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What makes a product ethical and sustainable?

As more of us adopt an eco-friendly way of living, sustainability is becoming an increasingly hot topic. The more we learn about how our lifestyle choices affect the environment, the more we want to change. It is also becoming easier to make these lifestyle adaptations from eating less meat to growing your own produce, and swapping harmful chemicals in products for sustainable alternatives.

However, it can be a struggle to find truly ethical and sustainable products because manufacturers don’t always explicitly name their ingredients, or use variations on ingredient names instead. We should be trying to use more natural alternatives, such as biodegradable wipes and washable cloths. But how do you identify which cosmetic companies are doing an honest job of making sure their work is good for the planet?

What makes a product ethical and sustainable?

The easiest way to assess the sustainability credentials of any product is to inspect the packaging.  However, it might seem impossible to make the right choice while shopping, particularly with so few products ticking every box. For instance, some items may be organic but not vegan-friendly, or palm oil-free but tested on animals. The best option is simply to choose an item which is sustainable in one way or another, so check if they fit any of the criteria below:

Organic and natural

These products do not contain any genetically modified organisms (GMOs), manufactured herbicides, artificial fertilisers, or synthetic colours, preservatives or chemicals. For example, our Organic Seaweed Body Lotion is made from natural ingredients like jasmine, chamomile and lavender, but also contains beeswax, which is often considered an animal by-product. So, organic or natural goods may be from sustainable sources, but still be tested on animals, or contain animal products.

Palm oil-free

While palm oil isn’t technically an animal by-product or ingredient, its growth and harvest is responsible for the mass destruction of forests and wildlife, making the ingredient notably unsustainable. However, palm oil-free products may still be tested on animals, and contain animal ingredients. There are beauty ranges available which use sustainable palm oil instead, with the companies responsible complying with legal regulations, caring better for their employees and taking active responsibility for planting new trees.


Vegan products do not contain any animal material, but may still include ingredients which aren’t organic or natural, including palm oil, but will always be suitable for vegans. Our Betty Hula range, which includes body moisturisers, hand creams and bath salts, is vegan-friendly.


These items contain ingredients which haven’t been tested on animals at any stage of their development. However, they can still contain animal products, which has led to people questioning whether they can truly be considered cruelty-free, as ingredients may have come from dead animals. They may also potentially contain palm oil.

What makes a brand ethical and sustainable?

While no brand is perfect, some are certainly more sustainable and ethical than others, so use your individual discretion when choosing what to buy. Be sure to find out the ways companies produce their  products by doing thorough research online before shopping.

Ethical sourcing

Brands that are committed to ethically sourcing their ingredients ensure that they have been obtained in a responsible and sustainable way. They will also make certain that all employees involved with the production are safe and paid fairly, and that the environmental and social impacts of the ingredients are taken into consideration. For instance, although widely-used palm oil isn’t anywhere near as sustainably produced as alternatives like avocado, coconut and argan oil.

By ethically sourcing their ingredients, companies can reduce long-term operating costs by using renewable energy, sourcing ingredients locally in order to minimise shipping and transportation costs, and mitigating any risks associated with harmful chemicals. These practices can do wonders for a brand’s reputation, and go some way to increasing sales as a result.

Ethically sourced ingredients are the single most important sign of a sustainable and ethical company, and demonstrate that a lot of care and thought has gone into their production beyond the ingredients themselves. The whole process is taken into consideration, including who was involved, how they were treated, and whether a fair price has been paid for any raw materials and goods.

Charitable giving

You should look out for any companies who give a proportion of their profits to charity. For instance, handmade cosmetics company Lush sells a ‘charity pot’ of body lotion, where all proceeds go towards organisations working to promote human rights, animal welfare and environmental protection. Another example is soap company Soaper Duper which has a partnership with WaterAid, a charity dedicated to helping communities access soap and clean water. Another frontrunner in the beauty industry is the Body Shop which supports various charity initiatives, both in-store and out.

Recyclable packaging

If you’re concerned with sustainable packaging, consider reusable bottles, or be on the lookout for packaging which emphasises its recyclability. More companies are rethinking their business ideas, with some encouraging their customers to reuse packaging, and others using compostable packaging. When shopping, check if the packaging on your desired beauty products can be recycled, or if they have been made with recycled materials, and look for cosmetics which have a fully recyclable pump.

Waste and resource management

This involves reading into a company’s production process on their website. Find out about their product life cycles from start to finish in order to understand how each item is produced. Try and find out if sustainable energy sources are used in the process, as well as the company’s overall water and energy usage, and whether unethical practices are being actively eliminated. You should also explore whether companies run any zero waste policies or office recycling programmes.

Lush is an example of a company doing their bit for sustainability, using as little packaging as possible, and being sure that what packaging is used comes from recycled materials. The company has pledged to remove palm oil from its products and are actively trying to replace it in all products with more eco-friendly oils. Another noteworthy natural beauty line is Yes To, who use fresh fruit and vegetables, and eliminating nasty chemicals. Its products contain 95% natural ingredients, are free of parabens—a type of preservative which negatively affects humans and marine animals—and made with recycled materials.


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