Pretty shouldn’t hurt: Beauty products that feel as good as they look

Makeup display at the Take Care shop in Georgetown

A makeup display featuring all ethically sourced and produced items at Georgetown store, Take Care. (Margo H. Kaplan/George Washington University)

To me, progress looks a lot like the contents of my makeup bag. And no, I don’t say that because I’ve finally mastered the perfect smokey eye.  

Almost exactly a year ago, I made the decision to switch to clean beauty products. On a random September morning, I quite literally stumbled into the cosmetics crisis and my soon-to-be favorite store, Take Care, for the first time. I liked the lip gloss. I went back again when I ran out of my favorite mascara. Then again and again and again. The more time I invested, the more inspired I became to learn more about the impact of my most beloved brands. It didn’t take much digging to learn that the beauty industry is bigger — and badder — than I had ever imagined. From 2018 to 2019, the beauty industry grew nearly 6%, generating around $320 billion in retail sales

I sat down with Take Care founder Becky Waddell to talk about our shared love of makeup, her inspiration for the shop and my quest to makeover my beauty routine for the better. I was most curious to get her expert opinion on what the term “clean beauty” really entails, as its use is diverse and debated. In Waddell’s eyes, clean beauty is the creation of affective cosmetics without causing harm. The product selection she curates in her shop exemplifies this, as she strives to help customers new and old choose cosmetics that can “transform something that is aesthetic into something that supports our wellbeing.” 

Defining clean beauty also meant confronting one of the biggest obstacles I came across in my journey: greenwashing, or attempts by companies to convince buyers that they are doing more to protect the earth than they are. Large makeup brands have hopped on clean beauty as a trend; but often call products “clean” or “natural" when they have floral packaging… As opposed to actually being eco-friendly. This practice is more than just misleading. 

As it turns out, huge consequences come in really small cute packages. Zero Waste Europe reports that the global cosmetics industry produces more than 120 billion units of packaging every year.. most of which cannot be recycled. This means that even the most innocent of plastic shampoo bottles is likely to end up in landfills or the ocean where it will take 400+ years to decompose. Environmentalist Ellen MacArthur claims that if we do not make a change, there will be more pounds of plastic than fish in the ocean by the year 2050. Pretty scary right? 

There is some good news too. These scary problems have emerging solutions. Brands like RMS are innovating to reduce harm throughout their products’ lifecycles by using packaging made from 80% post-consumer recycled fibre and manufacturing using 100% wind power. Another leading company, Kjaer Weis, has created packaging that can be refilled and reused. Although such undertakings can be costly for companies — which in turn drives up prices — Waddell offered me a new approach: a change in the way we think about how we consume. She calls for a more intentional approach to shopping, encouraging people to buy less things that means more. The industry still needs to make massive strides in terms of accessibility: it is my hope that one day it will be expected that all products do more good than harm. In the meantime, don’t toss your plastic moisturizer bottle just yet! However, when you are looking for a replacement I’d encourage you to invest some time into learning about more sustainable options… In trying something new, you might just find something really beautiful.

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