Posts with term Credo X

It Just Got Easier to Recycle Beauty Products From Every Brand

Creating a circular beauty industry is proving incredibly difficult. The cosmetics and personal care categories face an obstacle course on their quest for sustainability, with hoops to jump through that include toxic ingredients, hazardous waste from common items like nail polish and perfume, plus so, so much plastic. The United Nations estimates that we produce 300 million tons of plastic trash every year (nearly the weight of the entire human population), and beauty packaging is largely to blame thanks to pumps, mirrored compacts, and caps that can’t be processed by curbside recycling programs. Up to this point, much of the innovation in low-impact environmental practices has been led by adaptable indie brands that set the standard for Big Beauty with clever mushroom-based Styrofoam alternatives and compostable materials. Today, Nordstrom’s TerraCycle partnership takes a significant step toward a more circular future with BeautyCycle, a product take-back and recycling initiative accepting a high-low mix of used-up beauty staples that matches your medicine cabinet—rather than the store’s inventory. “Nordstrom is the first major retailer to offer a beauty packaging recycling program for all brands,” says Gemma Lionello, the company’s executive vice president of accessories and beauty. “We committed to take back 100 tons of beauty packaging to ensure it’s recycled by 2025,” she shares of setting Nordstrom’s corporate social responsibility goals for the next five years, which include reducing single-use plastic by 50% and ensuring that 15% of all products are considered sustainable. To make their 200,000-pound promise happen, BeautyCycle will be available in 94 locations, where it will accept beauty packaging purchased from any retailer and made by any brand. It’s a goal that’s quite possible, based on the example that clean beauty retailer Credo set when it offered its take-back program for all beauty products, regardless of where they’re purchased. As of April 2020, Credo announced that after three years of partnering with TerraCycle, 6,300 customers brought “empties” into their stores, resulting in the proper recycling of more than 15 tons of products. To understand the scale of Nordstrom’s BeautyCycle initiative: For every Credo boutique (currently 11 nationwide), there are more than eight Nordstrom locations accepting products, promising to create an even more widespread movement—and conversation—among American beauty enthusiasts.

5 Companies That Reward You For Recycling

Over the past half-decade, the beauty industry has evolved into a more-is-more mentality.  Whether your a beauty junkie or not, your bathroom cabinets might be filled with tons of products you don’t even remember buying.  Shampoos, lotions, haircare, and makeup are all products that need to be recycled, and more often than not these items are not recycled properly. Cosmetic packagings are made of various types of materials which make this process incredibly tricky and most of these items end up contributing significantly to the evergrowing landfills across the nation. Here are 5 cosmetic brands that are working hard to reuse plastic and reduce waste, and also offer their customers some great free incentives.

Venus Williams Created an Eco-Friendly Sunscreen That Easily Blends Into Darker Skin

As a lifelong tennis player, Venus Williams always used sunscreen but struggled to find an eco-friendly option that blended seamlessly into her dark skin. So, she created her own formula.   EleVen by Venus in partnership with Credo recently dropped two new mineral sunscreens—the On-The-Defense Sunscreen SPF 30, a more traditional cream that has zero white cast and a semi-matte finish (ideal for oily skin), and the Unrivaled Sun Serum SPF 35, a lighter formula complemented by hydrating ingredients.   The active ingredient in both is zinc oxide, which is safer for the ocean’s coral reefs compared to chemical formulas, according to the National Park Service. The Park Service reports that chemical sunscreens can actually awaken coral viruses, causing the reefs to become sick, expel their algae, and die. “As an athlete and professional tennis player spending most of my life outdoors, I was compelled to create a sun care collection I could use daily,” Williams shared in a statement, per InStyle. “Safe for our planet and good for people of all skin shades and types, I hope to inspire others to get out, be active, and stay healthy.”   Just like the environmentally-friendly ingredients, Venus chose recyclable and sustainable packaging. The Unrivaled Sun Serum bottle is made of recyclable glass, and the On-The-Defense sunscreen tube is made of 40% post-consumer recycled materials and can be recycled again through Credo’s TerraCycle program. Both products are vegan and cruelty-free.   The product line hasn’t been available for long, but it has already garnered some positive feedback. “I was hooked after my first day wearing it,” one reviewer said of the sun serum on Credo’s website. “Goes on so light doesn’t leave and residue on my skin at all.” Another reviewer raved about the sunscreen: “This has a beautiful matte finish, and very moisturizing to my dry skin. I also love how this is fragrance free, as I have allergic dermatitis.” We're sold!

