What is Sustainable Beauty? The Ultimate Guide

Due to rising emissions, polluted ecosystems, and the destructive impact of natural disasters there has recently been a huge global push towards sustainable beauty. 

In addition, the pandemic has emphasized the growing need for sustainable development. After all, consumers and brands are prioritizing health and well-being more than ever before.

But what does sustainable beauty mean, exactly? How does it affect the beauty industry and how can we make more sustainable choices?

If you’re scratching your head, not to worry—we aim to answer all of your questions with our ultimate guide to sustainable skincare, health, and beauty.

What Does Sustainable Skincare Mean?

First things first, let’s go back to basics.

To put it simply, sustainable beauty is a term used to describe products, packaging and processes that are safe for people and the planet. It can also be referred to as “green” or “clean” beauty.

What is sustainable skincare, then?

  • For brands, it involves manufacturing products in the most ethical way and only using sustainable ingredients
  • For consumers, it involves changing the way you shop and choosing products and brands that will meet your needs without detrimentally impacting the environment or human safety

In a nutshell, it’s all about making good choices in the beauty industry, from sourcing and manufacturing to packaging and selling.

sustainable skincare

Why the Beauty Industry Isn’t Sustainable

In 2020, estimations show that the beauty and personal care products’ US market value is over $93 billion. In 2019, it was already a $532 billion industry worldwide.

In other words, the beauty industry holds a lot of weight in terms of making people feel good about themselves, their health, and their well-being. That said, it’s also responsible for a ton of waste.

CO2 Emissions

In 2008, The Guardian reported that the shipping industry contributes more than 1 billion tons of Carbon Dioxide each year through the world’s merchant fleet (not including freight or air shipping).

Throwing it back to your science lessons at school, CO2 itself is a pollutant. It’s a gas that humans exhale and plants inhale.

Human exposure to CO2 can cause several health effects, according to Wisconsin Health Services, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tiredness
  • Increased heart rate
  • A tingling or pins and needles feeling

The major issue from increased CO2 is that it acts as a “greenhouse gas.”

What does this mean? Well, due to its molecular structure, CO2 absorbs and emits infrared radiation. This warms the Earth’s surface and lower levels of the atmosphere, wreaking havoc on our climate. We know—not cool (literally).


According to Zero Waste Week, the global cosmetics industry contributes more than 120 billion units of packaging per year. However, did you know that the norm is to pack beauty products in plastic?

Beat The Microbead claims that only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled and around 12% has been incinerated. The other 79% has ended up in dumps, landfills, or our oceans.

how much plastic is recycled vs. put in landfills

When it comes to beauty packaging, 95% of it is thrown away after one use, meaning that only 14% of plastic is being recycled.

Ergo, this consistent stream of plastic pollution is a huge problem. The accumulation of plastic objects and particles (like plastic bags, bottles, and microbeads) in the Earth’s environment long-term has the following adverse effects.

  • Chemical impact: The build-up of organic pollutants like PCBs and DDT
  • Physical impact on wildlife: Entanglement, starvation, and ingestion
  • Economic impact: Damage to shipping and fisheries
  • Human impact: A threat to food safety and quality, health, and tourism

Unfortunately, plastic pollution is another problem that contributes to climate change.

To break it down for you, the extreme heat, heavy downpours and flooding that comes with climate change will negatively affect infrastructure, agriculture, health, forestry, transportation, air and water quality (to name a few!).


Speaking of plastic, microbeads are solid plastic particles that are found in many beauty products worldwide. From face and body exfoliators to toothpaste and shower gel, these particles act as buffing mechanisms to remove dead skin cells, dirt and grease from the skin’s surface.

The bad news is, given that microbeads are less than five millimetres in size, they’re too small to be filtered out by our sewer systems. Instead, they run straight down drains into waterways and add to the plastic pollution swirling around our oceans.

Not good, right?

There’s also the (not-so-small) matter of skincare brands using toxic ingredients in their products, which can be harmful to our skin (and our health).

What ingredients to avoid in skincare for acne (or in general)? We’ll list them below.

  • Parabens: This family of chemicals (propylparabens, butyl parabens, methylparabens, and ethyl parabens) can be found in a multitude of beauty products, such as face wash, makeup, shampoo, and body wash. Even though they help to preserve the shelf-life of products, they can also disrupt our hormonal balance, leading to reproductive and fertility issues.
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and/or Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES): These ingredients are commonly present in shampoo, bubble bath and body wash and work as cleansing or foaming agents. However, they strip skin of their natural oils, triggering allergies and causing skin irritation.
  • Phthalates: This group of chemicals soften and increase the flexibility of plastics in cosmetics, which helps them to stick to our skin. They’re usually put into deodorants, fragrances, and lotions, and can damage the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive system.
  • Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT): This synthetic antioxidant can be used to extend shelf life and is most commonly found in moisturizers, lipsticks, and other cosmetics. As well as liver and kidney effects, it’s associated with toxic effects in lung tissue when applied to the skin.

Needless to say, you might want to steer clear of these!

Sustainable Skincare Trends

The good news is, the beauty industry is slowly becoming more sustainable. There are a lot of brands and organizations out there that are committed to the cause.

In fact, the global sustainable beauty and sustainable skincare market was estimated to be worth over $5.4 billion in 2020. And it’s expected to reach approximately $11.5 billion in 2027.

