Clean. Green. Eco. Organic. Biodynamic. Sustainable. Ethical. Plastic-free. Look for the Z. What do all these terms mean? They're part of a growing movement called sustainable beauty. Coming on the back of our increased consciousness of where our food comes from, what exactly is in it, and what damage its manufacturing is doing to our ecosystems, sustainable beauty is the term used to describe our concerns at some of the ugly damage our beauty products can do to the environment. And the natural cosmetics sector is growing quickly, with Bloomberg recently reporting that it is set to be worth a whopping $48 billion by 2025.
Covid-19 has sent a shockwave through the world - we've been forced to alter so many aspects of our lives. I think we've dealt with a deeply challenging situation with great resilience and fortitude, but perhaps it's also shown us we are much more flexible and adaptable than we ever thought possible. Even mega-beauty brands are embracing a new attitude: L'Oréal recently announced its next-generation sustainability programme, L'Oréal for the Future. The company plans to have 100pc of the plastics in its packaging be from recycled or bio-based sources and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50pc by 2030.
So how do we go "green and lean" with our personal care? Choose organic? Opt for purely sustainable, local products? Ditch the plastic? Go vegan? These are all very subjective questions that I can't answer - but to give you the best shot at picking the right fit for you and your family, I've rounded up 30 beauty brands that have at their very core a sustainable, ethical, ecological and natural approach.
I'm showcasing brands that have a philosophy of caring both for nature and for their users, with a specific focus on their use of ingredients, packaging ethos and ecological credentials. We've all seen images of the plastic pollution problem in our oceans and waterways - the ugly truth is that our beauty products can leave a scar on the face of our beautiful ecosystems for centuries to come. It's time to really tackle this, and opt for some ethical beauts that will be kind to us and our earth. Let's green up our beauty act!
This Irish organic skincare line (COSMOS certified - see panel overleaf) has been a smash-hit, global best-seller that is stocked in luxe spas and salons around the world. Unsurprisingly for a line that uses seaweed as its star ingredient, Voya is heavily invested in protecting our coastlines. All its wild seaweed is hand-harvested - no machines are used, because this can result in marine ecosystems being severely damaged in the long term as juvenile algae cannot flourish and grow. Voya's packaging is all made from recycled, recyclable, compostable and biodegradable materials. A homegrown skincare hero for sure.
Hero Product Voya My Little Hero Facial Serum, €59, from Avoca, Kilkenny Shop, House of Fraser, salons and spas nationwide, and voya.ie
CF, V, O (Scroll down for the full glossary)
Lush has been pioneering "naked" packaging for its beauty products for 25 years, with the brand's shampoo bars its standout bestseller. Each bar comes naked - zero packaging - and is the equivalent of 2.5 bottles of liquid shampoo. Since 2007, Lush has sold 38 million naked shampoo bars globally, saving a whopping 90 million plastic shampoo bottles from being used at all. It now sells Cork Pots (€7.50) to store the shampoo bars in. Studies have shown that these pots are actually a carbon-positive packaging solution - powerhouse beauty brands should sit up and take notes here.
Hero Product Lush New Shampoo Bar, €9.95, from Lush stores nationwide and lush.com
CF, V, BD
I love, love, love this natural Irish skincare line that uses bamboo for all its packaging. Bamboo fibre is an amazing sustainable material that should really be used more in our beauty product packaging. Why? Bamboo grows like a weed naturally and requires no pesticides to keep it healthy. It's antimicrobial, anti-fungal, hypoallergenic, and odour-resistant and, when harvested for use, the roots remain so the plant regenerates quickly. When you're finished with it, you can just chuck it into the compost bin. Brilliant.
Hero Product Jo Browne Handmade Luxury Soap, €12 (made with bamboo silk, as a vegan alternative to silk), from Meadows & Byrne, Avoca, Kilkenny Shop and pharmacies nationwide.
