In early January, the ELLE editors virtually met to review over 500 products submitted from beauty giants and indie brands alike for this year’s Green Beauty Stars. Our meeting prompt was simple: What are the most innovative trends and movements in the green beauty space right now, and how can we provide our readers with the tools to make thoughtful decisions that are kind to both our bodies and our planet? Green beauty, often an unregulated buzzword, needed to be defined. For us, it meant products that are both derived from natural ingredients and/or are made by using sustainable and renewable resources. We chose 10 categories—from biodegradable to water-saving towels—that define green. Each category aims to lower carbon footprints, eliminate toxic ingredients, and change the beauty industry for good. Green goes beyond declaring “eco-friendly” on the packaging. Each product chosen has been tested for accurate ingredients listed, evaluated based on its carbon footprint reports, and vetted by industry leaders like Mintel, EcoAct North America, and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Below, the brands that launched the most revolutionary green beauty products this year.
01. TALC-FREE | 02. CARBON-NEUTRAL & NEGATIVE | 03. CLEAN ENERGY | 04. BIODEGRADABLE | 05. CLEAN DEODORANT | 06. WATERLESS | 07. WATER-SAVING TOWELS | 08. SMART PACKAGING | 09. REFILL REVOLUTION| 10. RETAILERS STEP UP
The 2019 documentary Toxic Beauty examined the connection between cancer and talcum powder. Talcum powder, a white mineral made up mainly of magnesium, silicon, and oxygen is typically found in nature near asbestos—which can contaminate the talc, rendering it incredibly dangerous. It’s commonly used in beauty products for its color payoff and oil-soaking power. The documentary drove viewers to study the fine print on their beauty products—and prompted some brands to abandon talc altogether. Here are five talc-free products you can add to your routine right now.
THE SILK POWDER
A blend of silk powder, silk extract, Japanese pearl powder, and mica in this smooth loose powder gives skin a velvet finish and shields against blue light damage. And Tatcha has proactively offset the brand’s entire carbon footprint since it was founded.
THE CROWN AFFAIR
Dust this dry shampoo made of tapioca starch and persimmon powder onto your roots to breathe life into day-two (okay, day-three) hair. The unique packaging means no harmful greenhouse gases are released into the environment.
Each of the five universal shades in this smooth-anywhere palette gets their sparkle from a combination of sustainably sourced mica and crushed crystals. Founder Chase Polan says they were inspired by the sun’s light traveling across the solar system.
HIGHER STANDARD SATIN MATTE CREAM BLUSH
This velvety cream blush has a base of kaolin clay, giving the six semi-matte shades—which range from deep berry to a fuchsia pink—fantastic color payoff. The vegan formula also has avocado oil and vitamin E to condition.
TALC-FREE BRAND STATEMENT
California-based Beautycounter completely ditched talc in its powder products last year. It took months to nail the perfect cream versions of their beloved blushes, eye shadows, and skin products, but they’re here and the rollout starts in June.
Each step of a product’s life cycle, from harvesting ingredients to shipping, contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere. The total amount of emission is known as a carbon footprint. To neutralize—or better yet, negate—this impact, brands are investing in projects like reforestation and alternative packaging. Here are the brands and products that are changing packaging, production, and office operations to limit their carbon footprint.
CARBON NEUTRAL SHIPPING
Mid-pandemic, with online shopping at its peak, Aveda initiated a carbon-neutral shipping program for all U.S. orders. The brand offsets 100 percent of all carbon emissions through supporting hydro- and wind-power projects, as well as a water filtration project in Cambodia.
CLEAN BEAUTY LINE
Paul Mitchell’s Clean Beauty collection offers 11 different hair care products depending on your concerns—all of them bottled in Brazilian sugarcane packaging (which decomposes faster than standard plastic) and has a completely negative carbon footprint.
SACRED NATURE COLLECTION
[Comfort Zone]’s seven-product Sacred Nature line debuts stateside this month—and comes along with a complete CO2 compensation plan, offsetting packaging, production, and office operations by planting trees and shrubs in Ethiopia.
According to Caudalíe, their eco-efforts have potentially negated the beauty brand’s carbon footprint four times over in recent years. Now, it has reduced carbon emissions by 40 percent for its new anti-aging Resveratrol-Lift line (which was proven to be two times more effective than retinol) by eliminating plastic film and using less paper.
Flip over the box of any Cocokind product and you’ll find something new next to the ingredients list: a Sustainability Facts panel, divulging the exact carbon emission impact that your face cream or mask has on the environment, as well as exactly how to recycle each component.
In our efforts to stop global warming, we must reduce greenhouse gases. One major way is to power factories with energy from solar, wind, geothermal, or hydroelectric sources instead of the traditional coal, oil, or natural gas.
