Is the beauty industry moving towards a more earth friendly narrative?

Caring for the planet or yet more Green Capitalism? We investigate Natural, Organic and Ethical Beauty.

Written by Sarah Critchley

ethical beauty by sandra contreras
Illustration by Sandra Contreras

The beauty industry changes as fast as the fashion industry, constantly updating in line with the latest trends. Fashion has taken an organic and earth friendly approach for some time now, best epitomised in high profile clothing brands such as People Tree. Now earth-friendly beauty products are burgeoning too. Words such as Ethical, Natural and Organic have become common when it comes to the latest beauty products, but what do these actually mean, and is there a difference between them? If a product is ethical do we somehow think it is natural as well? If something is natural must it also be organic? I’ll now take you through an explanation of these expressions and what they can mean for your skin, and the planet.



Ethical:
Ethical means being conscious of the efforts and conditions under which products are produced. It is often linked with Community Trade Programs such as Fair Trade. A good example of an ethical company is The Body Shop, which sources Fair Trade ingredients from countries such as Africa and South America. On the other end of the spectrum questions have been raised about the conditions of workers making Katie Price’s branded perfumes, which were withdrawn from the shelves of Superdrug earlier this year. Most ethical products are not tested on animals, but for this consumers must always check the packaging.

Dee-Andrews-Ethical-Beauty
Illustration by Dee Andrews

Natural:

Natural is another confusing term when applied to beauty products. Brands which use this term include Lush, The Body Shop, Origins and many more. Natural can be applied to the state in which we are without intervention, i.e. no makeup or enhancements. However one may ‘naturally enhancing’ one’s natural features with minimal make up. 
Natural beauty, figuratively speaking, is made from nature, so if you go get some sugar and honey and mix them together for an exfoliating face mask, it would be natural, and the ingredients would be 100% natural. Lush aspires to make 100% natural products but they include this disclaimer: “we go for lovely natural ingredients and use as few synthetics as possible. In fact, we have an incredible range of natural products with no synthetics at all. Over 70% of our range is totally unpreserved and we will aim to improve on that.” (Lush, 2010) Which leads to the conclusion that up to 30% of lush’s products are not 100% natural, even though the entire range is marketed to consumers as natural skincare.

Organic:
Organic skincare means there is no chemicals, colourings, flavourings or additives in the production of ingredients or at the manufacturing stage. Brands which focus on organic skincare include Lush, Neal’s Yard, L’Occitane, Organic Surge and Liz Earle. Organic skincare naturally overlaps with natural skincare.

ethical_beauty3_by_jennifercostello
Illustration by Jennifer Costello


It’s easy to get confused by these words, especially if you’re committed to being earth friendly, so which kind of products should you go for? The decision might be easier than you think… More often than not, ethical products are to some degree, natural and organic, for example, The Body Shop adheres to both ethical and Fair Trade policies and sources natural ingredients for the majority of their products. But not all organic products are particularly ethical. Take the newly released Bourjois Bio-Detox Organic Foundation which boasts 98% natural ingredients and 21% organic ingredients… how is it maunfactured?

ethicalbeauty_aniela murphy
Illustration by Aniela Murphy

Maybe it’s increasing awareness of how harmful chemicals can be to our skin or the ever increasing pressure to be kind to the environment; but the demand for more environmentally-friendly products has certainly inspired companies to seek profit from organic and natural products in growing numbers. As consumers, we are easily be lured into thinking that anything ‘natural’ is good for us and the environment, but it’s important to consider how these products are made as well, so it could be argued that ethical production is by far the most important aspect of any purchase. Ethical production ensures that workers get fair pay and conditions, but there is also the very serious risk of over dependence on the huge markets of the capitalist west: forcing yet another kind of colonialism onto impoverished parts of the world.

In the meantime maybe it’s best to buy from small brands that strive to make things locally from 100% natural and organic ingredients. Coming next…

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