VG, PF, CF, C, O, BD
This botanical hair and skincare line has led the way when it comes to eco-packaging - it was the first-ever beauty company to use 100pc post-consumer recycled materials in its packaging. Aveda's manufacturing is 100pc wind-powered and, in an industry that can create enormous waste, 83pc of its waste is reused. The haircare is 100pc vegan and has been a staple in my beauty arsenal for years.
Hero Product Aveda Shampure Shampoo, €9, from Brown Thomas, Arnotts and hair salons nationwide.
If you fancy trying a natural tanning alternative, you should definitely keep this brand on your radar. Vita Liberata is committed to using natural, non-metal and non-toxic tanning ingredients, so this is a healthier way to achieve an even-toned, non-orange, sunkissed glow.
Hero Product Vita Liberata Body Blur, €34.95, from Avoca stores nationwide and vitaliberata.ie
V, N, CF
This natural skincare line from New Zealand is entirely GMO-free, with sustainably sourced ingredients, and it was awarded the NATRUE natural cosmetics certification in 2012. Trilogy has always been microbead-free and actually won environmental awards for its ocean-safe formulations years before ocean plastic pollution was on most people's radars. It's also been carbon-neutral since 2007, winning Carbonzero certification.
Hero Product Trilogy Rosehip Oil, from €10.95, from health stores and pharmacies nationwide, and cloud10beauty.com
CF, V, Non-GMO, BioGro Certified Natural
This Irish botanical skincare and haircare line is made from four natural groups of ingredients at its base - seaweeds, botanical oils, botanical extracts and essential oils - with zero chemical nasties in sight. All its packaging is either glass (can be recycled forever), post-consumer recycled plastic or 100pc recyclable cardboard and paper.
Hero Product Green Angel Ylang Ylang Hand Cream, €10, from Kilkenny Shop, Avoca, Shaws, Meadows & Byrne, pharmacies and lifestyle shops nationwide, and greenangel.com
O, CF, V
This natural, organic skincare line has nary a chemical nasty in sight - no parabens, sodium lauryl sulphate, fillers, fragrances or microplastics. It was the first UK brand to be awarded the Look for the Zero certificate (i.e. zero microplastic ingredients). This is a lovely brand for all the family if you're on the lookout for multitasking natural skincare.
Hero Product Neal's Yard Remedies Baby Balm, €13.50, from pharmacies, health stores, Marks & Spencer nationwide and lookfantastic.com
CF, V, N, O, PF, Z
If you're looking for a truly authentic organic skincare line, Nunaïa is a brilliant bet. With a near-impossible-to-reach level of 99.5pc COSMOS certified organic ingredients, this Irish skincare line is one of the highest organic-certified products in Europe. Sustainability is part of the brand's DNA - it replants five trees for every one tree used in packaging (the company uses glass primarily), and zero plastic packaging is used. Nunaïa's ingredients are biodegradable and don't damage our precious water system or the earth. Beautiful products.
Hero Product Nunaïa Nourishing Radiance Serum, €79, from Arnotts, Seagreen, cloud10beauty.com, Kilkenny Shop, One Dame Lane and nunaia.com
V, CF, O, FSC Certified, BD, PF
Non-plastic toothbrush options are a no-brainer for anyone looking to reduce their plastic footprint. Stór's bamboo toothbrushes are designed and developed in Ireland, working with a specialist, fully certified, sustainable bamboo manufacturer. Just pop the toothbrush in your brown bin or compost when finished.
Hero Product Stór Bamboo Toothbrush 4-Pack, €19.95, from Kilkenny Shop nationwide.
Yogandha offers blended aromatherapy oil rollers that are designed to help calm and ground you throughout the day, and have you smelling like a botanical beauty. Made with 100pc natural ingredients, these rollers are fully vegan, using recyclable and post-recycled packaging. Five per cent of the brand's profits go to supporting women's micro-enterprises in post-conflict areas
Hero Product Yogandha Grapefruit & Bergamot Oil Roller Ball, €19.95, from Kilkenny Shop nationwide.
