Navigating the world of eco beauty can be a challenge. There are organic brands, vegan brands, cruelty-free brands, brands that claim to be sustainable / natural / clean; but what does it all mean?
Well, the first thing to remember is that there are actually no official or legal definitions for these categories, which makes things even more confusing.
But we’re going to do our best to help you figure out what you’re buying by breaking down each category, so you can navigate this ever-growing part of the beauty industry.
You probably hear this term being bandied about the most. It simply means that the ingredients used come from natural sources like plants, minerals or naturally occurring animal by-products like honey or beeswax (beware: natural doesn’t mean vegan).
Unfortunately, there’s no official standard by which to judge whether something is ‘natural’, so your best option is to check the ingredients list. If it’s a natural product you should see botanical ingredients near the top and any synthetic ones near the bottom. You’ll probably find that deciphering the meaning behind the chemical names is no easy task. Especially since everything is listed with their scientific names, so you might need to check with google or a cosmetic dictionary if you’re not sure what’s what!
Natural beauty brands to try: Ilia, Herbivore Botanicals
If something is organic it means that the products are sourced and manufactured using sustainable and organically farmed ingredients that are not tested on animals.
They also have to be free from harsh chemicals, nanoparticles, pesticides, parabens, synthetic dyes and artificial fragrances (which can irritate sensitive skin). There’s no universal certification for this one, but there are several certifying bodies, including the USDA in the USA and COSMOS in Europe and the UK.
Both will have minimum percentages of organic ingredients, for a product to be deemed as certifiably organic.
Soil Association is a great resource.
But bear in mind, just because something is organic doesn’t mean that it’s vegan or sustainably packaged. At the least you’ll know they use quality ingredients.
Some great organic brands: are Vapour Beauty and RMS Beauty
Think of it as an amalgamation of the ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ categories. Clean beauty brands will steer clear of questionable ingredients opting for natural and organic options where possible.
Generally speaking, Clean products will be free from chemical nasties like parabens, pesticides, sulphates and silicones, phthalates, petroleum derivatives, artificial colouring and synthetic fragrances. Basically, clean products are a great non-toxic option.
Covetable Clean beauty brands include: Drunk Elephant, Kosas and Victoria Beckham Beauty.
If something is labelled as being ‘cruelty-free’ it means that neither the product itself, or the ingredients in it have been tested on animals. Just look for a cruelty-free certification like the Leaping Bunny when you’re shopping.
It’s worth noting however that a cruelty-free certified product is not necessarily vegan, because the certification only applies to animal testing, not the use of animal by-products as ingredients. That means you might find ingredients like beeswax or carmine (a dye made from insects) in your makeup.
Some great cruelty-free brands: Marc Jacobs Beauty and IT Cosmetics.
To find out if something is vegan look for a certification like the Vegan Society trademark. To be certified as vegan, a beauty product cannot contain any animal by-product ingredients like honey, milk, beeswax, wool, silk, shells, insects etc. It also can not have been tested on animals in any way.
So for a brand to be vegan it, by definition, also has to be cruelty-free. But a vegan certification doesn’t have anything to do with the product using natural or organic ingredients. It can contain as many synthetic products or chemicals as it wants— as long as they have nothing to do with animals.
Awesome Vegan brands to try: Milk Makeup, e.l.f. Cosmetics
When trying to live a more environmentally-friendly life, it’s important to think about how sustainable the products you’re using are. However, it’s not always easy to figure out just how ‘sustainable’ something is. There's a lot to think about: the packaging materials, the carbon emissions required to make the product, whether the ingredients are sustainably sourced and ethically supplied.
Try to choose products that are free from palm oil (save those rainforests!) But mostly you want to look out for brands that are transparent about how they source their ingredients (go for Fairtrade where possible); and those which opt for recyclable, refillable, or reusable packaging.
Great Sustainable brands: Kjaer Weis and other great brands Beauty Kitchen, L'Occitane and Thierry Mugler who offer refill or recycle stations.