What is ethical beauty?

Updated: Jan 19, 2019

Welcome on board the journey to becoming a conscious beauty consumer!

Being a conscious consumer usually requires extensive research that can take hours. But, hey, that’s what we are here for! Let us guide you along this exciting journey and make it more fun and comprehensible for you.

Before we start, here’s a little disclaimer. The following criteria act as a general guideline for beginners in identifying ethical beauty products. There are far more criteria defining what an ethical beauty product constitutes. However, we will focus on these four main criteria for now, since they are more easily identified and understood.

Definitions, definitions.

The Guardian defines ethical consumption as the consumption of goods and services that were ethically produced and/or which do not harm the environment or society.

Here’s what you can look out for in your next beauty purchase:

1. Ethically sourced ingredients

Look out for cosmetics products that have been responsibly and sustainably sourced. Cosmetic companies who engage in ethical sourcing often work closely with the different local communities. These companies ensure that there are fair work practices and that methods of ingredient sourcing and harvesting are sustainable for the environment.

In some cases, cosmetic companies invest in community projects to improve conditions in the local community. For example, Fairtrade beauty products help improve clean water supply and healthcare in local communities. However, because there are not many regulation bodies, we usually have to depend on what the companies say themselves. Do try as much as possible to look out for brands that are more transparent in the production processes.

2. Safe ingredients

Safe ingredients not only refer to those that are safe for you, but for the environment as well. Ingredients such as phthalates have been identified as potential health risks and marine pollutants that can eventually end up harming us when we consume water from polluted water bodies. Some ingredients are skin irritants for some, but work fine for others. Remember that everyone’s skin is different and the importance to patch-test a new product or ingredient first before introducing it to your routine. Another thing to note is that regulations and perceptions of safety levels of ingredients differ from country to country. There are over 1000 ingredients banned in the EU, and only 11 in the US. For example, parabens are banned in the EU but not in the US. There isn’t really a clear answer regarding the huge discrepancy in banned ingredients, though one reason could be because cosmetics companies in the US are not legally required to declare their product safety to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Ultimately, it is up to consumers to research and identify what ingredients are safe for use. Fret not, there will be a more in-depth article about what are some ingredients you can look out for, so stay tuned for that!

3. Animal-cruelty free

Animal cruelty-free products are those that do not test on animals in any stage of product development. Many cosmetic companies engage in animal-testing to ensure the safety of a product. Technically, animal testing is done to ensure that the product does not harm us. But who are we to decide that animals have to suffer for mankind?

Look out for labels such as the Leaping Bunny logo and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)’s logo to identify cruelty-free products. Keep in mind that products can still be cruelty-free even if the logo is not present. Some brands choose not to display these logos as they have to pay an extra fee to do so. Remember to either check databases or research on the brand to find out if their products are truly cruelty-free.

Here are the databases:

Here’s another tip in looking out for cruelty-free products- if the brand is not Chinese-based, check if it is available in China. If it is, the product is unlikely to be cruelty-free. Due to regulations, most imported cosmetics sold in China have to be tested on animals before they can be sold. However, big beauty corporations and the Chinese government have been working on eliminating the need for animal testing. Hopefully, it would no longer be a regulation in the near future.

4. Sustainable packaging

You know how sometimes a tub of moisturiser comes in layers of unnecessary packaging that we end up throwing away? Or a small tub of eye cream that comes in a box three times its size? Many consumers are also drawn to the packaging of cosmetic products, and often make purchases simply because they are attracted to a product’s packaging.

Product packaging tends to use a lot of plastic which is often not recyclable. When we finish using a product, we usually throw away the empty plastic bottles that eventually end up in landfills and in the oceans as marine pollution. Imagine the number of products we use- toners, eye creams, serums, moisturisers. We haven’t even got to makeup yet! Evidently, the buy-and-throwaway practice is not a sustainable one.

So how we can help? Look out for products with minimal packaging (think no cardboard boxes) and recyclable materials such as glass and certain types of plastic. Look out for the recyclable signs on the packaging. When purchasing beauty products, check if the brand has their own recycling program. Not only do you help recycle the empty packaging, you may even receive some kind of brand perks in doing so.


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