What is Sustainable Beauty?

What is sustainable beauty? What is green beauty? There is no formal definition. Unlike “green”, which is vague, “sustainable” is easier to specify. The most cited definition for sustainability comes from the UN’s Our Common Future report: “[Sustainability] meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Sustainable beauty means using makeup, skincare, and personal care with the future in mind. Experts often list “three pillars” of sustainability: economic, social, and environmental. I focus on environmental sustainability. But true environmental sustainability cannot exist without social and economic sustainability as well.

So, what is considered environmentally sustainable beauty? Its complicated and involves many factors. To keep it simple, Beauty and the Planet considers 4 things when rating a product’s sustainability: the company’s carbon footprint, packaging, ingredient sourcing and ecotoxicology, and ethics. I summarize each of these below. Be on the watch for articles about each of these topics.

Carbon Footprint

A product’s carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouses gases released during production and transportation. Energy use possibly produces the most greenhouse gases. A company can reduce their carbon footprint by choosing renewable energy sources. When preparing my review of ILIA Beauty Limitless Lash Mascara, ILIA Beauty told me “Many of our manufacturers are either working towards or using renewable energy.” Some companies choose to offset their carbon footprint by contributing financially to projects that reduce carbon emissions. Love Beauty and Planet donates $40 per carbon ton to carbon reducing programs. Krave Beauty offers customers the chance to offset shipping.

Sustainable Packaging

How the packaging was produced and what happens after you have used it also impact our planet. For example, plastic waste has already accumulated enough to drastically harm wildlife and the environment. Many brands claim sustainability by using recyclable packing. This just transfers responsibility to the consumer. Many people don’t have access to recycling programs. And some that do, chose not to recycle. We prefer brands, like Alpyn Beauty, who make their bottles and jars from 100% post-consumer recycled glass.

Ethique takes sustainable packaging even further. As I mentioned in my review of Ethique’s Botanica deodorant bar, their packaging isn’t just plastic-free. It’s compostable. You can compost it in your own backyard!

Ingredient Sourcing and Ecotoxicology

We need to consider where ingredients come from and where they go when they wash off. Did you know that 2 common sunscreen ingredients (oxybenzone and benzophenone-2) are toxic to coral reefs and other marine life? Instead, look for non-nano mineral sunscreen. Non-nano (larger than 100 nanometers) is important because nano particles (less than 100 nanometers) can interfere with marine life development. Non-nano mineral sunscreens are usually labeled as “reef-safe.” The Detox Market only carries these types of sunscreens.

Ingredient sourcing can also harm the environment. The harvesting of palm oil has had devastating effects on the people and rain forests of Asia. Some brands, like Axiology, don’t use palm oil at all. Others, like L’Oréal, are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, which promotes the sustainable production of palm oil.


Beauty and the Planet believes beauty should be cruelty free and fairly produced. Cruelty free means neither the brand nor a third party tested the product or its ingredients on animals. Everything sold at the Detox Market is cruelty free.

Ethics also involves how a brand treats people. For example, mica is a common skincare ingredient. It’s what gives many shimmery products their shimmer. In skincare, it can have a blurring effect. However, much of mica is mined by children in hazardous conditions. In 2015, Terre des Hommes estimated that mica mines employed 22,000 children in just the Indian states of Jharkhand and Bihar. These children risk exposure to dangerous gases, mine collapses, and lung disease and they make less than minimum wage. Unfortunately, brands are not always able to ensure their mica is coming from ethical and responsible mines. When they cannot confirm the source of natural mica, Āether Beauty uses synthetic mica.

A Final Word about Sustainable Beauty

Nobody is perfect. No brand is perfect. You will never have a beauty routine that has absolutely no impact on the planet. Some people might try to shame you for not being as sustainable as they are. Ignore them. Unless the live by just their own hands and stone tools, they are not living 100% sustainably. Do your best and forgive yourself for occasionally slipping up. By just making a few small changes at a time, you can still have a positive impact.

What is sustainable beauty? Carbon footprint, packaging, ingredients, and ethics

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