When you think about ways a beauty brand can be sustainable, what comes to mind? Chances are you’re thinking about their ingredients being sourced from ethical suppliers; and their packaging not being made from disposable, single-use materials; and whether the company minimizes its carbon footprint.
There are many ways, including those just mentioned in which beauty brands can be more sustainable. We see it in thoughtful brands like DEW MTY with their waterless serum bar. Or Kjaer Weis and their innovative refillable makeup palettes. Or Āthr Beauty’s zero-waste makeup palettes. Having zero-waste packaging is arguably the ultimate goal, right? But when we take a look at the bigger picture, zero waste packaging is not the only goal post we should be aiming for.
Take the food industry, for example. Even if we removed all of the packaging from the food industry, we would still have mountains of discarded food every year. 108 billion pounds of food is wasted in the United States. That equates to more than $161 billion worth of food thrown away each year. So what’s the solution, here?
Enter, UpCircle Beauty. As the name suggests, UpCircle Beauty is a play on the word “upcycle”. Upcycling is all about giving products that would normally end up in landfill a second life. In Upcircle’s case, they are hyper-focused on giving food and beverage byproducts a new purpose, by using them in their skincare products.
Upcycling is reusing discarded objects or material in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original.
How it Started
Let’s go back to when it all began: London, 2015. Siblings Anna and William were getting their morning coffee at their favorite café before work. They noticed that the café was discarding large amounts of coffee grounds through a third-party service. After inquiring about it, they learnt that the third-party company collected the grounds at a cost to the café. Yet, after all that, the coffee grounds still ended up in landfill.
The pair had a lightbulb moment. If just one café had such a huge amount of coffee grounds to dispose of, imagine the amount of coffee grounds that were being discarded from all coffee shops in all of London. In fact, 500,000 tonnes of coffee grounds are sent to landfill in the UK alone every year, and the US coffee consumption is even higher than that.
Anna and William could see that this was completely unsustainable long-term, so they set out to do something about it.
They decided to find a way to collect the used coffee grounds from cafés and repurpose them into skincare products. With Anna’s storytelling background, and William’s finance skills, UpCircle Beauty was born.
A third of all food in the world is wasted. As mentioned, UpCircle’s formulations are made using by-products from the food and beverage industries, which include coffee, brewed chai tea spices, fruit stones, and salvaged fruit waters from the juice industry.
But they didn’t start with all of those. They began with up-cycling used coffee grounds into a small range of products. They now have seven coffee-based skincare products.
Coffee Body Scrub with Peppermint
Coffee Body Scrub with Lemongrass
Eye cream with Maple and Coffee
Floral Coffee Face Scrub
Herbal Coffee Face Scrub
Citrus Coffee Face Scrub
Organic Face Serum with Coffee Oil
Just six years later, and the company now has a solid range of skincare products that also include other by-products from the food and beverage industry.
The UpCircle brand has quickly become a cult favorite for their sustainable and ethical stance, and their simple and affordable skincare. Some of their best-sellers include:
Cleansing Face Balm with Apricot Powder: this unique cleanser is formulated with rescued apricot stones that are milled into a fine powder, along with just over a dozen other naturally-derived ingredients. The first ingredient, Helianthus Annuus (sunflower) Seed Oil, is high in Vitamin E, known for its hydration and antioxidant properties. Hippophae Rhamnoides (Sea Buckthorn) Fruit Oil, another notable ingredient, also hydrates, has healing properties, and is a collagen stimulant; and then, of course, there’s apricot kernels, which are made up of over 50% oil, and are rich in oleic and linoleic acids, known for their hydration qualities. The texture of the balm is luscious and luxurious, as it effortlessly emulsifies makeup and debris from the skin without drying it out.
Hydrating Face Serum with Coffee Oil: another one of their best-sellers is their coffee oil face serum. Coffee seed oil is high in linoleic acid, which is great for hydration. Coffee also contains detoxifying properties, and can reduce inflammation on the skin, and brighten skin’s complexion. Collagen-boosting astringent Rosa Canina (Rosehip) Fruit Oil also aids in skin brightening and hydrating. Rubus Idaeus (Raspberry) Seed Oil is high in Vitamin A for skin clearing, and antioxidant-rich Vitamin E, for protection against signs of aging. This award-winning serum is lightweight in texture, and suitable for all skin types. It can also be used on the face, or on hair lengths and ends (and beards) for a hydrating and nourishing leave-in treatment.