N, CF, VG
The Body Shop has been an eco-friendly, green beauty brand for decades, years before it became a mainstream objective. Since last year, it has gained B Corp certification (this cert means that a company holds the highest social and environmental standards for people and the planet).
Hero Product The Body Shop Hemp Hand Protector, €9.95, from The Body Shop stores and pharmacies nationwide.
CF, V, N
An example of a powerhouse, big-beauty brand that has started to develop a more modern, eco-conscious status. Clarins' first vegan line, My Clarins, is an attempt to cater to younger millennial customers - studies have shown that a whopping 66pc of them are interested in vegan, natural and environmentally clean beauty products. My Clarins is 88pc natural, a fully vegan brand (it will not be sold in countries that have mandatory animal testing) and is made with recycled and recyclable packaging. Clarins has even installed three beehives housing 160,000 bees at its HQ!
Hero Product My Clarins RE-BOOST Hydrating Cream, €25, from department stores, pharmacies nationwide and clarins.ie
V, N, CF
Based in Schull, Co Cork, this botanical vegan brand offers a 100pc natural, unisex, aluminium-free deodorant that also doubles up as a scent and a body mist. This gem was the top winner in the Best Deodorant 2019 category in the UK's Women's Health magazine. Modern Botany only uses glass in its primary packaging and FSC paper with soya-based ink in its secondary packaging - making it renewable, recyclable and compostable.
Hero Product Modern Botany Deodorant, from €15, from Arnotts, health stores and modernbotany.com
VG, N, CF
Of the literally thousands of beauty items I've road-tested for Weekend, this gorgeous line is in my top-five all-time favourites. Warrior Botanicals products are handmade in small batches by founder Réidín Beattie in her herb and botanical studio in West Cork. She makes skincare and herbal potions that honour traditional herbalism, folk wisdom and skincare savvy. She creates her products seasonally by following the natural harvest of her ingredients, and uses glass and eco-packaging throughout.
Hero Product Warrior Deodorant Cream, €12.50, from health stores nationwide and warriorbotanicals.com
VG, N, O, CF
This natural French skincare and haircare company has an ongoing partnership with eco-recyclers TerraCycle: if customers return three plastic empties, they will get 10pc off full-price products. L'Occitane also has eco-refills for some of its products, which use 65-90pc less plastic than a regular bottle! Genius.
Hero Product L'Occitane Lavender Liquid Soap Refill Pouch, €16, from L'Occitane stores and pharmacies.
This lovely, 100pc natural essential-oils line is made by an Irish company that's a certified member of the Irish Organic Association and uses only packaging with the highest-possible recycling rate - ie glass, aluminium and paper. The Nature of Things is also a member of the movement 1pc for the Planet (meaning 1pc of its total revenues every year goes to environmental causes).
Hero Product The Nature of Things Lavender Essential Oil, €16, from Kilkenny Shop.
O, N, CF, V
Founded in the 1980s by marine scientist Patrick Mulrooney in an effort to manage his daughters' severe eczema, this natural skincare line has become an organic bestseller. Every summer in the West of Ireland, Patrick witnessed how his daughters' skin was soothed by the therapeutic powers of the ocean and so he set about bottling that goodness. Combining nutrient-rich organic Irish seaweed extracts and pure botanicals, he formulated this natural, organic Seavite range. Patrick's daughters, Katherine and Jane, run the company. Both are now medical doctors who specialise in dermatology and they have built on their father's legacy. A natural beaut...
Hero Product Seavite Super Nutrient Toning Sea Spray,€25, from pharmacies and health stores nationwide and seavite.com
VG, N, O
This plant-based skincare and cosmetics line has been an authentic proponent of environmentally clean beauty for decades. The products are organic and the real deal for any natural-beauty buffs out there. Dr. Hauschka uses biodynamic farming methods and mostly glass and aluminium packaging.
Hero Product Dr. Hauschka Lip Balm, €12.99, from pharmacies and health stores nationwide.
