The Beauty Industry and Sustainability

When you think of the beauty industry, things like cosmetics, skincare and beauty treatments, what images come to mind? Do you feel good when you think about the beauty industry? If the answer is no, you’re not alone…


1. a combination of qualities, such as shape, colour, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight. ‘I was struck by her beauty’.

Oxford Dictionary 2020

Remembering What Beauty Is (Subjective)

Beauty in essence cannot exist on its own: it is created, witnessed, felt. To me, the sense of beauty is a very intimate feeling. When I perceive something to be beautiful, it feels good. I feel good when I witness the beauty of a sunset backdropping my sparkly city. I feel good when I read poetry with beautiful imagery. I feel good when I wear my most beloved pair of gold hooped clear quartz earrings.

Beauty is a subjective, emotionally charged experience that comes in many forms. We can enjoy observing something beautiful without feeling like we are part of it; and we can seek to embody an idea of beauty in the clothes we wear, the ways we dance, speak, and so on. What beauty isn’t is limited to a certain aesthetic: appearance, skin type, colour or complexion.

So, considering how ‘beauty’ is capitalised in the mainstream, it’s no wonder the industry is the world’s sixth largest market (Whitehouse, 2018) when its idea of beauty has exploited the very essence of what beauty is: subjective, diverse, natural.

The UK Beauty Industry (A Rant)

The UK is among the leading three cosmetic consumers in Western Europe (Sabanoglu, 2020). In 2018, the total value of UK consumption of beauty products and services was £27.2bn, including “personal care, personal enhancement, and beauty services” (British Beauty Council, 2019).

For too long, the beauty industry has indoctrinated a non-inclusive and unrealistic image of beauty to profit from the incompatibility of its clients. The concept of beauty having a ‘standard’ or grade is fundamentally flawed, since we know beauty is inevitably subjective.

Even the common language used in promoting beauty products, such as ‘enhancement’, reinforces the harmful and untrue notion that our natural appearance is ‘not good enough’. Apparently, low self-esteem has been a great marketing tool.

When products use language like ‘improve’ and ‘correct’, ‘flaws’ and ‘imperfections’, they’re selling more than skincare: they’re selling you the belief that you are somehow flawed, when you most certainly are not.

Another harmful tactic of beauty brands is the use of toxic ingredients for product shelf life, textures and effects. Ingredients such as certain strands of parabens (butyl, propyl and ethyl), siloxanes and toluene (and so, so many more)have been strongly linked to harmful body disruptions. A common one is endocrine disruption, which can wreak havoc on female hormones and thus cause a reaction in the gut, brain function and skin. So let’s do the maths:

beauty products + problematic language + toxic ingredients = a vicious cycle

Let’s not forget about testing on animals. In the UK, testing cosmetic products or product ingredients on animals is banned, meaning it’s illegal to sell or market a cosmetic product if animal testing has taken place on the finished cosmetic or its ingredients before being sold in the UK. But like most industries under a patriarchal collar, there are loopholes. These loopholes are called the US, Japan and China, where animal testing is required or permissible by law. In this way, cosmetic companies can create a system that allows them to test on animals before taking off their dirty shoes and entering the UK. Messed up, right?

Sustainability and Inclusivity (The Good News)

Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since the beauty industry’s Eurocentric ideals. Cosmetic companies, skincare lines and beauty products are shifting into a new, more expansive and sustainable direction. It seems that the not so radical notion of total inclusivity within a healthier, greener beauty industry is finally underway. We’re seeing more and more authentic representation of people with disabilities, the LGBTQ+ community and racial diversity, with non-gendered marketing. Similarly, this has come with a rise in organic food-grade ingredients and skin-positive language. From 40 shades of foundation to plastic-free products, the beauty train is for the first time ever on track.

Of course, we still have a long way to go (said every feminist on every subject ever),but thanks to movements like body-positivity and skin-positivity, along with progressions in gender, queer and trans inclusivity, it seems the beauty industry is beginning to remember what beauty actually is: subjective; and what beauty needs to be: sustainable.

To me, sustainable beauty products aren’t only earth-conscious and low-impact, they are skin-positive and people-inclusive. When I buy a beauty product, I want to know I’m supporting a brand that echoes my own ethos when it comes to beauty, diversity and health.

If you have found beauty products that make you feel good – empowered to embrace and embody your own idea of beauty – those are the cosmetics we need to maintain. When we buy a beauty product, we’re buying an idea. Don’t just buy a sustainable product, buy a sustainable idea: that you are your own definition of beauty.

The more mainstream cosmetic companies that adopt less packaging, sustainable and non-toxic ingredients, inclusive concepts of beauty, skin-positive and non-gendered language, the closer we are to a beauty industry that is truly beautiful.

Seven Mainstream Cosmetic Companies Changing the Beauty Industry

Below I discuss seven mainstream cosmetic companies leading the change we need for skin-positivity, inclusivity and sustainability. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway): if you have a local independent eco-cosmetic maker or beauty brand, support them! Buying from local businesses is a sure-fire way to reduce carbon footprint, support your own community and help create a healthy economy.

