New Year, New You! If you’re anything like me the new year brings in all these new promises of what you will change over the next twelve months to become a better form of yourself. I hope that this year for many people this will extend to a greater awareness of where their cosmetics and ingredients come from. We are privileged to live within Europe, where EU Regulation bans animal testing for cosmetics within the EU. However, there are still loopholes that need to be closed and petitions that can be signed in favour of stricter legislation and concern for the environment and human rights in cosmetics. I hope that this year cosmetics giants will be encouraged into greater transparency and awareness of consumer demand for further ethical practices.

Cosmetics are a multi-billion dollar industry and employ millions of workers. The industry makes money off our desire for cleanliness and ‘attractiveness’ as dictated by our society and culture. In the UK we have fake tan, in India they have skin bleach. For every perceived flaw or weakness in our body there is something to transform or cover it up at a range of prices – but at what expense on our planet, animals, and our fellow human beings?

For me, issues surrounding ethics lead back to the Garden of Eden in the Bible. In Genesis 1:27-31, God created man and woman to steward the earth, the land was given to them to take care of. This idea of stewardship is present throughout the Bible. Sam Wells writes:

“If we don’t treasure the earthly theatre of glory God has given us, God can only assume we’re not interested in entering the heavenly one. cherishing creation is the way we show God gratitude, the way we humbly acknowledge our creatureliness, and an important way in which we worship.”

Therefore in my eyes, ethical choices come down to stewardship of the resources and planet that God has given us to look after. I believe that this is why we should pursue justice for the planet, animal rights and human rights throughout the world.

In Cosmetics it is difficult to narrow down what is important and issues can be quite divisive. Quite often companies that seem innocent enough are owned by larger companies whose effects on the earth are not necessarily healthy. A few years ago, The Body Shop was sold to L’Oréal and this outraged a lot of animal rights and human rights activists as L’Oréal are well known for their animal testing. Some campaigners boycott not only the parent company, but also all of the companies below them – even if companies like Pureology (owned by L’Oréal) are vegan. Other campaigners say that by buying from companies like The Body Shop and Pureology demonstrate to parent companies that there is a desire for an ethical component to cosmetics amongst shoppers.

I think education and awareness alongside petitioning are the best ways to transform the industry. As shoppers we have a huge amount of power to oppose or encourage unethical practices and we are the reason that there has been a shift in marketing to use buzz words like ‘organic’, ‘paraben-free’, ‘palm-free’, ‘natural’ and whilst some of these are important others are just there for marketing value. It is very important to look for the honesty behind these words. Here are some helpful places for advice on where to shop:

I work within the cosmetics industry, so am not only aware of the marketing but am also aware of some areas of no compromise to me when I’m shopping. These will follow and I hope this helps you to make educated decisions that fit into your personal moral and ethical living code.

Palm Free

  • Palm oil is produced when large areas of the rainforest are destroyed to make way for palm. It is one of the largest strains on the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia, and if production doesn’t reduce in these areas 98% of their rainforests could be gone within ten years. So primarily this is an environmental issue for me. Secondly this is a human rights issue for me as the often-indigenous peoples are forced to work for the plantations, and child labour is a big part of the industry. Animal habitats are destroyed threatening species such as pygmy elephants and orang-utans. Palm Oil is found in food products, household items and cosmetics. A few companies do offer palm free soap bases.


  • Ahh a tricky one! Mica is quite often the ‘selling point’ of mineral makeup as it is ‘natural’ – but I think it is proof that we should always look beyond the label. It is what gives you that ‘natural glow’ the beautiful shimmer in your makeup. LUSH cosmetics were recently approached by the Guardian with statistics from The Age relating to child labour in Mica mines. LUSH immediately switched to a synthetic alternative in light of this knowledge, but how often do we think about the fact that our makeup might be causing a child to be abused in a mine in India? I think this is an area to petition for change within to cosmetics giants. It is very difficult to find cosmetics without Mica as many companies do not display their ingredients, but asking in stores can be really beneficial in education and in increasing demand for alternatives.
  • (some products contain it, others don’t. Their ingredients are visible)
  • (same as above)

Micro-beads and micro plastics

  • I recently watched Mission Blue on Netflix (I highly recommend it) and I was left in tears at how destructive we have been as humans using our oceans as a way of disposing of rubbish. The thing about cosmetics is that they often end up down our drains and in the ocean, so making sure that they are as healthy as possible for fish, coral and sea mammals involves assessing what is inside our cosmetics. Microbeads and glitter are found in a lot of products and they don’t break down so they end up in our oceans, swallowed up by fish, releasing toxins into the food chain and generally damaging our oceans. They are incredibly easy to cut out of our routines as they have no benefit for the skin. Instead, opt for a natural cleanser containing ground almonds or sea salt. Or – how about making your own using left over Fairtrade coffee grounds and some locally produced honey?

There are so many other areas of non-compromise to me, such as ethically sourced ingredients, handmade products, minimal air miles, minimal packaging, solid where possible, and absolutely cruelty free. I think remaining engaged with the issues surrounding ethical cosmetics is essential, and understanding that consumer demand is so important to big companies should help with campaigning for greater ethical practices. Places like the Buycott App or the Lush articles on their website as well as the animal aid website and even asking shop assistants can really help us in developing our own areas of non-compromise when it comes to cosmetics. My final piece of advice is to look for labels like Vegan or Vegetarian as well as Cruelty Free and The Organic Soil Association, as these can really guide your shopping.

Words: Maddie Macaulay


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