Venus Williams Created an Eco-Friendly Sunscreen That Easily Blends Into Darker Skin

Champion tennis player Venus Williams created a sunscreen that blends seamlessly into darker skin tones.
  • EleVen by Venus in partnership with Credo recently dropped two new mineral sunscreen formulas that are eco-friendly.
  • “As an athlete and professional tennis player spending most of my life outdoors, I was compelled to create a sun care collection I could use daily,” Williams said.
  As a lifelong tennis player, Venus Williams always used sunscreen but struggled to find an eco-friendly option that blended seamlessly into her dark skin. So, she created her own formula.   EleVen by Venus in partnership with Credo recently dropped two new mineral sunscreens—the On-The-Defense Sunscreen SPF 30, a more traditional cream that has zero white cast and a semi-matte finish (ideal for oily skin), and the Unrivaled Sun Serum SPF 35, a lighter formula complemented by hydrating ingredients.   The active ingredient in both is zinc oxide, which is safer for the ocean’s coral reefs compared to chemical formulas, according to the National Park Service. The Park Service reports that chemical sunscreens can actually awaken coral viruses, causing the reefs to become sick, expel their algae, and die. “As an athlete and professional tennis player spending most of my life outdoors, I was compelled to create a sun care collection I could use daily,” Williams shared in a statement, per InStyle. “Safe for our planet and good for people of all skin shades and types, I hope to inspire others to get out, be active, and stay healthy.”   Just like the environmentally-friendly ingredients, Venus chose recyclable and sustainable packaging. The Unrivaled Sun Serum bottle is made of recyclable glass, and the On-The-Defense sunscreen tube is made of 40% post-consumer recycled materials and can be recycled again through Credo’s Terracycle program. Both products are vegan and cruelty-free.   The product line hasn’t been available for long, but it has already garnered some positive feedback. “I was hooked after my first day wearing it,” one reviewer said of the sun serum on Credo’s website. “Goes on so light doesn’t leave and residue on my skin at all.” Another reviewer raved about the sunscreen: “This has a beautiful matte finish, and very moisturizing to my dry skin. I also love how this is fragrance free, as I have allergic dermatitis.” We're sold!

