How Small Beauty Brands Are Making a Big Difference for Our Planet

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How Small Beauty Brands Are Making a Big Difference for Our Planet featured image
Image: Eminence Organic Skin Care
This article first appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of New Beauty. Click here to subscribe

As the clean beauty landscape continues to grow, consumers have become savvier about what they want and don’t want from their personal-care products. Brands too have adopted a more sustainable approach to harvesting, responsibly sourcing ingredients, programs that give back to communities, and a reduced environmental footprint.“It is incredible to see how the market has changed over the past decade and how educated the customer has become about both ingredients and packaging,” says Captain Blankenship founder Jana Blankenship. “People who value what they put in their bodies and where it comes from have taken the same approach to beauty. With the growth of the market, older ‘natural’ brands needed to rethink their formulations and packaging and new brands needed to really prove their commitment to clean ingredients and sustainability. You really need to walk the walk; it can’t just be all hype and marketing anymore.”

Sourcing and Upcycling

Elsie Rutherford of British skin-care brand BYBI says the brand’s goal is not just to reduce its carbon footprint, but to eliminate it entirely: “We believe sustainability is a movement, not a moment. Part of our mission is to become the world’s first carbon negative beauty brand.” BYBI sources ingredients worldwide from locations with lower carbon options, and when possible, it also uses upcycled ingredients. “For example, our Acid Gold AHA Face Mask ($33) uses a unique pumpkin enzyme extracted from pumpkin flesh,” Rutherford explains. “It’s a byproduct of the pumpkin seed industry, which would otherwise have gone to waste.”

Innersense Organic Beauty’s Greg Starkman says responsible sourcing is key to ensuring the quality and clean formulas his brand is known for. “Take shea butter: It’s a very commercialized ingredient that you can either source fair trade, wildly harvested and meticulously processed to ensure you’re maintaining its purity, or you can buy heavily commercialized shea butter that is farmed, processed in a commercial manner and adulterated or infused. We commonly call this ‘laced’ with ingredients that aren’t on the bottle or in the product. Those are the sort of things we really focus on as we select our ingredients.”

Top Crops

Some forward-thinking brands have developed their own farms to harvest ingredients from for decades. Since 1958, Éminence Organic Skin Care has practiced organic farming in the heart of the Hungarian countryside. As a brand, it believes organic farming is essential to help heal and restore the earth through enriching the soil naturally, conserving water and reducing pollution. Éminence also integrates biodynamic farming practices, which regard the farm as a living, breathing, self-supporting ecosystem. In lieu of chemical pesticides, organic farming uses crop rotation, companion planting and composting to enhance the soil.

Founded a century ago, Weleda Skin Care continues to incorporate high-quality raw materials using regenerative farming practices that remain a touchstone of the brand. “The eight Weleda Gardens—and more than 50 long-term raw materials partnerships throughout the world where we grow almonds, calendula, arnica, lavender, rosemary, and many more natural ingredients—provide plant-derived raw materials that meet our quality standards,” notes Michael Straub, head of plant cultivation and research for Weleda. “We ensure the soil quality is improved by maintaining resilient ecosystems that are able to keep itself balanced and species rich.”

Last September, farm-to-face skin-care brand Farmacy unveiled a certified organic, non-GMO, regenerative farm in upstate New York in partnership with the Hudson Hemp farm network. “We’ve built our beehives there and we grow various plants, like buckwheat, which we can introduce to our bees and then extract from the honeycomb,” explains Kseniya Popova, Farmacy’s director of research and development. “We also source raw materials from other areas, like acerola cherries from northern Brazil, which are high in vitamin C. When we source ingredients, we make sure that both the farms and the treatment of the local communities meet our standards.”

We source symbiotic ingredients that transcend organic and fair trade.

—Anna Ayers

Call of the Wild

For Alpyn Beauty founder Kendra Kolb Butler, the best ingredients to source are ones that are already growing in the wild. Using a method she calls ‘wildcrafting,’ also known as foraging, Butler harvests plants in Jackson, Wyoming, from their natural, or ‘wild’ habitat. “When ingredients are picked responsibly and with care—delicately removing blossoms, leaves, stems, and bark—the healthy plants are not damaged and therefore replenish themselves naturally. This is true sustainability,” she says.

On Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, Sangre de Fruta founder Allison Audrey Weldon says island-grown botanicals, like lavender and helichrysum immortelle, “are carefully harvested and deeply respected for their healing and sensorial benefits.”

When Anna Ayers and Fabian Lliguin started Rahua in 2008, they wanted to champion the environment on a greater scale and protect the Amazon rainforest. “Our goal was to preserve ancient cultures, Indigenous wisdom and the oxygen-creating power of the trees,” Ayers explains. “We source symbiotic rahua oil, sacha inchi oil, morete oil and guayusa, which transcend organic and fair trade as they are grown in the rainforest and are hand-processed through ancient ceremonial rituals.”

Give and Take

Ayers says the native Amazonian manufacturers are paid an above-fair-trade price, which helps build economies and strengthen the position of the indigenous people. “By doing this, we help them create a healthy, self-sustained economy that protects their ancestral rights to the Amazon as the guardians of the Rainforest.”

For Belinda Smith, founder of clean, sustainable fragrance brand St. Rose, sourcing sandalwood from her homeland Australia was a no-brainer. “The most sustainable source for dutjahn sandalwood is Australia. I came across a stunning farm in Western Australia, and they’re working in a 50–50 partnership with the local indigenous community. It’s not only having an amazing environmental impact because of the way their plantation structure is set up, but they’re also having a really profound socio-economic impact by supporting Aboriginal Australians, who are oftentimes the most disparaged as far as the shift in poverty lines. This makes the whole process really profound and beautiful.”

Future Focus

Packaging is the next frontier, and sustainable brands are finding ways to reduce what ends up in a landfill or the sea. “Sustainable ingredients and packaging go hand in hand for me,” Blankenship says. “Since the beginning, we used glass bottles and compostable paperboard tubes, and we recently started using recycled ocean bound plastic for products that are used in the shower.”

Newer beauty brand MOB Beauty (cofounded by industry veteran Victor Casale, formerly of MAC Cosmetics and CoverFX) was built on the idea of creating professional makeup with an earth-first approach. Although the journey to maintain that commitment has not been easy, all packaging is made using post-consumer recycled (PCR) materials and can either be recycled or composted at home. “If you walk into a factory that will actually use recycled material, which is very hard to do right now, the price increases 30–35 percent,” explains Casale. Converting plastic to 100-percent post-consumer recycled plastic is an approach many brands are taking, like Innersense, which says it is moving toward becoming “plastic negative.” Rutherford says she hopes carbon consciousness becomes the norm, not the exception. “As we lead by example, I hope it drives larger brands to become more transparent and also adopt better sustainable practices for the planet.”

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