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How to buy makeup responsibly

Updated: Jan 11

buying makeup
Photo: Jack F, Getty Images

We are all familiar with phrases like 'carbon footprint', 'environmentally-friendly' and 'clean' products, but how do we really buy makeup responsibly?

Much like 'fast fashion', the beauty industry has evolved into a churning beast that spits out ever-more collaborations and limited-time one-offs. Many brands now bring new collections to the market on a weekly basis. That lipstick you bought two weeks ago has probably already been superseded by a 'more fashionable' shade or finish, with 'better' ingredients and in more appealing packaging.

As a collector of eyeshadow palettes, I know only too well the limited shelf life of new makeup products. What was all shiny and new last month now graces the 'Sale' pages of websites.

Over the past 10 years, organic cosmetic sales in the UK have seen year-on-year growth. In 2020, we spent a staggering £8.7 billion on cosmetics and toiletries as a whole. A mind-blowing figure.

In delivering statistics on the UK beauty market, Georgia-Rose Johnson, of Finder UK, said: "The cosmetics market in the UK is enormous. In 2020, the cosmetics market was named the third largest market operating in the UK. Globally, the UK has the seventh largest cosmetics market, with the US and China taking the top two spots."

So, if we want to develop our green credentials as consumers, how do we negotiate this tricky landscape?

It boils down to more than packaging.

While makeup addicts like me are not going to stop amassing mountains of goodies, we are going to have to pay more attention to ingredients, how they are sourced and a whole lot more.

Makeup packaging

makeup packaging

Deforestation. Photo: Getty Images

It's no secret that beauty brands have invested more than just lip service into efforts to transform packaging. But, even now, general awareness of what is sustainable and what isn't is sketchy.

For example, what would be the point of buying eyeshadows in a cardboard palette if the pans are still metal? Are councils actively separating materials in this type of product and does your local authority limit the types of metal it will accept in recycling bins? In my area, the council stipulates what it will accept and metals are limited to 'tins, cans and aerosols'.

As a rule, I try to buy makeup in packaging made from a single material. This makes it much easier to recycle confidently.

My tips for packaging are:

  • Eyeshadows: Cardboard palettes with no plastic or metal

  • Lipsticks: Plastic, not metal, twist-up tubes

  • Mascara: All recyclable plastic

  • Foundation: Glass with recyclable plastic lid

  • Powders, e.g. blushers, bronzers, finishing powder: All plastic or cardboard with no metal pan

Because of extensive deforestation caused by the beauty industry, I'd like to see every cosmetic brand make clear statements about what they are doing to replace trees used in the production of packaging and plant-based products. In fact, environmentalists are currently highlighting the drawbacks of products made with natural ingredients and argue many are unsustainable.

Cosmetic ingredients

palm oil
Fresh palm oil. Photo: Getty Images

coral reef
A damaged coral reef. Photo: Getty Images

Some ingredients found in cosmetics pollute not just our oceans but the air too. How they are sourced is also of major concern, particularly when it comes to things like palm oil and mica.

This is such a difficult topic to negotiate. For example, who would have thought that products made with Amazonian Clay are not just helping Brazil's economy but assisting communities in the removal of a material that hampers crop growth? And it's great for our skin too!

As a rule, I check both makeup and skincare packing to ensure products do not include:

  • Palm Oil

  • Microbeads

  • Parabens

  • Triclosan

  • Benzophenone

  • Oxybenzone

  • BHT

  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate

  • BHA

  • Volatile Organic Compounds

It came as a complete shock to me when I recently discovered that one of biggest polluters is, of all things, sunscreen. That is because some brands use oxybenzone, which has been linked to the extensive destruction of coral reefs and, brace yourself, the cause of cancer.

Here's me, a former cancer patient who has to use SPF 50 even on a dull day due to radiotherapy. I check ingredient lists now. To think, a product I have to use because I've had cancer could cause... more cancer! Shocking.

Makeup ingredient sourcing

mica powder
Mica powder. Campaign groups are worried about the use of child labour in its mining.

Environmentalists have sounded the alarm over child labour issues surrounding the sourcing of ingredients used in makeup.

Although not limited to the mining of mica, this particular mineral dust can cause lung disease. Campaign organisation TRVST says it is dangerous and has highlighted child injuries and fatalities.

It says such mining breaks international labour conventions. However, it also points out that most brands can certify that they do not use mica powder sourced via child labour 'in end products'.

The truth is that when we are smearing pigments on our faces, we are not thinking about child labour. We ought to.

child labour
Child labour. Photo: Nambasi, Pixabay

Will you buy makeup responsibly?

This is such a wide-ranging topic that I will revisit it at a later date. My biggest takeaway is that there is more to be done on the part of brands. We are not off the hook, either. It's down to each and every one of us to pay more attention to what we are buying. If we don't question everything from packaging to ingredients, aren't we partly to blame for not just the destruction of the planet but our own future health?

After all, if we aren't buying a product that is bad for the environment a brand will stop producing it.

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1 Comment

Jun 12, 2022

This is a great reminder to be more conscious of our choices and become intentional about where we put our money; especially when buying everyday items like make-up. Thanks for sharing! Molly |

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