Boxes, Bottles & Beyond

When it comes to packaging, first impressions matter, but it is the lasting impression that might be more important. After all, while a beautiful bottle may look great on-shelf or online, it will surely lose its appeal if it washes ashore on a sandy beach or ends up as landfill. All CPG companies—household, beauty and personal care included—are looking to reduce the impact their packaging has on the planet. But finding the right solution can be complex and the situation is fluid, which makes for a lot of gray areas, according to marketers, retailers and other stakeholders along the supply chain. In 2020, nearly every high-profile multinational, medium-size brand and startup is on a pathway toward becoming a more sustainable business. When it comes to packaging, they are making changes—some sweeping, some incremental—to the tubes, caps, bottles and boxes in which they house their products. At the same time, they need to keep a close eye on aesthetics and functionality, as consumers still have high expectations about the products they purchase and use on a daily basis. Take ubiquitous personal care staple deodorant. Procter & Gamble Beauty is testing Old Spice and Secret deodorants in all-paper tube packages at 500 Walmart stores in the US. This new packaging, made of 90% recycled paper, is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and features a push up design that would replace some of P&G’s plastic stick deodorant cannisters. In this test, P&G wants to glean how consumers respond to the design, which is different than the typical stick deodorant package to which consumers have become accustomed. If successful, P&G says it will expand the new package across more of its line. “With switching to a paperboard structure, the functionality is different. We will be learning about how much consumers will be willing to trade off functionality of that format,” Chris Bates, personal care R&D packaging, Procter & Gamble, told Happi. Additional efforts have already reduced P&G’s deodorant packaging footprint overall. Earlier this year, the company reduced the amount of plastic in its Secret antiperspirant and deodorant cannisters by 8%, a move it contends saves 900,000 pounds of plastic waste. Incremental steps like these can have a big impact when they’re taken by an industry giant. For example, if P&G converts 10% of its current deodorant packages to recycled paper or another recyclable material, it could annually eliminate up to 1.5 million pounds of plastic waste. In fact, finding better, more sustainable packaging has been a work in progress for Procter & Gamble for years, from the use of PCR in Tide bottles, that’s been ongoing for three decades, to last year’s roll out of a limited-edition Olay Regenerist Whip with a refill pod that eliminates 94% of plastic waste. Under its Ambition 2030 program, P&G established more goals. For example, P&G Beauty brands have committed to using 100% recyclable or reusable packaging while reducing the use of virgin petroleum plastic 50% by 2030. With so many brands under the P&G umbrella, sustainability is no doubt a complex endeavor. But Bates sees it as an asset. “When you have big leadership brands like Secret and Old Spice, the changes we can make can have a big impact in terms of tonnage. We also have smaller brands that we can experiment with. I view this as an asset toward making progress,” he told Happi. Procter & Gamble was an early partner in Terracycle’s Loop, which sells mainstream consumer products from laundry detergent to ice cream in durable, reusable packaging. With its pilot launched just about a year ago in the New York City and Mid-Atlantic area, Loop recently announced that it will be available to “consumers in every ZIP code in the contiguous US” this month. According to reports, Loop had record sales in March and April, following the shift in consumer spending from in-stores to online during stay-at-home orders and rising concerns about COVID-19’s spread. With the uptick in online purchases, Kao USA’s launch comes at the right time. Its new MyKirei by Kao products, which hit Amazon in late April, feature plant-based formulas that 95% biodegradable and housed in a new bottle uses up to 50% less plastic than traditional bottles. The bottles of Nourishing Shampoo, Conditioner and Hand Wash gain their rigidity through an air fill, allowing them to stand upright like a traditional bottle. Kao has partnered with TerraCycle to create a program to allow consumers to recycle the package and the pumps post-use. (Re)Filler Up Many consumers are still going to the store during the pandemic, but they have been doing so less frequently, often stocking up on key products and buying in bulk to avoid making extra trips. In this new normal, consumers would be more willing to stock up—as long as they had a place to store it and it was easy to use. Options like the new Mother & Child Ecos Refill Kit from homecare company Ecos fit the bill. Recently rolled out for the brand’s Dishmate Dish Soap and All-Purpose Cleaner Orange Plus, the kits have a patented “click-in” packaging design that includes a 64- or 96oz refill bottle that’s easy to hold, lift and pour, and a 16oz everyday bottle that’s light and comfortable for one-hand use. The unique system also makes storage easier, according to the company; both bottles in the refill snap together, making them compact and convenient to store under the sink or in the pantry. Aside from the convenience it provides for end users, the design reduces plastic use, too. The proprietary  design keeps the everyday bottle securely in place in the refill bottle with shrink wrap or outside packaging. In addition, the refill kits offer a significant savings in bottle plastic compared to five individual containers that the kit replaces. Refills have been growing in beauty, too. Rahua, which offers plant-powered beauty products, recently unveiled its first refill system with Classic Shampoo and Classic Conditioner Refill Pouches. The sustainable pouches provide customers the ability to immediately reduce plastic usage of their regular bottle by 90%; as well as reduce their individual carbon footprint, said the brand. The pouches are made with 60% biodegradable plant fibers. “That is our current solution. We are looking for com completely compostable options now,” Anna Ayers, Rahua co-founder, said during an Earth Day video press conference. In addition, Rahua is transitioning to sustainable frosted glass bottles, starting with three key products—Rahua Control Cream, Rahua Omega 9 Hair Mask and Rahua Freestyle Texturizer. Marrying sustainability with luxury design is on display at Lancôme. Its Absolue Revitalizing & Brightening Soft Cream and Rich Cream come with refill pods that clip into a gold jar allowing for a more ecologically sustainable design that’s upscale, too. With each refill purchase, the weight of the glass is reduced 33%, and total waste reduction is cut 41%, according to Lancôme. Continuous Change Across beauty, brands are implementing plans centered on more sustainable packaging. Now a certified B Corp., Arbonne earlier this year unveiled ArbonneCycle, a recycling program for its hard-to-recycle packaging and componentry in partnership with TerraCycle. The program covers Arbonne personal care product packaging as well as products such as protein shake bags and bar wrappers, Fizz Stick packets and more. Launched in the US, Arbonne says it plans to expand the programs globally. In addition, by offering a concentrated shower gel, Arbonne has been able to make a change in packaging. Only a pea-sized amount of Botaniques Concentrated Shower Gel is needed and one package—which has a footprint that’s half the size of a traditional body wash—provides enough product for 40 showers, according to Arbonne. Zotos Professional recently unveiled Better Natured, a prestige hair care brand with naturally-derived, stylist-developed formulations. Better Natured, which is free from what Zotos calls “12 ingredient taboos” (silicones, parabens, SLS/SLES sulfates and phthalates for example), is packaged in post-consumer recycled PET plastic. The line was tested in a certified Green Circle Salon. Green Circle is a B Corp that provides a sustainable salon program that allows salon owners to repurpose and recover up to 95% of the resources that were once considered waste—materials such as hair, leftover hair color, foils, color tubes, aerosol cans, paper and plastics. Zotos is also working with TerraCycle on the Better Natured Recycling Program. Tossing an empty bottle into the recycling bin seems simple enough, but recycling is much more complex for consumers and stakeholders alike, especially in the beauty space. “When you look up and down the supply chain, many are confused about what is recyclable—and that is problematic,” said Mia Davis, director of social and environmental responsibility at Credo. Varying small sizes and multi-composition materials—think metal springs and plastic in a pump dispenser—means skin care and cosmetics packaging can’t always be recycled in public programs, leaving end users with few options beyond their trash can. By working with TerraCycle, Credo has made it easier for its customers to recycle personal care products. Since the San Francisco-based company paired up with TerraCycle three years ago, 6,300 customers have brought their empties into Credo stores, resulting in the proper recycling of more than 30,000 pounds of products. With a customer base that prioritizes clean beauty, recycling would seem second nature, but Credo does offer a carrot—participation points that can be used for future purchases. “Points are the icing on the cake,” Davis said. Across beauty and personal care, brands continue to assess and retool their packaging. This past January, for example, Fekkai relaunched a collection of shampoo, conditioner, and treatments packaged in 95% high-grade repurposed plastic that is 100% recyclable. This year, the company says it will repurpose 64 million grams of plastic, roughly seven million plastic bottles. In April, the company offered limited edition mushroom packaging created with 100% compostable and biodegradable ingredients such as mycelium and hemp hurds. Mary Kay Inc. has signed on to the Sustainable Packaging Initiative for CosmEtics (SPICE), joining 17 other member organizations that include L’Oréal, Chanel, Coty and Estée Lauder that aim to collectively shape the future of sustainable packaging. SPICE members are working to make significant progress in three key areas:
  • Guiding solid sustainable packaging policy development based on a robust and harmonized methodology, recognized at sector level;
  • Driving packaging innovation based on objective eco-design criteria to progress toward more sustainable solutions; and
  • Meeting consumers’ expectations by improving communication and providing more clarity on the environmental performance of products.
The first committee meeting took place in May 2018, and since then, SPICE has hosted five committee meetings where members share their experience and knowledge. Like so many other events during the COVID-19 pandemic, the most recent one, in early April, was held virtually, according to staffers at sustainability consultancy Quantis, which is a SPICE co-founder. Common Goals How an individual company addresses sustainability in terms of its packaging is influenced by myriad factors, including business size, core values and customers’ expectations, to name just a few. Supplement brand Hum is moving to packaging “ocean-bound” plastics. According to the company, the contract it signed indicates that “millions of bottles’ worth of plastics will be reused before they end up in our oceans.”  The first of the new bottles will make their way into Hum’s supply chain by the end of this year and will be on shelves in 2021. In addition, Hum is joining the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment. As part of its efforts to reduce plastic and carbon footprint, all of Coola’s tubes are made of sustainably-sourced sugar-cane resin, which is 100% recyclable, secondary packaging is made of post-consumer recycled paper and the firm uses as much glass as possible. In fact, the majority of its bottles and jars, more than 80%, are made of glass. Plastic is used mainly when needed for the safety and functionality of the product, in which case Coola says it strives to use the eco-friendliest options available, according to company. Indie deodorant brand Each & Every continues to seek more sustainable packaging, too. “Before we even launched the brand, we wanted to launch with sustainable packaging, but because we use 100% natural essential oils and no synthetic fragrance, none of the sustainable package options we tried were compatible with our formula,” Each & Every’s Co-Founder Lauren Lovelady told Happi. “The essential oils would break down the package materials. We ultimately decided to launch in plastic so that consumers would have access to our incredible formula and we decided that we would keep working on sustainable packaging in parallel.” In 2019, the company found a package that was made from post-consumer recycled material. “This was a more sustainable option than petroleum-based plastic, but consumers told us that while they appreciated the effort, they didn’t see it as sustainable enough. We value the feedback of our incredible community and feel so fortunate to be able to have a two-way dialogue because this conversation led us to decide to look for other new materials instead of investing in a solution that they didn’t feel was sufficient.” Recently, it switched its Lavender and Lemon scent SKU into new sugarcane packaging, which is recyclable and can be recycled at home or commercially. “What we love about the sugarcane is that it’s actually carbon negative, so it reduces our carbon footprint,” said Lovelady. “Sugarcane is a renewable resource, unlike petroleum, and growing it absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere, so it’s a great sustainable packaging option.” Each & Every plans to expand sugarcane packaging to other SKUs during the course of the year. A Plastic Pushback Boulder, CO-based Alpine Provisions Co., a maker of natural and organic personal care products, has committed to going completely plastic-free, switching out the 100% post-consumer plastic it was using. Founder and CEO Joshua Scott Onysko said he believed that his company was making a sound choice using post-consumer plastic to house his product line, but realized that whether it was petroleum- or plant-based, it was still plastic—and too much of it was ending up in the ocean. Alpine Provisions will use aluminum, a material that can recycled infinitely, for its hand-sanitizer, hair care and liquid soap bottles; its lip balm and deodorant will be housed in paper tubes that are recyclable and compostable; and its bar soap will be wrapped in paper. “Our industry has been surviving on plastic for 80 years. Plastic is a major problem,” he said. According to Alpine Provisions, only 7% of all plastic is ever recycled, and it can only be recycled 2-3 times. “We are so addicted to plastic. It has no value. That’s why it is littered all over. Aluminum and glass has value and that’s why you don’t see in on the road and in the ocean.” According to Onysko, single use plastic is used for a few minutes and thrown away knowing it lasts for 25 years or even longer. On the flip side, 84% all aluminum ever made is still in use today, and because it is lightweight, shipping aluminum saves millions of pounds of carbon emissions per year. Alpine Provisions recently announced that it has been picked up by national outdoor retailer REI, and other shops like Natural Grocers, Lazy Acres and Thrive Market, have reportedly placed orders to carry the brand’s plastic-free packaging when it’s available, which is expected sometime around the end of the month. Onysko wants to see his company’s initiative spark an industry-wide shift away from plastic packaging entirely. “Saying it’s recyclable is a cop out,” Onysko said. Further, he questioned whether or not companies that sell their products in plastic packaging could claim to be cruelty-free, knowing that their packaging could end up in places like the ocean, where “100 million marine animals die every year because of plastic pollution.” Solution Seeking Brand leaders across the household and personal products industry must continue to make decisions about their packaging componentry and related programs with a keen eye on the environment as well as consumers. Brent Heist, global packaging sustainability lead, Procter & Gamble, said there’s a need to consider the “spectrum of consumers” and where they may be in their own journey regarding sustainability, too. “We recognize that there is the heavily involved consumer to those who don’t want to be bothered,” said Heist said, noting that there are also economic and time constraints that factor into where a consumer falls on that spectrum. “We need to design solutions that make it easy for consumers to make better choices.”


