Do the words 'cruelty-free' and 'organic' make a beauty brand ethical?

4 Min Read |

In recent months, people have started taking a different approach to beauty. Many of us are going for a look that is more natural; that dewy skin that says you started the day with a smoothie and finished it with a spin class. Yet truly mastering the natural look takes more effort than you first think, and the same can be said for sourcing truly ethical beauty brands.

Ethical beauty is more than just a passing trend, but truly ethically watertight brands are deceivingly hard to come by. What’s concerning is the number of brands whose ethics aren’t as sound as they may seem at first glance. Ethical beauty needs to go further than “organic”, “plant-based”, “natural” and “cruelty-free”; it needs to permeate the way a company functions from the inside out.

As consumers, we have come to associate these words with cosmetics that are not only good for us, but are ethically conscious. So many brands claim to be so, but the definitions of these terms are unregulated and confusing. There is no specific legislation that requires a beauty product labelled as “organic” to be certified. A company can label or name a beauty product “organic” even if it only contains 1 percent organic ingredients.

These terms, open to misuse, can be used to greenwash dubious practices. To be truly ethical, brands need to look at every part of their product and company, from their supply chains through to working conditions in the factories and head office. Sticking a “natural” label on their products isn’t enough.

In fact, natural doesn’t always mean ethical. Recently, Lush removed mica from all its products. The reflective mineral used in lip glosses, eyeshadows, and some toothpastes, is a natural ingredient, but it is totally unethical. A quarter of the world’s mica comes from mines in India that employ children. Some of the risks and health complications can be fatal, including lung disease and cave-ins.

Lush made that decision at a time when brands are increasingly being asked to state – and act on – their ethical values and being called out on their flaws. Global market research firm Mintel recently found that 57 percent of shoppers would buy, or boycott, a brand according to its ethical values.

Take Dove. Until last year, its parent company, Unilever, still allowed its cosmetics to be tested on animals outside the EU, as well as using palm oil in some of its products, which is linked to human rights and environmental scandals. The company realised that its body positivity messages weren’t enough: it needed to become ethical on every level, rather than merely gesture towards it.

The Body Shop, on the other hand, has been ethical from the off. It believes that all workers in its supply chain should be free from exploitation and discrimination, and enjoy conditions of freedom, security and equity, and has worked towards this ever since it was founded in 1976. When both the business ethics and the product ethics align, you know the brand is a keeper.

Many brands are moving in the right direction. Clarins has debuted a vegan skincare line that also paraben-free, sulphate-free and phthalate-free, with packaging made from recycled material sourced from sustainably-managed forests. Wella Professionals introduced plant-based hair colour. Simple – Britain’s biggest cleansing wipe brand – recently launched a biodegradable version and by the end the end of 2019, every Simple wipe will have followed suit. Primark has joined Marks & Spencer in being fully cruelty-free on all own-brand beauty products. There are a lot of reasons to be hopeful, but these brands have a way to go before they are ethical from top to toe. It is hard to view Primark’s announcement, in particular, without some cynicism. It still is a driver of throwaway fashion and has come under scrutiny for the conditions in the factories where its clothes are made. Are some cruelty-free beauty products enough to counteract that?

I always wanted LeSalon to be as ethical as possible, both in terms of the products we use and the way workers are treated. We have a partnership with Nailberry because we wanted to work with a healthier nail product – and Nailberry has been formulated to be vegan, cruelty-free, breathable, moisture permeable, certified Halal, and long- wear and high-shine. We also work with Vita Liberata, whose tanning products are vegan, organic and non-toxic.

But even more crucially, our Salonettes – the trained and insured beauty therapists who go to your home to provide treatments – choose exactly when, where and how much they want to work. There are no aggressive targets or minimum hours that are often demanded of workers in the salon industry. Even though they are self employed, Salonettes get continuous free training and support – ensuring their skills are up-to-date and ever-improving.

I’m proud to say that we strive to be ethical through and through. Truly ethical beauty products are often hard to find, but we will continue to search for them and introduce them to our clients. Just as importantly, we will also continue to ensure our ethics permeate the people aspect of the business, as well as the product. We hope more brands will strive to set this standard.

About The Author: Natasha Pilbrow is COO and co-founder of on-demand beauty platform LeSalon. Not only does Natasha want to provide a beauty service that clients can easily access and enjoy, she also wants her technicians to be able to work flexibly and safely. Her mission is to use technology to create a platform that allows women to work on their own terms, honing their skills and expanding their client base under a discerning brand associated with high-end and quality treatments.

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