In recent years, there is a shift in consumer perspectives. People are getting more conscious and aware of what they are using and exposing their bodies to, and cosmetics are no exception. In a recent report, the NPD Group showed that nearly half of the women in the United States are actively looking for natural and green skin care products. Consumers are not only interested in product ingredients but also the processes. With the public interest in sustainability continues to climb, more cosmetic manufacturers are selling more natural and environmental-friendly ingredients for their products.
In modern marketing, the word “green” has become synonymous with “natural” or “organic.” When a consumer sees the phrase “green cosmetics,” they will automatically make eco-friendly assumptions about the product or company. In the article “What Do You Need to Know About Natural Skincare,” the word “natural” actually means nothing when it comes to skin care products. The company does not need to meet any standards or regulations to put the word “natural” on a skincare label. Unfortunately, the field of green cosmetics still needs clarifications.
The Push for Sustainable Green Beauty
Green beauty is trending because of its long-term health benefits and environmental friendliness. The shift is a result of adviser effects of most ingredients used in cosmetics are toxic, linking to health problems, so it is not unsurprising that consumers are gravitating towards cleaner beauty. It has become a symbol of health and environmental responsibility in the cosmetic industry.
However, there is no regulation, or any specific definition or strict guidelines imposed to clarify what green or natural means in the cosmetic industry. The industry has been self-regulated over a century. Often, there is a lack of transparency and a lot of misinformation causing some ambiguous standards. A fundamental element behind green beauty should act towards promoting sustainability.
Given the broad approach to sustainability, there are different ways to go about it:
- ethical sourcing of natural raw materials
- cosmetic production (energy and water consumption, waste management)
- packaging (compostable, biodegradable, recyclable)
- biodegradability of the finished product
Green Cosmetics Supply Chain & Raw Materials
If an ingredient is naturally derived from its plant, does it always mean that it’s going to be sustainable? The natural beauty industry, as well as consumers, have been more housed on using ‘natural’ ingredients rather than ensuring their sustainability. People associate and equate natural as good, synthetic as bad, but forgetting about the whole supply chain from sourcing of raw materials all the way to how consumers dispose the products and what the environmental and social impacts from the raw ingredients.
Concerning raw materials, if the ingredients are sustainable, it should mean they will be there for the next 50 years or more if we change nothing in how we source them, it should also be able to withstand changing the climate. Most importantly, a sustainably harvested ingredient won’t be disruptive to surrounding ecosystems, including no deforestation or exploitation. There should be no involvement of slave and child labour, and economic sustainability should also be considered. To ensure sustainability, it is crucial to have a good understanding of the ingredients supply chain.
Zero Waste in Green Beauty
Another big factor in looking at green beauty sustainability is how to manage products and the processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste materials. How does it work in skincare?
One simple way to start is by reducing the products we use or reusing them as much as we can, recycle and composting (This process recycles various organic materials otherwise regarded as waste products and produces a soil condition whenever and wherever possible.
To work towards a zero waste in green beauty, it looks at the entire operation waste principles, starting from the formulation, manufacturing processes, shipping and warehousing, basically the entire supply chain and environmental footprint of the whole business. This would mean green beauty brands need to work on their formulation and packaging choices. Formulator and business owners have to consider how their customers dispose of their products as well. Consumers need to be educated and make a shift in mindset for skincare choices to accommodate less or no packaging, for example instead of buying a lotion, and customers are prepared to buy a solid lotion bar which does not need a bottle or jar. There is a need to work on innovation and challenge the packaging choices constantly. Can packaging be recycled? Has it already been recycled? Can they use a returns system, like a customer reward scheme? Packaging is one of the most significant mindset changes need to work on for the beauty community as a whole actively. Brands should take ownership of waste issues and be transparent about what they are doing with packing, with sourcing ingredients, etc.
Besides packaging, manufacturing factories produce waste and manufacturers should have a waste management plan. Zero waste should be a guiding principle for all manufacturers, leading manufacturers to strive to be greener and more cost-efficient. Appropriate measurements should be in place regarding the collection, transportation, storage, disposal of waste, and everything. By embracing zero waste as a concept, beauty business can improve their resource management and making progress towards significant waste reductions.