“My message is that we'll be watching you” is how Greta Thunberg, the 17-year-old founder of the School Strike for Climate movement, began her speech to the United Nations last September. Her generation, she said, will no longer accept business as usual to solve the climate crisis.   Thunberg’s generation—who are all home from school and watching—now sees that when we said ambitious change wasn’t possible, that we couldn’t upend global systems, that it would require too much, too fast—we were wrong. While the long-term environmental benefits of the coronavirus will be minimal, the mere fact that the entire world has slowed down in three months—that individuals and businesses have stopped on a dime—means that “not possible” or “not yet” will no longer be viable responses when Gen Z demands change.   None of this is surprising. COVID-19 has accelerated the trends we saw in its lead-up: the decline of retail, the growth of direct-to-consumer channels, wellness as a movement and values-driven consumerism. That sustainability will be a foundation of the economy that comes out of this pandemic is a reaffirmation of what Gen-Z has already told us. The Gen-Z generation is already aging into the workforce and becoming the largest consumer group. Studies show that millennials will spend more for sustainable products, but Gen-Z is willing to pay an even higher premium. They’re also more likely to boycott and “cancel” brands that aren’t moving toward sustainability fast enough. And they process digital media faster than ever before which has, over time, honed their BS detectors. Beyond consumer sentiment, sustainability is proving itself as one of the most reliable brand differentiators. A recent New York University Stern Center for Sustainable Business study found that since 2013, sustainable products grew 5.6 times faster than conventionally marketed products, and 3.3 times faster than the CPG market as a whole. For brands to survive and compete, sustainability can no longer be an afterthought. Here’s how brands are beginning to embrace sustainability:  

