Lais Andrade, @cherryglossbr
In the early 1990s, the “pure beauty” movement began to take its first steps in the United States. Organic-focused supermarket chains such as Whole Foods (acquired in 2017 by Amazon) have begun stocking aluminum-free deodorants and homemade soaps made by small manufacturers on their shelves. Since then, the market for “clean” formula products has experienced a boom: while experts predict that the traditional beauty industry will grow at an average of 4.7% per year until 2026, the growth of the “clean beauty” industry will be more than twice: revenue growth of 12% per year is projected.
After all, what is “purity” in beauty?
Despite constant evolution, the “pure beauty” movement has never been able to solve one of the main problems underlying its foundation: a legal, unique and absolute definition of what can still be considered a “pure” product. Manufacturers, input suppliers, and industry retailers go to great lengths to determine, once and for all, which ingredients are allowed and which should be excluded for a formulation to be considered “pure.” The problem is that, unlike classifications such as “organic” or “cruelty-free”, there is no regulatory body that certifies whether a product meets the criteria for “clean” – because such a definition is not generally accepted among the industry and scientific community and depends on the legislation of each country in the field of public health.
Drunk Elephant, one of the pioneers in the world of “pure beauty”, adheres to the philosophy of “biocompatibility” and nominated for the “Suspicious 6” list, which include 6 classes of prohibited ingredients. “We believe that these six ingredients are at the root of almost all skin problems, and when they are completely removed from your routine, your skin can return to its healthier, more balanced version,” the brand’s website says in a manifesto. On the other hand, the American retailer’s “Dirty List” beauty creed, which defines elements that cannot be in a product’s recipes so that it can be sold on crowded shelves, currently contains 2,700 specific ingredients. Is one better than the other? Not necessarily, as it is necessary to analyze the parameters for each classification, as well as the scientific studies on which each of these prohibitions was based. A real knot that is difficult to untie.
In addition to the lack of a legal definition of the term, there is an even bigger problem in the clean cosmetics market with its often simplistic approach to environmental issues, which often does not take into account the impact caused by the production, commercialization and disposal of the product. beauty – and that goes far beyond the ingredients used in their formulas.
Currently, we are seeing many brands trying to claim “sustainability” by simply relying on “clean” formulas, avoiding some chemical ingredients and forgetting about everything else. Because the product is completely free of parabens, sulfates, and silicones, it still needs to be manufactured, packaged, transported, sold, consumed, and discarded. And many brands in a clear strategy greenwashing, focus only on the issue of pure formulation, leaving everything else in the background. Even worse, they believe that by offering pure formulas, they are already “doing their part” in a “greener” beauty industry, freeing themselves from many other important activities in order to be able to consider themselves essentially sustainable. After all, if you take official definition of sustainability, that is, meeting the needs of current generations (taking into account the use of natural resources) without prejudice, however, to the possibility of meeting such needs by future generations. The water used must be returned clean to the environment; the waste generated in the process must be disposed of in an environmentally sound manner, and so on.
The ugly side of beauty: an ocean of plastic
Ocean of Plastic / Photo: Angela Compagnone
One of the biggest environmental impacts of the beauty industry is not in the composition of its formulas, but in the way they are packaged and disposed of after use. Approximately 151 billion cosmetic packages are produced worldwide every year, the vast majority of which are made of plastic, which, according to Euromonitor, represents a gigantic environmental impact as the industry accounts for 1/3 of plastic. ecosystem. Another disturbing fact: only 14% of all plastic packaging produced in the world is collected for recycling, of which only 5% is actually recycled due to losses in the process.
Numbers like these point to a sad reality: The beauty industry relies heavily on making packaging recyclable, yet not worrying about whether it will be recycled. will really happen and not offer mechanisms to facilitate this process. Particularly in Brazil we know the situation this creates: in 2019, a World Bank study showed that we are the 4th largest producer of plastic waste in the world with 11.3 million tons per year – and only 22% of Brazilian municipalities have some type of selective collection. This leads to a disturbing statistic: only 1.28% of the recyclable waste thrown away in Brazil is actually recycled.
Much more than recyclable
Therefore, it is useless for cosmetic brands to claim that their packaging is recyclable. Efforts must go much further to ensure that this recycling takes place, and this can take place in a variety of ways. One of them is to support initiatives such as EuRecycle Print, which offers environmental compensation applied to packaging reverse logistics. Such organizations have been inspired by the European model, whose initiatives of this type have made it possible to recycle 66% of discarded packaging throughout the European Union. In Brazil, beauty brands such as savea biosansa care and Chemist Look are already collaborating with the initiative (check all brands that are collaborating with Selo Eu Reciclo Click here).
