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Ethics And The Skincare Industry

Choosing what we put on our skin isn’t always the easiest choice. Go into any shop or supermarket in the UK and you can be faced with  a huge range of skincare products all boasting their own unique properties, ingredients and formulas. The UK skincare market is currently valued to be worth over 4 billion pounds a year and is growing at a rapid rate. There is also a growing demand from consumers wanting to know that the products they are using are sustainable and ethically sourced. In this blog, I’d like to examine what ‘ethical skin care’ means and how you can be fully informed next time you decide to try out something new for your skin. 

What is ethical skincare?

Over the past decade the skincare industry has come under increasing scrutiny in regards to the ethics of developing, testing, packaging and selling skincare products. Increased demand for ethical skincare has forced many businesses to rethink their practices in regards to ethics and offer customers products that aren’t just good for the consumer but also good for the planet and everyone involved. Ethics in skincare covers a wide range of topics: from the way the products are packaged, to how they are tested. 

Cruelty Free Skincare

One of the significant changes to the skincare industry has been its approach to animal testing and cruelty free products. In 2013 the European Union banned animal testing for any cosmetic products sold in Europe. Since the United Kingdom left the EU, we are no longer covered by this litigation and selling products that have been tested on animals is now legal in the UK. 

Despite the changes to UK law, it seems that there is a growing demand for cruelty free cosmetic and skincare products. This may be partially due to the number of people embracing veganism in an effort to live more sustainably. A number of leading manufacturers have made efforts to avoid animal testing on their products, but they are in a minority. So it may be worth taking a look at some of the products in your home and checking for verification of cruelty free production. The “leaping bunny” icon is used on products that have been verified to have not been tested on animals. So if animal welfare is something you value, take some time to look into what companies have made an effort to create cruelty free products, and which companies have not. 

Sustainability In The Skincare Industry

Ethical skincare doesn’t just entail how the product is made and tested, but what it is packaged in too. The environmental impact of packaging, particularly plastic has had a devastating impact on the environment. Some companies have switched to recyclable and biodegradable packing in an effort to reduce the environmental footprint of their products. 

The ingredients used in skincare products can also make a big difference to the eco footprint of an item. The skincare industry often promotes products as containing only “natural ingredients” implying that this is better for your skin and better for the environment. This however can be a fallacy. 

One of the natural ingredients in skincare products is often palm oil. Demand for palm oil has seen a devastating impact on certain bits of the world including widespread deforestation. Other oils used in cosmetic products such as soy, rapeseed and coconut oil can be just as damaging if not sourced from somewhere sustainable. It can be hard to tell which companies are making sustainable choices and which companies are just presenting themselves in such a way. Checking for certification of sustainability on the product such as the logo for the UK soil association can help identify these products. Companies that care about sustainability will usually talk about this on their website so be sure to do some research into which cosmetic brand you use and see if they give details as to where they get their “natural” ingredients from.

Fair Trade

A decade ago, most ingredients that went into skincare products were chemicals, so there was little need for certification of free trade. Today however, a large amount of skincare products that are manufactured with natural ingredients will have to source these ingredients from different manufacturers in different parts of the world. Due to this, certain skincare manufacturers are happy to ignore poor working conditions and pay in favour of cheaper ingredients for their products. 

Companies that use fair trade ingredients and components in their products will often detail this on the product. However the true mark of fairtrade verification is the fair trade logo which can only be used on products that have achieved the highest certification of fair trade practices. The extra money spent on fair trade deals are often reinvested into local community programs which provide jobs and services to parts of the world that really need them. 


With a rise in demand for ethical skincare, some manufacturers have gone above and beyond to ensure their products are ethical and sustainable. Some companies try to create the illusion they are ethical, without providing any substance behind these claims. Greenwashing is the term used to refer to when a company makes claims to be making ethical choices but fall short of creating a really positive impact. The term greenwashing actually comes from the claim certain hotels used to make saying that towels are not washed daily for environmental reasons, whereas in all honesty this was just a way of reducing their operational costs. 

It is hard to judge whether a company is using greenwashing or not. Companies will often use vague terms such as “eco friendly” as a generic way of implying the sustainability of their products but don’t offer any evidence of how their product is environmentally or ethically friendly. Companies that genuinely make an effort and care about their ethical impact will have records of their sustainability practices and verification of this. If you ask an ethical and sustainable company for proof of these practices they should be happy to provide you with proof, so be aware of this when researching if a company is greenwashing or not.


Navigating the world of ethics and skincare can be complex and it’s hard to make ethical decisions in an industry that offers so much choice. Taking time to research a company can provide insights into what they are doing to promote sustainability and good moral practice in business. Learn to recognise the fair trade and cruelty free validation, and if you’re unsure about a company’s practices take some time to verify their “eco friendly” claims before you buy. Avoid products with excess packaging that cannot be recycled and complain to companies that only offer excessive packaging. By changing our spending habits and not investing in unethical companies, together we can force the skincare industry to change for a better planet and future. 

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