The conversation surrounding sustainable skincare products is snowballing. It’s certainly a sign of the times, but it also speaks to the changes happening within the industry.
It’s important to understand the impact of the products we use. We want everyone to be able to choose the right products for their skincare routine - and if you’re choosing products that harm the living world, you’re not choosing the right products!
But meeting your skin’s needs without harming the environment isn’t always easy - the sustainability credentials of many skincare products are murky at best.
There are a lot of buzzwords - ‘clean’, ‘waterless’, ‘circular’, ‘eco-friendly’ - but if you want to cut through the greenwashing and really know what makes up your skincare, what should you be on the lookout for?
To help you, here’s our guide on how to verify the sustainability of your skincare products.
Why is sustainability important in skincare?
The skincare industry is big, and is getting even bigger - it’s expected to grow by 21% between 2021 and 2025. However, with such rapid growth comes an increase in harmful production and distribution practices. This means many products on the market simply aren’t good for the planet.
But we have a choice.
We can still get quality skincare, but with a much lighter footprint.
By choosing sustainable skincare, we can:
- Reduce landfill waste with low-impact packaging choices
- Minimise toxic emissions from the production process
- Improve biodiversity through responsibly sourced ingredients
- Protect habitats, including our oceans and rainforests, from pollution and destruction
How to tell if a product is sustainable
When assessing a skincare product’s sustainability credentials, it’s about looking at all the details. It’s not just what’s in the product - you want to know how it’s been made, what it’s packaged in, and the journey it’s undergone.
Pay Attention to Packaging Choices
Zero Waste reported in 2018 that 120 billion units of packaging are produced by global cosmetics companies every year. That’s a huge amount of packaging, the majority of which is non-recyclable and damaging to the environment.
There are a few things you can check for when looking at the packaging of your skincare:
- Is the product stored in plastic? Plastic can only be recycled a certain number of times and isn’t biodegradable.
- Does the packaging include a pump or a mirror? These are not recyclable.
- How many layers of packaging does the product come in? More layers means more excess packaging.
- Is the brand using plastic where another material would be equally as suitable?
It’s worth noting, though, that zero- or low-waste packaging for certain types of skincare products (like gels, creams and oils) can be difficult to source. Though, some plastic can be avoidable.
Look for materials like glass, aluminium and cardboard and try to prioritise them over plastic, where possible.
Get familiar with ingredients
The ingredients in our skincare products need to be as kind to the planet as they are to our skin.
Here’s what to check for on labels and websites:
Responsibly sourced ingredients
- Is there unsustainably sourced palm oil? This is linked to mass deforestation.
- If oils are used, are they sourced from sustainable plantations?
- Does the brand work with local suppliers? When products and ingredients are made locally, carbon from transportation is reduced.
- Is packaging from responsibly sourced trees and forests?
- Does the product contain synthetic ingredients or natural ingredients? A lot of synthetic ingredients aren’t biodegradable.
- Look out for triscolan - this is an antibacterial chemical that is also used in pesticides. It’s a major player in ocean pollution and is also known to cause skin irritation.
- Look out for phthalates - these are often used as solvents in fragrances. This chemical is also damaging to marine life. It can be a little more tricky to spot in ingredients lists, so if you’re struggling to find definitive information, go for products that are fragrance- or synthetic-fragrance-free.
- Look out for parabens - these preservatives are not only unsustainable but can cause skin irritation.
- Look out for microplastics and liquid polymers. Microplastics have been found in 50,700 personal care products. This is a big worry, as they’re not biodegradable. Liquid polymers, in particular, are found in a lot of products. The problem is that they don’t absorb into our skin. Instead, they wash off into our water supplies. As they’re not biodegradable, they’re a major cause of water pollution.
Cruelty-free skincare ingredients
Ingredients that haven’t been tested on animals are, as a rule of thumb, much safer. This is because the tests used to check their safety don’t require such extreme measures.
There’s also a clear ethical argument for not harming animals for the sake of our skincare routine!
Always check the cruelty-free credentials of your skincare product even if you live in a country that has banned testing on animals as the practice still unfortunately happens.
Look for transparency
Sometimes you might need to do a little digging.
You can get a true sense of a cosmetics company by reading its statements on environmental responsibility, workers’ rights, and sustainability. If they don’t have any of those… well, that isn’t a great sign!
Here’s what you can research on their website:
- Are they working towards reducing waste and water usage in the manufacturing process?
- Do they use renewable energy in production or have a plan to do so?
- Are they transparent about production - including batch sizes; production locations; and suppliers and distributors?
- Do they discuss process innovation and sustainability planning?
Spotting sustainable skincare can be simple… if you know what to look for
As you can see, there’s a fair bit to get familiar with when it comes to sustainable skincare!
However, it’s all about the big picture.
If we’ve done our job here, you should be a bit more clued up on some of the major red flags to look out for. In truth, having that knowledge is 90% of the work.
Perhaps even more importantly, the fact you’re even thinking about this stuff tells us you’ve got your heart in the right place and you’re probably making good choices already. We just hope this article gives you a bit more confidence in choosing sustainable skincare products in the future.
Knowing the ins and outs of skincare and how the products we use affect the planet means we can make truly considered choices.
The kind of choices that mean we can look good and do good at the same time.