Top ethical beauty products for 2019

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Not so long ago, beauty products fell into two very distinct camps: environmentally friendly or efficacious. The divide between personal care products found in a department store’s beauty hall and in health-food shops was vast. However, industry-wide awareness coupled with mounting consumer concern has meant that the mainstream beauty business is being forced to clean up its act.

The demand for high-functioning products with a low-carbon footprint is now key, and the result is a hotbed of ingenuity and innovation, spawning a smart new sub-category of cosmetics with accountability and sustainability at their core. The message is clear: we need to start putting as much thought into preserving the planet as we do into preserving ourselves. Here’s how..

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Ethical beauty product shampoo bar, Lush

Shampoo bar from Lush


Old beauty habits die hard, none more so than the cosmetics industry’s dependence on, and overuse of, water, which is increasingly being viewed as a precious commodity. With demand outstripping supply, beauty brands are being forced to rethink their water usage at every point along the supply chain. Cue the development of alternative aquatic ‘super sources’ such as artichokes and watermelons, as well as a move towards ‘waterless beauty’, with pastes, powders and no-rinse cleansers all tipped to replace traditional liquid formulations.

Leading the charge is Lush, a brand pulling double duty with the development of solid shampoo (think bar soap but for your hair), as well as its decision to go ‘naked’, or packaging-free, wherever possible. After all, solid products dispense with the need for the watertight (ie plastic) containers that inevitably end up polluting our beaches and oceans. And this is your chance to educate your kids too, who tend to love Lush.



Given that the average moisturiser pot is made from plastic and is estimated to take a staggering 1,000 years to decompose, forward-thinking cosmetics companies are looking to reduce and rethink their packaging by switching to biodegradable materials. ‘For every 10 per cent increase in recycled glass, CO2 emissions go down by five per cent,’ says a spokesperson for Tata Harper, the cult beauty brand founded by the industry’s ‘Queen of Green’. It’s the reason the company uses only recycled glass bottles, printed with an eco-friendly ink that’s derived from soya beans.

Similarly, Farmacy, a proponent of the farm-to-face philosophy, uses only recycled and recyclable glass in its packaging. Even more impressive are Farmacy’s cleverly designed cardboard boxes (made with paper harvested from well-managed forests, of course) that fold out, origami-style, to function as product-information sheets. It’s an idea that global beauty giant Christian Dior has taken one step further by eliminating paper inserts (as well as cellophane wrapping), posting all information online instead.

Ethical beauty product Honey Potion, renewing antioxidant hydration mask, Farmacy

Honey potion hydration mask from Farmacy

Ethical beauty product, black reusable eyeliner holder pen, Surratt Beauty

Reusable eyeliner holder from Surratt Beauty


An antidote to our modern, throwaway culture, many cosmetics companies are returning to the old-school concept of refillable and ‘forever’ packaging – think reloadable compacts and replenishable perfume flacons. Championed by the Zero Waste Alliance, an international movement that promotes positive alternatives to landfill and incineration, inserts and refills make far more sense, both economically and ecologically. Pioneers include Chantecaille, whose nifty Ma Palette has magnetic-mounted eye-shadow colours for a ‘mix, match and swap’ approach. Surratt Beauty specialises in eyeliner and brow-pencil cartridges that can be slipped into reusable holders. Hourglass is doing the same for lips, with sleek refillable lipstick applicators.

Not to be left out, perfumery is also getting in on the act with boutique fragrance houses such as Le Labooffering a 20 per cent discount on any bottle that is returned and refilled in store. The sea change may be slow but attitudes are shifting.


Worryingly, recent research by Garnier revealed that 56 per cent of Brits don’t recycle their bathroom products because of the ‘inconvenience’. Given that the packaging from personal and beauty products accounts for a third of all landfill, it’s clear that attitudes must change. A handful of high-street names are now offering a variety of at-counter services, often with added incentives. ‘Back-to-MAC’ is a campaign that offers a free lipstick in exchange for the return of six pieces of packaging, whether that’s mascara tubes, palettes or foundation bottles. ‘Return to Origins’ offers a straight-forward depository service, so that you can drop off cosmetic empties from any brand, not just Origins, and it will take care of the recycling rest.

Most impressive, however, has to be the TerraCycle ( initiative, started in partnership with Garnier in America back in 2011 and now also operating in the UK. TerraCycle is the world’s leader in the collection and repurposing of hard-to-recycle post-consumer waste, and in the past seven years the scheme has diverted more than 10 million empties from landfill sites, turning them instead into pelletised plastic lumber to be used in rubbish bins, benches and playgrounds. Print off a downloadable label from the website and then arrange either a free UPS pick-up or deposit at one of 418 drop-off points nationwide.


Ethical beauty product, MAC lipstick, MAC cosmetics

MAC cosmetics can be recycled in store

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