How to embrace natural, sustainable beauty

By Cara Waudby Tolley | April 13, 2022

Looking to adopt a more natural, sustainable skincare regime? Nature boasts a veritable bounty of skin-boosting ingredients but the real solution is to give back more than we take, says former Marie Care beauty features editor Jess Lacey

A survey in July 2020 showed that a third of UK women had recently made the move to solely sustainable beauty products, but that 74 per cent of us would choose a beauty product for its efficacy, rather than its sustainability.

We want our skincare to show results and see the benefits of what we’re putting on but not at the cost of using up the planet. The good news is that now, it’s no longer a case of choosing between products that work and those that are eco-friendly – but choosing which great initiative you believe in most.

Natural skincare

Firstly, perhaps it’s time to reassess what’s been labelled bad and what’s deemed as good? Plant-based skincare has improved immensely in the last five years and natural formulations are now equalling and even outperforming the results of synthetic chemicals.

This isn’t wholly surprising when you know that fruit is packed with antioxidants, nuts are abundant in fatty acids and marine algae is bursting with vitamins and minerals. Plus, plant-based skincare eschews artificial chemicals, so understandably we’ve all gone mad for it in recent years.

However, all that harvesting depletes natural resources and is significantly altering the Earth’s biodiversity.

Synthetic ingredients created in a lab may not first appear as virtuous as their botanical equivalent, but their production does have the huge bonus of not appropriating the ecosystem. Issues arise at the user end though, when we wash those chemicals away down the sink and into the ocean, harming delicate marine life.

Then, let’s not forget the organic option, heralded as the ultimate beauty echelon – but did you know that right now, only 1 per cent organic material is all that is required for a company to claim a beauty product is organic? Yikes, that’s termed ‘greenwashing’ and it’s a minefield right now.

It’s easy to feel like you can’t do right for doing wrong but thankfully, doing good is exactly where the beauty industry is pointing right now, so you won’t have far to look.

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“There are many opportunities for brands to engage with and replenish the forests, farms and fields that their raw materials come from, to leave them better than they found them,” states the British Beauty Council’s 2020 Courage To Change Report.

They’re spearheading a Sustainable Beauty Coalition to rally beauty brands into sustainable production, addressing over-consumption, clarifying terminology and substantiating claims, all to help consumers make better choices.

The problem with plastic packaging

Every year, 120 billion units of packaging are produced by the global cosmetics industry, so what we do with those is monumental to Mother Earth. Most of us are au fait with kitchen recycling but for some reason, the practice hasn’t quite made it into our bathrooms.

Buying beauty products in recyclable and recycled plastic, glass or compostable materials is an important first step. Although supporting local and small business is crucial now more than ever, it’s nice to know the cosmetic giants are stretching their social consciences, too.

L’Oreal Paris Elvive is the number one selling shampoo and conditioner in the UK and their recent pledge to only make their bottles out of 100 per cent recycled plastic in their carbon neutral factory will save 900 tonnes of new plastic in the UK every year.

Clean beauty

So what’s the answer? Well, as with most things in life, it’s balance. Natural ingredients are wonderful, as long as they come with sustainable harvesting practices.

Synthetic formulas have a place too, if kept to the right products. If you’re choosing a cleanser that’s going to be washed away, natural ingredients are best, but if you’re after a serum or overnight eye cream that sinks deep into the skin, synthetics can be a good option.

And if it’s organic? Just check out the percentages before making your purchase.

Sustainability is one way your beauty edit can make a huge difference to the planet. Make sure that the brands you buy from are purpose driven and give back more than they take, be that to the landscape, the local community or the environment overall.

Don’t feel bad for wanting to hold on to your luxury skin cream but do your research, and if it’s not doing good by the planet, it might need to be usurped by one that is. Thankfully nowadays, there are plenty of truly worthy candidates to choose from.

5 ways to switch to sustainable beauty

  • British people use 1.1 billion unnecessary wet wipes and plastic-stemmed cotton buds a year. Both can be easily replaced by using a washable muslin cloth and wooden-stemmed buds.
  • Remember our old obsession with microbeads? Thankfully, UK legislation eliminated the 680 tonnes of microbeads that were being dumped into our water systems every year. Coffee grounds, sugar, oats, sea salt, even cinnamon all make for fantastically safe natural scrubs.
  • The average British woman uses just 12 products in her beauty regime but when you look in your bathroom cabinet, chances are there’ll be a fair few more in there gathering dust. Take time to assess which you genuinely use, finish products and give to friends what you don’t want. Multipurpose products like balms or oils are a great way to avoid waste, too.
  • 70 per cent of us are already turning off the tap whilst washing our faces and brushing our teeth, but now Aveda and Water Aid are campaigning for everyone to drop a shower a week. It would make a gigantic impact on the world’s water crisis but almost no difference to us.
  • Beauty brands are now more accessible than ever, so get on their case through their websites or social media and ask them about their ethics and practices. It’s their job to do right by you and if they’ve adopted sustainable initiatives, they’ll want to shout about them.

About the author

Jess Lacey is a freelance journalist who specialises in beauty and wellbeing. Previously Beauty Features Editor at Marie Claire, she now writes across a variety of titles including Stylist, Grazia, Net-a-Porter, Junior Magazine and The Evening Standard. Follow Jess on Instagram at @jessmlacey.

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This article first appeared in issue 15 of Planet Mindful magazine. Find out how to live more sustainably in other areas of your life…