As part of my New Year’s resolution I commitment myself (again) to be a more conscious consumer. I do this most years but I tend to put in place some structure so it’s easier to stick to my goals. This year I focussed on simple swaps. I love this idea because simple swaps are easy to integrate into your life, as opposed to setting an unrealistic resolution that you’ll never keep.
I figured out what swaps I wanted to make by doing an exercise recommended by my business mentor. She told me to start by writing 4 lists: 1) What gives me energy, 2) What drains me, 3) What do I want to be remembered for, and 4) My bucket list. I’ll write a blog post about this in a little more detail for those of you that are interested in doing it yourself – it’s a really fun exercise and you can learn a lot about yourself.
Simple swaps to change my routine
Over the years I’ve implemented a TON of swaps, such as cotton wool balls for reusable bamboo pads, plastic razors for a bamboo safety razor, and disposable sanitary products for eco alternatives. The list also gave me a kick up the bum and was a reminder to myself to continue buying pre-loved (as most my furniture and clothes are!), decrease my meat intake, and continue getting in the sea every day.
The idea is that I’ll drastically decrease (or completely eliminate) things in my life that are negative or don’t add value, and incorporate more of the things that make me happy and more productive. Some swaps are harder than others but I’m aiming for those slips to be the exception, not the rule. This way I have more of a chance of achieving my goals, rather than going cold-turkey.
Why should we care about ethical beauty?
I always try and be a conscious consumer and regularly educate myself on what brands are up to from a corporate social responsibility perspective. I run a business and studied Green Marketing almost 10 years ago during my undergraduate degree, so it’s something I’ve always been interested in.
Like so many other people in Cornwall, I get in the sea almost every day. Spending so much time in the water, it’s only natural that you want to protect the very place that brings you so much joy. I’m passionate about reducing plastic pollution and working towards and zero waste lifestyle but there’s always more to be done.
About 2 years ago though I made an effort to clear up my acne-prone skin and started reading about what ingredients are in our skincare products. I wanted to better understand my products so I knew what would cause a breakout, so I could avoid it in the future.
I learnt a lot about my skin and all the nasty ingredients in my skincare. There isn’t a chance I’ll buy moisturizer or a cleanser now without reading the ingredient list thoroughly. I remember hearing somebody saying this about 3 years ago and I didn’t believe them but now I completely get it.
I started reading the ingredient list on my haircare, labels in my fridge and bottles in my cleaning cupboard. That’s when I knew things had to change. Ultimately, I switched to 100% natural alternatives for almost every consumable our home and eat mostly whole foods. This also helps me lead a more minimal lifestyle because, for example, we now only have an all-in-one soap in the shower (eliminating a ton of clutter and unnecessary plastic!).
What do I look for when shopping?
Needless to say, I’m a super fussy shopper now. My entire makeup bag is very compact (smaller than my phone!) and I have a few select skincare products. I’ve stopped buying into marketing hype and worked out exactly what ingredients I wanted and which I needed to avoid (which is a different kettle of fish), then researched which brands had the same core values as I do. I listed some of the important ones below:
♻️ Recyclable – Reducing plastic pollution is incredibly important. There are so many sustainable packaging solutions, there isn’t really an excuse to buy a brand that doesn’t have an environmental mission.
🐷 Vegan – In my experience, vegan products tend to have less nasty chemicals and preservatives in. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but generally, these brands values sit together.
🦧 Palm-Oil free – I tend to steer away from brands that use palm oil. If a brand is certified in sourcing palm oil sustainably then I’ll consider it, otherwise it’s too much of a battle to find the truth. Usually if you have to look too hard, it’s not the answer you want.
🌍 Fair-trade – This one is really important if you’re looking at buying raw ingredients. I use a lot of shea butter, aloe vera and oils. I always make sure that they’re fair-trade.
🌿 Organic – There’s no point putting moisturiser on your skin every day if it’s full of pesticides. Always try and buy organic. Again, this is really important when buying oils.
💉 Cruelty-free – Another no-brainer. It’s illegal to test on animals in the UK but it’s not illegal to test on animals in other countries, such as China. I personally don’t support brands that do this.
Naming and shaming popular brands that test on animals (sorry, not sorry): Garnier, Clean & Clear, L’Oreal, Rimmel, Chanel, TRESemmé, Sephora, Pantene, John Frieda, La Mer, Estée Lauder, Mac, Maybelline, Benefit, Lancome, Clinique. Find out if a brand is cruelty-free by doing a quick Google Search.
Beyond the green-washing
Corporate social responsibility isn’t enough. Brands green-wash all the time, pretending they’re doing great for the environment when in reality it’s just a marketing push. I see companies doing this all the time, bragging about how much they care about the environment but they’re putting microbeads in their products which just add to the plastic pollution issue we’re tackling.
