Truly sustainable beauty brands are hard to come by. Believe me, I spend half my days researching and finding brands to partner with that tick all the boxes, and I often find myself disappointed. There is no brand out there doing sustainability perfectly. There are some that come a little closer than others. But the beauty industry leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to sustainability.
However, even though most brands are not there yet, it doesn't mean we shouldn’t be choosing to support less-than-perfect brands. A brand who tries to be better, is a brand worth supporting. I have discussed sustainable beauty in previous articles, but as time goes by, we’re seeing more advancements in this area.
So in this article, I’ll tell you what to look for when choosing sustainable beauty; I’ll discuss upcoming trends in sustainable beauty; and I’ll highlight some of the brands to keep an eye out for.
Our Sustainable Checklist
I’ve said it many times before, but for the purpose of this article, I’ll point it out again. There are three things we look for when we partner with brands. These are:
We look for brands that are targeting all three of these things in their business model, and are actively trying to improve on them—though there are still many limitations to sustainability in the beauty industry. We don’t believe it’s ever acceptable for brands to greenwash, but we understand that it’s impossible to be perfect. 100 percent transparency is key.
There are many definitions of sustainable beauty. Many brands choose to use the word “sustainable” to push their own agendas, and ignore some aspects of sustainability that are actually equally important. So it’s important to stay conscious of this fact when you come across any brand’s marketing or website.
The ingredients brands source and use in their products will determine whether or not a brand truly cares about their impact on the environment. A sustainable brand will know where every single ingredient has come from. They’ll know how it was grown, mined, harvested, and formulated. They’ll know if the ingredients were ethically and sustainably sourced, they'll know if they are 100 percent cruelty-free, and they won’t contain any harsh or questionable ingredients that could do you harm.
Without pointing fingers, I have noticed many brands love to mention how “sustainable” their packaging is because it is “recyclable”, and they make claims that all of their product packaging will be recyclable by 2025, 2030, etc.
“What’s wrong with that claim?” You're probably thinking.
Well, recyclable packaging can be made from any material that can be recycled. Aluminum, glass, cardboard, and even certain types of plastic can all be recycled. But the question shouldn’t be: are they recyclable? The question we should be asking is: do they get recycled?
Short answer is: not really.
It’s reported that only 9% of all plastic has ever been recycled globally. 12% has been incinerated (5). Guess where the other 79% ends up? In our environment; in landfills, our oceans, and landscapes.
So when a brand proudly claims that their packaging is going to be recyclable by 2025, understand that this doesn’t really solve anything long term, which means that it isn’t really a sustainable option. When they switch to compostable packaging, refillable, or package-free products, then I’ll be impressed. Until then, we still have a packaging problem, in my opinion.
This is a very broad area. How do we measure a brand’s sustainability based on their operations? We look for things like:
- Do they keep track of their carbon footprint, and counteract their impact through carbon offsets?
- Are they philanthropic in nature, through charity donations, foundation contributions, and supporting causes?
- Is the company thoughtful in things they say and do outside of their website and social media?
- Does the founder have good morals and a good character?
There’s no absolute checklist here. There are a million things a brand can do to operate sustainably and ethically. But if a brand is obviously doing good things in the community to make the world a better place, then that’s a big tick from me!
Sustainable Beauty Trends
Coming into 2022, we’ll be seeing a definite shift in the world’s priorities as we all start to take climate change far more seriously. Governments will be stepping up like never before; large corporations will be forced to show transparency; we’ll see renewables become more accessible; banking institutions will become more environmentally-responsible; Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investments will increase; and we’ll continue to work from home, which has had a positive impact on our environment (1,2).
In the beauty industry we’ll see trends in these areas:
Right now, sustainable products aren’t as common, or quite as popular as conventional (unsustainable) products. Sustainable products are more expensive (4), and the older the generation is, the less sustainable they are (3). This means it will take a while for the world to adapt to, and adopt more sustainable practices in their daily lives.
But regardless of this fact, we’re going to see far more sustainable products available on the market in 2022, which hopefully means:
- Sustainable products will start to become more mainstream.
- Pricing will become more competitive.
- Sustainability will become more accessible to the masses.
Carbon offsetting has been a bit of a buzzword for businesses for a number of years now. Anyone can offset their carbon by using a carbon calculator to calculate your carbon emissions, and then buy carbon credits, or invest in carbon capture technology—like planting trees, or heat-to-energy technology—to cancel out your carbon emissions, making you carbon neutral.
But in 2022, not only will we look to offset our carbon footprint, but we’ll also aim to become climate positive. This means removing more carbon from the atmosphere than what we emit. So, investing in the same kinds of technology as before, but taking your emissions into a deficit so you’re taking more carbon from the atmosphere than what you emit.
This trend is popular in the fashion and homewares industries. It’s where items destined for landfill are given a second life by upcycling them into something else. While this has been around for a while in other industries, it is only really just taking off in the beauty industry.
The beauty industry will contribute to a circular economy in 2022 through utilizing byproducts from other industries to be repurposed into skincare products; and offer refillable and reusable packaging.
Imperfect beauty takes products that have manufacturing or production *boo-boos*—such as messy over-pours of lip balms, or scuffed eyeshadow palettes, or chipped packaging—and instead of discarding them, they are sold at a lower price to consumers. We’re only really seeing this in a handful of indie brands, but we will definitely see more of this trend in 2022.
This is a great way to combat waste in the industry, and it is also an opportunity for consumers to save some money.