Face Moisturizer with Argan Powder: another superstar product is UpCircle’s face moisturizer. It’s formulated using rescued argan shells from the argan oil industry. Argan oil is extracted from the fruit pips of argan trees, which are native to Morocco. Rich in antioxidants and fatty acids, it’s easy to see why this anti-inflammatory and hydrating ingredient has become one of the most popular ingredients used in hair and skin care. The argan oil industry was valued at USD 223.9 million in 2019, and is expected to increase 10.8% from 2020 to 2027. With those incredible numbers and the skin benefits of argan oil, we can see why Anna and William decided to reclaim this resource and give it a second life in their skincare products. UpCircle’s face moisturizer is nourishing, lightweight and fast-absorbing, making it the perfect staple in any regime. The ingredients consist of varying organic and natural ingredients, including antioxidant-rich Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Butter, for protecting the skin from external elements and free radical damage; Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Blood Orange) Peel Oil to build skin resiliency and boost collagen production; Frankincense oil for healing and skin cell repair; and of course, finely-milled argan shell.
Face Toner with Mandarin and Chamomile: an honorable mention goes to Upcircle’s face toner. It’s formulated using salvaged fruit waters from the juicing industry. For anyone who isn’t aware, the beauty industry is one of the most wasteful industries when it comes to water waste. We are predicted to have a water shortage in ⅔ of the world by 2025, which is quite an alarming statistic. Skincare products are usually formulated with water as the top ingredient—roughly between 75-90% of the formulation—and the process to create and bottle the products also uses an incredible amount of resources, the main one being water. So UpCircle’s face toner is essentially a waterless product, as they salvage water that has already been processed and is on its way to be discarded. The other benefit to using fruit waters is the minerals, vitamins, amino acids and functional actives present in the fruit waters. They have far more benefits for the skin than mineral-filtered water. Mandarin, for example, is anti-inflammatory, skin brightening, and circulation-boosting, giving the skin a more radiant complexion.
As mentioned before, UpCircle started with recovering one by-product: used coffee grounds. But just a few years later, they now retrieve 10 different by-products from the food and beverage industry, with big plans to expand their sourcing and skincare menu to include many more by-products.
Not Just Skincare
UpCircle are known for their skincare cult classics. But they have also expanded their range to include other reusable and non-disposable bathroom items.
Accessible to All
When you think of unique skincare and wellness brands, you’d normally associate them with being expensive or exclusive. Not UpCircle. Anna’s passionate about maintaining a high quality brand, with strong values and ethics that is also accessible and affordable to the masses. After all, what’s the point in trying to change the world and make a difference if only the wealthy can afford your products?
The price point for UpCrcle’s products ranges from $9usd for their face and body bar cleansers, up to $30usd for their body cream. But most of their products sit around the $20usd mark.
Keeping it Simple
UpCircle’s products are designed to be accessible to everyone. This means that they also need to keep the formulations effective for all skin types. They use combinations of high quality organic, naturally-derived, sustainably and ethically-sourced ingredients that are gentle enough for sensitive skin, effective enough for stubborn skin, and have proven results.
UpCircle are committed to minimizing their impact on the environment. Their packaging is 99% plastic-free. Most of their products are housed in glass bottles or jars with aluminum lids. The only plastic that they use in their products is the dropper or sprayer lids for their serums and toner. A decision they did not take lightly, but without those mechanisms, the serums and toner would be quite difficult to use.
When customers receive their first bottle with the dropper or sprayer, they are able to keep them and just purchase the replacement bottles with the aluminium lids. So from that point onwards all purchases are plastic-free.
The boxes the products come in are also made from recyclable cardboard.
Pioneers of Circular
UpCircle Beauty believes that the future of skincare is circular, and that repurposing and breathing life into products and ingredients that already exist is the fastest way to make an impact. With their innovation and core values at the forefront of their operation, UpCircle Beauty are pioneering the way to a better world, one coffee ground at a time.
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