How to make your beauty choices better for you and the planet

Aether Beauty

Among the beauty brands doing great things are Aether Beauty and their mirrorless, recyclable makeup palettes. Image supplied.

How do you find truly ethical and sustainable beauty brands? Hard work that’s how.

There’s a lot of buzzwords and deliberately inflammatory information out there. Marketing tactics mean as a consumer, it’s a minefield to get to the truth – I know this because I’m a freelance writer AND I work in the marketing industry, so I know the tricks! It seems mildly appropriate that I’m finessing this article on #EarthDay but I’m so passionate about beauty products that don’t harm people, animals or the planet, as well as debunking fear-mongering tactics. It’s so easy to be misled!

With ambiguous terms floating around the industry like toxin-free, natural, sustainable and clean beauty – it’s hard to know what everything means and if brands are even telling customers the whole truth. Do you know what ingredients you can even trust on your skin? (Do you also know that in most liquid beauty products, the largest ingredient is water?).

It’s not always easy, but with careful research, asking the right questions and looking deeper at the company ethos you can hopefully find beauty brands that work for your lifestyle and are kinder to the environment and the people who help create them. I’ve included a few beauty favourites below, taking into consideration the packaging, ingredients and company ethos. I’ve also taken a closer look at which beauty brands aren’t doing major environmental damage.

Packaging that makes all the difference
I’m particularly interested in skincare and know more about this side of the beauty industry, so I get excited when I see makeup and beauty brands with actual traceable sustainable beauty. Think about all the plastic tubes, bottles and applications going to landfill every year. It’s worth mentioning Aether Beauty not only because their eyeshadow palettes are luxurious, but the packaging is compostable. Their palettes don’t contain mirrors or magnets and the eyeshadow holders are recyclable. They also don’t have the thin shiny plastic layer, which renders most unrecyclable.

Another brand doing packaging right is home-grown, Ethique who are leading the way when it comes to 100% plastic-free and compostable packaging. They also plant a tree with every order made through their website, it’s worth checking out their awesome new range which features FIVE lip balms complete with compostable packaging.

Ingredients lists that are more transparent
I’m attracted to ingredients lists that I can understand, and sometimes I’ve looked at products I own, and honestly wondered what I’m putting on my skin, eyes and lips because I can’t even pronounce some of the names. Not being able to pronounce ingredients lists isn’t the issue though, because some perfectly safe ingredients like sodium cocoyl isethionate are just scary looking names. Some examples of the ingredients we’re told to avoid include parabens, fragrances, petroleum and formaldehyde – just to name a few!

A great example of ingredients transparency is Forge which is made right here in New Zealand and has straightforward, easy to read and understand ingredients lists that include products like kaolin clay and powdered rose petals.

It’s a bonus if I can trace ingredients back to where they were locally sourced or made, Ethique does this well by mentioning their Fair-trade coconut oil and cocoa butter coming from Samoa. I love being able to click on their website at each hyperlinked ingredient to read deeper about where ingredients come from, and which local communities and indigenous groups are being supported by this.

You know that your skin is the biggest organ, and there are loads of myths out there about your skin absorbing all manner of things (it doesn’t). Your skin is pretty tough and thick, it won’t absorb everything you put on it, but if you’re wearing moisturiser, sunscreen, foundation, concealer etc for 8+ hours a day, it’s important to make sure you’re layering your skin with goodness.

Good people, doing good work
The team at Glow Lab are once again cementing their position next to some big names in Remix Magazine’s list of Best In Beauty Finalists. Up for ‘Services to Inclusivity’ with their glow-getters campaign. They also use 100% recycled plastic sourced from single-use water and juice bottles as well as cacao husks sourced locally from a Wellington Chocolate Factory. Now that’s closing the loop!

I love seeing proof that brands give back to charities and local communities like Australian brand Neek. They specialise in cruelty-free lipsticks packaged in bamboo twist tubes. They also donate to Liptember, a charity that raises awareness and funds for women’s mental health.

At Aleph Beauty their philosophy page mentions that they reduce their carbon footprint by planting trees, and they also support waterway restoration.

For me, it’s not about being the most picture-perfect environmentalist (looking at you Greta Thunberg) because this takes A LOT of dedication and I understand that as a business, it’s not always that straightforward. It’s the small adjustments, that make a big impact. Everyone has a part to play, and the beauty industry has lots of work to do. We all do.

Caring for the environment
One of my top priorities when it comes to body wash, haircare, skincare and anything I’m using with water – is to think about whether or not the ingredients are biodegradable and how things wash into the water supply. I like to keep an eye out for products in home-compostable certifications where possible and if it’s not compostable, I’ll opt for glass bottles so I can reuse them.

There are more and more brands offering compostable options, glass packaging, or single-use plastics that can be reused as candle holders, or propagation stations for plant babies. Tailor skincare offers compostable refills for their products so you can reuse their pretty blue glass bottles over and over.

Small changes, big impact
Clean, kind beauty products mean something different to everyone. The term ‘clean beauty’ looks at eco-friendliness, natural, organic, sustainable, ethical, environmentally friendly, and maybe it sparks up ideas about the packaging and how brands treat their people too. It could be a mix of all these things wrapped into one (how dreamy!). It’s tough wading through the industry jargon and vetting every brand before making a purchase decision. I’m trying to prioritise buying beauty products that contain safe ingredients for humans and do not compromise the protection of animals or our environment. It’s hard!

My best advice… don’t freak out, start small and grab yourself one product at a time and slowly adjust. For myself, I started with lipsticks because I wear a red lip almost daily. Maybe you start with consciously made lip balm in a compostable container? Or a cruelty-free lipstick without the coal tar (thanks Karen Murrell!). Feel empowered to ask questions, look for environmentally friendly certifications and what the brand is showcasing on their social media feed and website. Search for transparency on website pages, specifically looking at the brand’s ethos and mission pages. You’ll soon find everything you need (or don’t need), and it feels really good supporting locally made products that do the trick!

It can be hard work to find truly conscious brands that are kinder to the planet, but hopefully like anything, the more demand we see for this – the more transparent, and more helpful brands will get.

Find a great range of conscious beauty products in NZ online at Biddy and May and Oh Natural.

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