In-depth

Planet friendly beauty

In a week dominated by news of COP26, the British Beauty Council launched its Planet Positive Beauty Guide to help consumers think more sustainably when shopping for beauty products. What can pharmacy teams take away from this? 

The coronavirus pandemic has caused 70 per cent of consumers to be more concerned about addressing environmental challenges and more committed to changing their own behaviour to advance sustainability, according to a 2021 poll conducted by the Boston Consulting Group. 

Whilst information on sustainability dominates areas such as the food industry, when it comes to beauty, making ethical purchase choices can be difficult. Indeed, a recent study of 23,000 Cult Beauty shoppers found that almost half (48 per cent) want brands to make their values and commitments to the environment clearer.

With this in mind, the British Beauty Council’s Sustainable Beauty Coalition (SBC) has released its first Planet Positive Beauty Guide, with the aim of making the process of shopping sustainably for beauty products that little bit easier. The guide aims to decode the complicated vocabulary surrounding ethical consumerism, explains key issues and suggests important things to look out for, especially when it comes to companies ‘greenwashing’ (making misleading claims). 

"This is a code red situation," believes Jayn Sterland, managing director of holistic natural cosmetics company Weleda and chair of the SBC. "By the end of the century, we’re looking at a temperature rise of 2.7°C."

Speaking at SBC’s Planet Positive event on 2 November, Jayn added: "The beauty industry makes up three per cent of GDP in the UK and through the pandemic we have also seen that it contributes an enormous amount to the wellness and wellbeing of society and [members of the industry] need to own this influence."

For pharmacies that stock cosmetics and toiletry products, it is therefore important in this period of increasing climate awareness, to know which products can help customers make more environmentally conscious choices. 

Ingredients

In a recent poll conducted by eco-ethical haircare brand weDo, 61 per cent of the 2,000 adults surveyed struggled to tell whether haircare and skincare products were ethical by looking at their packaging. 

A lack of regulation surrounding product ingredients means that companies are allowed to make ‘green’ claims without having to add specific definitions or explanations. 

"People need to be armed with the right information, and that’s where third party authority checks come in," explains Jo Chidley, CEO and founder of Beauty Kitchen, a natural beauty company. 

The independent testing measures of these third party authorities, which include those listed in the box below, ensure quality and consistency among the brands that carry their ‘seals of approval’ on pack. 

Pharmacy staff should look for these sort of certifications as they can help to reassure customers that the brands are making their ingredient claims in an honest and transparent way. 

Packaging

As one of the biggest sustainability challenges facing industry, packaging is a key area where brands can make a difference. 

According to the National Geographic online, only 14 per cent of all packaging makes it to a recycling plant, and only 9 per cent of cosmetic packaging is recycled: the rest heads directly to landfill. 

Pharmacy teams can play a role in making it easier for their customers to recycle and reuse packaging by making careful choices when deciding which products to stock. 

You may not think this will make a big difference, but when retailers have packaging at the forefront of their buying decisions, this can impact how brands – even the biggest ones – produce and pack their products. 

The work done on this so far, for example, has resulted in many companies, including L’Oréal and packaging giant Amcor, committing to using 100 per cent recyclable packaging by 2025. 

Pharmacy staff have the ability not just to influence customers through the products they sell, but also via the advice offered at the counter. Recommendations such as making sure to finish and wash out containers before recycling the packaging can help, as can stocking brands that offer refillable or compostable/recyclable containers.

As well as being alert for the Plastic Free certification mark on packaging, look out for products that are certified as having ‘Cradle to Cradle’ principles, which ensures they are responsibly produced. In addition, on pack recycling icons help customers to identify what can and cannot be recycled at home.

Pharmacies can also get involved in the WRAP ‘Recycle Now’ campaign and become local community recycling services. For more details about this, visit the WRAP website

Seals of approval

Look out for the following seals and certifications on the products you stock. They help to ensure that brands are making honest claims.

Easy swaps

Below is a list of simple changes that pharmacy teams can encourage customers to make in order to live more sustainably.

Source: Planet Positive Beauty Guide

Jargon busting

Here’s what some of those words customers may ask about really mean:

Biodegradable: can decompose with the aid of microorganisms, but could take anything from six months to 1,000 years to break down and still be hazardous to the environment

Compostable: will break down into non-toxic components (water, carbon dioxide, and biomass) that will not harm the environment

Greenwashing: a marketing technique in which certain wording is used to persuade consumers that a company’s products and policies are environmentally friendly, when in fact, some could have a negative impact on the environment 

Microplastics: Often used in items you’d never think would contain plastic, including eyeliner, mascara, lipstick, skincare and laundry care products, these tiny pieces of plastic are often rinsed away, meaning they ultimately end up polluting seas and oceans

Cruelty-free: Developed and manufactured by methods which do not involve cruelty to animals anywhere in the world

Natural: Although widely used, the word ‘natural’ has no official legal definition, so just because a pack says a product is natural, that’s no guarantee that it is. Instead, look for products with NATRUE, COSMOS or Soil Association seals as these will have been subject to checks and verification

Palm oil: A vegetable oil extracted from fruits or kernels of palm trees. While it has its benefits, concerns have been raised about deforestation and human rights issues associated with its cultivation

PET (or PETE): a general purpose plastic material commonly used for bottles and cosmetics containers. PET is the most recycled and reusable of all plastics, but coloured PET is much harder to recycle

Polypropylene (PP): Although technically recyclable, only 1 per cent of PP is recycled globally Organic: Ingredients that have been grown and processed without the use of manufactured herbicides or artificial fertilisers

Vegan: Free-from animal derived products (including ingredients like honey and beeswax) 

Vegetarian: Free-from ingredients and production processes that are the result of animal slaughter

Zero waste: A set of principles focused on waste prevention that aims to make sure that all products can be reused

Carbon footprint: The amount of CO2 a brand or company releases into the air through its activities.

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