Another promising initiative related to a more conscious use of cosmetic packaging that needs more support in the industry is refillable products. To give you an idea, if adopted across the industry, it could eliminate up to 70% of the sector’s carbon emissions, according to the LCA Center, a research institute focused on packaging and its impact. In Brazil, brands such as carea bymes and Simple Organic they offer items like blush, foundation, moisturizers, and even powdered sunscreen with packaging that can be filled with a practical stem. And you can’t talk about reusable beauty products without mentioning the groundbreaking Natura, a brand that’s been offering reusable products since 1983 – that’s an option. currently in 30% of its product portfolio. In addition to the “pure beauty” sector, luxury beauty brands such as Hermés and Carolina Herrera are also banking on this idea, creating intricate lipstick cases that look like real jewels and can be refilled with refills. “When refilling is well thought out, it really does eliminate a lot of the materials that need to be extracted and used to create a new product. Multiplying this with every use and purchase of the product, we can clearly see how much of a win-win for the consumer and the environment it is,” says Mia Davis, Vice President of Sustainability at Credo Beauty.
Buy, use, return
An older initiative, but which could have more supporters in the beauty industry, is to set up empty packaging collection points inside the stores themselves. Brands such as Natura, O Boticário and MAC already have programs of this type and with great benefits for the consumer: for example, in MAC through “Back to Mac” you take 6 empty packages from branded products and get lipstick. In this way, the brand guarantees the reverse logistics of packaging, takes responsibility for packaging waste, and also has the opportunity to create a stronger bond with the consumer, who will need to visit the store to leave their packaging.
Ensuring water savings, one bar at a time
An amazing fact about the use of water in cosmetic products gives an idea of how much you can save when changing formats: the average ratio of water to ingredient in liquid shampoo is 80% to 20%. That’s right: 80% of the shampoo you buy is pure water, which leads to the need to use heavy and strong plastic packaging to store it, creating all the problems we mentioned above. This clearly demonstrates the benefits of innovative products. anhydroussuch as the bar format, which has expanded its presence in the Brazilian market with brands such as BoB (Bars over bottles)raising an important discussion about our consumer habits and forcing us to rethink what really matters in a beauty product.
shrines of beauty
As we’ve seen, the sustainable beauty debate goes far beyond formulas with cleaner ingredients. Another type of initiative that is gaining attention in the industry is taking this into account and rethinking the entire supply chain of a cosmetic product from its growing regions. The cases of “ecological reserves”, created and supported by some of the most important luxury brands in the world, show how promising such an initiative is and one of the trends of the future of sustainable beauty.
Recently, Chanel presented to the international media its open air laboratoryan area of 40 hectares in Gaujac, in the southwest of France, dedicated to the agro-ecological cultivation of red camellias, the main ingredient of a new cosmetic line, No. 1 from Chanel. In order to provide ideal conditions for growing the flower, the brand does not use pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers on its plantations, but preserves the local ecosystem, contributing to the preservation of the biodiversity of the region. And the eco-friendly use of camellia has gone far beyond skin care formulas: its husks and seeds have been made into caps for the No. 1 line of products.
Another beauty brand investing in the conservation of natural areas is the giant Lancôme, which recently introduced its products. Global Agenda for Sustainable Development with different goals and actions for a more sustainable future. One of them is the creation of Domaine de la Rose, a biodiversity reserve in Grasse, where more than 160 species of aromatic plants used in their products will be grown in a completely organic way. The aim of the property is to provide itself with energy and water, which includes the installation of a waste water recovery system on the site – an extremely important initiative, given that the property is located on the Côte d’Azur, in a region, periods of drought were becoming more intense.
Real pure beauty: buy less and use it to the end
No discussion of sustainability in the beauty industry is complete without addressing the most important point: overconsumption, which leads to huge wastage of products that spoil long before they run out.
A cursory reflection is enough to get an idea of the extent of the problem. When was the last time you managed to paint your lips with lipstick to the end? Or see the bottom of the powder blush package? The truth is that the biggest impact we as consumers have on the environment is rampant consumerism, and only a change in mindset can change that reality. In addition to all the great initiatives mentioned here, the most sustainable action of all is to become more aware of our consumption, buy less, use products to the end, or even trade items we no longer use with friends. After all, a clean formula product in recyclable and reusable packaging still has a greater environmental impact than any other product.