What makes a cosmetic product sustainable? And what challenges need to be overcome to make a product eco-friendly?

Sustainable Lifestyle Consultant -  Photo by Ika Dam - Sustainable Cosmetic Brands.jpeg

According to the “New Sustainable Report: Regeneration” by JWT, consumers nowadays increasingly want sustainable products and also demand more transparency about how products are being made. This trend also includes the cosmetic industry.  For example, consumers want a better understanding of how cosmetic products are made, what ingredients are being used, how sustainable the cosmetic products really are, whether the products have been tested on animals and if the packaging used is eco-friendly. This can be quite a challenging task and whilst a lot of sustainable cosmetic brands do a lot to reduce their impact on the environment, they still do not tick all the boxes. 

Here is a list of possible sustainability challenges that cosmetic brands need to overcome to be more sustainable: 

1)Traceability of ingredients:  most ingredients are bought from large international traders and are sourced from around the world, hence it is not always easy to have a transparent and sustainable supply chain. 

2)Sourcing of green raw materials: sourcing can still prove to be difficult despite recent trends of increased choice and availability of sustainable raw materials. It has to be also ensured that plant ingredients are not only eco-friendly but also free of harmful fertilisers and pesticides. 

3)Green packaging: sustainable packaging design can be a challenge as well as the cosmetic packaging often needs to preserve the cosmetic products. In addition, limited recycling facilities, non-oil-based materials, costs and even demand all add to the complexity of the matter.

4)Water management: the cosmetic industry requires a lot of water; hence new ways have to be found- both to reduce water consumption, as well as to ensure that waste water is clean from harmful chemicals.

5)Cruelty Free: it is important to offer cosmetic products that do not harm customer. However, cosmetic products should not be tested on animals as well. Alternative testing methods need to be used.

6)Vegan: vegan cosmetic products should not contain any animal derived ingredients or by-products such as beeswax. It is essential to find quality alternatives to animal derived ingredients which are sustainable as well.

7)Palm Oil Free: palm oil is very cheap, yet its impact and costs to the environment are massive. Palm oil production results in massive deforestation, which also results in the loss of habitat and the loss of lives of animals such as orangutangs.

8)Social impact: Mica for example, which is a mineral that adds glitter to a lot of beauty products is mainly sourced in India and, according to NGO Terre des Hommes, it is estimated that in 2016, an estimated 20.000 children were still working in mica mines. According to the Guardian it is still difficult to make sure that child labour is not involved in the Mica supply chain, as “even natural cosmetics company Lush, which prides itself on its ethical credentials, has struggled to clean up its mica supply chain”. 

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Upon doing our research for possible sustainable challenges for the cosmetic industry, we found that it is not easy for a cosmetic brand company to tick all the above-mentioned boxes. However, some inspirational companies such as Berlin-based company undGretel.com have gone a long way in solving a lot of the previous issues. The aim of undGretel.com is to only use the purest natural & organic ingredients from around the world which do not harm the environment nor the wellbeing of its customer. Therefore undGretel.com avoids using ingredients which are toxic or controversial such as: 

A: synthetic colourings & preservatives

Artificial colourings are often made from a variety of chemicals and some colours can consist of a mix of several chemicals, making it extremely difficult to know exactly what you’re exposing your body to. A lot of artificial colourants contain coal tar or even heavy metal salts, which can cause skin irritation. Thankfully there are now plenty of options to create colours without synthetic chemicals.

B: without parabens & mineral oils

Parabens are used to preserve cosmetic products preventing bacterial or fungal contamination that could cause illness or infection. Parabens are of organic compounds and can mimic the body’s oestrogens. The main concern is that parabens can act like oestrogens in your body. However, it is not scientifically proven yet that parabens can also cause cancer. Having said that, scientists have already found tiny traces of parabens similar to those used in cosmetic products in breast cancer tumours according to Breast Cancer UK.

C: aluminium & silicons

Aluminium on the other hand is used as a colorant in cosmetic products. They can even be found in lipsticks and eye shadows. There are not enough scientific findings, but aluminium traces may result in Alzheimers and may also be toxic as stated by Alzheimer Society Canada. So, to be on the safe side we recommend avoiding using products using aluminium as it should not be swallowed or put on the skin.

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Another cosmetic brand which we liked a lot is Canadian based company Elate, mainly sold in North America. Elate is certified by PETA and does not use any ingredients which harm animals or human beings. Furthermore, their products are vegan and gluten-free. We love that their eco-friendly packaging is mostly reusable. Elate’s product line packaging is mainly made from bamboo, making it good for the environment. Unlike most timber, bamboo is a self-regenerating natural resource, making a perfect raw material for sustainable packaging. They also use plant seed paper as packaging for some products, which will sprout into herbs & wildflowers when planted.

For more information on undGretel.com sustainable cosmetic products: https://www.undgretel.com/en/shop

For more information on Elate conscious cosmetic products: https://elatebeauty.com/

BusinessHeike Schnell