Ethical Beauty… Secret or Dilemma?

In all my comments over previous weeks about the potentially harmful household products that we pour down our drains, I have studiously avoided discussing the similar effects of hygiene and beauty products. Why is that? Is it because the bubbles, fragrance and silky texture enhance my bathing pleasure? Is it because my children exercise more control over my choices in this area? Or is it because we get through so much shower gel and shampoo that the price becomes all-important?

Certainly, my supermarket’s shelves bear witness to the fact that people can be more easily persuaded to buy environmentally friendly washing liquid than shampoo. As far as I can see, there are no organic beauty products on offer. And yet it stands to reason that harmful ingredients in household products are also present in beauty products – what disappears down the plughole in the bath has the same harmful effects on the natural world as what disappears out of the sink in the kitchen. Time to try organic, naturally fragranced shower gels and shampoos without harmful chemical additives, I feel (especially as my body is entering a heightened allergy phase for some reason).

But how about the make-up and all the creams and potions that promise so much? For some people, to be separated from their face cream would be a matter of life and death. I remember a friend telling me when our children were babies that she would never answer the door, not even to the postman, if she did not have all her make-up on. In those days, I thought I’d achieved something if I left the house wearing clean clothes! Mind you, I’ve never been into beauty products in the same way as many others seem to be. At a recent make-up party, I became the challenge for the hostess, when she found out that I had only ever used soap and water on my face. I left the party unconvinced and without purchasing cleanser, toner, day cream, night cream and whatever else she thought I needed.. She probably still has sleepless nights about me.

I am so sceptical about anything that claims to be age-defying. How can that be? Ageing is natural; defying ageing is not. Defying ageing depends on combinations of chemicals working their magic. Surely healthy living, drinking water, not smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation, getting enough sleep, staying out of the sun, avoiding stress – these are the natural ways to stay looking young. Just so unpopular, though. Far easier to buy an expensive potion to slap on at the end of the day to remove all the day’s excesses.

I realise I am on dangerous territory here. I am no beauty queen. And beauty is the holy grail according to the magazines in a pile by our bedside. I deserve the best product on the market “because I’m worth it”.

Is it really worth all the time and money spent researching the latest beauty-enhancing mix of chemicals so that I can look the best for my partner?
Is it really worth the damaging effect on the natural environment just because I need to look good for my job?
Is it really worth the suffering of innocent animals on whom these products are tested so that I don’t embarrass my kids in public?

I don’t think so. Maybe you do. You must hate me by now for piling on the guilt. Well, be reassured. I share that guilt. I do have one guilty secret that I feel awful about every time I use it – hair dye. A couple of years ago, I stopped using it and began to go grey naturally. It was not a good experience. I began to feel sorry for my friends and family who very obviously struggled with it. I lost confidence in myself and felt I had more to prove everywhere I went. I didn’t have what it took to go through with it. I returned to the hair dye counter for my salvation. Without it, I would now be completely grey. I’ve decided to keep going until my husband catches me up and then we can go grey disgracefully together! However, I hate being caught up into using a product that I am unhappy with. Every time I do it, I spare a thought for the rivers and oceans (as if that would make any difference).

Maybe it’s time to experiment with some natural colourings – has anyone out there got any suggestions? Do they actually work? (see, the chemical myth has cast its spell over me, too). Or any suggestions of natural creams and make-up that ‘do the job’ for you? If any of you have a product that you rate because it works and ticks all the ethical boxes, then share the secret. It’s time we began our own advertising campaign by personal recommendation.

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  • I experimented with make-up in high school, then that was it. Everyone’s just used to my real face. I have to admit I sometimes get sucked into wrinkle cream, but it’s all a scam too. Once you get used to the real you, I think it becomes more beautiful than a made-up version. And that crap is all so harmful – I’d rather live longer to be with people I live than look closer to a social norm for less time. Just say no to phthalates!

  • Kim

    I absolutely swear by Lush’s Caca Rouge henna. While I have some advantages in getting my hair really red–it’s naturally a darkened blond with reddish highlights–the key really seems to be a bit of slow, gentle warming to let all of the lawsone pigment to release, and to let it stay on as long as possible. (I leave mine on overnight, in an elaborate headdress that includes saran wrap, a towel and duct tape.)