Also, in treating waste, it comes down to prevention and minimizing waste. It is not just about making products using natural ingredients, it is about being sustainable as well, and it’s about really embracing those principles of sustainability. Reduces or eliminates the use or generation of hazardous substances in the design, manufacture, and application of green chemistry, basically it is about the way of formulating the ingredients and the principles that the green beauty brands adhere to. Advocating consumers to go simple by using fewer beauty products is another good idea. Less is more, achieving good results with fewer skin care products would mean brands can provide smaller amount, smaller doses that consumer needs. Consumers will then buy smaller packaging on what they are going to use with no waste need to dump to the landfill.
How Should Sustainable Cosmetics Make?
There should be some environmental management system in place like ISO14,000 and making sure producing products that are not harmful to health and the environment. Some cosmetic ingredients can be produced through fairly extensive chemical processes, even ones that are natural (referring raw material is natural). Limit the chemicals in the production process, be economical on how to use them, this means all chemicals along the way of the production ended in the final formulation, and there is no waste.
There should be a shift in the use of fewer hazardous chemicals. Generally, people associated hazards in term of human health and well-being and forgetting ecotoxicity. Natural ingredients can produce hazardous byproducts that can be toxic to human health and the environment. The ingredients be it naturally derived, nature identical or even purely natural, they can sometimes still have a degree of ecotoxicity. The example is the use of sun pigments, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, they are natural ingredients; however, they are not biodegradable. The principles of green cosmetic dictate to avoid using and producing such hazardous chemicals. More often than not, tried and tested chemicals have gotten years of data, they are generally safe, effective, and stable so between the line of safety and effective versus the environmental, ecotoxicity comes further down. So again, back to green cosmetics supply chain, how to reduce energy footprint. The energy used in creating, harvesting, shipping ingredients, the lifecycle of the formulation. With regard to carbon footprint, there is a need to think about how to be energy efficient, considering how to offset, energy saving and making changes of business working towards zero waste.
Natural is not always going to be sustainable and renewable, using just natural ingredients may impact the world’s habitats and ecosystems. The good example of over-harvesting of rosewood, the industry uses so much rosewood essential oil and this is now an endangered plant. When the plants chopped down, it takes years and decades to grow the plants. Create effective products with the bare minimum of ingredients, instead of sticking in loads and loads of ingredients on the label. Could two to three ingredients could work just as well? Brands should pay a little bit more rather than trying to chase the lowest price at the highest cost for the earth.
While choosing natural ingredients can be a healthy choice, depending on how you define the word “natural.” “Natural” is not a term that’s regulated by the FDA, naturally derived ingredients created in a lab or natural identical can be safe and beneficial and will be far more sustainable and far more efficient than something that has to be harvested under difficult conditions. For instance, Hyaluronic acid is synthesized in a laboratory for skincare products (mimicking the exact molecular formula found in the human body) and is one of the most moisturizing, skin-beneficial ingredients that exist. Hyaluronic acid used to be derived from animal sources by many skincare companies, but laboratory synthesis has allowed no exploitations on animals.
What Does It Means To Be Truly Sustainable
Sustainability is about going back to the core of the business, making green beauty products safe, good for the environment. Natural ingredients may not always be responsibly sourced, can be hard to standardized depending on the plant health, time of the year harvested and other factors that dramatically change the chemical compositions of the plant. On the other hand, naturally derived ingredients created in a lab or natural identical can standardize more easily and identical with the same effect.
The myth of everything we put on our skin ends up in our bloodstream can be quite terrifying. Some ingredients do get into our bodies, but a lot of them don’t. Our skin is a very effective barrier; everything that you put on your skin will at some point ended up in the sewage. Buzzwords like “natural” or organic” is not clearly defined or regulated, and with the green beauty industry is forecast to grow to $22 billion by 2024, result in the adverse effects that most ingredients in the normal ‘non-green’ cosmetics. For this reason, it is important to research the companies from which you buy carefully, and the ingredients that they choose to use.
More brands should work on the designing formulation that can break down easily in the environment. Using eco-designed to produce formulations, think about the way that the formulations break down in the environment during the design process, create or renovate a product where special attention is paid to the environmental impacts during its entire life cycle. International Journal of Cosmetic Science wrote an article about L’Oréal Group to improve the sustainable performance of its new products without any compromise on their cosmetic efficacy. It’s great to see the industry, even the big cosmetic company, start to look into and develop to reach the highest standards in terms of efficiency, and sustainability