These Innovations Are Making Your Beauty Products More Sustainable

These sustainable beauty buys are making it easy to look good *and* feel good.

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Woman applying sustainable beauty
Photo: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty

The idea of natural beauty and cosmetic products that improve skin without harmful chemicals isn't anything new. But now, some brands aren't just considering your health when creating their products—they're also thinking about the environment and the people involved in making them.

Here are the innovations currently happening on the sustainable beauty front, and what you can (hopefully) expect to see more of in the next few years.

Air-filled packaging.

In Japan, there's a driving philosophy, called kirei, that life should be lived simply yet beautifully (the word means "clean" or "beautiful"). MyKirei by KAO is that idea turned into a sustainable beauty brand. It's a streamlined, straightforward collection of shampoo, conditioner, and hand soap that contains Japanese wellness ingredients like moisturizing tsubaki (camellia flowers), soothing rice water, and nourishing yuzu. Our favorite pick? The Tsubaki & Rice Water Nourishing Conditioner (Buy It, $18, amazon.com).

The innovative, sustainable beauty packaging resembles Bubble Wrap and uses 50 percent less plastic than a typical bottle, and its design ensures that you can squeeze 95 percent of the product out of it (other packaging averages 85 percent). Once you've used up the products, download a prepaid shipping label from the brand's website and send the containers to TerraCycle, a company that recycles and repurposes beauty packaging. (

Earth-friendly formulas.

Because microbeads were banned from beauty product formulations in 2015, we haven't thought much about whether the ingredients in our cleansers, conditioners, masks, and more are safe to rinse down the drain—but we should.

Most everyday beauty products contain microplastics: solids that are less than 1/4 inch and don't dissolve in water. They won't break down for a long time, which means they accumulate in the ecosystem, says Lindsay Wray, the chief science officer at Eighteen B, a microplastic-free skin-care brand. "These ingredients can get lodged in the digestive tracts of small animals that consume them in the water and soil. They then travel up the food chain and eventually end up in the food we eat," says Wray. (BTW, you can find these microplastics in your activewear, too.)

Two common microplastics, polyethylene and polyamide (or nylon), are added to formulas to create luxurious textures and keep them stable. The goal is to find new, sustainable beauty options. Eighteen B replaces microplastics with its renewable and biodegradable B-silk protein to provide that soft, silky feeling you want in a skin-care formula, but without the negative impact on the planet. Try the brand's Defend + Nourish Eye Cream (Buy It, $85, eighteenb.com).

Safer sparkles.

The shimmer in an eye shadow, the sheen of a highlighter, and the gleam of a lip gloss most often come from mica (the same mineral that gives car and airplane paint its glossy finish). It's safe to use. In fact, it's an ideal replacement for plastic-based glitters that can litter the water system and landfills, and it requires far fewer resources to create than lab-made, synthetic mica. But naturally occurring mica is mined from the earth, and the conditions in these mines tend to be unsafe. Plus, the mines are often associated with child labor. "Companies can get certificates from their suppliers confirming that child labor is not being used, but they can be falsified," says Gregg Renfrew, the founder and CEO of Beautycounter.

Her brand decided to send employees to mica mines around the world to check on their working conditions. "During our site audits, we found evidence of a supply chain that wasn't transparent about how workers were treated or paid," says Renfrew. Many suppliers had never had an in-person audit.

Now, all the mica used in Beautycounter's products, like the Sheer Lipstick in Poppy (Buy It, $32, beautycounter.com), is sourced from a domestic mine in Hartwell, Georgia, as well as approved suppliers in Brazil, India, and Japan, none of which use child labor. The sustainable beauty brand plans to make its auditing tool kit public so other brands can follow in its model and eradicate child labor.

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