We wouldn’t dream of buying food if the ingredients were kept secret from us. That line of thinking is increasingly influencing beauty brands to reveal how their products are made – and how sustainable they really are.
“Most consumers want to know that kind of information now,” says Charlotte Turner, Head of Education at French luxury cosmetics company Clarins. “While they're looking at products on the shelf in the store they're also Googling the company and finding out that kind of information.”
We asked Turner for the key questions you should be asking of the products you’re buying.
What’s the hierarchy of ingredients? An ingredients list is set up with the largest volume at the top. So if the top ingredient is something non-natural, such as mineral oil – made from highly refined and purified petroleum – it’s a good indication that what follows will not be green.
“Nut oils are a good alternative,” says Turner, “because the structure of nut oils is very like the structure of sebum in our skin. One of the negatives of mineral oil is it has a tendency to sit on the surface. While we do also want to nourish the surface, you want to have a combination of oils with different absorption weights to give your skin what it needs on every level.”
Can you eat it? Other nasties to avoid include phthalates, PEG (polyethylene glycols) and, of course, plastic beads. A good tip is to look for products that are advertised as completely biodegradable.
“Any ingredients that don't look like they could possibly be eaten are usually a bad indicator,” says Turner. But she also warns not to be put off if some of the plant extracts you’re looking for are near the bottom of the list.
“Some of the greener ingredients tend to be down the bottom because they're only required in quite small amounts,” she explains. “[Small amounts] of plant extracts have a really positive effect on skin. That's what balance is all about. One ingredient is not the be-all and end-all.”
Can you recycle the packaging? Turner says many brands now provide information such as what percentage of the packaging is recyclable. Glass packaging can be repurposed once you’re done with it, and PCR plastic is safe – it stands for “post-consumer recyclable materials”. Clarins has committed to using 100 per cent recyclable materials in its packaging by 2025. You can also take your used cosmetic products of any brand to selected Clarins counters at Myer and David Jones stores and receive a Clarins product sample in return.
Where are you shopping? Even thinking about where you’re shopping is important. Many brands have partnered with fairtrade supply chains that are transparent about their growing methods, paying workers a fair price and running social programs that support local populations.
Since the 1990s, Clarins has worked with the landmark Asters association dedicated to helping protect the Haute-Savoie region in the Alps of eastern France. The company also supports more than 100 social or environmental associations and projects each year. Closer to home, every time you buy from the Clarins website, $1 is donated to your charity of choice.
How are you doing your part? As well as opting for green ingredients, recyclable packaging and buying from brands that give back to communities, there’s one last thing we can do – look after products so they last longer.
“There’s the old idea of putting your product in the fridge,” says Turner. “That’s never a bad idea in Australia during summer, where any temperature beyond 30 degrees and humidity beyond 80 per cent can have negative effects if you're not closing your product properly.”
If that’s not practical, the next best thing is a dark, dry environment, to eliminate as much UV light as possible.
“But not on the bathroom shelf,” advises Turner. “People often don’t screw the caps of things on properly and heated moisture can creep into the product. And definitely not in the shower.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Clarins.