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How Clean Beauty Became Everyone’s Business

It can, at times, appear as if beauty consumers aren’t interested in the same issues that concern industry suppliers and product manufacturers. But as Clean Beauty has grown from a grassroots consumer trend into an industry-wide movement, we can see agreement among stakeholders—agreement that has been there all along.

a conceptual image of Clean Beauty: the pale grey shadow of a leafy plant on a soft white background
Photo by Milad Fakurian on Unsplash

Clean Beauty is safe, ethical, sustainable beauty

While consumers were calling for safe, ethical, sustainable beauty, ingredient makers were putting an emphasis on biodesign, funding regenerative agriculture, and launching sourcing initiatives that help to preserve biodiversity.

Design-forward ingredient startups like Geltor and Arcaea are working with microbes and biosynthesis technologies to create new sources for common beauty ingredients and to create truly new and novel ingredients as well. Longer-standing renewable chemical companies like Amyris and Geno are also helping move beauty away from ingredients that rely directly on petrochemicals, animals, and plants. And legacy ingredient makers are leveraging biotech capabilities as well. In September, for instance, Lubrizol launched its peptide-rich Xpozuki™ (a ferment-filtrate ingredient that protects and repairs exposome damage to both skin and hair); and DSM is on track to launch a biotech-made vitamin A ingredient at the start of 2023.

Regenerative farming practices became a focus for suppliers like Vantage Group, a company that cultivates Jojoba shrubs in both Arizona (in the US) and in Argentina. Vantage sells Jojoba oil, esters, butter, waxes, and soaps for use in cosmetic and personal care applications. The company takes pride in monitoring and maintaining the mineral content of its farmed soil, and takes care to use what would otherwise be waste from the oil extraction process as either compost or as a “soil amendment, which improves the physical and chemical properties of soil.” Similarly, Ingredient maker Symrise and their partner farmers use bio-regeneration strategies to grow and ensure the long-term health of crops like White Lavender. The company even works closely with organizations like the aromatic plant crops non-profit known as CRIEPPAM to access leading-edge ag technologies and best practices that ensure crop health.

Beauty ingredient innovators like Organic Bioactives have built respect and preservation of biodiversity squarely into its business by working with indigenous peoples and trusting in their knowledge of the land and sea. Earlier this year Andrea Taimana, Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer at Organic Bioactives, remarked in a press release that, “We are dedicated to bringing the power of New Zealand’s bountiful biodiversity together with modern skincare science, starting with hand-picked, wild-grown botanicals – following Tikanga Māori – a strict traditional harvesting practice of the Indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand through to chemical free processing of raw botanicals and the development of innovative bioactives.”

Clean Beauty is ecologically friendly beauty

While consumers were clamoring for clean, manufacturers were opting for renewable energy, updating formulation technologies, and optimizing local production.

companies believe that climate change/action is the most important sustainability impact area to address in the next three to five years;” and it points out that many of these companies have set 100% renewable energy goals and joined the Climate Group Initiative known as RE 100, including these members: Amorepacific, Chanel, Colgate-Palmolive, Coty, Firmenich, Givaudan, International Fragrance and Flavors, Johnson & Johnson, Kao, Kering, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt Benckiser, Shiseido, Symrise, The Estée Lauder Companies, and Unilever.

Manufacturers around the world are reimagining product formats in an effort to conserve water and emit less carbon. For instance, Italian product manufacturer OPAC showed its innovative just-add-water beauty pills product format at MakeUp in New York this past September. The tiny tablets transform into moisturizers, anti-aging treatments, bronzers, complexion illuminators, or mechanical scrubs after just 20 seconds of contact with very little water. Each formulation in customizable and the products’ resulting texture and application experience is remarkably luxe, upping the odds that consumers will buy into this eco-friendly solution. Future-forward contract manufacturer Capsum, known for its made-in-France microfluidic encapsulations, opened a US facility in Austin, Texas, in 2020. And numerous beauty makers are taking this approach and establishing production facilities in many, if not every, region they serve.

Clean Beauty isn’t wasting packaging

While consumers were seeking out sustainable options, packaging suppliers were sourcing new materials, re-engineering caps and closures, and rethinking recycling.

The Better Packaging Company, based in New Zealand, has created POLLAST!C mailers made from ocean-bound plastic waste and the ethical supply chain to support production as well as the people harvesting discarded plastics. Here in the States, Verity is bringing high-quality aluminum and stainless steel packaging solutions to beauty.

Product-dispensing specialist Aptar introduced a mono-material pump to the cosmetic and personal care packaging market last year. Fragrance dispensing experts like Silgan have helped the category transition to refillable and recyclable. And, Tubex has reimagined the sample sachet, developing the first fully aluminum product sample pack in partnership with Unilever’s REN skincare brand. The aluminum break-off tube tip functions as a plug to reseal the tube, allowing consumers to sample the product for more than one use.

