Everything You Need To Know About Sustainable Beauty

by | Jun 8, 2023 | Skincare

Get to grips with some of the key terms and ideas you need to know in the world of ethical and sustainable beauty. Let’s start at the very beginning.

What is sustainable beauty?

Simply put (you’ll learn more about the world of sustainable beauty below), it’s the act of making your beauty regimen as kind to the environment, your body and other people as possible. Here are key terms to know.

Alternative Ingredients

In an effort to be more eco-conscious, you have to work extra hard to look for alternatives for problematic ingredients. Substitute some ingredients, such as beeswax and palm oil, with more sustainable options, like sunflower wax and plum oil. Try Dr Hauschka Clarifying Day Oil (R175).

Dr Hauschka Clarifying Day Oil

This oil sinks quickly into your skin, where it helps to balance oil content and refine your pores.

Nuxe Rêve de Miel Gentle Shampoo

This gentle shampoo bar nourishes and helps detangle locks. Made with Provence Honey and organic Camelina precious Oil.

The Body Shop Boost range

Infused with a citrusy blend of bergamot & mandarin essential oils, these nourishing products double as energising aromatherapy.

Beauty Bars

No, not soaps – beauty bars, as they’re now being called – are washing up in various guises, from cleansing bars and exfoliating blocks to shiny slabs of shampoo. They’re a no-brainer for sustainability seekers looking to reduce water footprint and plastic waste – most are free from plastic packaging. TRY Nuxe Rêve de Miel Gentle Shampoo (R245), which is sulphate-and silicone-free and the packaging is recyclable.

Cruelty-Free Matters

Cruelty-free refers specifically to products which haven’t been tested on animals. To easily identify cruelty-free products, go to Peta.org or Ethicalelephant.com. TRY Lush products, a brand that’s at the forefront of the fight against animal testing.

Lush Angel Hair Shampoo Bar

Lather up with this nourishing bar that’s kind to the environment. Your hair will smell amazing, too.

Terres D’Afrique Uplifting Serum

A light gel with potent anti-aging properties. Easily absorbed, this serum will lift the skin, leaving it feeling firm and smooth. Suitable for all skin types.

Goodleaf Glow Soothing Face Oil

CBD and African Botanicals like Baobab and Mongongo work to restore balance to the skin, plumping it and adding a genuine glow.

DIY Hacks

Home beauty treatments went from an option to the option during the pandemic. And it’s still a thing. Plus, you buy less when you make it yourself. Try this lip scrub for when your lips are dry and chapped: Mix 1⁄2 tablespoon sugar together with 1⁄2 tablespoon honey. Use on dry lips once a week. Done and done.

READ MORE: Cruelty-Free Plant-Based Products That Work For Sensitive, Oily And Eczema-Prone Skin

Eco-Friendly Thinking

Start introducing sustainable and eco-friendly thinking when making your next beauty or personal-care purchase. Choose products and services that aren’t harmful to the environment. We can all make positive choices, starting with how we behave, and what we buy and use.

Fair Trade

Fairtrade beauty means that the ingredients going into your beauty products are traded ethically and come from sources that ensure there’s no exploitation of people or the environment. Who doesn’t want to get on board with that? The Body Shop sources ethical, high-quality ingredients and accessories from thousands of producers, farmers and artisans around the world. TRY The Body Shop Boost range.

Grey Water Safe

Yes, the emphasis is on how to recycle. However, less is mentioned about where the ingredients you wash down the sink end up. Often, beauty products contain microplastics that can damage the water ecosystem. “Grey water safe” refers to products which don’t contain ingredients that can potentially harm the water system, animals or plants. Check your ingredients, people!

Hold The H2O

Water is the elixir of life…and beauty products. On average, a cream is 60 to 85 per cent H2O. Lotion? 90 per cent. And shower gel? A whopping 95 per cent, according to product formulator Univar Solutions. This makes them heavier to ship (high carbon footprint) and harder to keep shelf-stable (they need a lot more filler to prevent mould). Try formulas that omit water from the equation (oils and powders) or products that enable you to use waaay less. TRY Skin Creamery Deep Cleansing Powder Mini (R169).

Skin Creamery Deep Cleansing Powder Mini

Herbs and minerals combine to create a super-clarifying skin cleanser.

Plaiin Anti Venom Body Scrub

This scrub, with charcoal and cocoa butter, moisturises as it buffs out rough skin, revealing a glow.

Elemis Pro-Collagen Marine Cream Ultra Rich

A deeply skin-quenching moisturiser with anti-ageing properties, thanks to green micro algae.

