Why No One Talks About Sustainable Skincare Like They Should
Sustainability isn’t a topic made of hot air. Basic economics indicates that resources are limited. That scarcity is only going to get worse if we do not take care of our planet. Moreover, it’s just plain horrifying to see so many diverse wildlife become endangered or worse because of our direct actions. (If you’ve ever seen the heart-breaking documentary Chasing Coral, you know what I’m talking about.)
Why do we need to worry about sustainability in beauty?
So a quick little fact about me, I worked a job over the summer, where I learned a hecka ton about sustainability in beauty care. And oh my gawd, does this sector need help. Remember when “save the turtles” was a huge thing, and we started boycotting plastic straws? Let me tell you that the beauty industry’s plastic contribution to our oceans will make straws pale in comparison.
The visual of a heaping pile of plastics twice the size of Texas only partially conveys the severity. The larger problem lies with microplastics, the plastics we can barely see. The small, broken-down pieces of plastics are being found in the bellies of dead sea animals (2). Microbeads are another tiny but mighty issue. While microbeads were finally banned in the last couple of years, scientists are still finding these plastics in baby fish.
The f*cked up thing about the industry is that everyone’s jumping on the green bandwagon without carrying the responsibility. “Natural” and “green” are everywhere in marketing, but that doesn’t mean those products are good for you or for the environment (1).
What makes up sustainable skincare?
Sustainable packaging is probably the most impactful area if improved in the beauty industry. Have you ever seen your skincare products being drowned in wasteful packaging? I certainly have. Enough with the fancy floof, sustainable skincare will often have minimal packaging in order to decrease waste. One of the best kinds of packaging is paper. It’s almost always recyclable.
- Avoids cellophane
- Does not use squeeze tubes, pumps, or droppers (mixed material is not recyclable)
- Has bottles that are not overly colorful or black (more on that later)
Don’t fall for false advertising. Natural does not mean sustainable. Take palm oil, for example, it’s often grown at the expense of the rainforest, displacing native species. Unfortunately, palm oil is found in about everything. Try to avoid palm oil when you can, but if you must, look for responsible sourcing (8).
Also, stay away from glitter. It’s pretty, I’ll give it that. But glitter, which is often made of plastic, is horrible for the skin and environment.
Now I want to talk about the great sunscreen debacle. If y’all watch Hyram, you know what I’m implying. Chemical sunscreens contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are toxic chemicals for our beloved coral reefs (1). Our coral are already endangered enough, they don’t need this kind of pollution. Mineral sunscreen does not have these ingredients but often leaves a white cast, which is a huge concern for people of color. Luckily, there are brands out there addressing this quandary by making mineral sunscreen for those with darker skin colors.
3. Fairtrade and Sourcing
Fairtrade is an organization that protects small-scale farmers and workers. The requirements to earn the Fairtrade mark is high and for good reason too. The Fairtrade mark indicates sustainable practices, fair wages for farmers and workers, and ethical working conditions with a ban on child and forced labor (10).
Unfortunately, most beauty products are not eligible for Fairtrade certification, unless they have food ingredients in them (3). (Some do including scrubs) But it’s the spirit of Fairtrade that we seek to emulate. When looking for sustainable skincare, investigate where the ingredients are sourced from, the practices used to utilize those ingredients and working conditions.
How to win at recycling
Do you know that you may be recycling wrong? While recycling makes everyone feel nice, if it’s done wrong, it may be even more detrimental to the environment than not recycling at all! The industry calls it wishcycling. It’s great that we’re so eager to recycle! It’s just that sometimes we try to recycle non-recyclable objects because we just hope it’s recyclable and surely it’s the thought that counts.
Unfortunately, the reality is that those non-recyclable items can contaminate the whole batch, forcing workers to scrap it entirely. Do you know those recycling bins at school? If someone isn’t sorting them, they most likely are all thrown away due to contamination.
Check the recycling guidelines with your local recycling company
This is so important! Every area recycles a bit differently. Avoid contamination by closely observing what can and cannot be recycled. Don’t be afraid to call the company up if you still have questions.
Let me tell you that TerraCycle is an absolute beast when it comes to recycling. And their services are free for anyone to use. When I say they recycle everything, they recycle everything imaginable: cigarettes, chip bags, and etc.
Most importantly to us, they recycle beauty products! The sad fact about our local recycling companies is that they operate for profit. This means that materials like small beauty items (like mascara tubes) and black plastics end up being thrown away despite any recyclability claims (6). The truth is, these items are too expensive to process, especially since the market to buy them back is not sizable enough.
When it doubt, throw it out
It sounds bad, but it’ll actually be better for the environment (5). Eliminate the waste by researching local recycling practices or using TerraCycle first.
Sustainable skincare brands
Now that you know all about sustainable skincare, let’s look at three fabulous brands that do that green work for you. (For more, visit sustainablejungle.com)
1. Youth to the People
Youth to the People is super environmentally-conscious with their packaging from the type of glass they use to the ink on their bottles to the sourcing of their paper. Their formulas are also vegan, cruelty-free, and biodegradable. Try the award-winning superfood cleanser.
This brand goes ham on plastic. They avoid bottles by making solid bars for about everything, all thanks to their innovative scientists. Ethique also utilizes plastic-free shipping and packaging. Ingredients are cruelty-free, ethically-sourced, and vegan. The staff gets a fair wage, and the brand donates ⅕ of their profits to charity. Try their face cleansing bar!
Bloomeffects’ Royal Tulip Cleansing Jelly recently won the best cleanser on Glamour’s top 2020 sustainable beauty products. The brand is cruelty-free, ethically-sourced, and uses recyclable packaging.
Written by Jessica Lu