Starting with low-hanging fruit

As first steps to sustainability, we’re seeing brands improve packaging recycling, create emissions offsets and partner with nonprofits–finding ROI when these efforts are paired with smart marketing tactics. This means taking the consumer on the path with them, creating educational messaging to have a more positive impact. Credo, the clean beauty retailer, for example, has created a packaging recycling program with TerraCycle that gives consumers loyalty points for returning empty beauty products—even non-Credo products–turning a competitor’s customers into their own loyalty members. For brands looking for those “easy wins,” SMAKK’s Mission Plan pairs these types of tactics with marketing strategies, and the Slow Factory Foundation offers a primer on sustainable literacy as well as a sustainability crash course.  

Creating circular product experiences

Recycling is broken and single-use packaging is a massive problem. Circular product experiences are moving to fill the gap with countless new challenger brands rising up to disrupt the CPG marketplace and reduce waste. Brands including Bite, by Humankind and Clean Cult use innovative refill programs to convert one-time purchases to subscription models. A refill model turns a single purchase into a repeat with very little friction, often passing savings on to the consumer. In the case of the whole-food supplements brand STAMBA, the durability and design of the packaging adds to shelf presence in retail, while the refill program brings the consumer data into the brand’s digital ecosystem.  

Turning trash into a cult object

Nonprofits like 4 Ocean and Parley are using products created from the problems they are trying to solve to shine a light on the issues themselves. In the case of Parley’s collaboration with Adidas, the covet-worthy shoes made from ocean plastic becomes a tool to spread awareness, with consumers retelling the story of their purchase. Other brands like Everlane, Girlfriend Collective and Rothy’s have developed campaigns that highlight recycled materials in their products to quantify the impact of their purchase for shoppers.  

