Sustainable skincare, also known as eco friendly skincare, refers to beauty products that respect nature and people. By using packaging and ingredients that don’t damage the earth, exploit people or cause harm to animals and wildlife, sustainable skincare offers consumers guilt free purchases without compromising their ethics.
With the climate emergency and awareness of big business exploitations, eco friendly skincare has become more and more popular. This has caused the market to become saturated with products making sustainability, environmental and ethical claims in their marketing and on their packaging. What does it all mean and can we trust what we see?
Sustainable Skincare Has Environmentally Friendly Ingredients
Common skincare ingredients such as synthetic fragrances, chemical compounds, parabens, oxybenzone and octinoxate, triclosan, sulphates, microplastics and petrochemicals all cause problems for aquatic life. When we urinate these ingredients out, or they’re washed off in the shower, these chemicals find their way into the rivers and oceans and cause damage and death to animals and plants.
Environmentally friendly skincare ingredients are as close to their natural state as possible, that is they are extracted or produced in a way that doesn’t damage their chemical makeup. Not only that, but these ingredients must also be grown and processed in a way that respects the environment including animals, insects, water ways and plants. The only way you can know if ingredients are environmentally friendly, as a consumer of sustainable skincare, is to buy certified organic.
Is Organic Really Organic?
Did you know? Unlike in the food and drink industry, the use of the term ‘organic’ is not regulated for beauty and wellbeing products. This means that your “organic” shampoo might only have 1% or less certified organic ingredients with the rest being grown with damaging pesticides and farming practises or even with the remaining ingredients made entirely from chemicals.
Unless a product is certified, there’s no guarantee that it will contain truly organic ingredients. The best way to be sure a product is genuinely organic is to look for a symbol from an independent certifier, like Soil Association Certification. Where you see the COSMOS or Soil Association logo, you know that every step of the process to make that product has been checked by independent experts.
It’s the use of independent experts that help us as consumers to determine whether labelling is telling the truth.
Exploiting Workers Is Not Sustainable
Just because a product is natural doesn’t mean it’s sustainable. Farmers and producers around the world are paid poverty wages and are frequently exploited by big seed and fertilizer companies. There is a huge problem with slave labour in the cocoa industry as well as child labour across farming (child labour is different from child workers… the former is inappropriate work and interferes with schooling).
Because of these poor conditions in farming, many young people are looking for other sources of income and so there are fewer and fewer farmers to grow the foods and ingredients needed around the world.
Fairtrade is a trademarked term by the Fairtrade Foundation. A proportion of the purchasing price of products traded on Fairtrade terms is invested by farmers and workers in social, environmental and economic development projects. There are strict Fairtrade standards designed to improve social sustainability and protect the environment where Fairtrade products are grown.
Anyone using the word Fairtrade must be registered with the Fairtrade Foundation to use it. There are companies using this trademark name without registration. The only way you can trust if a company is registered is by searching the Fairtrade website for the products or companies you want or contacting them for confirmation. You can also search for companies on the Flocert website (the independent inspectors for Fairtrade).
Fair Trade is a term frequently used by companies claiming ethical terms to producers or suppliers. Without an independent certifying body, such as the World Fair Trade Organization, you cannot possibly know what their idea of fair trade really means or if it’s being used and implemented correctly.
I saw on the Body Shop website the other day that they’re using certified Fair Trade plastic in their packaging. When you scroll down and see the small print, only 15% of the total plastics used are from community trade sources. There’s no explanation as to why only 15% so it makes you wonder where the rest has come from.
Sustainable Skincare Needs Sustainable Packaging
Eco friendly skincare isn’t just about the ingredients but also how they’re packaged and sent. The four main types of packaging materials are glass, plastic, metal and paper.
Glass jars require non-glass lids such as metal or plastic. Both types of lid require inserts that will be made of plastic or paper. Glass is made from sand, soda ash or lime stone and then heated to an incredibly high temperature so it melts and becomes glass. Heavy and fragile, glass is very energy intensive to make and post and is prone to breakages and rejects. Recycling glass is very widely available but the heat required to melt the glass and turn it into something else is also very high. It’s best to reuse a glass jar or bottle instead of recycling it.
Metal jars for skincare products is usually made from aluminium. This popular metal is extracted from bauxite rocks. As a brand owner and manufacturer of sustainable skincare we chose to use aluminium for our own products because of it’s ease to recycle and its light weight for postage.
Aluminium is not stable enough to use directly against ingredients so an epoxy resin is used as a liner. Epoxy resin is made from petroleum which is not a sustainable product. Recycling aluminium is very easy and can be done many times and uses less energy than recycling glass. Unfortunately, we’ve not been able to source a company who can provide us with recycled aluminium jars. It seems that most of the aluminium goes to make drink cans.
Plastic has become a dirty word in sustainable skincare products. Made from petroleum, plastics are generally poor at biodegrading and expensive to recycle. Some plastics are not able to be recycled and go straight to landfill or burnt as fuel and thus contributing to pollution and climate change.
It is possible to create recycled plastic skincare packaging but for it to be sustainable it would need to be recycled or reused again and again. As with glass, the energy required to recycle plastic is very high, but less than creating new plastic. For every ton of virgin plastic produced requires high levels of water and creates three tons of CO2.
Paper makes a great alternative packaging for sustainable skincare. Paper recycling uses 40% less energy and 50% less water than making virgin paper, plus 17 trees are saved per tonne made. Trees have a life cycle that helps absorb pollution, carbon dioxide and regulates the weather. Using paper from responsible sources ensures the farming of forests doesn’t destroy the nature and habitat around it. Look for the FSC mark on paper products.
At MUMANU we shall be changing from aluminium packaging to cardboard packaging soon. We’ve already done it with our new certified organic Lip Balm range (with Fairtrade ingredients). The great thing about it is that there’s absolutely no plastic in the jar or lining. Besides the glue on the labels (which we’re working on), we will be plastic free!
MUMANU is a certified organic skincare brand producing balms containing Fairtrade ingredients. Choose from the plastic free Lip Balm range for truly luscious lips, search our eco friendly moisturisers in the Massage & Body Balm collection and discover the hugely popular Decongestant Balm for easing blocked noses and sore throats. MUMANU, beauty you can feel proud of.