    I used Feria dyes for years and years before I switched to henna, and I’m actually much happier with the henna. The color is more stable, the conditioning is incomparable, and as my hair grows out the root color difference is much more subtle.

    For the cosmetics, I swear by MAC–the eco cred is not the best, but a little goes a long way, they have an excellent packaging recycling program, and as a performance artist I find MAC’s longevity an essential quality. To deal with the makeup removal/skincare end, I find that Lush’s Ultrabland is truly outstanding. Again, a little goes a long way–and, it cleanses as it removes makeup, as well as being good at moisturizing in a non-oily way.

    While there are lots of amazing organic products for hair and skin, and I’m a fan of many of them, I find the solid shampoo bars, conditioners and moisturizers from Lush a godsend when I travel. You know those limitations on the amount of liquids you can have in your carry-on? Not only do the solid products get around that, they also tend to be preservative-free.

  • Lalla

    I keep going back to the oil cleansing method for my skin, as I tend to find most commercial face products simply aggravate any breakouts. For me, the best way is simple, particularly on my face. You don’t need to be suckered into expensive products – oatmeal and honey makes one of the best facial scrubs I have ever used. I will admit that I still seem to use shower gel out of habit, and I love my strawberry and ginger moisturiser; although that still has mineral oils in it.

    My main bugbear at the moment is the amount of chlorine which seems to be in the water supply – our tap water positively reeks of it. My skin turns scarlet with prolonged exposure and I would love to be able to filter it out somehow.

    I have just ordered the Caca Noir from Lush and have high hopes for it as I am trying to be virtuously chemical free from now on!

  • Sorcha

    Great article. I used to wear ‘fun’ make-up (punk, goth etc) when I was a lot younger, but since then wear very little: mascara, as my lashes are short and light, and for work just some tinted moisturiser and a bit of eye liner. As far as brands go, I love Lavera’s tinted moisturiser/foundation and also use their mascara, but I’ve yet to find a ‘green’ mascara that doesn’t end up smudged round my eyes. Does make you wonder what holds the normal ones onto your eyelashes…
    I’m experimenting with natural hair dyes at the moment, as I’ve got some mighty grey streaks now, at the ripe old age of 36. I’ve used Lush’s Caca dyes before and I’d agree that they are very good, but I’m after a brown shade so I’ve just ordered a Logona dye: they do creams and powders in a range of blond tones, browns and red, all natural. I’ll report back once I’ve tried it – here’s hoping it works. 🙂

  • Nemonie

    I second the recommendations for lush and their sister store B never too busy to be beautiful (hence known as B). They prefer to use natural, organic if possible ingredients, they also encourage the use of the least amount of packaging possible, hence their solid products. They have a recycling scheme, whereby when you return 5 of their plastic pots to the store for recycling you get a free fresh face mask. If you order from their store they package everything in recycled boxes and paper and string and use popcorn instead of polystyrene. They also have vegetarian and vegan products and won’t use anything tested on animals. All in all pretty fab. Plus most of their stuff smells divine.

  • Nicole

    I’m also a Lush fan! Always use their solid shampoos because they’ve got hardly any packaging and are great for camping (I got a free tin the other day which fits one in and I can just chuck it in my bakpack without worry that the shampoo is going to leak! Genius!). Hardly use conditioner (my hair doesn’t seem to like it…) however when I do it’s Lush’s American Cream again! It smells SO…LUSH!!

    As for creams and moisturisers… I’ve got to admit I’ve never been very good at them but I do use Lush’s Vanishing cream whihc smells lovely and is a “low-fat” moisturizer… this is good for combination skin such as mine, it lasts for ages too, although that could be because I keep forgetting to put it on!

    I’m suck on make-up though? I admit to being a naughty chemical user just because I can’t afford to swap my entire make-up collection to natural/organic/mineral make-up 🙁 any suggestions on nice make-up that’s good for me and the environment that’s not going to cost me most of my student loan to buy??

