Understand the issues: Beauty

Sector

Overview

The sustainability of the beauty and cosmetics industry is complex and goes beyond marketing phrases such as natural and organic. It covers the entire supply chain of ingredients from sourcing, testing and impact on human health as well as packaging and consumer behaviour. To complicate the mix, sustainable brands might not necessarily be ethical, and vice versa.

However, many of the larger firms in the industry finally appear to be making changes with Olay testing refillable packaging and L’Oreal reducing carbon emissions by 77%. While this is promising, many warn that ‘greenwashing’ is rife as brands attempt to jump on what is now seen as one of the biggest growing trends in the sector. This makes it even harder for consumers to make good decisions.

issue

ETHICAL AS WELL AS SUSTAINABLE

Animal testing on cosmetic products has been banned in the EU since 2013 and it’s illegal to sell beauty products produced outside the EU that have been tested on animals. Unfortunately, animal testing is still legal in many countries and is mandatory prior to sale in China, one of the largest beauty markets in the world. However, the Chinese government is set to approve methods of testing that do not use animals in 2020. Some cruelty free brands have also made use of a loophole where platforms run by ecommerce companies allow consumers to buy cosmetics direct from overseas avoiding the animal testing regulations.

Many products also contain animal derived ingredients, often the by-product of animal slaughter. To complicate matters, some ingredients can be derived from either plants or animals but still have the same name, for example stearic acid. While buying vegan cosmetics might seem a simple solution, many vegan products contain byproducts from the oil industry.

SOLUTION

Leaping bunny

The ‘Leaping Bunny’ Cruelty-Free logo means that a brand is not engaged in animal testing anywhere in the world. It requires a supplier monitoring programme to be implemented and the absence of animal testing to be checked right down to the level of ingredient manufacturing. Buying vegan cosmetics is a good way of guaranteeing products contain no animal ingredients but research needs to be undertaken to ensure the substituted products are environmentally friendly.

FOR EXAMPLE

DR. HAUSCHKA

Dr. Hauschka Skin Care is a cosmetic brand that has foregone animal testing ever since it was founded back in 1967. Products are tested by independent institutes who perform dermatological testing of new products on human volunteers before a product launch.

Lush

Lush has an impressive range of vegan products and is fully vegetarian. It also uses olive and almond oil instead of mineral oil and around half of all products are able to be bought without packaging.

action

For individuals

Consumers should look for the leaping bunny cruelty free label and then decide the ethical and sustainable issues that matter most to them. It’s very difficult to find products that tick all boxes. It is also difficult to find sustainable and ethical products that work for everybody. Natural beauty products are often based on nourishing plant oils such as almond and jojoba but different skin types will react differently to these ingredients. To avoid being overwhelmed, try focusing on one product in your regime and find an alternative you are happy with and then move onto the next.

action

For business

For cosmetic producers, the major action is to resist the lure of the enormously profitable Chinese market until there is a blanket ban on animal testing.

Committing to becoming sustainable as well as ethical can often mean massive change in how some products are made but with around two thirds of millennials saying they would pay more for sustainable and ethical products, the financial incentive is also taking shape.

issue

Palm oil

Much has been written about the unsustainability of palm oil which has laid waste to thousands upon thousands of acres of forest and destroyed habitats for some of the world’s most endangered species. Between 2001 and 2017, Indonesia – the world’s largest palm oil producer – lost an area of forest cover the same size of the UK alongside accusations of corruption and violence against indigenous communities over land.

The issue is the huge consumption of palm oil, not necessarily the oil itself. If all palm oil was replaced with coconut oil, for example, even more forest would need to be destroyed to keep up with demand as palm oil has the highest yields of all the oil producing palms. Similarly, cottonseed oil is considered another suitable substitute but its high water footprint and pesticide use is also a major concern.

solution

IMPROVED SUSTAINABILITY CERTIFICATION PROCESSES & REDUCED USE

This is perhaps one of the most difficult and complex issues in the world of sustainability at the moment. Going palm oil free is possible but alternatives are not more sustainable and this would lead to even worse consequences for the planet. It is possible to produce palm oil sustainably but not in the quantities currently required by the global market.

