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Sustainable is the New Chic

The Rise Of Eco-conscious Beauty Products

The beauty business is an incredibly lucrative industry with $49.2 billion in revenue in 2019. And that’s just in the United States. The industry is also one of the biggest contributors of plastic waste with over 120 billion units of packaging created every year.

As consumers become more eco-conscious, they’re demanding eco-friendly products across the board–and that includes makeup, hair, and other personal care items. A recent survey from Global Web Index revealed 43 percent of surveyed consumers would pay more for a product if the packaging was environmentally friendly. And 56 percent said they would pay more if the ingredients were natural or organic. The research concluded that while the price is still a primary driver of purchasing decisions, a growing number of consumers care equally about environmental and ethical issues. 

Beauty brands are paying attention to growing consumer awareness. And it’s not just indie lines that are incorporating all-natural ingredients and compostable packaging; big-name companies like Dove and L’Oreal are also following suit. Here are some of the ways the beauty business is addressing consumer demand for sustainability. 

Waterless Beauty

Water is a common ingredient in most beauty products and often plays a role in all stages of the production processes, from formulation to packaging to transport. But water is not an infinite resource. In fact, experts predict certain parts of the world will see water shortages by as early as 2025.

“Water will most certainly become a luxury. In fact, two-thirds of the world’s population will experience water shortages by 2025, as only one percent of the Earth’s water supply is accessible freshwater,” says Shanu Walpita, trend forecaster and founder of Futurewise Studio. “The urgency of a global crisis around the diminishing of water will spotlight our growing need for waterless products.” 

Although the waterless beauty movement began as a way to increase a product’s potency, water conservation has now become the driving force. Indie brands such as Vapour and Pinch of Colour have introduced waterless lines. Pinch of Colour has a waterless matte lipstick line, and a whopping 97 percent of Vapour products are water-free. 

Some larger companies are also doing their part. Procter & Gamble has launched a waterless hair care line first developed for residents in Cape Town to prepare them for “day zero,” that is, the day the city’s water sources run dry. The line is now available around the globe through major retailers such as Target, Walmart, and Amazon. 

Non-toxic Ingredients

With so many consumers hyper-conscious of what goes into their bodies, it’s not surprising this attention has extended to skincare. 

All-natural or organic skincare and makeup have been on the rise for years. Editorial outlets frequently publish “best of” lists to help consumers navigate the ever-growing array of clean beauty products. And the proliferation of all-natural beauty boutiques such as Credo and The Detox Market only underscore this trend. Retail giant Sephora has introduced a clean beauty label that alters customers to natural and organic products. Even Target has embraced this trend: the big-box chain developed a set of icons that signal to customers whether a product is organic or whether it’s free of dyes, fragrances, parabens, or other additives. 

What’s good for the skin can also be good for the environment. If sustainably sourced, natural and organic ingredients can return to the earth without causing harm, unlike synthetic chemicals. 

Packaging: Compostable, Reusable, And Recyclable

We know the beauty business is a large contributor of excess plastic, but the good news is that any steps the industry takes to reduce waste will have a significant impact. 

A recent BBC documentary titled Beauty Laid Bare examines plastic waste generated by the industry and found that very little of it actually gets recycled. In an attempt to address this very problem, Nordstrom has introduced BeautyCycle, a take-back initiative that accepts used beauty products from any brand and ensures proper recycling.  “Nordstrom is the first major retailer to offer a beauty packaging recycling program for all brands,” says Gemma Lionello, the company’s executive vice president of accessories and beauty. “We committed to take back 100 tons of beauty packaging to ensure it’s recycled by 2025.”

Other brands are tackling the plastic waste problem from a different angle by introducing packaging that’s either recycled or compostable. Unilever, the parent company of drugstores brands such as Dove, has stated all packaging will be reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025. The company also committed to reducing the weight of its packaging by one third. Similarly, L’Oreal announced they also pledge to introduce 100% eco-friendly packaging by 2025. 

And then there’s perhaps the most sustainable packaging solution of all: refillable containers. Luxury brand Dior has introduced refillable bottles for some of its perfume lines, and Olay has tested refillable jars for its best-selling moisturizer. 

Stuart Landesberg, the co-founder of eco-friendly beauty site Grove Collaborative, is particularly enthusiastic about the refillable packaging movement. “When you think about the old phrase ‘reduce, reuse, recycle,’ reuse is a key component,” he says. “If packaging can be reused, there will be a huge reduction in the amount of waste that’s created. This is going to be a big part of the future.”