In 2015, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of microbeads in cosmetics products with multiple countries following suit. This occurred as a result of research that detailed the detrimental effect they were having on our oceans.

More recently, brands have started to invest in how they can be more sustainable with their processes, practices, packaging and product ingredients. In terms of consumers, thanks to the influx of media reports and educational documentaries focusing on sustainability, many of us are now more aware of the issues and are making actionable steps towards a better world.

That said, there’s still plenty of work that needs to be done.


How to Be More Sustainable With Beauty

As a consumer, there are a few key ways you can help the sustainable beauty movement.

1. Buy From Brands That Focus on Sustainable Practices

Firstly, invest in companies that are committed to sustainability in their sourcing, manufacturing and shipping processes. What does this entail? Well, it’s all about minimizing negative environmental impacts while conserving energy and natural resources.

For instance, meejee is a sustainable vegan skincare company with the practice of only using digital mediums for their mailing materials and internal communications instead of paper.

2. Buy From Brands That Support the Environment

Do you know what’s even better than buying from a brand that practices sustainability? Buying from a brand that goes the extra mile to protect the planet.

Take meejee, for example. Earth Day is an annual event on April 22 to demonstrate support for environmental protection. This Earth Day, meejee will be donating 20% of that week’s proceeds to OneTreePlanted

OneTreePlanted is a charity with a mission to help global reforestation efforts. Consequently, for every purchase of a meejee, 15 trees will be planted. That’s math that makes a difference.

3. Buy From Brands That Use Recycled Plastic

Plastic pollution is a problem that will last for generations. That’s why it’s important to opt for sustainable skincare brands that keep plastic in their products to a minimum.

For instance, meejee works in partnership with PlasticBank to use only recycled plastic for their silicone facial cleansing massager. In actuality, this incredible organization helps us to prevent 4.4 pounds of plastic from entering Earth’s oceans for every meejee purchased. 

(That’s 100 plastic bottles for every meejee sold! Happy dance.)

4. Buy From Brands That Use Natural Ingredients

Alongside prioritizing beauty and sustainable skincare products featuring little plastic, you should also prioritize those with natural, non-toxic ingredients.

How? Well, it is simple. Check product labels before you stock up on your usual favorites or something brand new. As we mentioned earlier, stay away from ingredients like parabens, BHT, SLS and SLES, and phthalates that can be especially harmful to your health.

A lot of people might think that it’s challenging to source affordable organic sustainable skincare brands, but this is simply not the case.

In terms of sustainable skincare for acne, look for organic ingredients that will cleanse your skin without aggravating it and causing further breakouts. These include:

  • Beta carotene, which your body converts into vitamin A to heal wounds, protect your skin against sun damage and stimulate cell turnover
  • Green tea extract, containing antioxidant chemicals that work as a natural anti-inflammatory and skin-soothing ingredient
  • Liquorice extract, which has anti-inflammatory properties and the ability to treat redness and rosacea
  • Soy, which is a good alternative to prescription-strength ingredients like retinoids and hydroquinone for brightening the complexion and evening tone
  • Willowherb, an antimicrobial, anti-irritant and natural antiseptic in skincare good for acne that’s used to soothe common skin irritations and kill Propionibacterium acnes bacteria
  • Witch hazel, which effectively controls oil while offering hydration and reducing redness

Additionally, look for water-free or water-saving formulations. According to Mintel, these eco-friendly alternatives are growing in popularity, especially in skincare. In fact, nearly half of waterless beauty and personal care products launched in 2019 were from skincare.

Solid bar formats are a good place to start. Their much more concentrated formulation of ingredients has a lower cost per use compared to traditional water-based formats.

5. Buy From Brands That Have Sustainable Packaging

In addition to disregarding brands that use plastic in their beauty product ingredients, you should disregard those who use plastic packaging.

Supporting companies that invest in biodegradable materials is the way forward. Pesky, single-use plastic packaging needs to be eliminated—and fast.

FYI, meejee uses plastic-free sustainable skincare packaging for all of our products!

6. Recycle Your Packaging

Recycling and reuse of plastic products to replace single-use plastics are necessary for brands to prevent and reduce plastic pollution. Although, the consumer has a responsibility too.

Whether you’ve bought a beauty product with plastic, paper, or cardboard packaging, make sure you put it in your recycling bin once you’ve removed it. Also, keep in mind that any containers need to be empty and clean before disposal. Otherwise, the remnants can contaminate other recyclables.

You could also do your bit by upcycling used containers. In other words, your large face cream pot could become the perfect holder for your makeup brushes.

7. Reduce Your Water Usage

Lastly, your sustainable skincare routine needs reviewing, too!

When washing your face, turn off the water tap when you don’t need it. Actually, try to use as little water as possible.

Sure, it sounds pretty basic, but this can prevent water wastage and ultimately conserve one of the planet’s most important natural resources.


The Takeaway

Sustainable beauty is a complex subject that can be difficult to discuss, but it’s worth having the conversation. After all, climate change is no joke.

Having said that, there are some positive changes that you can make in your everyday life to support the cause, as well as choosing companies that share the same environmental values.

Click here to find out more about meejee’s sustainability efforts.

What positive change will you make today?