The Truth About How Ethical Your Beauty Products Really Are

Photographed by Kate Anglestein.
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 a new report from global risk-consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft.
As an example, the report cites Lush's 2014 commitment to removing mica — a controversial 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 labor. 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 labor 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 labor 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 labor 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 to produce this ingredient in Indonesia.
It's hard to deny that the report makes for discouraging 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, despite our best intentions.
This year, the UK government has taken steps to improve the beauty industry's eco credentials by banning plastic microbeads, as well as considering a ban on cotton buds and 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 alarmingly 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 up their game when it comes to doing their own due diligence on where their ingredients come from.
"Ethical consumerism is here to stay, and it has significant influence over the shopping decisions made by millennials," the report reads. "So, scrutiny of what goes into the millions of cosmetics produced every year will continue, and demands for transparency will increase."
This story was originally published on Refinery29 UK.

More from Beauty

R29 Original Series