Going beyond zero

The most ambitious companies are going beyond carbon neutral to truly offer reparative solutions. Microsoft has set aggressive emissions reductions goals including going carbon negative by 2030. By 2050, its goal is to remove all the carbon the company has emitted since it was founded in 1975. As awareness in understanding businesses’ historical impacts grows, simply making incremental changes to reduce emissions or add recycled content to new packaging won’t be enough. Brands that have invested billions in their shelf presence will have to think about the inadvertent consumer touchpoints their trash is creating and invest there as well. It’s likely we’ll see more pressure for legacy brands to step up. Coming out of Covid-19, we now have an opportunity to rebuild a better economy where the bottom line includes sustainability. As Greta said, “The world is waking up and change is coming, whether you like it or not.”

A Deep Dive Into the Confusing World of Sustainable Beauty

#FashionCrisis is a series that kicks off the Style section's commitment to educating our readers about sustainability and fashion. We chat with experts, influencers, designers, beauty and fashion brands about what it really means to be sustainable in 2020. In this story, we learn more about what exactly it means to be sustainable in the beauty industry.   Years ago I would roll my eyes at brands that promised to be cruelty-free, phthalate-free, three-free — free of everything, it seemed, including my attention. They had clunky packaging, weak ingredient lists that my cystic acne would scoff at, vampiric shade ranges, and forgettable branding. I just wanted products that did what they promised, a high enough order to keep me busy; concerning myself with products that did what they promised without doing a bunch of other things felt like too much to ask.   But the industry needle has been moving without me, and so has, unfortunately, the crisis of climate change. The stuff that beauty fans love is, in fact, connected to the climate crisis, because the $532 billion dollar industry that we support is implicitly linked to other industries that pollute the earth. The beauty industry contributes 120 billion units of packaging a year, according to some estimates, and the shipping industry, an integral part of the process, contributes more than 1 billion tons of CO2 a year — and this is just the world's merchant fleet, not accounting for freight or air shipping.   But more beauty brands are finding ways to minimize the impact they leave on the world when they make products. The “clean beauty” movement was worth $11 billion in 2016 and will likely be worth more than twice that by 2025. Clean beauty promises have gotten more complicated: Not only do they vow to hydrate or solve acne issues, for example, many of them are cruelty-free, vegan, water-free, and sustainable. But what does that even mean in 2020?  

What does “sustainable” beauty mean?

  There are many different standards for what sustainable beauty looks like, and hundreds of eco-labels around the world, with 66 relevant to cosmetics and personal care. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that “under U.S. law, cosmetic products and ingredients do not need FDA approval before they go on the market,” and cites color additives as the only exception to this rule, though the agency will take action if it has “reliable information” regarding the safety of a particular product. Otherwise, individual companies are tasked with the legal responsibility of making sure their products are safe to use, and eco-labels are a very helpful way for you to know they’ve been tested by somebody.   Thoroughly sustainable brands often aim for a quartet of eco-labels: recyclable, cruelty-free certification from Leaping Bunny, certification for good business practices (like Fair Trade or B-Corp), and organic ingredients. To use the official USDA organic label specifically, brands have to comply with strict guidelines, available here.   According to a former beauty industry marketer we spoke with, brands can put “cruelty-free” on their packaging, but not Leaping Bunny certification if they have parent companies that test in China. If selling in physical stores in China, products have to undergo animal testing, even if the company doesn’t do animal testing anywhere else: “Brands are careful about how they phrase things for customers. My old brand wouldn’t put sustainable, but would call themselves...eco-forward, to let consumers know they were trying, but weren’t there yet.”   Many official eco-labels cover only specific products and not the entire company roster. They are largely voluntary accreditations, not industry requirements. B-corp brands must achieve a minimum score on a test that assesses impact on workers, customers, community, and the environment using the UN’s sustainable development goals as a benchmark. It’s one of the most rigorous accreditations a company can apply for. The Body Shop, a pioneer in sustainable beauty, is one of only a few brands that are B-corp certified, along with Davines and Dr. Bronners.  

Natural beauty, organic, clean beauty, and waterless beauty are all different.

