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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.