Guest blog: A deeper look into the beauty industry

Guest blog by Lara Van Lith from Arizona State University Sustain Earth - Our Mission: We provide sustainability information, news and ideas in an accessible form—without simplifying the issues. Our goal is to help people discover the science and explore ideas for living more sustainably every day.

At Sustainable Earth, we seek to show that every small lifestyle change you make can make a positive difference for a cleaner planet.

Personal style plays a significant role in our lives, allowing us to express ourselves through fashion, accessories, and makeup. Of course, the idea of using makeup for self-expression isn’t new. The influence of the modern-day use of makeup dates back to 6,000 years ago when Egyptians used natural materials like malachite, kohl, red ochre, and henna for religious ceremonies and personal beautification. Nowadays, the cosmetics and beauty industry is a massive market, estimated at $48.8 billion, and is continuing to grow. So, with the beauty industry being a powerhouse in creating such personal products, where exactly does sustainability come into play? Well, we can argue just about everywhere.

Whether you wear makeup on a daily basis or only on occasion, it is important to know exactly what you are spending money on and the impact it can have on the planet. According to the social justice platform TRVST, beauty packaging amounts to 120 billion units of trash each year, including plastic, paper, glass, and metals that are improperly recycled and ultimately end up in landfills. Many beauty products also create a high demand for natural oils such as palm, soy, rapeseed, and coconut oil which lead to extensive and intensive cultivation, harming natural habitats through deforestation and contaminating soil and water through pesticides and fertilizers.

The social side of the beauty industry is no less scary. One example of unethical practices includes the use of mica, a natural silicate mineral dust found in many cosmetic products to brighten and add shine. Mica mining has seen a fair share of backlash from environmentalists, as studies show extensive and undisclosed child labor in mines throughout Jharkhand and Bihar, India. This is just a glimpse of the impact the beauty industry has on people and the planet, so what can we do to make better choices when it comes to cosmetics?

As small as one product seems, you can truly get a better understanding of the sustainability implications through a single tube of lipstick. When you buy a new beauty product, consider how was the product made, who made it, what is in this product, and what you plan on doing with it at the end of its use. Asking these questions allows us to see the bigger picture behind conscious consumerism: We have the power to create a big difference in such a large industry, and your dollar counts as your vote.

As consumers, it is our responsibility to ensure the products we are purchasing align with our morals. While it may be convincing to buy a new product advertised by your favorite TikToker, sustainability-minded people need to make the initiative to fact-check products, watch for greenwashing, and make better choices as consumers by scouting out sustainable makeup brands. By taking the reigns and making more conscious decisions, we can start choosing the products, not letting the products choose us. 

How beauty is making a splash into sustainability

Sustainable makeup and beauty products are paving the way for making self-expression cleaner and less impactful on the environment. Many sustainable brands are taking the initiative to make long-lasting products that reduce the need for constant repurchasing and harmful waste. These cosmetic products are not only using eco-friendly ingredients, packaging, and production methods, but they are also putting consumer health at the forefront, eliminating the harmful chemicals and toxins that can be found in many commercial brands.

Social responsibility is another major key, as truly sustainable beauty brands support fair trade and ethical practices, ensuring all workers in the supply chain are paid fairly, have safe working conditions, and do not test products on animals. With these sustainability goals in mind, we found 8 sustainable cosmetic brands that align with these values. 

1. Juice Beauty 

Juice Beauty is a skincare and makeup brand that focuses on eco-values and environmentally conscious, effective products. Their aim is to reduce their environmental impact in every area of their business, using ingredients such as organic botanicals and fruit stem cells, as well as eco-friendly packaging. To ensure they achieve this mission, Juice Beauty works directly with organic farmers and even sources a portion of their ingredients from their own organic farm in California. Juice Beauty also prioritizes waste reduction by using recycled paper and soy ink in their packaging, as well as partnering with TerraCycle to offer a sustainable recycling program. On top of it all, their farm and headquarters run on solar power! 

2. Izzy 

Izzy is a sustainable zero-waste beauty line that creates clean, cruelty-free products that are reusable, recyclable, and Carbon Neutral certified. Their products come with no outer packaging, are shipped in reusable mailers made from upcycled materials, and contain 94% less plastic than leading brands. Their medical-grade stainless steel tubes are designed to be refilled and all of their manufacturing takes place within a 400-miles radius to reduce carbon emissions. In addition to being vegan-friendly, gluten-free, and ethically sourced, Izzy also donates a portion of their proceeds to The National Forest FoundationHer Justice, and Pencils of Promise, so you know your money is supporting a good cause.   