Identify Brands With Scientific Targets

When deciding to choose a new make-up, skincare or haircare brand, first consider their values. Brands are becoming serious about reducing their environmental impact, and a good place to start is checking whether they have committed to scientific targets. Example? Brands that have goals for reducing carbon emissions that are in line with the Paris Agreement.

Juuust A Little Bit

It’s so easy to overuse products – how many times have you used too much moisturiser? Or over-splodged your foundation? Remember, a small amount goes a long way. This will save you money, as well as help you cut back on waste. Try Plaiin Anti Venom, R195.

Label Watch

Knowing your ingredient list and avoiding products containing chemicals that can damage the environment is another way to go green with your beauty regimen. Look out for: parabens, silicones, phthalates, chemical UV filters, microplastics, synthetics and so on.

READ MORE: 4 Things To Look Out For, If You Really Want To Live Sustainably

Marine Extracts & Algae

Look for products containing marine extracts and algae. These ingredients turn carbon dioxide into oxygen as they grow. They are also miracle workers for your skin. Everybody wins. TRY Elemis Pro-Collagen Marine Cream Ultra Rich (R2 130).

Nix Greenwashing

Greenwashing is when brands use vague, misleading or false claims to suggest a product is more eco-friendly than it actually is. Look beyond buzzwords such as “sustainable”, “natural” and “conscious” to see if brands have detailed policies to back up their claims. Refer back to Label Watch.

Dr Bronner’s Patchouli Lime Organic Hand & Body Lotion

Patchouli and lime work to nourish skin while smelling amazing.


Be a sustainable queen with this eco-friendly razor, made with bio material. No more waste.

Teaology Soft Reusable Bamboo Pads

Go waste-free with these reusable, washable pads that are soft and gentle on skin.

Organic Scrutiny

When used correctly, this term refers to responsibly-harvested ingredients – crops that were grown without the use of toxic chemicals or pesticides. To be sure, look for the USDA-certified organic label, which shows that a product has met these standards. TRY Dr Bronner’s Patchouli Lime Organic Hand & Body Lotion (R286)

Plastic Free

We know that plastic is a hayibo, but why aren’t more people weeding it out of their routine? Quick tip: start with your razor. Swap our plastic ones for eco-friendly razors, made from materials that are 100% biodegradable. TRY BeauRaze (R25 for the handle with 3 blades).

Reusable For The Win

Reusable and refillable packaging decreases the amount of waste that is produced. Single-use cotton pads aren’t 100% cotton; they can contain synthetic fibres, which means that they won’t be fully biodegradable. Opt for reusable ones instead. TRY Teaology Soft Reusable Bamboo Pads (R255).

Lulu & Marula Purifying Face Mask & Polish

Made from clays, herbs and enzymes, this two-in-one mask and exfoliator detoxes skin and reveals a fresh face.

All Good SPF 50+ Sport Sunscreen Butter Stick

Stay protected while caring for the environment with this fast-absorbing SPF formula, made from preservative-free ingredients.

Lelive 3-step routine

Consider this your all-in-one routine for glowy, clean skin. It’ll control breakouts and even skin tone, while brightening.

Slow Beauty Trend

Slow beauty is about using fewer, better products to lessen unnecessary consumption and waste. When you dig deeper, it’s also about ritualistic products that inspire people to take time away from the digital world and to literally slow down. TRY Lulu & Marula Purifying Face Mask & Polish (R360). Lulu & Marula believes that caring for the skin is a much-needed daily ritual, for minds as much as its for bodies.

Transparency: This Is What It Means

The practice of being open and sharing information about the who, what and where involved in the production of a product. This usually involves companies sharing their sourcing, production and packaging practices for the life cycle of a product, from start to finish.

UV Protection

Rule #1: always use sunscreen. Rule #2: make it sustainable. The brand All Good is absolutely smashing it when it comes to sustainability practices. TRY All Good SPF 50+ Sport Sunscreen Butter Stick (R290).

Vegan Rules

While cruelty-free and vegan seem like they’d go hand in hand when talked about in beauty, the two terms mean two different things. As previously mentioned, cruelty-free refers to no animal testing, whereas vegan refers to no animal ingredients. Both are important. TRY Lelive 3-step routine (R742).


Get washable tools and applications instead of purchasing disposable ones. ‘Nuff said.

Xanthan Gum

Yes, the stuff you find in food. Xanthan Gum is a thickening ingredient that is 100% natural. It’s not known to have any toxic or harmful side effects, can be appropriate for use in natural and organic skincare and is thought to have some hydrating benefits for the skin.

Zero Waste

From superfluous cellophane to gilded boxes, beauty products are heavy with extras, which amounts to lots of waste. Look for zero-waste and zero-plastic brands.

Women’s Health participates in various affiliate marketing programmes, which means we may get commissions on editorially chosen products purchased through our links to retailer sites.

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