Here are some of the main culprits that you shouldn’t be buying:
Silicones are on the ingredient list of so many conditioners that are found in supermarkets and drugstores. They are also really bad for your hair and ultimately end up washing down into our drains and into the oceans, accumulating inside of wildlife. I’ve avoided these for years but sadly people are still using them. Invest in natural oils instead or buy in a natural conditioner.
Brands are getting a bit better at weeding silicones out but Pantene still has it in their products and so does both John Frieda and TRESemmé (except their Natural range but I still wouldn’t want to support them as a company, personally). All of these brands are not cruelty-free so it’s a double-no.
It’s not just silicones that are bad… Fragrances, parabens and sulphates are just some of the bad and unnecessary ingredients you’ll find in some cosmetics. They can strip your body from its natural oils and parabens have even been linked to cancer. Read the label and make sure you avoid them.
Ethical Brands to Support
It sounds like a minefield, right? I’m still trying to understand a lot of it myself and it’s not easy, but I’m just doing my best to make conscious decisions. I’m mostly using raw ingredients now (you can read about it here) but there are some brands that I’d recommend to anyone looking to become a more conscious consumer but they’re not ready to go completely natural, or they need to find a good non-toxic sunscreen etc.
Switching to raw natural ingredients still comes with its challenges. You need to find a trusted supplier, otherwise, you can end up buying ingredients that aren’t pure. This can end up defeating the purpose of going natural, as often companies dilute the product or add harmful ingredients such as alcohol, microbeads or irritating essential oils. I always buy my oils* and soaps from Naissance because I know I can trust that their products are high-quality, have been sourced ethically, and are always reasonably priced.
*Whilst I’m not a fan of putting essential oils on my face (because most of them don’t add any benefit), I use essential oils for other things, such as creating room sprays or adding a couple of drops into a natural deodorant.
Whilst finding natural alternatives usually work out for the best, my temperamental acne-prone skin doesn’t always agree. I suffer from oily skin so I need a good cleaner than doesn’t strip my skin but has ingredients in it that will balance my skin’s pH. I’m really careful when choosing skincare for my face because I know how just one bad ingredient can give me spots for weeks that ultimately end up leaving hideous scars.
I started using Gallinee a couple of months ago, after struggling to find a brand that ticked all the boxes from an ethical perspective and was kind to my skin. Luckily, Gallinee has no nasty ingredients and it’s suitable for sensitive skin (and that’s coming from someone who’s permanently has a tomato face!). I love that Gallinee focuses not just on taking the nasties out but also why what they’ve put in there is so good for your skin.
Going 100% natural isn’t always possible. I particularly found this to be an issue when looking for a good SPF. It might seem a little excessive, but 90% of ageing comes from the sun and obviously I want to protect myself from cancer, so I wear it every day. I wanted to make sure I was using a sunscreen that was suitable for sensitive skin, non-comedogenic and kind to the environment. That’s when I started using Green People sunscreen.
I’ve been a fan of this brand for about 8 years or so because I like their products, they have clean ingredients and they have a strong environmental mission. I really love how transparent they are and how readily available their products are at natural stores such as Holland and Barret. They have different products depending on your skin type, as well as a huge range of makeup and men’s products, too.
Switching to 100% natural makeup was one of the most satisfying things I did. I dumped all my old cosmetics that were out of date (… and probably full of bacteria) then replaced everything. Changing my makeup was the perfect time to minimise my beauty routine, too. We’re moving house soon so I’ve been doing a lot of de-cluttering but I’ve been trying to move to a more minimal lifestyle for a while.
Beneco is an affordable organic beauty brand that offers natural products, free from synthetic products. One of the things I really love about Benecos is their refillable palette. This means most of my makeup fits in this one product and then I can just refill it which means it’s super low-waste, too (and recyclable). Having one personalised multi-use palette for bronzing, contouring, my eyebrows and eye shadow is so much better than a mess of products. This means all the makeup I own fits neatly into this little bag – perfect for travelling!
Faith in Nature
Switching to using an all-in-one bar for your hair and body is a challenge. It doesn’t come easy initially, and it feels a bit odd only having a bar of soap in the shower. That said, I’m so glad I made the switch and I’ve made a positive step towards significantly reducing my plastic consumption. The hardest thing to give up was my conditioner. I missed the feeling of silky soft hair as I waited for my hair to adjust to my new routine.
For those of you that aren’t ready to cut conditioner out of your routine but you still want to be a conscious consumer, I recommend Faith in Nature. This is another brand I was first introduced to about 10 years ago. They don’t use any nasty chemicals, they have a strong environmental mission, and their products smell incredible. I still have this conditioner for when my hair needs an extra glug of hydration. Fun fact: Their natural shampoo and conditioners are made with fresh water from the Lake District!