As the beauty industry moves towards a more ethical future, sustainability is one of the fundamental pillars. Researching sustainable practices and coming up with our own set of criteria hasn't been an easy task.
Sustainability involves many moving parts, and there's a long road between the raw ingredients and the finished product arriving at our front door -- both literally and figuratively.
There are also intricacies when it comes to materials. Packaging materials all have their pros and cons. Our current recycling system is terribly inefficient, and even products that are technically recyclable will most likely not end up being recycled.
After researching this topic, we've come up with a set of sustainability criteria which I'll summarize in this post. You can also read more about why we chose to draw the lines where we did, and read an in-depth explanation of our process in an upcoming post.
Confused about the ethical lingo? Click here to find out what words like ethical, sustainable, clean, cruelty-free, and vegan truly mean.
How To Shop Sustainable Beauty
You can now shop sustainable brands and products in two ways.
- We've included a list of sustainable beauty brands in this very post.
- Browse the list of vetted cruelty-free brands and refine with the "sustainable" label.
At the end of this post, under the big list of sustainable beauty brands, you'll find brands that are making great efforts in sustainability, even though they don't fully meet our criteria.
The Three Pillars We Use to Vet Brands
We established three main pillars when it comes to sustainability in the beauty industry: ingredients, packaging, and company policies. The companies on this list must make considerable efforts in all three pillars to be designated as sustainable.
Let's go over each pillar.
The brand's formulations must be made using 100% conscious ingredients that do not cause harm to the environment. For this reason, we do not include brands that use ingredients like chemical sunscreens or microplastics. Pacifica and Coola are examples of "conscious" brands that use chemical sunscreen, which is partly why you won't find them on this list.
The brand must not use palm oil or derivatives of palm oil OR the brand must source all palm oil sustainably, for example by being RSPO-certified (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil).
Others were also able to confirm that their ingredients are sustainably-sourced. Hair care brand Rahua pledges to never harvest any non-regenerative rainforest ingredients, and they only use sustainable ingredients from self-sustained forests.
Additionally, some brands such as Pai or W3LL PEOPLE use organic ingredients whenever possible, with over 70% of ingredients being organic. These ingredients are grown without the use of synthetic pesticides and are generally considered better for the environment.
The brand must make considerable efforts towards 100% of their packaging being sustainable. This means that the brand either does not use virgin plastic, or is actively working towards phasing out virgin plastic.
Examples of materials that we consider to be eco-conscious include:
- Metal (aluminum)
- 100% Post-Consumer Recycled Plastic
- Ocean Waste Plastic (recycled)
- Bioplastics, preferably biodegradable
- Refillable packaging
Kjaer Weis offers some refillable products in metal containers, while their non-refillable products are packaged in cardboard.
If the brand still uses some virgin plastic, they must be in the process of phasing it out in favor or a more sustainable alternative. Please note that elements such as lids or pumps may still contain virgin plastic.
When it comes to plastic, we view biodegradable and recyclable bioplastic as an eco-conscious alternative to plastic. Pangea Organics is a great example of a brand using 100% sugarcane bio-resin in their plastic tubes.
We also love Captain Blankenship's choice of using 100% ocean waste plastic for their shampoo bottles, whiile their other products are packaged in glass. Many brands only use a smaller percentage of PCR (post-consumer recycled) plastic. For example, Hurraw! lip balm tubes are made with 25% PCR plastic according to the brand. Although this is a great start, we do not designate such brands as sustainable as we want to encourage companies to take bigger steps towards sustainability.
Brands who do not make an effort to find alternative solutions to virgin plastic did not make it on the list, even if they ensure their products are recyclable, like it's the case with, and even if they partner with TerraCycle, like Acure or Glow Recipe for example. Don't get us wrong; we believe these companies are doing their fair part. However, given the current plastic crisis, we can't label them as sustainable.
Why Recycled Plastic?
Considering the current plastic crisis, we believe that it's better for brands to use recycled plastic and turn it into packaging than to create new plastic. This uses less resources than creating virgin plastic, and prevents new plastic from being created as the world has more than enough plastic.
The Problem With "Recyclable" Plastic
We believe in reducing the amount of plastic on the earth, and we believe that brands should strive to be part of the solution. For this reason, we do not consider "recyclable plastic" to be good enough.
While it's certainly a step in the right direction for plastic packaging to be recyclable, "recyclable plastic" is not necessarily made from recycled materials, nor is it necessarily recycled.
Considering that 91% of plastic doesn't get recycled, we want to encourage companies to find alternative solutions to recyclable plastic.
Finally, the brand must have additional policies regarding sustainability set in place, or must be actively working towards being more sustainable as a company.
Examples include being carbon neutral, eco-friendly shipping materials, wind-powered facilities, or offices that use a no-paper policy or are solar-powered. Many of the brands listed here have several additional policies in place to work towards sustainability.
For example, BYBI Beauty has switched to working exclusively with partners who use renewable energy. 100% Pure has a program to plant trees, their office is powered by solar panels, and uses eco-friendly LED lighting, to list just some of their sustainability initiatives. Finally, OSEA Malibu ensures eco-friendly shipping and fulfillment.
Our Final Criteria
Here's our criteria for brands to be designated as sustainable, summarized.
- The brand must use eco-conscious packaging within reason, or must actively work towards eco-conscious packaging. We do not consider virgin plastic, even when recyclable, to be an eco-conscious option.
- The brand must use conscious ingredients that will not harm the environment, within reason. Brands must either not use palm oil, or their palm oil must be sustainably-sourced.
- All of the above must apply to the entire line of products from the brand. We do not consider brands who have sustainable collections, or only offer a selection of sustainably-minded products.
Are you a sustainable brand?
If your brand fulfills the criteria above and you wish to be added to this list, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will follow up with the next steps.
List of Sustainable Beauty Brands
Do you have an update?
Brand policies when it comes to sustainability tend to change rapidly. If you believe that any information below is incorrect, please contact email@example.com and include a link to your source, or a screenshot.
Brands Making Considerable Efforts in Sustainability
The following beauty brands are also making great strides, however they don't fulfill our sustainability criteria. Some of them, including Antonym and Mahalo, didn't get back to us when we inquired several times about their palm oil.
Some companies, such as REN, are making great efforts in sustainability, however their policy isn't as thorough as the brands above. REN pledged for all their packaging to be "recyclable, reusable, or made from plastic that contains recycled materials". As we've stated above, we don't consider recyclable plastic to be good enough, and we don't consider less than 100% recycled plastic to be good enough either. We do acknowledge their great efforts in pioneering the sustainability movement for mainstream brands, and we applaud their company initiatives.
This list is subject to change as we contact more brands, or as brands update their policies.
- Alba Botanica
- Alima Pure
- Andalou Naturals
- Babo Botanicals
- Derma E
- Dr. Alkaitis
- Dr. Bronner's
- Faith in Nature
- Glow Recipe
- HAN Skincare Cosmetics
- Hynt Beauty
- Isle of Paradise
- John Masters Organics
- Josie Maran
- KORA Organics
- Lilah B.
- Lily Lolo
- Nourish Organics
- Plant Apothecary
- Sappho New Paradigm
- Ursa Major
- Volition Beauty
Do you have an update or a brand to suggest?
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Sustainability".