The best sustainable beauty brands to shop now and love forever

In 2021, sustainable beauty brands are more prevalent and popular than ever

sustainable beauty brands: bird's eye view of crashing waves on the beach
(Image credit: Nora Sahinun / EyeEm via Getty Images)

In 2021, sustainable beauty brands are more prevalent and popular than ever

Sustainability is now at the forefront of so many conversations in our day-to-day lives. Never more so than within the beauty industry. We look into what sustainability really is and what that means for these sustainable beauty brands.

Much like sustainable fashion, green beauty has finally hit critical mass. And although few, if any, beauty brands can claim to be '100% sustainable' or zero waste, recent years have proven that eco-friendly credentials and quality products needn’t be mutually exclusive. This also appeals to a powerful new kind of consumer, who believes in sustainable living but is still a sucker for luxury products.

‘Buyers are savvier than ever before,’ says Victoria Buchanon, a trend analyst at The Future Laboratory. ‘Millennials, in particular, see nature and tech as living together. They read ingredients or notice if packaging is not recyclable and they will call brands out on it.’

What does it mean to be sustainable? 

You might think that being sustainable means going plastic-free and driving to France, instead of flying. And yes those are both very good steps to take. But there is so much more to it than that.

There are 17 Sustainable Developmental Goals, which were agreed on in 2015 by world leaders. They include things like no poverty; zero hunger; quality education. And they also include things like clean water and sanitation; responsible consumption and production; decent work and economic growth; industry, innovation and infrastructure. So actually there's so much more that can make a brand sustainable.

A new era for sustainable beauty brands

According to a report by the Soil Association, 79% of people are more likely to buy a product if it says ‘organic’. Meanwhile 64% of consumers said they were looking for products with recyclable packaging. So it's not too surprising, then, that the natural skincare market is expected to grow by 5% each year between now and 2027.

But the biggest turnaround comes from big name, high street brands. For instance, you’ll find the Soil Association’s logo on Garnier's Organic Skincare in recognition of its green credentials. In March 2021, the brand also announced all of its products are now certified by Cruelty Free International's Leaping Bunny programme – something that took 18 months of investigation to ensure both suppliers and ingredients are 'iron clad'. The logo will be rolled out across all packaging over the next year.

Why you should care about recycling your beauty packaging

Zero Waste Week have reported that over 120 billion units of packaging are produced every year by the cosmetics industry. Sadly, much of this is not recyclable. Rather frighteningly, only 5% of the world's plastics are recycled effectively.

Of the product packaging we can recycle, four in 10 of us don’t. This means aerosol cans and the cardboard boxes your face cream come in end up in landfill.

So apart from scanning the ingredients list for sustainable ingredients, what other small changes can we make?

‘Invest in a bathroom recycling bin for starters. And choose both glass and aluminium over plastic packaging,’ says Rachelle Strauss, founder of Zero Waste Week. ‘Both can be recycled over and over again without loss of quality.’

They also stand a better chance of actually being recycled. '75 per cent of aluminium ever made is still in circulation, thanks to it being the most cost effective material to recycle,' Strauss adds. 60 per cent of our glass bottles and jars are also currently recycled.'

If you'd like to make a change, the Marie Claire team has put together a handy guide on how to recycle beauty products.

Refillable beauty brands - what's the deal?

Refilling, rather than recycling, saves the energy needed to sort, process and repurpose or transform materials into something new.

Founded by the creator of Terracycle, Loop is a global shopping platform that works with retailers to reduce recycling and single-use plastic by ensuring that when you’ve finished with a product, it is returned to them for refilling and delivered straight to your doorstep again.

Fragrance has also entered the refillable beauty brand space, which makes sense as you can now top up your signature scent for less in the form of sustainable fragrances.

Perfume containers are notoriously difficult to recycle locally – but that won’t be a problem from now on.

Lancôme Idôle EDP, £88 for 75ml | Boots

Lancôme Idôle EDP, £88 for 75ml | Boots
For added ease, you can top-up your Lancôme Idôle fragrance in the same pink flacon at over 200 Lancôme counters. An iconic chypre, floral fragrance with refreshing top notes of bergamot and a heart of rose and jasmine on a warming cedar, patchouli and vanilla base.

Giorgio Armani My Way EDP, from £55 for 50ml | Lookfantastic

Giorgio Armani My Way EDP, from £55 for 50ml | Lookfantastic
Giorgio Armani's My Way is a warm, sunny scent with jasmine, orange blossom, tuberose, vanilla and cedar wood, in a bottle that is not only refillable but made of different recyclable parts.

According to Armani, the 50ml My Way bottle and 150 ml refill bottle use 32% less cardboard, 55% less glass, 64% less plastic and 75% less metal than their traditional spray bottle counterparts.

Whether you're new to sustainable beauty brands or unsure where to start looking for zero waste products, below are some of the Marie Claire team's favourites. And when you're done here, be sure to check out our guide on how to make your beauty routine more eco friendly.

The most sustainable beauty brands to shop now... 

Fiona Embleton

Fiona Embleton has been a beauty editor for over 10 years, writing and editing beauty copy and testing over 10,000 products. She has previously worked for magazines like Marie Claire, Stylist, Cosmopolitan and Women’s Health. Beauty journalism allowed her to marry up her first class degree in English Literature and Language (she’s a stickler for grammar and a self-confessed ingredients geek) with a passion for make-up and skincare, photography and catwalk trends.