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Opinion – beauty’s attempts at sustainability are misguided

So-called sustainable beauty products are everywhere. But with a new beauty line coming out almost every month, is less production the only way to achieve more in terms of true sustainability?

It seems counterintuitive to say that the beauty industry is becoming more complex, especially when our understanding of which ingredients are necessary for maintaining healthy skin is improving.

But take a walk into a local beauty department and it’d be understandable if you left both empty-handed and more confused than when you entered, thanks to the vast amount of products available for purchase.

The number of lined shelves continues to grow, with celebrities competing in the rat race by launching beauty and makeup lines on a regular basis. And adding insult to injury are the countless emerging skincare lines being marketed as clean, green, and (the worst of all) ‘sustainable’.

While I’m all for embracing clean ingredients and eco-packaging, I can’t help but wonder: is the idea of creating additional product lines that compete with hundreds of already existing brands all in the name of sustainability implausible?

Surely the most sustainable action would be to stop producing more altogether?

We asked a dermatologist to review 5 celebrity skincare brands

While there is certainly a market demand for ingredient-focused, affordable skincare – the success of The Ordinary and Inkey List come to mind – it’s difficult to see why heritage brands aren’t being forced to adapt their packaging and ingredient lists to become more friendly.

The beauty industry currently generates 120 billion units of plastic waste annually. At least 95 percent of this is thrown out after just one use and never recycled.

Sure, California’s ban on non-recyclable and single-use plastic is sure to apply pressure on manufacturers, but without a lack of action around in the world, these companies can continue to sell in single-use plastic bottles elsewhere.

This presents a major opportunity for new brands to emerge, marketing themselves as ‘sustainable’ to fill this ‘gap’ in skincare markets. This is despite the fact that – at least product-wise ­– the industry is already completely oversaturated.

Getting real about the situation, our market values capital. Individuals will be free to start new beauty businesses for as long as they can afford production and sale.

But even if a brand’s packaging and ingredients are fairly sourced, it would still be better to not have the mass production of these novel lines taking place at all.

Perhaps we should be demanding that heritage beauty brands – with their tried and tested formulas and large consumer bases – to switch to packaging and ingredients that are eco-friendly, instead of creating an entirely new market.

Botnal's skincare range is a step closer to sustainable and clean beauty

As consumers, we have a lot of power. Most of us are learning (or have already learned) that excess of anything is not the answer, for us or the planet.

This applies to skincare, too. In fact, the wide majority of dermatologists agree that when it comes to skincare, less is often more.

It’s proven that a ten-step skincare routine isn’t necessarily going to be better for you than a 3-step regimen – especially if you’re using the wrong ingredients for your skin type.

By paying better attention to works for us, demanding better from our cult-favourite brands, and refining our regimes to what’s necessary, the skincare game would get easier ­– and more effective – for everyone involved.

This already happened when consumers boycotted face cleansers that contained microplastic exfoliating beads, leading to a complete ban on them in the UK and the US.

So why not now?