve or evaporate, compost, or degrade, but it doesn’t cease to exist,” says Bauer. 

For their part, brands like Farmacy Beauty are leading the way with their responsible packaging decisions. “Our mission is to lead the revolution to break the beauty’s addiction to plastic,” says Farmacy’s Mark Veeder. “I know that’s a big statement, but that’s what we’re focusing on. For us, it is straight on reducing plastics because we feel that that is the place that we can make the biggest difference. We are launching our products in a completely sustainable and recyclable carton made out of paper, and they don’t have any secondary packaging. So already, we’re reducing waste from the beginning. Paper is 100-percent renewable, so we’re trying to do something that that will reduce the end of life as we renew the resource, instead of using petroleum. Paper is a renewable resource. That’s why we chose it.”  

Learn How Ingredients Were Sourced

We hear a lot about “clean” ingredients, but how ingredients are sourced is an important aspect of having a positive impact on the earth, not just ourselves. “We need to look at the ingredients, sub ingredients, what is contained in those ingredients, and how they’re farmed,” explains True Botanicals’ Hillary Peterson. “I think a lot of people aren’t that aware of how our sourcing impacts the health of farmers who might be working with ingredients like glyphosate. If you look at the neurological diseases and cancers that are prevalent among farmers, then look at those toxins in our ingredients. And we should also look at how that’s impacting climate change.” 

RMS Beauty founder Rose Marie Swift says the with all of the misinformation about clean beauty ingredients out there, she prefers a different term that reflects the choices she makes for her cult classic formulations: “I actually like to call myself green, only because I feel I’ve really held to my value system by keeping it as raw as possible, as organic and clean as possible.” 

Glow Recipe cofounder Sarah Lee says looking for “clean” label alone won’t tell you how sustainable a brand or product is. You have to dig deeper and do a little more research. “Clean is beyond just the ingredient list. It’s the approach to clean beauty in general, the approach to how people shop and how we educate as a brand,” says Lee. “We want to think about how we can affect it in every aspect of product development. This might be sourcing or how it affects our skin and the earth. We want to be really cognizant of how we impact a community.”

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