GREEN LABS SERUM CREAM COLLECTION
This bendable serum-meets-SPF is made in 100 percent renewable electricity facilities powered by 59 percent renewable energy. The brand is aiming for all of its facilities (and the entire Garnier line) to be carbon-neutral by 2025, too.
Icelandic beauty brand BL+ uses the geothermal power naturally released by the famous Blue Lagoon to power its research center. It’s there that this serum—which is filled with a skin barrier-supporting blend of silica and microalgae found only at the Lagoon, of course—was developed.
DAY GLOW BRIGHTENING AHA TONIC
The entire BYBI line (with the exception of a few glass vessels that are also infinitely recyclable), which launched stateside this year, is housed in sugarcane packaging and manufactured using solar and wind energy. A blend of floral water (upcycled from essential oil waste) and lactic acid simultaneously exfoliates and hydrates for dewy skin.
When a product is washed down the drain or thrown into the trash, it rarely just disappears. In fact, it may take up to 500 years for some plastic packaging to decompose, and the combined weight of plastic in the oceans could surpass that of fish by 2050. Fortunately, a growing number of products are designed to break down in less than a year. Both product and packaging can be biodegradable—and these are some of our favorites.
Made of just five planet-friendly materials, the EcoTools BioBlender works just as well as other egg-shaped sponges, but it will deteriorate in your at-home or municipal compost in 180 days (a traditional sponge takes 50 years).
COLOR CARE DEEP CONDITIONING BALMS
It’s the Triple Plant Milk blend (coconut, Tahitian palm, and white orchid) that makes this color-preserving balm smell amazing and super-nurturing. And it’s 96 percent plant-based, so when it slides down the drain it degrades in less than 100 days to help protect waterways.
ARNICA ELDERBERRY JELLY
Skincare brand Loli now makes outer packaging with biodegradable and easily renewable plants and fungi: The “paper’ starts with hemp fibers, then mushroom adds structure. The first product to get the new box is an acne jelly. Once you’ve unboxed, disposal can be as simple as throwing it in your flower garden.
A year in quarantine provided plenty of time to try out the wave of non-toxic deodorants that launched this year. These cleaned-up versions are not only better for your body (read: free of chemicals like aluminum, which have previously been linked to diseases like breast cancer and Alzheimer’s)—but also come in packaging that’s friendlier for the environment, too.
SMOOTHIE FRUIT ENZYME DAILY DEODORANT
This creamy, baking soda-free stick uses fruit enzymes to balance underarm pH—the lower the pH, the harder it is for odor-causing bacteria to survive—and gently exfoliates, too.
MOOD ENHANCING DEODORANT
The four blends—More Energy, Less Anxiety, More Mindful, and More Focus—combine natural sweat-absorbing ingredients like silica with blended essential oils for a roll-on that will leave you smelling and feeling good.
0% ALUMINIUM REFILLABLE DEODORANT
By switching to this drugstore aisle aluminum-free classic, now in assemble-yourself refillable packaging, you’ll join a movement to help reduce 30 tons of virgin plastic waste this year.
BAKING SODA FREE DEODORANT
Twist the bottom of this tube and the super-soft solid is sieved out of little holes in the top, making a smooth application even easier. On the skin, the eucalyptus and frankincense-spiked tapioca starch gel magically transform into a powder, absorbing moisture and odor.
Removing H₂O from formulas makes bottles lighter to ship, thus requiring less energy. The product also becomes superconcentrated, so you buy less—and create less waste. (The U.S. alone tosses enough shampoo bottles to fill more than a thousand football fields every year.) These water-free formulas (read: powders and creams) all morph into a recognizable format that our editors love when you add liquid.
THE BAWDY WASH
The powder inside this 97 percent PCR tube weighs only three ounces but will last you as long as five traditional bottles of liquid body wash. Sprinkle on a loofah for a fluffy, floral-scented lather.
SHAMPOO & CONDITIONER
Everist has completely removed the water from its shampoo and conditioner formulas—and the results are thick creams packaged in aluminum tubes. Each is activated with water, transforming into a super-lather, and is three times as concentrated as a standard formula.
RICE POWDER CLEANSER
Made with French-grown, 100 percent biodegradable and organic rice, this powder cleanser transforms into a bubbly face wash when it’s poured into dampened hands—and gently exfoliates for smooth skin. (And the mostly post-consumer recycled canister is refillable, too.)
No water needed (and no razor burn in your future) when you shave with this cushiony gel stick. Smooth it across whatever dry skin you want to depilate, and shave as usual. After, skin is hairless and super-soft because of the leftover cactus water, glycerin, vitamin E, and olive oil fruit.