That being said, we need our mainstream companies to do the eco-work and make our high streets greener. Without cosmetic giants making earth-conscious leaps, the beauty industry won’t progress in the ways we truly need it to: so be sure to add items in your basket from a variety of sustainable companies, and be a part of the demand the beauty industry so desperately needs.

Bias alert: I am a poet, artist and writer who… also works for Lush Cosmetics! *gasp* Meaning yes, I have a bias. But this also means I have the inside scoop, and with my soapy hand on heart, I solemnly swear the company actually does what it says on the tin. As such, I’ve given Lush the highlight with a longer overview. Biased as I may be, in the world of cosmetics, my love is definitely more poly than monogamous.

1. LUSH Fresh Handmade Cosmetics

Fighting Animal Testing, 100% Vegetarian, Less Packaging, Ethical Buying, Handmade Products, Supporting Grassroot Charities and Critical Campaigns.

The Lush Bath and Soap ranges are completely naked, without any plastic or packaging. Elsewhere throughout the store, most ranges have a naked alternative, including: shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, body scrubs, facial cleansers, facial serums, make-up, body lotion, massage bars, deodorant, and more. At present, they stock a full range of vegan and cruelty free makeup, including 40 shades of their Slap Stick Foundation, which is also (you guessed it) naked.

Lush made eco-history by opening the ‘Lush Naked Shop’ concept stores in Manchester, Milan, Berlin and Hong Kong, where everything is naked, even the staff!    

Of course, not all products can be made naked, as certain formulas high in oils rely on a liquid formula for their effect. Hence, Lush offer a ‘five black pot recycling scheme’ gifting a free fresh facemask for every five pots returned to the store for the company to recycle in-house. The rest of their packaging is made from 100% recycled materials.

The company has an ethical buying policy that ensures building a strong commitment with the communities and locations they source ingredients with, to safeguard the environment and the social impact. What’s more, their Charity Pot is a hand and body lotion where 100% of the proceeds (minus sales tax) are donated to grassroots charities and important causes.

Since 2007, Charity Pot has raised more than £50 million globally for grassroots campaigns, charities and good causes fighting for animal rights, human rights and the rights of the planet.

As for diversity, you only need to scroll through the website once to see how inclusive this company is. Representational as Lush photography may be, the company publicly called themselves out, in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, as “a predominantly white business” that has “undoubtedly benefited from white privilege” (Lush, 2020).

They went on to say, “We know that white sorrys are not enough – what is needed now is genuine willingness to examine and change the structures we have influence over, to ensure that Black people can thrive within these systems.” Something I truly admire about Lush is how open they are about addressing political issues and injustices, even when it involves calling themselves out. True to their word, they are currently working through a company-wide BLM 100-day action plan, with results to soon be publicly shared.

In case my bias wasn’t obvious enough already, I highly rate Lush. It’s a sigh of sweet snow fairy relief every time you need a cosmetic top-up without the hassle of ethical investigation – and with the pleasure of some crazy good smelling products.

2. All Earth

Awarded the most eco-conscious cosmetics brand for the UK by Lux Life Magazine in the 2020 Health & Beauty Awards.

All Earth Mineral Cosmetics is a Cornwall-based company founded by professional makeup artist Julie Wiezcorek and natural skincare creator Guy Hanson. Frustrated by the lack of natural cosmetic products available in the UK *heavy relate*, Julie and Guy have combined their expertise to create a range of tried and tested mineral makeup which is durable whilst being gentle on skin.

Co-founder Julie believes that less is more and that there is no need to use skin harming chemicals when we have all the beautiful natural ingredients and colours that our Earth has to offer.

All Earth keep plastic waste to a bare minimum with every product available in plastic-free and biodegradable refills. You can purchase a ‘pot for life’ that is both robust and features a beautiful rustic design, one to keep for life and refill to your heart’s content.

The All Earth Concept Pot is made completely in Cornwall from UK sustainably sourced beechwood and plastic inners from recycled fishing nets salvaged from the sea with a completely unique sifter concept.

They also offer a plastic-free sifter pot alternative and skincare in fully recyclable aluminium and glass. One of my favourite perks of this company are the cute samples in compostable packaging, to ‘try before you buy’ with free postage and packaging – dreamy.

3. The Ordinary

The Canada-born Skincare Line that dripped over the UK like sweet maple syrup. Skin science, research-based, active ingredient-driven products, at affordable prices.

Founded in 2013, The Ordinary is part of The Abnormal Beauty Company (DECIEM group). According to the company website, the main principle behind the brand is ‘clinical formulations with integrity’ – and that it is.

Did you know, around 40-50% of the cost of a cosmetic product goes on its packaging? The Ordinary Skincare is a no-nonsense, straight-talkingskincare line, where the price reflects the product and not its packaging.

The products range from approximately £5 to £30. I personally love the minimalist ‘clinical style’ aesthetics, but these names and formulas may seem intimidating, especially if you’re a skincare newb. Thankfully, for those of us who don’t speak fluent skin-science, they’ve made guides and overviews in each online product category.

