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Defining Healthy Beauty



The age-old saying goes, “Beauty is pain.” The fashion and cosmetic industries have since embodied this adage, setting impossible standards of what it means to achieve beauty in our everyday lives and implementing harsh labor practices that exploit workers and the environment. 

Beauty should not be synonymous with pain. Beauty should be a positive connection between ourselves and our bodies. It is interwoven with personal and environmental health. Beauty does not start from the outside — the outside should instead be a reflection, an externality of one’s inner beauty and health.

In seeking out beauty products, many of which are increasingly focused on being “clean” and “organic,” one must make sure that the entire product, including its process of manufacture and those involved within this process, is sustainable and ethical. This includes aspects such as the use of non-recyclable plastic packaging of beauty products, incorporation of environmentally friendly ingredients, implementation of truly green internal operations, marketing and distribution practices, and involvement in socially responsible community outreach.

Defining sustainable and ethical beauty can often feel like a large task to approach given the multifaceted processes and factors that go into making a product truly sustainable and ethical. As such, we have outlined the following main points a consumer should seek out on the labels of the beauty products they are planning to purchase. There are many different sustainable and ethical labels and certifications that consumers may look for, and the more boxes that a consumer is able to tick off, the better.


  • Cruelty-free
    • A product that is listed as cruelty-free means that its ingredients have not been tested on animals in any level of development and production. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the product does not contain animal ingredients. As such, a consumer should approach a product that is solely labeled cruelty-free with healthy skepticism as to whether the product is actually cruelty-free. Additionally, a product carrying this label may contain palm oil, which has had devastating effects on rain forests and the animals that live there. Finally, a “cruelty-free” product may not be organic or natural, which means that the manufacturing processes, to a wide degree, have had a negative effect on the environment and wildlife.


  • Vegan
    • If a product carries the “vegan” certificate, it does not contain any animal ingredients. However, it may still contain palm oil — the growth and harvesting of this crop, which is not an animal ingredient or by-product, is tremendously detrimental to the rain forest habitats and has resulted in the death and displacement of countless animals. Vegan products can also still have ingredients that are not organic or natural, which is harmful to the environment and wildlife. It must also sadly be noted that even though a beauty product is labeled as vegan, it can still be tested on animals.


  • Organic & Natural
    • An organic and natural product is one that does not contain any artificial or synthetic colors, preservatives, or chemicals, and does not necessitate the use of GMOs, artificial fertilizers, or manufactured herbicides. Even so, if a product has only been certified with the organic and natural label and nothing else, it may have still been tested on animals, contain animal products and/or byproducts, and/or contain palm oil. Consumers should also be wary of how different companies may alter or greenwash their definition of what it means to be “organic.”


  • Palm Oil Free
    • A product free of palm oil means that it does not contribute to the cropping and harvesting of the palm oil seed crop or any of its byproducts. However, a product with this label and none of the above-discussed labels may have been tested on animals and may contain animal ingredients. For example, even though a product might not contain palm oil, it can still have inorganic and unnatural ingredients that have equally negative impacts on the environment and its inhabitants.

In addition to holding individual products accountable, consumers can help in the efforts to hold businesses accountable in their operations. That is, we can all work together to ensure that brands are maintaining sustainable and ethical business practices. Companies can also take a more active role in transforming their brand into one that is sustainable and ethical by starting with the following steps:

  1. Reduction of waste within company operations and manufacturing processes
  2. Reduction of energy and water usage
  3. Development of community outreach and involvement programs
  4. Establishment of partnerships with local nonprofit environmental organizations and groups
  5. Engagement of sustainable packaging and purchasing practices
  6. Creation and maintenance of a culture of sustainability within the company
  7. Consistent company assessments for environmental impacts — this includes carbon, water, waste, and energy
  8. Improvement of facility infrastructures to ensure they are more sustainable and green
  9. Creation of campaigns that will bring awareness about the impact of sustainable practices to consumers and the general public
  10. Development of a long-term strategic sustainability plan/goal

It is important to acknowledge that no brand or product is perfect and 100% sustainable or ethical. Instead, it is more helpful to approach healthy beauty as a spectrum, with each brand or product falling someplace along this line. As a consumer, you should be seeking out the brands and products that are genuinely putting in the effort to be sustainable and ensure that beauty is healthy not only for your body but for the environment as well.

By promoting brands and products that are truly involved with sustainable practices in all steps of their processes for manufacture and sale, consumers can change the culture of the beauty industry and transform the perception of sustainability from a choice to an expectation of brands. We must keep this discussion of social responsibility on the parts of beauty industries alive and push for ethical, sustainable practices.