Can personal care brands really be carbon neutral while maintaining efficacy and looks appeal?
In the same way that empathy is no longer the commendable add-on to good parenting, watching out for the world can no longer be the sole factor in selling a serum. Solutions to the cosmetics world’s carbon output are still being sought, but there is unmistakable momentum behind moves to make the industry more circular. With social design a discipline in ascendancy, young creatives are taking on the challenge to clean up cosmetics; while mindful entrepreneurs are experimenting with ways through which to make corporal care more sustainable, yet no less desirable.
Entering the fray in February of this year was the Swedish design collective Form Us With Love (FUWL), with Forgo – a sustainability-focused bodycare line. Applying design brains to issues of circularity in the cosmetics industry, the FUWL team began with the worrisome fact that many of the products we buy are comprised of up to 80 percent water, a resource most of us have at our fingertips – and which perhaps doesn’t need to be shipped around the world with all the ensuing polluting packaging and energy-guzzling transport implications. FUWL’s answer is a sachet of dry ingredients, parcelled in paper that is topped with a compostable paper coating (as opposed to the plastic covering of sugar sachets – a hard-sought resource they found in the UK) to be released into a refillable glass dispenser and shaken at the point of use with the last required component: hot tap water. Forgo’s launch product begins as 12 grams of powder, and becomes 250 millilitres of hand soap.
Sustainability within wellbeing products is shifting rapidly now – but it just all feels a bit late, considering how simple it is to do
“What was surprising is how simple it is to make things exponentially more sustainable with small means,” says FUWL design manager and Forgo co-founder, Allon Libermann. “Marketing departments stick to the belief that consumers are only interested in personal wellbeing, so things like organic, safe and healthy are the priority, not the planet and the full lifecycle of a product. That’s shifting rapidly now. It just all feels a bit late, considering how simple it is to do.” In fact, it took two years of working with an open-minded laboratory in Montreal to bring the hand soap to market – but a deodorant, toothpaste and body cream should be added by the end of the year. Libermann is transparent about the compromises they had to make and describes it as a work in progress. “We know what needs to be done to make things more sustainably, and we know that some new things are a few years out for some of our suppliers. But we’ll get there soon,” he pledges.
In its pursuit of carbon neutrality, FUWL identified three areas to focus on: eliminating water from formulas, alongside compostable and refillable packaging. While their ongoing research has the potential to further disrupt unsustainable manufacturing practices, they’re not alone in promoting waterless and refill culture. By Humankind, a carbon neutral brand from the U.S., offers a deodorant that is refillable, and mouthwash and shampoo that have no added water. It was an early proponent of shampoo and conditioner bars which are now proliferating: Amsterdam’s Tautanz are the most recent to start crafting beautiful bars for the care of body and hair, with a manifesto to create and consume consciously.
Haeckels, the seaweed-focused skincare brand founded by former commercials director Dom Bridges, is also set to enter the waterless market with an all-natural waterless cleanser, packaged like a pill. Arguably the most earth-loving of cosmetic brands, Haeckels’ chief material is essentially surplus seaweed (the natural resource was once prone to over-running the local bay in Margate). They have developed packing materials from the parts of the seaweed left over from their processing, make packaging from biodegradeable mycelium, and paper embedded with seeds for good measure so that as waste it can also be regenerating. They reward beach-cleaners with product, and even recycled Christmas trees in January into pine-packed candles.
The great thing about many of these potion pioneers is that a design sensibility comes alongside innovation, meaning there need be no compromise on looks when consuming sustainably. And, let’s face it, if we are going to be refilling, there has to be compatibility with a container. Myro, a deodorant brand that started in the U.S. in 2018, boasts a refillable container so pleasing in colour and form it has made responsible deodorant buying a pleasure. Ryan Hanrahan of Australia’s Addition Studio has increasingly honed his design of beautiful objects towards the wellness world, and now produces waterless skincare products in sachets to be contained and mixed within his more permanent, decorative designs. Meanwhile, Perfumer H has taught us that mindful packaging can come in the form of hand-blown coloured glass jars – collectable pieces in themselves made by London-based glass craftsman Michael Ruh – designed to be returned to source and replenished.
Refillable makeup also started at a niche level, with the likes of Serge Lutens, Kjaer Weis and La Bouche Rouge bringing infinitely retainable packaging to market – and it’s now broadening out. The approach was recently adopted by Hermès, whose first foray into makeup is lipstick in a covetable, colour-blocked, replenishable container by Pierre Hardy.
The bottom line is that we won’t feel so good in our luminescent skin much longer if our beautifiers have turbocharged our carbon footprint. Forget consuming with conscience, it’s mindful manufacturing that will stop earth-shattering decisions being made at the point of sale. And, with baby steps, it looks like we could get there.