Beauty – How to buy better

Eco-consciousness is sweeping the beauty industry, and as consumers, we can impact whether a product or brand flies or flops. So why not create a beauty routine that supports brands that are genuinely addressing their impact? By Eugenie Kelly

When it comes to extravagant unboxing, the beauty industry has no peer. Huge boxes and reams of packaging  … only to reveal a teeny-tiny single lipstick. 

I’ve covered the beauty beat for more than 25 years, contributing to glossies like Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and numerous newspapers. Reflecting on those years, I cringe at how much waste the beauty industry generated. Money, resources, single-use packing materials, press releases published in the form of glossy hard-covered books that you’d just end up binning … And that was only the marketing side of things!

Publicists have a job to do – I get it. And thankfully many beauty brands have changed their ways and are no longer marketing their wares how they used to. But ultimately it’s up to consumers whether products and brands live or die. As TerraCycle founder Tom Szaky said in his recent Earth Day post, one of the best things we can do as consumers is to be conscious of what we buy, and especially what we don’t buy, because “whatever we buy we will see on the shelves tomorrow”.

A chilling fact is that everything we own, no matter how much we cherish it, will one day be the property of a waste management company. 

While it’s not quite mainstream yet, consumers and brands have started to accept we all need to reframe how we look at our personal and beauty care products and the effect their production is having on the planet. 

The beauty industry impact is complex and encompasses everything from recyclable packaging, to supply chain issues, to the trashing of unsold expired products sitting in warehouses. One of the biggest problems that consumers should be concerned about is the sheer barrage of launches and new products brands are constantly rolling out. Sadly the beauty industry is unfortunately defined by a never-ending launch cycle, convincing consumers to crave new, new, new. 

I’m not saying the beauty industry needs to be less innovative. It’s about being more thoughtful and not jumping on creating “more” to appease a fad (hello, CBD skincare) that’s likely short-term.

As customers, we have a responsibility too – to seek out and support brands that are taking charge of their impact. And to be ever-vigilant about the beauty products we purchase.

Here are some of the questions you can ask yourself pre-checkout:

  • Is that new cleanser you’re purchasing from your favourite skincare brand practically identical to something that already exists in their range (and in your drawer). Ask yourself why didn’t they just reformulate their existing product instead?
  • Do you really need to purchase a brand’s latest miracle skincare serum formulated from a solo ingredient like vitamin C or hyaluronic acid: instead consider looking for a multipurpose serum that contains both (that way you’re minimising your need for products and eliminating excess packaging, so win-win.)
  • Is that new fragrance you’re debating buying truly incredible or are you simply infatuated with its cute bottle and it risks being used twice and then ditched (and remember, perfume bottles cannot be recycled)
  • If you are buying a new-to-market product, does it tick off your packaging wish list?
    Is it refillable? Does it come with a spray component eliminating the need for cotton pads or wipes? Is it made from PCR and metal packaging – or is it virgin plastic?
  • Does the brand offer a recycling program?
  • What are the brand’s claims when it comes to its carbon footprint?

As Szaky says, the very best thing we can do is buy less, then shop for reusable options if they are close by, and then products that can be recycled.

The beauty industry has got away with flooding the market with constant launches for years but we are all culpable here. It’s time for innovation of the genuinely thoughtful kind. And hyper-vigilance from us as consumers. Because every purchase counts on the road to better beauty.

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