CF, V, N
This eco, natural haircare line uses zero sulphates or parabens - only the most "clean" (i.e. non-toxic) ingredients that are so gentle, the products can even be used on your skin. Seriously! All the packaging is either recyclable or biodegradable. If you think the shapes of the products in this line are a bit odd, there's a specific eco-friendly reason. Kevin Murphy redesigned their shape so that they can all fit snugly together while in a cargo hold, and no unnecessary plastic wrapping is required to keep them steady. It's little flashes of design ingenuity like this that can help more brands inexpensively reduce their plastic footprint.
Hero Product Kevin Murphy Blonde Angel Treatment, from €8, from hair salons nationwide and kevinmurphystore.ie
N, V, CF
This recyclable toothpaste was years in development. It is vegan (most toothpastes contain glycerin from animal fat), has 99.7pc natural ingredients, and the packaging is fully recyclable; most toothpaste tubes are made of plastic and aluminium, making it harder for us to reduce our environmental footprint. This tube is made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE), the same plastic used for making milk jugs. In other good news, Colgate-Palmolive (owner of the Colgate brand) is pledging to use 100pc recyclable packaging on all its products by 2025. Excellent.
Hero Product Colgate Smile for Good Toothpaste, €6.30, from pharmacies and grocery retailers nationwide.
Davines (pronounced like "finesse") is an Italian ethical, eco-haircare line that uses only ingredients that are gentle for people as well as our water and natural systems; 100pc of the electricity used in its manufacturing comes from renewable energy. It is single-use plastic-free and has achieved carbon-neutrality for its packaging production.
Hero Product Davines Alchemical Conditioner, €25, from salons nationwide and mack.ie. See davines.com
N, CF, V
Colombian natural-skincare guru Tata Harper created this all-natural, luxury brand with sustainability at the forefront of its ethos. All packaging is either glass (so it can be recycled forever) or plastic made from corn resin. Harper's reason for opting for only GMO-free, all-natural skincare ingredients? "People often think that natural means simple or untested, but natural ingredients are actually some of the most powerful ingredients in the world; synthetic ingredients are, in many cases, cheaper, more predictable versions of natural ingredients created in labs to simplify the manufacturing process."
Hero Product Tata Harper Resurfacing Serum, €90, from Arnotts, Brown Thomas, Space NK and tataharperskincare.com
N, O, CF, V
This luxury Australian natural-beauty brand is new enough to these shores. All products contain zero animal ingredients and are packaged in recyclable dark violet glass - chosen specifically for its ability to preserve the integrity of natural products and extend shelf life, without the use of chemicals.
Hero Product Edible Beauty Angel Drops, €33, from Avoca stores nationwide.
V, N, CF
Another major beauty brand looking to offer more organic and environmentally clean beauty products. The Garnier Organic range was launched last year and is a budget beaut! It is Soil Association COSMOS certified organic, fully vegan, uses recycled materials - and all offerings come in under the €15 mark. Sometimes organic skincare can be a wee bit pricey, but these natural gems will suit most people's beauty budgets.
Hero Product Garnier Organic Lavandin Sleeping Cream, €14.99, from pharmacies nationwide.
O, N, CF, VG
We've all seen the damage and pollution that plastic wipes are doing to our waterways and sewage systems - with the enormous "fatbergs" found in London proof of how destructive they can be. If you want to clean up your wipe act, why not try a biodegradable wipe made from non-plastic material? The Cheeky Panda bamboo wipes are vegan, 100pc natural and whipped up from biodegradable bamboo (instead of non-biodegradable, ocean-polluting polyester). They are simply made from 99pc water, 1pc aloe juice and fruit extract, plus a teeny-weeny trace of food preservative (for antibacterial purposes). Just chuck them in your brown bin after use.
Hero Product The Cheeky Panda Biodegradable Wipes, €3.80, from pharmacies, health stores and selected supermarkets nationwide.
VG, CF, C, BD
This company makes natural body washes, soaps, lotions and candles - all packaged in either 100pc recycled (PCR) plastic material or glass. The brand is also COSMOS and Ecocert accredited (meaning that over 95pc of the ingredients used are from organic crops) and powers its factory with hydroelectric turbine energy from the River Boyne beside its plant in Co Meath.