3. Elate Beauty 

Elate Beauty

Elate is a cosmetics brand that focuses on creating sustainable and ethical beauty products. According to their website, they believe in “making conscious choices about the products we use, the lifestyle we lead, and the impact we have on the earth.” Their products are vegan, cruelty-free, and made with sustainably-sourced ingredients that are safe for both people and the environment.

Elate also utilizes eco-friendly packaging and encourages their customers to recycle or reuse their product packaging. This woman-owned and operated company is committed to empowering women by working closely with other female entrepreneurs and women-led organizations. Overall, Elate is dedicated to creating high-quality, sustainable, and ethical beauty products that are safe for both people and the environment and support women-owned businesses.

4. Kjaer Weis 

Kjaer Weis is a cosmetics brand that places a strong emphasis on sustainability. According to their website, their goal is to “create beauty products that are as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside”. One of the main ways that Kjaer Weis incorporates sustainability into their products is through their refillable packaging system. Customers can purchase their makeup products in durable, metal compacts that are designed to be refilled when the product runs out.

Kjaer Weis also prioritizes using ingredients that are ethically and sustainably sourced. Their products are certified organic, made with natural and plant-based ingredients, and avoid the use of harmful chemicals. They are also committed to social responsibility by partnering with organizations that support women’s education and empowerment. 

5. RMS Beauty 

RMS Beauty is a clean and sustainable makeup brand that offers high-quality, organic beauty products. The company emphasizes the importance of natural and non-toxic ingredients to ensure the health of their customers and the planet. Their standards for clean beauty include using only raw, food-grade, and organic ingredients to create safe and effective products, and avoiding harmful chemicals and synthetic ingredients. RMS Beauty also prioritizes ethical and fair trade practices and does not test on animals. They are currently working on expanding their line of refillable products, but all of their products are made with 80% post-consumer recycled paper.

6. LYS Beauty 

LYS Beauty is a makeup brand founded by makeup artist Tisha Thompson, who aims to celebrate diversity, inclusivity, and accessibility through their brand. Thompson expresses her personal mission with passion, writing, “When it comes to your skin, compromising shouldn’t be an option and I believe everyone deserves access to clean beauty”. They prioritize using clean, non-toxic ingredients in all of their products and offer a wide range of shades and formulations to work with a variety of skin tones and types, even addressing common skin concerns like hyperpigmentation, dark spots, and sensitive skin. LYS Beauty utilizes sustainable packaging and production processes by using eco-friendly materials like biodegradable paper and plastics.

7. Well People 

Well People

Well People is a clean beauty brand committed to using high-quality, non-toxic ingredients in all of their products. Their commitment is based on the belief that what you put on your skin should always be safe, nourishing, and effective. Well People’s products are made from natural, organic, and sustainably-sourced ingredients free from a wide range of harmful ingredients such as parabens, sulfates, phthalates, and artificial fragrances. Instead, their products consist of renewable botanicals such as green tea, turmeric, pomegranate, and broccoli seed oils. Well People also focuses on minimizing waste in their packaging and production process by using recycled materials in their packaging whenever possible. 

8. ILIA Beauty 

ILIA Beauty is a cosmetics brand that focuses on creating high-performing, clean, and sustainable beauty products. The brand is committed to using natural and organic ingredients and avoiding harmful chemicals in its formulations. ILIA’s packaging includes recycled aluminum and glass components and is packaged with sustainably-sourced paper. They also offer a recycling program that allows customers to mail in up to 10 empty beauty products per month from any brand to be recycled responsibly by the company. On top of it all, ILIA Beauty is dedicated to giving back to the planet by being a member of 1% for the Planet, a nonprofit organization that allows partners to support environmental causes through donations.

Self-expression through makeup shouldn’t have to be to the detriment of people or the planet. Keep in mind, we have the ability to make our own conscious decisions as a consumer, and if you find a sustainable brand that works for you, stay informed and keep your favorite brands accountable for their actions.

Of course, makeup is also about your personal experience, so find out exactly what you are putting on your face! To learn more about the brands and products you love, we recommend checking out EWG Skin Deep Cosmetics Database, where you can search for products and get a better understanding of what you are using. 



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