The new materials and designs mentioned above address some of the challenges of recycling beauty packaging. And incremental shifts that acknowledge and respond to the limitations of our recycling infrastructures and technologies can be helpful as well, which is why some suppliers are eliminating magnets and weights from select packaging solutions and why materials that can be made without fossil fuels like paper pulp and ceramics are showing up more often in the marketplace.

Still, there’s a lot of plastic in the world today. And so suppliers and multinational beauty makers are reimagining the recycling process and investing to change our current reality. (Others are looking at ways to make waste plastics degradable.) Since 2017 L’Oréal has been working with a green chemistry company called Carbios to implement an enzymatic recycling initiative. To over-simplify it, the technology uses enzymes produced by microbes to degrade plastic. This process results in a new raw material, per se, that can then be made into plastic again. Progress on the initiative is slower than some might hope; but it’s advancing. In 2019 L’Oréal made an investment in Carbios, as I reported at the time for Cosmetics Design. And in 2021, the beauty maker announced having successfully made a new cosmetic bottle from plastic that had gone through the enzymatic recycling process. According to L’Oréal, its Biotherm brand is on course to launch a product packaged in this biorecycled plastic in 2025.

Polypropylene recycler PureCycle Technologies has also developed an alternative to conventional, mechanical plastics recycling. The Florida-based company was founded in 2015. And, using a seven-step process technology developed at P&G and financially backed by The Closed Loop Fund and Innventure, is making clear pellets of recycled polypropylene available in the packaging materials marketplace.

Another good example of how the cosmetics and personal care industry is rethinking recycling is the Design4Circularity initiative, which has specialty chemicals company Clariant, ink specialist Siegwerk, the circular polymer solutions company Borealis, and multinational personal care maker Beiersdorf all working in collaboration to design a fully circular packaging option for use in the cosmetics industry. And this summer, according to an item by Jack Knudson for Recycling Today, the collaborating companies met that objective.

“Transforming to a circular economy is a team effort,” says Peter Voortmans, Global Commercial Director of Consumer Product at Borealis, in his remarks to the press. “Only together with like-minded partners can we shape an ever-mindful tomorrow. It starts with packaging design in combination with the right sorting and recycling infrastructure, and through collaboration we reinvent essentials for sustainable living.”

Clean Beauty is curated, conscious, inclusive beauty

While consumers were shopping for clean, conscious, and inclusive beauty, retailers were outlining the boundaries of clean, promoting transparency, and partnering with visionary brand leaders.

Retailers across market tiers have developed guidelines for clean to help consumers shop for beauty products that align with their expectations. Major retailers across food, drug, department, video commerce, and specialty beauty all curate Clean Beauty for their particular consumers. Whole Foods adheres to a standard called Beyond Clean Beauty. Rite Aid lets online shoppers filter Clean Beauty. QVC has sold products designated with a Clean Beauty Seal since 2019. And, Ulta Beauty has a selection of standards shoppers can use to guide their purchases: Clean Ingredients, Cruelty Free, Vegan, Sustainable Packaging, and one for Positive Impact.

Credo Beauty, the specialty retailer devoted exclusively to Clean Beauty since its founding as an ecommerce site in 2015, acquired its competitor Follain in mid-October of this year. “This is a proud moment in the history of Follain, and an important moment in the evolution of clean beauty,” Tara Foley, Founder & CEO of Follain said in a press release announcing the acquisition. And she explains further saying, “We believe this will strengthen the mission-driven beauty movement by creating the single leading clean beauty retailer, and standard bearer, that the industry needs. We are happy to see the Follain brand and products continue to make an impact in their new home with Credo.”

Other retailers committed to conscious beauty are developing standards and guidelines to encourage their cosmetics and personal care brand partners to do better in different ways. Beauty Heroes, for instance, is a champion of Blue Beauty. “Moving beyond green beauty means that above and beyond finding ways to wholeheartedly embrace organic and plant-based beauty and minimize our impact on the environment, Blue Beauty brands are finding ways to regenerate, improve and repair [the environment] in ways big and small,” explains the retailer’s site.

While Beautycounter has taken on the challenge of leading us into “a future where all beauty is clean beauty.” The company’s founder Gregg Renfrew is dedicated to industry transparency and product safety. And as a result, Beautycounter uses product formulation and consumer education as well as advocacy and activism to advance change.

And in 2020 Nyakio Grieco launched the inclusive retail platform called Thirteen Lune. The ecommerce platform, which expanded last year into physical locations in partnership with JCPenney, foregrounds brands founded by Black and Brown creators and welcomes ally brands as well. All of the brands sold at Thirteen Lune are made for everyone. 90% are founded by Black and Brown leaders; and 10% are otherwise genuinely endeavoring to “increase diversity within the structure of their companies and the beauty industry as a whole,” as Grieco explains.

Clean Beauty aligns with the UN SDGs

All of the efforts and initiatives mentioned above have a place in the Clean Beauty conversation. In fact, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that the Clean Beauty movement is our industry’s concise way of talking about the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Clean is shorthand for meaningfully better beauty in every way possible. Clean Beauty aims to meet the ecological and ethical requirements of life on Earth today—and tomorrow.


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