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A Simple Guide to Buying Ethical Beauty Products

A Simple Guide to Buying Ethical Beauty Products

A Simple Guide To Buying Ethical Beauty Products | A Beautiful Opportunity

There's a large and growing cosmetics market catering to our rising demand for a better kind of beauty routine. Our desire for beauty products that are kind to the body, other people and the planet. Beauty products that are ethically sound.

But more choice doesn’t necessarily mean it's easy to find what you want and feel confident about your purchases. There's no standard definition of 'ethical' beauty, and the term encompasses a variety of different issues. What's ethical to one person (or brand) may not be ethical to another. And greenwashing is of real concern.

So, how to buy better? First, we need to be aware of the issues. Then we need to learn how to actually tell the extent to which a brand manages these issues ethically. And then it's up to us to decide what we feel comfortable with. Because despite representing the ideal, you're unlikely to find a product that checks every box.

In some cases, not being able to find the perfect product might be reason enough to go without. At other times it's preferable to compromise, and encourage brands to keep moving in the right direction by buying the most ethical products available.

Here I'm listing five key issues that you might be concerned about, and suggesting some starting points when it comes to what to avoid and what to look for in the products you buy.

A Simple Guide To Buying Ethical Beauty Products | A Beautiful Opportunity

Waste

Your concern

You want to buy products packaged in a way that doesn't add to the world’s waste problem.

What to avoid

- Single use packaging and packaging that's just unnecessary

What to look for

- Packaging that's labelled recyclable, made from recycled materials, biodegradable or reusable

- Brand commitment to managing waste ethically and innovating new packaging solutions for the future

Sustainability

Your concern

You want to buy 'green', eco-friendly products: free from ingredients that are harmful to nature and made in a way that doesn't have a negative impact on the natural world (i.e. non-toxic, carbon neutral production). 

What to avoid

- Ingredients that are known to be harmful to the environment 

What to look for

- Products (or ingredients) that are certified organic and/or fair trade

- Brand commitment to using sustainable ingredients or a 'farm to face' philosophy

- Products made locally, to cut down on the impact of transport

- Brand commitment to sustainable business practices, including the use of renewable energy, reaching net-zero carbon emissions, using water responsibly and managing any by-products

A Simple Guide To Buying Ethical Beauty Products | A Beautiful Opportunity

Cruelty to animals

Your concern

You want to buy cruelty-free products. For you this might mean products that have not been tested on animals, cosmetics that contain no by-products from animal slaughter, or products that contain no animal ingredients at all.

What to avoid

- Brands that sell their products in China (all beauty products are required to undergo animal testing to enter the Chinese market)

- If vegetarian or vegan: ingredients that are derived from animals 

What to look for

- Independent labels and certifications (cruelty-free, vegetarian or vegan)

- Brand commitment to cruelty-free practices 

What to note

Phrases like 'cruelty-free' and 'not tested on animals' have no legal definitions and their use is unrestricted. Be wary of them!  

Toxic ingredients

Your concern

You want to buy 'natural', 'clean' beauty products and avoid using unsafe or toxic ingredients on your body. 

What to avoid

- Ingredients that you're not comfortable putting on your skin

What to look for

- Products labelled 'non-toxic' (but beware: this probably doesn't mean as much as you'd like)

- Brand commitment to safe, 'clean' cosmetics

What to note

There's no standard or legal definition of 'natural' or 'clean' beauty, so seeing these words on a product doesn't necessarily mean it contains no toxic ingredients. 

Ethical sourcing

Your concern

You want to buy products that have been made by people working in  safe conditions and paid fairly for what they do. 

What to look for

- Products (or rather ingredients, like coconut oil, shea butter, sugar and coffee) that are certified fair trade

- Products that are made locally, or in countries that have well-enforced, ethical labour regulations 

- Products made by smaller brands who are more able to control their supply chain

- Brand commitment to ethical sourcing

What to avoid

- While you might want to completely avoid products made in countries known for questionable practices, or specific ingredients that are known to be often produced in unethical conditions, it's not clear that this is the best way forward

What to note

It's a complex issue! With long and complicated supply chains, it's often very hard to know whether ingredients used by (big) brands are ethically sourced. And it's debatable whether boycotting 'at risk' products is actually helpful for the people and communities involved in making them.

A Simple Guide To Buying Ethical Beauty Products | A Beautiful Opportunity

ALL OF WHICH LEADS US TO The most important thing... Trust

While looking carefully at the ingredients list (and doing some research into what ingredients you are comfortable with) is often the only way to know what to avoid, you've probably noticed that brand commitment is always key when it comes to what to look for. A lack of legal definitions for many of the terms above can lead to vagueness and confusion that we know can be exploited, so the deciding factor likely comes down to whether or not you can trust the brand.  

But how do you know if you can trust a beauty brand?

- Trust is earned through transparency and authenticity. Take a few minutes to read the brand’s website and take a look at its social media feeds. Then listen to your instinct. Does it feel like they are being honest about what they do, including the challenges they face, or are they painting an appealing but vague impression of wholesomeness?

- If you're not sure, quickly reach out and ask the brand for more information on whatever you are concerned about. If they're open and quick to share, it's a good sign that their intentions are in the right place. 

- Tracking down smaller, independent (and potentially local) brands can make it easier to have a real conversation.

- Another (time saving!) option is to seek out people you trust who have done the hard work for you: beauty bloggers sharing similar values, online cosmetics stores dedicated to selling ethical beauty, or ethical shopping apps. 

A Simple Guide To Buying Ethical Beauty Products | A Beautiful Opportunity

And remember... 

Making more ethical choices is always an ongoing process. A delicate, evolving balance. And other factors are involved too. Like: Does this product actually work? And: How much am I willing to spend? So take your time, and be gentle on yourself.

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