  There is no official FDA definition of “organic” cosmetics, and so-called “natural” products aren’t necessarily better for your skin; some popular nature-derived cosmetics ingredients can still cause a bad reaction for people with certain skin types. According to the FDA, cosmetics labeled “organic” have to adhere to both USDA and FDA regulations. For example, a product has to be composed of at least 95% organic ingredients to have the USDA organic label on it. That’s why brands that claim to be organic often don’t have a label; a lotion may be composed of 75% organic ingredients but is not permitted to use the official logo.   A newer trend is “waterless beauty,” a term from South Korea that refers to products supposedly containing no water, according to Formula Botanica, a company that offers courses and certificates in organic cosmetics science. Generally these products have concentrated formulas, implying a bigger impact on skin. Reducing the amount of water waste is an important part of how we can all contribute to a smaller ecological footprint — by 2050 5 billion people may face water shortages — but even if a product arrives with no “aqua” listed in the ingredients, it’s highly unlikely that it has no water footprint. Brands think waterless beauty translates to shoppers believing it’s a more sustainable product, but the harvesting of ingredients, packaging, and shipping beauty products require water in some form or another, as pointed out by Formula Botanica, not to mention that you may end up diluting it with tap water at home.   Charlotte Parker, the CEO of Dieux Skincare and cofounder of Nice Paper, has spent the past few years learning the ins and outs of clean beauty loopholes, while developing her own brand alongside a dermatologist. “If your product is waterless and ‘all natural,’ how do you think that crop was made? With GMO-free good wishes? It takes water to grow a plant,” says Parker. “If I use a synthetic ingredient, with 10 ml of water, I can tell you that barbari fig seed oil took a hell of a lot more water to grow, clean, and process.”   “More frustrating is the waterless beauty that actually has water in it,” Parker continues. “There are two workarounds that I’ve seen brands do. They’ll add ‘extract,’ or ‘proprietary blend,’ which means you can just add water to any active on the supplier side, and then your lab can legally put it first on the list, conveniently not mentioning there's water in that proprietary juice. They also switch out water for hydrosols. Hydrosols are perfumed water. Hydrosols are made during the essential oil process; it takes a lot of water to create both essential oils and hydrosols.”   A vegan brand does not mean the labor practices are ethical or that the supply chain is transparent and sustainable, and all brands have an ecological footprint, so the concern is how they counteract their impact on the environment. All these terms are moving targets.  

Packaging problems.

  We’ve got a big learning curve to deal with if we want to be more responsible consumers, and it starts with learning more about what to do with things we already own. Recycling is complicated enough that a few brands, like Versed, have released recycling guides to help make it easier. If you’ve been throwing half-full beauty products into the bin, you get zero cookies for the effort, because residual product in containers renders a lot of recycling contaminated. Here is a comprehensive list of things to just put in the wastebasket instead:   Mirrors are not recyclable because of the reflective coating. “If your mirror is in good condition, consider wrapping it up safely and donating it. If it’s broken, consider a craft project,” advises Elizabeth Schussler of the Recycling Partnership.   Most available pumps are not recyclable. While researching this story, we discovered only one recyclable pump on the market, which isn’t to say a major brand has incorporated it yet. Pumps are composed of several different parts, so you need to fully disassemble them.   Applicators are not recyclable either. Mascara wands, however, can be donated, after being washed, for use in wildlife rescue effortsCloud Nine also has a mail-in recycling program for heat tools for hair.   Makeup brushes are generally not recyclable, even if they are composed of primarily eco-friendly materials. Vegan brushes still have to use virgin plastic. You can go for synthetic brushes made sustainably, like EcoTools, and send your old ones to recycling programs that specialize in beauty brushes.   Depressingly, the color of plastic or glass containers can matter too, even if it’s a technically recyclable material. “There are some packages that are more recyclable. It depends on size, shape, material, and color,” explains Schussler. “The machines [that] sort the plastic are ‘reading’ the plastic and divide it, but there are colors and materials that catch it off guard.” Black plastic is hard to recycle because the sorters don’t recognize the color. For example, don’t just toss LUSH containers into your recycling bin; instead, bring them back to the store, if possible. The brand reuses them as part of its programming.   A film or coating can also render something unrecyclable. Anything that is flexible or squeezable is difficult to recycle because it has multiple layers. (Summer Fridays does, however, have a specialized recycling program.) And those free samples you get? They are unsurprisingly terrible for the environment. “Packages that are smaller than a small soda can, for instance, have a hard time making it through the line even if they are recyclable,” says Schussler.   Single use products are bad for the environment too. “Beauty products made to use once and throw out, like makeup wipes and sheet masks, create a lot of unnecessary refuse,” Susan Stevens, the founder and CEO of Made With Respect, told Vogue last year. “In the case of sheet masks, there’s a pouch, the mask, and sometimes the mask is wrapped in a plastic sheet. The pouches that hold sheet masks are often a combination of aluminum and plastic, which cannot be recycled.”  

All retailers have different standards for what sustainable beauty means.