Responsibly Sourced Palm Oil (RSPO) certification has numerous questions over its validity as it is run by some of the largest palm oil producers in the world and there have been accusations they have been implicated in breaches. However, certified plantations, if properly inspected, are not able to clear primary forests or fragile ecosystems; they must minimise erosion and protect water sources; they must pay a minimum wage and get free, prior and informed consent from communities.

 

FOR EXAMPLE

DAABON GROUP

Daabon Group is one of only two palm oil growers to have achieved the more demanding RSPO NEXT certification since it was introduced in 2015. RSPO NEXT certification requires zero deforestation (including secondary forest), no planting on peat, strict targets on greenhouse gas emissions, supporting smallholders with sustainability and business skills, and ensuring all suppliers are also acting responsibly.

action

For individuals

Whilst not perfect, looking for RSPO certified sustainable palm oil and Rainforest Alliance certification is one way to improve the sustainability of products containing palm oil. Reducing how many products bought which contain palm oil could also help but often these are listed under names that are not automatically connected with palm oil.

action

For business

The most sustainable products are those that can be made from products available in the local area. However, where palm oil cannot be substituted, businesses using palm oil should develop strong monitoring systems to verify compliance with their sustainability commitments. This should include working with suppliers and ensuring supply chains help smallholders with training, technical support and financial incentives to act ethically.
issue

Toxic chemicals

The presence of toxic chemicals in beauty products is an underreported issue. Ingredients lists on most beauty products are a perplexing array of scientific names that that most assume are safe.

US products are the worst culprits. The EU has banned or restricted 1,300 chemicals from cosmetic products, while the US has outlawed or curbed just 11.

Synthetic fragrances are another problem. They can contain as many as 200 ingredients. However, because their ingredients are considered trade secrets, companies don’t have to indicate what they are. Studies have associated compounds in synthetic fragrances with immune system damage and asthma attacks, to name just two.

solution

PHASE OUT & STRICTER LABELLING

Chemical irritants and possible allergens are often not mentioned on packaging, meaning customers can be unknowingly exposing themselves to hazardous products. Furthermore, there are few restrictions on how terms like “hypoallergenic” or “natural” can be used on packaging. Greater transparency about which ingredients are potentially harmful is needed wherever they are used.
FOR EXAMPLE

WELEDA

Swiss company Weleda has been a leader in the field of natural beauty products since 1921 where it started as a pharmaceutical company with its own medicinal plant garden and the philosophy of working with nature and the body to heal. Co-founder Rudolf Steiner was also a leader in the field of biodynamic farming, improving soil health naturally and harnessing natural rhythms to improve yields. Today 78% of the raw materials for Weleda’s products come from organic or biodynamic farming and from controlled wild collection. All the products are based purely on natural substances – artificial preservatives and dyes are consistently avoided. The company has also consistently engaged in fairtrade principles and sustainability across its entire business operations including packaging.

action

For individuals

A key way for consumers to avoid the health risks of synthetic products is to look for COSMOS certified natural and organic brands which also ensures the entire production process has also been mindful to animals and the environment. Research the offer from smaller, natural brands based in the UK and who are more likely to be open to answering questions about ingredients and how they are sourced.

action

For business

Many of the most harmful ingredients are synthetic, so phasing out synthetic ingredients that are potential irritants is a step in the right direction. Hazardous chemicals such as parabens, triclosan and phthalates should be removed from products as soon as possible. Parabens have been linked to breast cancer while phthalates are endocrine disruptors, meaning they interfere with our hormones.

Discover more

This article was written in partnership with Ethical Consumer magazine. Revolutionise the way you shop, save and live with Ethical Consumer’s unique shopping guides >

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REAL is a community interest company that aims to support citizens and organisational leaders to transition to carbon zero and sustainability, founded by Safia Minney & friends.