All of The Ordinary products are designed to provide raw, concentrated versions of common ingredients found in everyday beauty items, without the ‘filler’ materials that bulk out most cosmetics.

Not only is The Ordinary skincare affordable, aesthetically pleasing, and totally free from parabens and sulphates, it’s 100% vegan. Most products are housed in a tinted glass bottle complete with a science-style dropper top to ensure you don’t overuse or waste any of the product. For any bits you can’t readily recycle, TerraCycle® and DECIEM have partnered to create a free recycling programme for all brands of beauty products and packaging.

4. Loli

The waterless beauty brand busting myths and stirring the pot all the way from the US, with hand-selected and responsibly sourced food-grade ingredients.

Sustainability is a standard that every single (good) cosmetic company is trying to uphold. But in the formula of sustainable skincare, a major area has been overlooked: water waste. With brands like Loli, we’re seeing the rise in dry masks and oil-based essentials. Are water-free products the eco-friendly hack you’re missing?

Tina Hedges, founder and CEO of Loli, isn’t shy about exposing the beauty industry’s watery secret: “Check out the labels on your skin, hair, or body care bottles – you’ll find most of them list ‘aqua’ as the first ingredient… Those 12 to 15 products in your beauty cabinet are up to 90 percent just plain, purified water” (The Zoe Report, 2019).

But before you start sweating about how much that fancy bottle of 90% water (lotion) cost you, let’s understand its role in certain formulas. Water isn’t necessarily a bad or pointless ingredient: it’s often used as a solvent to help dissolve potent actives and when blended with emulsifiers and oils, it seals hydration into the skin.

But when there’s 700 million people suffering from water scarcity, maybe sticking to oil-based cosmetic products makes more sense. Loli is a zero-waste, food-grade, waterless company on a mission to ‘stir up’ the skincare industry and prove that water-free skincare is not only possible – it’s more effective too.

5. Liha Beauty

The organic, vegan skincare brand that blends the rich botanical life of West Africa with traditional English aromatherapy and folk remedies.

Liha Beauty was founded by best friends Liha Okunniwa and Abi Oyepitan, who sought to create a luxurious, organic, vegan skincare brand, using both the Yoruba traditions of beauty and English aromatherapy. Yoruba traditions create beautifying oils, soaps and lotions from the nuts, tree bark and plants of Nigeria.

‘We are LIHA. We create beauty products that are, like us, a mixture of natural African roots and a quintessentially British attitude.’

Their (often sell-out) products like the Gold Shea Butter and Queen Idia Candle are created using all-natural Nigerian ingredients. Not only is their packaging recyclable and reusable, all their materials are made, designed and produced in the UK by other family-run businesses.

Something that makes Liha stand out miles from other brands is their ‘Kitchen Beauty’ workshops. Abi and Liha started hosting these workshops live in London, and took them online via Zoom during quarantine season. In these workshops they teach the benefits of formulas using a shea butter and coconut oil base, and the fundamentals of making aromatherapy perfumes and tinctures. They aim to give people the confidence to go off and experiment with home-made recipes, taking transparency and sustainability to a whole new level.

6. White Witch

The skincare coven that harms none – 100% Plastic Free, Certified Vegan, Certified Organic Ingredients, No Palm-Oil, 100% Natural, Irish Made.

At the heart of this Irish skincare company, with their motto being ‘harm none’, is protecting the environment. All of their packaging is completely plastic-free, using glass and cork lids for their organic skincare products. Their entire range is handmade on the Irish coast using locally sourced and wild ingredients.

White Witch makes products using wildflowers, plants, oats and seaweed from the unspoiled coast and meadows in front of the Atlantic Ocean in Connemara, West Ireland.

White Witch isn’t shy about their efforts of sustainability: they claim to be “the most ethical skincare company that exists today”, and there’s no evidence to say they aren’t. The makers of this brand are nature lovers, doctors and artists.

All White Witch Ingredients are 100% plant or mineral based, and are 100% vegan and cruelty free. From beginning to end, the creators handle the process themselves. They speak to the growers, the suppliers and the local people to find the best quality ingredients harvested in the most ethical way.

White Witch® is registered by The Vegan Society, and all but three of their ingredients are certified by the Organic Soil Association.

7. Kind Beeuty

The zero-waste skincare and haircare brand on a pursuit for a clean, kind and waste-free world.

The company was founded by Amal, another beauty creator frustrated with the amount of excessive packaging and unnatural, harmful ingredients used in the beauty industry. Kind Beeuty products are all handcrafted in the UK using only natural ingredients, in eco-friendly packaging, which you can return to be refilled and reused, creating a circular supply chain.

‘95% of personal care products are packaged in plastic containers. Once you use it up, it becomes waste which ends up in landfills or in our oceans. We want to help tackle the throw away culture and reduce our plastic footprint.’

Kind Beeuty use herbs, botanical and essential oils, and test all their formulas on themselves! They also produce products in small batches to ensure they are as fresh and effective as possible.

*adds Sustainable Beauty to basket* feels good, doesn’t it?

Sarah Jane O’Hare

 Insta: @oh_sarahjane,

Please check out Sarah’s open mic project: @creationopc and website!