Sustainable beauty brands are tough to come by. After spending my days researching and finding brands to partner with that tick all the boxes, I often find myself disappointed. There is no brand out there doing sustainability perfectly. Though, some come a little closer than others. But beauty trends leave a lot to be desired regarding 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 that tries to be better is a brand worth investing in. I've discussed sustainable beauty in previous articles, and I frequently see brands in this space innovate like never before.
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 highlight some of the brands to keep an eye out for.
Our Sustainability Checklist
I've said it many times before; there are three things we look for when we partner with brands. These are:
We look for brands targeting all three things in their business model. We don't believe it's ever acceptable for brands to greenwash, but we understand it's impossible to be perfect. One hundred percent transparency is vital.
There are many definitions of sustainable beauty. Many brands use the word "sustainable" to push their agendas and ignore some equally important aspects of sustainability. So it's necessary 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 its impact on the environment. A sustainable brand will know where every ingredient has come from, from farm to bathroom.
Without pointing fingers, I have noticed many brands love to mention how "sustainable" their packaging is because it is "recyclable," and they claim 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 is any material that can be recycled, right? 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?
The short answer is: not really.
Reports show that only nine percent of all plastic gets recycled globally. Twelve percent gets 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 its packaging will be recyclable by 2025, this doesn't solve anything. This also means that it isn't 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 serious packaging problem.
How do we measure a brand's sustainability based on its operations? We look for things like:
- Do they keep track of their carbon footprint and neutralize their impact through carbon offsets?
- Are they contributing to charities, foundations, 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. A brand can do a million things to operate sustainably and ethically. But if a brand is doing good things in the community to make the world a better place, that's a big tick from me!
Sustainable Beauty Trends 2022
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 more transparency.
- We'll see renewables become more accessible.
- Banking institutions will become more environmentally responsible.
- Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investments will increase.
- 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:
Sustainable products aren't as common or popular as conventional (unsustainable) products. Sustainable products are usually 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 several years now. Anyone can offset their carbon by using a carbon calculator to calculate their carbon emissions. They can purchase carbon credits or invest in carbon capture technology—like planting trees or heat-to-energy technology—to offset their carbon emissions, making them 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. By 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 landfills 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 taking off in the beauty industry.
The beauty industry will contribute to a circular economy in 2022 by utilizing byproducts from other industries to be repurposed into skincare products; and offering refillable and reusable packaging.
Imperfect beauty takes products that have a manufacturing or production *boo-boos*—such as messy over-pours of lip balms, scuffed eyeshadow palettes, or chipped packaging—and instead of discarding them, they're sold at a lower price to consumers. We're only seeing this in a handful of indie brands, but we will 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. Genuine 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 they are 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 grows. 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 use synthetic ingredients to mimic the molecular structure of natural ingredients or use synthetics in conjunction with natural ingredients. This reduces the demand for natural resources. Isn't science a marvelous thing?
6 Indie Brands Worth Supporting
There are several brands out there that are innovating hard in sustainability. More prominent 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 with a planet-centric mindset from the origin.
So here are four of the top Sustainable Indie 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 into Three Ships' entire brand ethos.
Founded by Connie and Laura, the duo wanted to stick it to greenwashing beauty brands and create products that were clean, safe, minimal, and effective. Their products use 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 its range 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 a 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 ten 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. But it has grown into one of the most sustainable cult favorites in the US.
Founders, Tara and Jeff, wanted to create handmade, vegan, low waste products for all skin types. 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 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 contain ingredients from a diverse part of the mountains in Wyoming. The founder, Kendra, created the range 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 an incredibly effective skincare line that doesn't take away the integrity of our earth. Alpyn Beauty is also climate positive.
Hailey Graef founded Zerra & Co in 2018 when she found a real need for clean and low-waste makeup. Her first product was The Zero Waste Mascara. It doesn't contain any plastic and is completely safe and non-toxic.
The products Hailey creates are artisanal and handcrafted in Baltimore, and the brand offsets its carbon when shipping its paper-based mailers. They also have a Container Return Program where you can send back your glass and aluminum 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 precisely 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 is leading the way. With their FSC certified paper palettes with aluminum trays, you can easily recycle them.
Āthr Beauty also uses 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 doing some truly incredible stuff in the sustainability space, such as these brands. What's important is that we, as consumers, stay diligent and aware of the upcoming trends in sustainability to identify brands that are innovating in those areas.
Life is becoming sustainable—and what a time to be alive!
Emma Jade 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 profit from mentioning them in our blog. #CollaborationOverCompetition