  • Helen

    I have never used anything from Lush and find the idea of a solid shampoo rather weird. But I might trial one when I go on holiday. For ethical (though not 100% green or organic) cosmetics I use Liz Earle, Dr Hauschka and Aveda. None of them are perfect but they are reasonably ethical. I look at other things besides “greenness” like how they treat their staff and customers, ethical sourcing of products etc.

  • Sheryl Fever

    I swear by Dr Hauschka face products. Their theory also is one that I believe in, that you do not need to wear night cream, as your body repairs itself at night, let nature do just that. Also have just found the most fantastic shampoo & conditioner; Tara Smith, has the BUAV logo too. The first ‘good to nature’ shampoo that lathers. Tesco stock it as well and seems to be on special a lot of the time. Have recently purchased some Beauty Without Cruelty make up items, will let you know on them.

  • I haven’t yet tried it, but Lily Lolo does mineral make-up at reasonable prices. Most of their products do not contain animal derivatives – a couple do, and these are mentioned in their FAQ page. It would be great if anyone found out about their whole ethical stance too!
    I’ve recently switched to Lavera face products and really like their Basis Face Wash which is also an eye-make up remover; although I’m using up old eye-make-up remover and haven’t tried it to remove make-up yet – but my skin loves the wash.

  • Dawn Williams

    I’ve found a company called honesty shop online their make up and cleansers are quite reasonable. If you make a donation to uncaged you can get a compassionate shopper book which lists all buav approved companies either in the high street or online. If you donate £10 you will also get a boycot P and G bag to remind you of the things not to buy when you’re out shopping. The only thing I have a problem getting is deodrant thats reasonably priced. Using co-ops own brand at moment but only 2 fragrances available. Any ideas?

  • Helen

    When I wrote this blog a few weeks back, I never dreamt it would generate such a lot of feedback. Thank you to all of you who have replied with some great suggestions. I definitely need to visit LUSH – that seems to be a firm favourite for many of you. This subject seems to be close to the hearts of many women who visit ethicalsuperstore…. trying to balance the allure of beauty products with an ethical conscience is not essy. Looking forward to hearing more from you.

  • Rachel Haigh

    I also thought Lush’s solid shampoo would be a bit weird, but it’s honestly not. You just rub it onto your scalp, massage in and it lathers up wonderfully. It lasts for ages as well, especially if it’s kept dry.

    They also do solid deodorants, but the one I bought crumbled to bits when I left it in a humid bathroom so my advice would be either to buy one of the solider ones (the one I got was a little bitty anyway, I think it was lemon?) or make sure to keep it dry.

    As to make-up, my eco-friend recommends, Aveda cosmetics, and If you want to see her amazing blog visit 🙂

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  • Nicky

    I buy the Good Shopping Guide, which rates products on many ethical areas, like their environmental report, use of GM ingredients, nuclear power, involvement in armaments, treatment of animals, etc. (And other fields such as human rights, and use of rainforest timber for applicable product groups.)

    Some gain ethical company accreditation from the organisation that produces it if they get a very high overall rating. Honesty cosmetics have this accreditation according to the latest version, and Beauty Without Cruelty aren’t far off. (Neither seem to use organic ingredients though.)

    I recently discovered Lush, and use some of their stuff because I am vegetarian(just about to try vanishing cream, fingers crossed!)- although their GSG rating isn’t as good as I would have thought for some products.

    I did not get on with their natural henna- maybe because I am blond-ish and was trying to go black! I found Herbatint via the Vegetarian Society website. It’s ammonia and alcohol free, and contains little peroxide. More natural but still effective, and comes with really good conditioner.

    For shampoo, and some skincare, I had already discovered Faith In Nature before Lush. BUAV approved and uses White Swan ecologically certified preservatives(!?)which I hope means they aren’t as lousy for the environment. You can see from most of their ingredients lists that they are from plant sources.

  • Jess Jones

    I have always been on the search for all things natural, & just love solid shampoos that are very natural very green & kind to your purse.
    So please check out
    I found them most affordable & lush xxx :O)