As beauty consumers have become more conscious of what actually goes into their products, brands have responded by offering a greater range of "clean", "natural" and "organic" options than ever before.
However, a new report has highlighted the fact that many products may not be as ethical as they appear. In simple terms, this is because brands are unlikely to be able to verify the exact provenance of all their ingredients.
"Given the depth and breadth of the cosmetics supply chain, tracing and monitoring the tiers of production is virtually impossible," says the report by global risk consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft.
As an example, the report cites Lush's 2014 commitment to removing mica – a mineral used to add sparkle to products including eyeshadow – from its entire range.
"It became clear that even though the company could stop its direct use of mica, it was unable to guarantee that the mica in many pigments supplied by third parties had no association with child labour. As of 2018, the company is using only synthetic mica," the report states.
The production of cocoa, and therefore cocoa butter, has been prominently linked to child labour in Cote d’Ivoire
The report also flags up the ethical risks surrounding some of today's most popular cosmetic ingredients. The production of cocoa, and therefore cocoa butter, "has been prominently linked to child labour in Cote d’Ivoire, the world’s leading producer," says Verisk Maplecroft.
Meanwhile, "vanilla, shea nuts, copper and silk, often used in foundations and creams, have all been reportedly produced using child labour in the last five years in at least one of their major producing countries".
In 2017, research by Amnesty International found that major global companies which use palm oil – a key ingredient in countless beauty and food products – are "turning a blind eye to exploitation of workers in their supply chain". Amnesty found that children as young as eight are working in hazardous conditions producing this ingredient in Indonesia.
It's hard to deny that the report makes for deflating reading; after all, it seems to suggest that even when we choose our beauty products very carefully, we might still be supporting unethical practices or companies that are damaging the environment.
This year, the UK government has taken steps to improve the beauty industry's eco credentials by banning plastic microbeads, is considering a ban on cotton buds and by introducing plans to crack down on wet wipes, all of which have a detrimental effect on the environment. But in other areas of ethics and corporate responsibilities, big brands appear to remain worryingly unregulated.
The report ends on a positive note – pointing out that the more we question brands over what goes into their products, the more they'll raise their game when it comes to checking their ingredients' provenance.
"Ethical consumerism is here to stay, and it has significant influence over the shopping decisions made by millennials," says the report. "So, scrutiny of what goes into the millions of cosmetics produced every year will continue, and demands for transparency will increase."