Hero Product The Handmade Soap Company Hand Lotion Lemongrass & Cedarwood, €14.95, from Avoca, Kilkenny Shop, Meadows & Byrne, and pharmacies and health stores nationwide.
O, N, V, CF
Water covers approximately two-thirds of our planet, with a microscopic 3pc of this being fresh/drinkable water. The beauty and fashion industries can use a massive amount of this fresh water in their production. This sustainable hygiene-products company holds water protection and sustainability at its core. All its offerings are water-neutral and it donates 10pc of its profits to the non-profit association Viva con Agua de Sankt Pauli, which provides access to clean drinking water for people in the Global South (2.1 billion people worldwide have no access to clean drinking water!). Hydro Phil's cotton swabs are made from bamboo and cotton and are 100pc biodegradable: just chuck them in your brown or compost bin after use. The product is entirely plastic-free and the cardboard container can be recycled.
Hero Product Hydro Phil Cotton Swabs, €2.50, from pharmacies, health stores, SuperValu nationwide and littlegreenshop.ie, and €1.90 from hydrophil.com
V, CF, C, PF, B
The Burren Perfumery's range of creams and balms are certified organic by the UK Soil Association - so the ingredients used in their creams, the process by which they are made, the packaging they are presented in, and the production standards of the business all conform to the high bar of the Soil Association. Everything is made by hand, on site, in the Burren.
Hero Product The Burren Perfumery Organic Borage Herbal Balm, €18, from Avoca stores nationwide and burrenperfumery.com
Dr Bronner's is America's bestselling natural soap brand for a reason - its Pure-Castile soaps are 100pc biodegradable, with zero synthetic foaming agents, thickeners, preservatives, dyes or whiteners, making them safe for the whole family, greywater systems and our environment. The company's eco-credentials are pretty rock solid, as it donates a massive 23pc of profits annually towards various eco/sustainable causes. All packaging is made with 100pc post-consumer recycled cylinder bottles and paper labels (meaning the entire product is produced from recycled materials, and they are also able to be recycled). The products are also budget beauties as they last for aeons.
Hero Product Dr Bronner's Almond Pure-Castile Soap, €10.95, from pharmacies and health stores nationwide, and also available on healthybuzz.ie
Let’s demystify some of the seemingly never-ending and often confusing terminology that comes with sustainable beauty with some no-nonsense explanations. (Note: European skincare is NOT tested on animals, but be aware of brands that sell in countries that require mandatory animal testing on cosmetics and skincare, for example China.)
VG is for vegan — zero animal products used.
V is for vegetarian — some animal by-products may be present such as honey or beeswax.
CF is for cruelty-free — not tested on animals.
CLB is for clean beauty — describes products that are entirely free of parabens, phthalates, sulphates and petrochemicals.
PF is for palm oil-free.
N is for natural — describes products that use ingredients found in nature. Look for the “100pc natural” term, otherwise it can mean only a tiny fraction of the product was made with natural ingredients.
O is for organic — products that have been made from organically grown ingredients. No chemical fertilisers or pesticides were used in the growing of the skincare ingredients.
C is for compostable — packaging can be disposed of in our brown bins or compost.
PF is for plastic-free — no plastics are added to these personal care products. Examples of microplastics used in skincare are polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) or nylon.
Z is for Look for the Zero — a certification that there are zero microplastics in the product.
BD is for biodegradable ingredients
and/or packaging — some plastic packaging in our personal care items will not biodegrade, or rot, for decades, or even centuries! Biodegradable products use ingredients or packaging that will decompose and not pollute our environment.
Soil Association COSMOS certified — 95pc organic ingredients used within.
FSC certified — Forest Stewardship Council is an organisation that works to promote the practice of sustainable forestry worldwide. FSC certified paper and cardboard has been harvested in a responsible, sustainable manner.