Ethical beauty: an introduction to natural skincare and make-up

This weekend, I was invited to speak on a panel about “transparency in beauty and ethical consumption” at the LUSH Showcase. It was a brilliant panel which got to the heart of the uncomfortable truth about the beauty industry and you can watch it here.

It’s hard to believe now, when I’ve been caught up in the weird and wonderful LUSH world for two days with fans of the brand visiting from all over the world, that LUSH didn’t really figure on my radar before. I used to walk past their fun, brightly coloured shops famous for their bath bombs and assume it wasn’t for me. We’re all familiar with the saying of what that makes me… And it’s been a brilliant lesson to learn.

But after reading the latest Lush book Dear John: The Road to Pelindaba, speaking with LUSH co-founder Rowena Bird and one of the most genuinely engaged members of a buying team I’ve ever spoken to, Jo Bridger, I’m a convert.

Lush Showcase talk 2018
Watch now: Transparency in Beauty and Ethical Consumption discussion at LUSH showcase 2018

We are yet to start a beauty section on BICBIM because we want to make sure we get it right, and move the conversation about natural and ethical beauty forward. But we have been researching this for a number of months and we are hoping to launch it soon.

In the meantime, here’s an introduction for anyone looking to take their first steps into ethical beauty.


1. The words “Organic” and “Natural” are not regulated
This means any beauty product can claim to be organic or natural even if they are not. And they do. Lots of brands include one or two organic or natural ingredients alongside a whole bunch of harmful chemicals and still claim to be ‘organic’ or ‘natural’.

Regulation is coming, but there’s a lot of effort from the big brands (you know the ones) to set the bar for transparency and ethical and organic as low as possible. So, we need to watch this space.

2. Ingredients that are harmful for you
The skin is our biggest organ. Yet even those of us who are conscious about what we eat slather our skin with a whole bunch of harmful chemicals – which are then absorbed into our bloodstream – without even really thinking about it.

We are not scientists and it’s really difficult to read an ingredients list and to know what’s harmful for us and what’s not. I’d start with this list of “Terrible 10”  from the Soil Association:

1. Ethyl hexylsalicylate
2. Homosalate
3. Imidazolidinyl urea
4. Octinoxate
5. Octocrylene
6. PEGs: PEG-7; PEG-12; PEG-40; PEG-200
7. Polyquaternium 7
8. Polysorbate 20
9. Red 17 artificial colour 26100
10. Retinyl palmitate

If you want to know more, follow this link to find out what’s the issue with each one and also the alternatives to look out for.

3. Ingredients that are harmful to humans and the planet
Of course, there’s also a whole bunch of ingredients that aren’t necessarily harmful to the people using them but they are sourced unethically because farmers or producers aren’t paid fairly and they are destructive to the environment. Just two to watch out for are Mica and Palm Oil.

Mica is found in a lot of mineral-based make ups (more natural, huh?) and mascaras. It is dug from mines from India to Africa and is linked to child labour.

Palm Oil is linked to huge deforestation and human and animal rights abuses because huge swathes of land are being cleared to make way for plantations. The RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) is the only certification out there which claims to source its Palm Oil responsibly, but it is widely regarded to not be anywhere near good enough.

4. The are certifications to look out for
COSMOS (international) and Soil Association (British) are both robust stamps of approval you can trust. They not only require that every ingredient that can be found organically is done so, they also ban harmful ingredients, too.

PETA and Cruelty-Free (the leaping bunny) logos guarantee that no animals have been harmed in the making of a product.

Fair Wild and Fair For Life consider the human impact of ingredients and guarantee better prices for farmers across the world.

5. The brands we trust
We are in the very  early days of research. So, I’m looking forward to expanding this list. But for now we’re happily sourcing our make-up and skincare from both LUSH and Odylique, which was one of the first companies to get organic certification and genuinely stands by the principles of natural ingredients fairly traded.

Main image: Lush Highlighters

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