The beauty industry is a tough one for zero waste practices. Plastic is in just about everything, and as I mentioned before, even if the plastic is recyclable, it doesn’t mean it gets recycled. True zero waste products should be easy to recycle, and in my opinion, be plastic-free.
We’re going to see zero waste go gangbusters in 2022. However, even if a brand claims to be zero waste, you should still research the packaging yourself before buying. Some plastics are not recycled in some counties, which means your zero waste purchase is still very much—a waste.
Something else we’ll notice more of in 2022 is the growing awareness around biodiversity loss. This is a huge issue we’re facing, as the human population is growing. Our demand for natural resources is putting a strain on our environment. We’re seeing entire species of plants become endangered and extinct because of human overconsumption.
Many brands are starting to harvest natural ingredients more sustainably through practices like regenerative farming. And in 2022, we’ll also see an increase in biotech beauty. Biotech Beauty is where scientists create synthetic ingredients that mimic the molecular structure of natural ingredients, which reduces the demand for that natural resource. Isn't science is a marvelous thing?
6 Indie Brands Worth Supporting
There are a number of brands out there that are innovating hard in sustainability. Larger brands who have been in the game for years are now pivoting to fit inside the sustainable beauty box, but their business models and brand ethos never considered the environment in the first place. So I prefer to support the brands that have always had a planet-centric mindset.
So here are four of the top Sustainable Beauty Brands to support in 2022:
Legend has it that the Fountain of Youth was discovered not by some impressive fleet, but just three ships—hence the name. The concept of using limited resources to discover great things has been carried across into Three Ships’ entire brand ethos.
Founded by Connie and Laura, this duo wanted to stick it to greenwashing beauty brands and create products that were clean, safe, minimal, and effective. Their products are made using 100% plant-derived ingredients, including salvaged aspen bark from the lumber industry—how very circular of them!
UpCircle Beauty takes circularity seriously, with every single product in their range being formulated using byproducts from the food and beverage industries. The concept came to sibling founders William and Anna one morning during their morning coffee run, after witnessing the café discarding mounds of used up coffee grounds.
They decided to upcycle used coffee grounds and repurpose them into luxurious skincare products that were affordable and effective. They now salvage 10 different byproducts from the food and beverage industries.
Meow Meow Tweet
I adore this brand. There’s a quirkiness about it, from the name—named after the founders pet kitties and bird—to the creative branding and fun color palette. The brand started as a curiosity more than anything, and has grown into one of the most sustainable beauty brands on the market.
Founders, Tara and Jeff, wanted to create products that were handmade, vegan, low waste, and could be used by anyone. They have minimal plastic in their packaging (except for the droppers, sprayers, and caps), the rest is either glass, cardboard, or aluminum, like their shampoo and conditioner powders. Cute enough to reuse, easy enough to recycle!
What I love about Alpyn Beauty is their focus on wildcrafted ingredients. Wildcrafting is where natural resources are sourced sustainably and ethically from their natural habitat without the use of pesticides or fertilizers, and enough of the seed or plant is left behind to support that species to thrive again the following year.
Alpyn Beauty’s products are formulated using ingredients from a diverse part of the mountains in Wyoming. The founder, Kendra, created the range of skincare for the outdoorsy women in the area who couldn’t find affordable or effective solutions to protect their skin from the elements. So Kendra took matters into her own hands and created a skincare line that is incredibly effective, that doesn’t take away the integrity of our earth. Alpyn Beauty is also climate positive.
This indie makeup brand was founded by Hailey Graef in 2018. She found a real need for clean and low-waste makeup in the beauty industry. She created The Zero Waste Mascara. It doesn't contain any plastic, and is formulated with completely safe and non-toxic ingredients.
The products are artisanal and handcrafted in Baltimore, and the brand offsets their carbon when shipping their paper-based mailers. They also have a Container Return Program where you can send back your glass and aluminium empties to them for recycling.
Circumference is a New York based beauty brand that combines nature with science to get safe, stable, and balanced skincare. They’re obsessed with integrity and purity, which is exactly how their ingredients are tried and tested, through rigorous molecular testing to ensure the efficacy and safety of their skincare products.
Circumference also follows a waste-not sourcing initiative. They’ve partnered with Brightland, an olive oil manufacturer, to salvage discarded olive leaves from their olive oil harvests, and repurposes the leaves into their skincare. Circularity, for the win!
If you're looking for a sustainable and ethical makeup brand, Āthr Beauty are paving the way. With their FSC certified paper palettes with aluminum trays, these can be easily recycled at curbside at the end of their life.
Āthr Beauty also use sustainably sourced ingredients. They choose to use high quality synthetic ingredients, like mica, to avoid the risks of worker exploitation and child labor that mica mines in developing countries are notorious for. Āthr Beauty is at the forefront of the industry, leading the charge in sustainable beauty.
There are many more brands out there who are doing some truly incredible stuff in the sustainability space—like these brands, for example. What’s important is that we, as consumers, stay diligent and aware of the upcoming trends in sustainability, so we can identify brands that are innovating in those areas.
Life is sustainable—and what a time to be alive!
Emma Masotti is an Australian now living in Austin, TX, and has been a trained esthetician for over 15 years. She is a sustainable skincare writer, educating and building awareness around proper skin health that doesn’t cost the earth.
Some of the products promoted in our blog are from our online store. Many others are brands we have researched and found to be great examples of sustainable, ethical, and innovative brands in their field, and we don't make any profit from mentioning them in our blog. #CollaborationOverCompetition