Elisha Henry reviews and recommends some of her favourite sustainable skincare products and considers the brands accessibility, environmental impact and ethics.
Products designed to cleanse, protect and rejuvenate our skin often do quite the opposite to our natural world. The personal care industry relies heavily on harmful ingredients and plastic packaging that often finds its way into our fragile ecosystems. This is no shock to UK consumers whereby 32% of us are now highly engaged with sustainable buying habits. We pushed for the plastic microbead ban in 2017 and have driven the huge rise in the vegan and organic beauty and wellbeing market.
While progress has been made, consumers still prioritise convenience and price over sustainability. Do we have to sacrifice convenience if we want to shop sustainability? I wanted to find out. I only bought products I use regularly and deemed essential to my routine. Purchasing lots of new skincare goodies, although tempting, felt contrary to sustainable practice. For this reason I included some haircare and cosmetics to ensure I had enough to review without over-buying.
Up to now, ditching disposable makeup wipes was the only effort I had made to ‘clean’ up my beauty regime. A rather poor effort as I swapped them for single-use cotton pads which are also non-biodegradable. It was time for a much-needed upgrade! Firstly, my tool kit. I purchased these reusable bamboo cotton pads from Amazon for £5.65. The pads come with a little bag that can be tossed in with your washing and just like that, clean new pads and no waste!
Secondly, the products. With every brand claiming some level of environmental and social responsibility, I carefully selected brands that placed sustainability at the centre of their mission and were transparent and ambitious in their plans. I ordered all the products off amazon for under £15. Affordable, convenient and sustainable!
Weleda Skin Food has been praised in the skincare space for being the universal, ‘holy-grail’ moisturiser for dry skin, supposedly used by celebrities like Adele and Victoria Beckham. When I discovered its sustainability credentials were also something to shout about, I had to try it. Weleda is on a zero-waste, carbon neutral, ethical supply chain journey, solidifying their claims with a B-Corp certification.
The formula was certainly packed full of moisture, and I could see instantly why the product is raved about. A common theme I found when using “natural” skincare is the unusual fragrances. Natural skincare aromatherapy expert, Karen Gilbert explains that natural ingredients don’t often smell good and therefore essential oils and plant extracts are used to mask it. Natural fragrance can present issues in people with allergies and sensitives so bear this in mind when shopping sustainably. I have been loving it as a hand cream but if you are okay with fragrance, then this product may be your little green savior.
Up Circle Cleansing Face Balm with Apricot Powder (50ml), £14.24
The Up-Circle Cleansing Balm does what is says on the (recyclable) tin. The balm is made from repurposed apricot stones that otherwise would have been discarded from factories. It is part of their ‘fruit pit’ range which is tackling food waste by using antioxidant and vitamin rich fruit kernels to formulate their natural skincare products. This formula is another one with a weird and wonderful smell, however for a wash-off product with such powerful cleansing abilities I was able to look past or should I say ‘smell past’ it. When I have finished this product, I will be returning the tin for my discounted refill, keeping the brand’s circular economy… circling.
Neal’s Yard Remedies
Neal’s Yard Organic Eye Make-up Remover (100ml), £10.75
Neals Yard Remedies is a brand that has been pioneering the way for sustainable skincare, advocating natural skincare since 1981 and first UK high street retailer to be Carbon Neutral. They aim to be a ‘Net-Positive’ brand, saving endangered habitats, supporting bee populations and campaigning against the use of microbeads. The makeup remover removed my stubborn eye makeup that the cleansing balm just couldn’t quite reach and it is another product I will be incorporating into my skincare routine.
Ren Clean Skincare Ready Steady Glow AHA Tonic (250ml) £23.20
Ren prides itself on clean skincare, clean to skin and clean to the planet. Ren became a zero-waste company in 2021 with packaging that is 100% recycled and 100% recyclable. They stopped the production of single use sample sachets and pioneered a world-first recycled and recyclable aluminium sample, demonstrating that marketing and environmental protection shouldn’t have to be a trade-off. I was a fan of Ren skincare long before I knew about its ESG strategy and now it will always be a staple for me. I must admit these products went slightly beyond the affordable price range, but they did not disappoint. Both products did exactly what they said they would for my skin and in my opinion were worth the few extra pounds!
Kind Earth Shampoo and Conditioner
I was surprised to find out that the average bottle of shampoo contains 80% water. All that plastic packaging and associated emissions feels absurd when you realise the product is mostly H2O!
The Kind Earth shampoo and conditioner bars come without added water which means you need to add it back yourself. This was not as simple as it sounds, it took a lot of work to get enough product from the bars to my hair which almost doubled my usual shower time. After a few attempts I unfortunately resorted back to my plastic bottles. More positively, the bars did come on holiday with me and proved very travel friendly. In the name of environmental protection, I will not give up that easily. I plan to try some other brands of shampoo bars such as Faith in Nature.
Love Beauty Planet
LBP Coconut Water and Mimosa Flower Shower Gel (500ml) £7.12
LBP Coconut Water and Mimosa Flower Hydro Gel (250ml) £11.99
I was going to stick with the good old bar for my soap, however I discovered a brand that has been making bottles from plastic that was otherwise destined for our oceans. I had to find out more! Love, Beauty, Planet participate globally in beach cleans and have created an entire line using ocean-bound PCR plastic. They have also been focusing on the sustainability of their supply chains, supporting charities and offsetting their emissions. The coconut body wash and hydro-gel moisturiser reminded me of Pina Colada (my favourite cocktail). The products were also very big which is great because just like my cocktails, I don’t like it when they end quickly!
BIBY Babe Balm Bronze (6ML) £12
This product falls into the cosmetic category but I love finishing off my skincare with a highlight on those bare faced days. BIBY is a 100% certified vegan and cruelty free brand with low carbon production across its entire supply chain. BIBY pioneered the world’s first carbon negative skincare product, which captures more carbon than it emits across its supply chain, without any offsetting. The Babe Balm gave a nice dewy glow to my skin and would make a perfect little addition to your kit.
If you want to buy sustainably when it comes to skin and hair care, you shouldn’t have to sacrifice price, quality or convenience. All the brands I used certainly did not hold back when it came to their sustainability efforts. Any good personal care routine takes a certain amount of trial and error. What works for me might not work for you, but I hope this may provide a starting point for your sustainable skincare journey.
About the Author: Elisha Henry is a contributor for WILD and a Human Geography and Environment student at the University of York. A self-proclaimed ‘materialistic environmentalist’ trying to navigate an ethical existence while satisfying her Gen Z urge to live her ‘best life’, buy shiny new things and indulge in cheese and seafood.