No bottle of mascara or tube of lipstick will last forever. The products will be used up and the packaging will be recycled. Hopefully, the cosmetics are produced in an ethical manner to begin with — at least, that’s the hope of those who use beauty products and maintain a personal standard of eco-friendliness.
Fortunately, the beauty world is changing with you and cleaning up its production practices in order to become more sustainable and Earth-friendly. Not every brand is the same, and not every tactic is universal, but change is happening.
Here are some of the major ways the beauty industry has become more sustainable — and the areas in which it can still improve.
Good: Avoiding Particular Ingredients
Beauty brands have taken note of particular ingredients that are harvested in less-than-satisfactory ways. Take, for example, mica. It’s typically incorporated to give mineral powders a bit of a sheen, but it also has a less-than-shiny side: It has been known to be a mineral mined by child laborers. There’s also a long-term inhalation risk for those of all ages who spend lots of time excavating or working with it.
Brands like Lush have vowed to remove it from their products and have reportedly not purchased any mica since 2014. You can also make a point to actively avoid it and send a message to brands. It’s typically listed as either mica or muscovite on the ingredients listing.
Bad: Using Excessive Packaging
You’ve probably opened a perfume box before only to find its extra-large dimensions holding a very, very small bottle at its center. That small bottle might even be encased in plastic so it stands upright and doesn’t break. It’s a nice gesture, but it’s a lot of material to hold something so small.
The demand for green packaging has waned, too, which has caused many brands to back off their investigations into using less. You can do your bit by looking for the recycle symbol on products you buy with extra packaging so you know that, at least, you’re not contributing to any excess waste.
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Good: Making Changes in Child Labor-Prone Areas
Lush told The Guardian it had trouble making a difference in the world of mica mining because it’s not a big enough brand. However, other companies have gotten feet on the ground, alongside the National Resources Stewardship Council, in order to make sure they’re working with child-friendly mining villages only.
This effort strives to get children out of the mines and into school, rewarding the areas that follow the plan by purchasing minerals from the adults who excavate them. There’s still a long way to go, but the focus on child labor-free mica has been a great start.
Bad: Still Incorporating Microbeads
Did you know that the microbeads in some face washes and other products are actually made of plastic?! These tiny beads are then washed down your sink, through your pipes and back out into the water supply. It’s no surprise that plastic is virtually impossible to break down, so those microbeads live on in the oceans forever.
By January 2018, microbeads can no longer be produced. Until then, be vigilant and find an all-natural, water-soluble exfoliator instead.
If All Else Fails…
Fortunately, the overall trend in the beauty industry is toward sustainability. So, if the above tips fail you in your search for the most Earth-friendly cosmetics, then keep an eye out for labels that will clue you into a company’s high green standards.
The Environmental Work Group verifies products that are open to sharing not only their ingredients, but also their manufacturing processes and formulations. The list of criteria is quite lengthy and rigid, adhering to many banned ingredient lists issued by national governments and adding their own criteria on top of that. By selecting products with the label, the dirty work has been done for you — and you’re contributing to a more sustainable cosmetics industry.
More importantly, though, by putting your money where your mouth is, you’re sending a very clear message to manufacturers: It’s a green world, and they’re just living in it. So, in order to stay afloat, they’ll have to give customers the eco-friendly options they want. When enough customers make that kind of power move, brands will be sure to listen.