Eco friendly means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. It’s not exactly a regulated term. While your favorite products may claim to be green, scratch the surface and you may find that your expectations of a brand don’t fit the reality. That doesn’t jive with those of us who know how climate change is affecting our planet, and want to change our habits to reduce our carbon footprint.
That’s why we’ve put together an honest guide to eco friendly beauty products. We’ll cover some of the problems with the products on the market, the trade-offs to switching to more eco friendly brands, plus my picks for the companies that are best tackling the issues.
Can beauty products be eco friendly?
There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed when it comes to cosmetics. The carbon footprint of your favorite products is made larger by bulky one-use plastic packaging. Ingredients that you don’t think twice about are over used, and may be toxic to certain ecosystems. Ethical companies using natural ingredients have a hard time keeping their products from spoiling, and aren’t always easy to find on a shelf.
And the beauty industry doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to limiting their environmental impact. There are plenty of examples of the industry not following eco friendly practices, even when products are proved to be dangerous pollutants.
For example, companies have been adding plastic microbeads into body washes and cosmetics since the 1960s. And despite warnings from advocacy groups that these non-biodegradable beads contributed to ocean contamination, they continue to be found in products to this day. The United States only banned the use of microbeads in new products as of 2019.
We’ve talked Zero Waste before. From toothpaste options, to sustainably packing lunch, there are tons of easy tweaks we can make to our lives that limit the amount of packaging we’re contributing to the landfill heap.
Beauty products are one of the biggest offenders when it comes to unnecessarily large (and unrecyclable) packaging. Have you ever felt like opening a cosmetic box is like opening a never ending series of nesting dolls?
It’s not surprising then that 120 billion units of cosmetic packaging is produced globally – and only about 30% of this plastic is recycled.
Plastic isn’t just found on the outside of your beauty products – it’s on the inside, too. In just one 50ml bottle of anti-aging cream, 1.48 million polyethylene particles were found. That’s 90,000 plastic particles per use that you’re smearing on your face.
Even brands that claim to be “all natural” have to be ethical with their ingredient sourcing to be deemed eco friendly. Palm oil is all natural, but because of its overuse in many products including cosmetics, suppliers can barely keep up with demand. And that’s when practices turn and become harmful to the environment.
Palm crops grow in the same regions as rainforests, but palm oil is far more lucrative for farmers. Rainforests are cleared to make way for the palm oil plantations. These plantations now cover over 27 million hectares, leading to deforestation, declining protected species populations, and displaced indigenous populations.
Mica is another popular cosmetic ingredient with a dark side. Mica is the ingredient taht gives shimmer and shine to our products – think how your lipstick or eyeshadow has a glimmer. Children are well suited to the extremely dangerous mica mining, and even though some companies claim to use ethically sourced mica, there is no regulatory body that oversees their claims.
There’s a reason why companies put a bunch of chemicals you can’t pronounce into their products. They keep the products fresher, for longer, extending the shelf life so the products can be sold over a longer period of time.
Packaging also has a lot to do with a product’s shelf life. Unfortunately the more packaging, in thick plastic pots, the longer a product will last.
Another problem that beauty brands have to face on their journey to becoming more eco friendly is that their products are hard to find.
Ethical ingredients, effective recyclable packaging, and a short product shelf life add a large price tag to manufacturers who want to dive into the eco friendly market. The reality is that it’s expensive to produce these products, which are often handmade in small batches, and can’t sit on the pharmacy shelf for six months.
There are a number of brands that have mitigated this issue by only offering their products online. That can mean high shipping costs and long wait times, a barrier for most people wanting to switch to an eco friendly product. On top of that, ecommerce purchases are contributing to global warming at an alarming rate.
The best eco friendly beauty brands tackling these issues
Don’t be too disheartened by the impact of your beauty products on the environment! As consumer demand rises for companies using ethical business practices, eco friendly beauty brands are tackling these issues head on. Here’s a list of my favorites that are reducing their environmental impact.
1. Fat and the Moon
This small handmade-to-order business provides handcrafted body care products including hair care, first aid, and toiletries. Their products are long-lasting, and are easily accessible through many locally owned stores across the United States and Canada.
Beyond having super cute branding, these folks take eco friendly beauty seriously. Founder Rachel Budde is committed to working with only widely available, organic, and ethically harvested plants. The glass and tin containers are reusable and recyclable, and skip the excessive packaging that dominates the beauty industry. And as a women owned and run business, they partner with and support businesses that empower women.
Try out Fat and the Moon products for yourself at fatandthemoon.com
2. Butter Me Up Organics
Next up is Butter Me Up Organics. They live by the motto, “Don’t put anything on your body that you wouldn’t put in it.” Not only are they cruelty free and non-toxic, they do not use palm oil and their ingredient list is ethically sourced. No synthetic ingredients are used in any of their products.
At Butter Me Up Organics you’ll find everything from house cleaning products to baby creams, and everything in between. They are also completely zero waste, and have been since 2008. Shipments to the United States take between 1-3 days, though they are carried locally throughout the United States.
Another company doing it up right for the environment (and your skin!) is Blendily. While a small number of their products contain beeswax and honey, most of what they offer is vegan and they are completely cruelty free.
What’s unique about Blendily is that they grow much of their own ingredients. When they do have to source their botanicals, they either work directly with the farms, or purchase from Organic-certified operations. Each of their products is handmade, and there’s never any question about what’s gone into the skincare.
Add in that they’re woman led and zero waste, and Blendily is the perfect example of how beauty products can be eco friendly.
So go on and be beautiful—without the eco anxiety.