  Since there are few compulsory regulations for brands to adhere to, retailers may have their own guidelines for what clean beauty or sustainability is when stocking their stores. ULTA has a “natural beauty” category but doesn't appear to have an explainer on its website about what constitutes inclusion in that category. The company also doesn't appear to have clearly outlined sustainability benchmarks available. Teen Vogue has reached out to ULTA for comment. Sephora uses recyclable paper bags, and defines clean beauty as being free of specific ingredients, which they do outline on their website. When reached by Teen Vogue for comment, the company explained it has begun rolling out a recycling program at specific stores but has not made it a universal policy: “In 2019, Sephora piloted a regional empties bring-back program in select stores, to divert empty containers from landfills, through which clients could receive 15% off all Sephora Collection items when they brought in three full-size empties of Sephora-sold products. There are plans to roll out this initiative to more stores in the near future.”   Other retailers have started to pop up exclusively in the clean beauty space. There is the Detox MarketAyla, as well as BLK+GRN, which specializes in black-owned beauty brands. Credo, a retailer established in 2015, exclusively sells what it considers clean products, and is thus far the only major beauty retailer to offer a recycling-and-rewards program as part of its brick-and-mortar operations. “On average, each store sends six to eight bins per month back to Terracycle to recycle, so about 65 bins per month. Our customers use this service and love it, and they get Credo loyalty points for participating too,” says Credo’s director of social responsibility, Mia Davis. “We spend a significant amount of staff time and money sending back these materials because it is very important that we do our part to reduce our industry's footprint.”   Individual brands such as Kiehls offer trade-in programs in exchange for a discount, or have paired with third-party recycling businesses like Terracycle; however, brand-specific recycling programs generally only accept their brand partners’ packaging. The one Terracycle program that accepts all mailed-in beauty packaging is cosponsored by Garnier, but when we tried to sign up, we were put on a wait-list, and in the course of reporting for this piece, we have yet to be moved up the list for the program. Credo and Deciem’s recycling programs are the ones that currently accept beauty packaging from multiple brands, but you have to physically go to their stores.   Very few brands have an entirely closed-loop chain, and just because they offer one does not mean there is a significant percentage of customers who participate in recycling/refilling their products. Loopone such limited program trying to make it more common, partnered with some of the biggest brands on the market, including the Body Shop, Pantene, Degree, and Dove. But the program is only available in a limited geographic region and also has a wait-list. The closed-loop packaging here is not available outside of the program, and it requires a packaging deposit to use.   Sustainability is the goal, but thus far not any one brand can lay claim to being 100% sustainable. Thirty-four percent of Americans recycle, and facility capabilities differ from neighborhood to neighborhood. As a result, only 9% of plastics end up being recycled. It’s not our fault as individuals; even if a product is recyclable, it doesn’t mean a community has the ability to get the product recycled.  

Brands that stand out:

  There are more brands than ever trying to tick all the boxes for sustainable sourcing and packaging. AxiologyAcureEarth Tu FaceEthiqueFat and the MoonMeow Meow TweetKjaer Weis are all trying to encompass the goals of sustainability, though each company goes about it in different ways: Some use refillable packaging, others use recyclable packaging, and their products have different price points and uses. One brand I tried in the course of reporting for this piece was by Humankind, which offers beautifully designed bathroom essentials in solid, no-waste packaging and refillable containers. Using solid shampoo is a steep learning curve for me, but it has made travel a lot easier, and minimized the number of products I bring with me. (I admit, I feel smug looking at how beautifully minimal my shower is now.) And the products are no more expensive than my comparable, nonsustainable alternatives; in fact, they’re half as expensive as my former prestige-brand products.   Not to be left behind, luxury brands are dipping their toes into the refillable marketDiorHermesby KilianFrederic MalleHourglassChanel, and Le Labo all have refillable options, and Mugler has offered refills at perfume fountains since 1992. But if you don’t use those brands, you can also purchase a refillable atomizer and buy decanted perfumes from resellers like the Perfumed Court, which does offer proof of authenticity.  

It might do all that and still not be accessible.

  The sunk cost for ethical ingredients and packaging, eco-label certification, and ethically sourced labor means these products tend to be more expensive, so much so that it makes being able to afford a “choice” of beauty products a class issue. As Allure reported last year, “Basic skin-care products from popular clean beauty brands typically cost more than $40, and treatment formulas can hit triple digits — that’s about 35% of a standard week’s paycheck (before taxes) for somebody making the federal minimum wage. The fallout: Those with lower incomes, a disproportionate number of whom are people of color, don’t have the option of avoiding certain chemicals in their beauty routines.”   Even beauty companies that try to provide sustainable options often fail to reach a variety of consumers, and people of color often feel left behind by the sustainable beauty movement.   Beauty consumer Lina White explains, “I’m still on the hunt for sustainable products that also cater to a diverse client base. And I can’t just slap on some aloe or rose water or homemade toothpaste and pray my cystic acne away, you know? Sometimes I need the hard stuff.” The reality is that some ingredients don’t have reliable alternatives yet, and the lack of regulation around certain claims made by specific products can make customers more suspicious of new ones when they arrive.   As another beauty consumer, Julia Sevin, puts it: “I don't think any consumer believes that all makeup corporations have their best interests in mind for cost, quality, or environmental impact. But what's the alternative? No makeup? Rough.”   Brands are motivated by the combination of profits and consumer behavior, so the more we demand change with our dollars, the faster the system will adapt to suit the changing world. But it’s not — and never has been — just up to us.