Sustainability and clean beauty are two distinct categories that are often unfairly lumped together.

Clean beauty refers to products that are made without certain chemicals; sustainable beauty, on the other hand, refers to products and ingredients that are ethically sourced, with minimal impact on the environment. Sustainability, and more broadly, natural ingredients and the sustainable packaging/supply chain, have become the subjects of increased scrutiny, as well as opportunities for competitive differentiation.


Illustration showing that cosmetics industry produces 120 billion units of packaging annually.



The pursuit of well-being extends into the environment; consequently, there’s been an increasing backlash to wasteful, deceptive and unsustainable packaging. It’s estimated that 8 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year, most of which comes from major corporations. And the cosmetics industry itself produces over 120 billion units of packaging every year, much of which is unrecyclable. As a result, smart beauty brands are fundamentally changing their thinking with respect to packaging, as well as the ingredients they use.

As anybody who’s owned or bought beauty products knows, there’s a tremendous amount of packaging involved, from the cardboard box that many products come in to the container itself, to the plastic wrapping and other miscellaneous bits. Consequently, some brands are embracing glass and other recyclable materials as an alternative to plastic bottles. Neal’s Yard Remedies, the noted British skincare brand, has swapped out most plastic packaging in favor of glass jars and bottles, and has announced an initiative to have all of its plastic bottles made from 100 percent recyclable materials by 2025. In the case of L’Occitane, the brand has decided to stop using outer packaging wherever possible, and redesigned its overall packaging to create less waste. On top of that, the company also offers refills of its most popular products – hand soaps, shampoo, conditioner, etc. – which eliminates the need for purchasing another container (although the refills do themselves come in plastic pouches).

Finding good quality ingredients that can be harvested without causing lasting or long-term damage to the environment has also become a priority for sustainably-minded brands. Some brands have eschewed palm oil, for example, because of the role its harvesting plays in large-scale deforestation and species extinction. It’s also important to remember that even “clean” or “natural” beauty brands are not necessarily sustainable, depending on the ingredients they use and where they get them; after all, palm oil is technically a natural ingredient.

Others have gone one step further to minimize their environmental impact by looking for alternative energy sources. For example, luxury beauty brand Tata Harper harnesses renewable energy taken from cow manure from Vermont dairy farms to help power its Vermont headquarters.

As with clean and natural beauty brands, there is no single understanding of what makes a brand sustainable. After all, a brand might use ingredients that are sustainably sourced but plastic packaging, or use recyclable packaging but create large amounts of waste. As with many things involving the beauty industry, it’s up to the individual to research how brands are manufacturing their products, the ingredients they use, and any other green initiatives they might take.

As concern over the future well-being of the environment grows, it’s unsurprising that people would search for any ways to reduce their environmental impact. Sustainable beauty is one of those ways, which makes it a trend likely to only grow in popularity.