It takes 25 gallons of water (or 200 Smart Water bottles) to do a single load of laundry. A switch to towels that are self-cleaning through high-tech fibers will not only keep you cleaner, but save water in the process, too.
FACE AND BODY TOWELS
These plush face and body towels don’t look or feel like they’re made of medical-grade materials—but the blend is completely antibacterial, killing 99.9% of bacteria and germs, as well as hypoallergenic.
COPPER SURE RAPID DRY HAIR WRAP
The cult-following Rapid Dry Hair Wrap gets a major update: tiny strands of antimicrobial copper are woven into the super-absorbent fabric so it stays fresh longer (requiring less washing). Hair also dries 50 percent faster than with a regular towel, so you’re cutting down on the energy you’d use with a blow dryer, too.
Zero Waste Europe estimates that the global cosmetics industry creates more than 120 billion units of packaging per year. And in a recent survey, market research firm Mintel found that 53 percent of consumers would boycott a brand that doesn’t use packaging or sourcing that’s eco-friendly. It’s these packaging breakthroughs—whether they’re repurposing old shoes into new boxes or the first-ever dry shampoo that doesn’t emit greenhouse gases—that caught our attention this year.
Nette’s paraffin wax-free candles come in gorgeous hand-blown glass vessels, but it’s the super smart outer packaging that had us impressed. Pulverized leftover shoe parts create a durable packaging.
LOVE BEAUTY AND PLANET
Love Beauty and Planet devised the industry’s first-ever nitrogen aerosol dry shampoo—standard versions are powered by liquefied petroleum gas and emit greenhouse gases. The packaging is also made of aluminum which means it can be recycled an infinite number of times.
SUPREME SEED DELICATE PURIFICATION MASK
Every aspect of this waterless mask—from the plant-derived ingredients to the amber glass jar—is sourced in the United States, minimizing the product’s carbon footprint. Forgoing a label, the brand etches everything you need to know on the jar, which can be easily recycled at 90 percent of local municipalities.
Refills can reduce the CO₂ footprint of product packaging by up to 70 percent, energy use by up to 65 percent, and water use by up to 45 percent, according to Dutch research institute the LCA Centre. The newest refill programs offered by some luxury beauty brands are taking their cues from the farmers’ market—but with the added perk of delivering products right to your doorstep.
Known for opulent skincare housed in gorgeous glass bottles, the brand Susanne Kaufmann recognized its packaging was heavy to ship, so it developed lightweight refill jugs that can reduce the carbon footprint by 69 percent.
BETTER & BETTER
FULLY CHARGED TOOTHPASTE
Oral care brand Better & Better sends refills of its vitamin B12 & D3-spiked toothpaste in thin, superflexible pouches that you pop into a reusable, upright squeezable sheath—a design that guarantees you get up to 96 percent of the product out of each tube.
OUI THE PEOPLE
SENSITIVE SKIN RAZOR
In 2020, Insta-cool brand Oui the People convinced the world that an old-school safety razor was the chicest form of depilation. The Sensitive Skin Razor converted thousands to the refillable model, saving heaps of waste from landfills (where the EPA estimates over 2 billion plastic razors end up each year).
KEEP MANUAL TOOTHBRUSH
The handle of Colgate’s new aluminum toothbrush is shaped like an infinity sign for a reason—it can be used forever. Simply pop on a replacement head (instead of purchasing an entire brush like traditional manual toothbrushes) and you’re using 80% less plastic each time.
It can’t only be left up to shoppers and beauty brands to create a cleaner and more sustainable planet—retailers need to join the cause, too. These industry heavy-hitters are leading the way by making major commitments on the sustainability front.
Nordstrom ups the ante on accepting any return, ever—the department store now accepts empty beauty products, even if you didn’t purchase them there. The free program is a collab with Terracycle: simply drop it in the Beautycycle box and Nordstrom will make sure it’s properly processed.
SUSTAINABLE PACKAGING GUIDELINES
Credo’s clean manifesto has expanded to sustainability, too. The brand, which has nine shops and a thriving online business, has developed mandatory packaging guidelines for all brand partners, including no single-use face masks or wipes, and rules requiring packaging to be made of at least 50 percent non-virgin plastic by 2023.
About 650,000 pounds of packaging have been eliminated so far through e.l.f. Cosmetics’ Project Unicorn, which focuses on designing an innovative way to create tamper-proof packaging for more than 200 of the brand’s best-selling products, all while eliminating unnecessary waste.
LOOP X ULTA BEAUTY
Ulta collaborated on a select number of skin and body products (brands include Dermalogica and Burt’s Bees) that come in special super-resilient packaging, making them infinitely refillable. When you’re finished, ship your empties back to Loop and they’ll send you a fresh batch of bottles in return—milkman style.
This story first appears in the April 2021 issue of ELLE.