With language like “circular” and “climate-positive” swirling around the best sustainable beauty brands of 2022 (not to mention reports that 76% of consumers are now seeking out sustainable products), this is the year to consider your relationship with “wish-cycling.” If you haven’t heard the term, you might already be doing it. “Tossing stuff in the curbside bin and hoping for the best” is how Mia Davis, Credo’s VP of impact and sustainability, defines it.
That said, the problem starts long before your wish-cycling. “Brands and municipal recycling facilities don’t usually offer guidance, and a lot of plastic beauty packaging doesn’t even have resin identification code on it,” says Davis, pointing out that in 2018, an estimated 120 billion units of cosmetics packaging were produced globally. “Most beauty products are packaged in plastic—think of all of the plastic compacts, lipsticks, squeezable tubes, jars, caps, and pumps…but only about nine percent of plastic is recycled.” When the rest is incinerated, landfilled, or dumped, and consumers are scream-requesting that Big Beauty recognizes and reforms its role in this wasteful cycle, industry experts are addressing the issue in a number of ways. Credo’s Sustainable Packaging Guidelines require brands to share accurate disposal instructions with customers, plus eliminate single-use packaging. That means no more sheet masks, makeup wipes, treatment pads, or tiny sample packets (an industry first, according to Davis).
Packaging isn’t the only thing that makes a product circular or conscious when factors like production methods, clean energy, harvesting techniques, and ingredient sourcing all play into a mission to improve wasteful or unethical practices. Even creating a refillable option for hard-to-recycle categories (like fragrance bottles, which many beauty-focused programs like Beautycycle don’t accept) is a step in the right direction. At brick and mortar locations for Krigler Perfumes, for example, teams reuse and refill vessels. “Ship or bring back empty bottles and we can recycle them—and our stores are also trained to refill bottles,” explains Ben Krigler, fifth-generation perfumer for the storied house worn by American royals like Grace Kelly (Chateau Krigler 12, credited as a “lucky charm” after her Oscar win), Jackie O (Lovely Patchouli 55), and John F. Kennedy (America One 31). Plus, they’ve considered a circularity gap in one lucrative category: “Our scented candles are eco-friendly,” says Krigler of the non-GMO soy wax blends. “We can also refill them for our clients—with the same scent or a different one.” If luxury brands are considering the long game, the hope is that it soon goes mainstream.
Below, an assortment of products that are stepping (with large and small strides) into the sustainable future:
For Chanel’s just-launched eco-responsible approach to beauty, the French house’s new N°1 De Chanel Revitalizing Cream is made from 95% natural ingredients. New bio-based packaging is clearly marked for each component, like a refillable container made of glass and a cap that includes biocomposite from Camellia husks and wood by-products.
Housed in a 100% recyclable tube, Augustinus Bader’s eye cream, rich in vitamin C and niacinamide, is created with sustainably sourced botanicals and bio-engineered actives. Even the recyclable box is made from renewable plant fibers. Pop it in its ceramic base, or simply carry it on its own for a truly minimalistic beauty approach.
An eco-forward option thanks to lighter packaging and shipping footprint, waterless shampoo ingredients work just as well when activated in the shower. Viori (of TikTok rice water fame) keeps a running tally of the (nearly 3 million) plastic bottles they’ve kept from the ocean, as well as the hundreds of thousands of gallons of water saved. Five percent of the proceeds are donated to initiatives that support the Red Yao tribe’s community in the Huanglo mountains of China.
Launched as their first refillable product, Tata Harper Skincare’s Water-Lock Moisturizer features airtight packaging and a 100% recyclable refill pod. Now, their signature green glass packaging only needs to be shipped to you once.
The main bioactive ingredient in this cleanser, olive leaf extract, is a byproduct (meaning otherwise unusable) from a family-run California farm’s olive harvest. Circumference utilizes the olive leaves that would have otherwise been biowaste to carefully (and with a chemical-free method) extract potent actives, then returns the mulch to the farm to be used as compost for a circular production system.
Le Prunier’s best-selling beauty oil can be used as a multipurpose moisturizer, though the entire recipe relies on a single ingredient. Formulated using upcycled plums, the fruit is sourced from a fourth-generation family farm.
In 2022, Korres will open its in-store recycle lab in New York City, though they already use 90% recyclable packaging and have picked up over 25,000 pieces of plastic in less than a year at their Athens-based recycle lab. The brand also supports over 1,000 Greek farming families by purchasing 100% of their plant materials from Greek farmers before extracting actives (often from already-discarded vineyard grapes) at a zero-waste lab, then returning any unused plant matter to the soil as fertilizer.
Salwa Peterson shares that 100% of the electricity used to produce her products is green, 100% of the water is “cleaned and returned to nature,” 100% of vegetable trash is composted, 100% of packaging is recyclable, and 100% of paper is FSC certified. The women who respectfully harvest the organic Chébé seeds in the line’s hair cream are paid three times the local salary, and 2% of proceeds go to African Parks Network, which manages 20 National Parks across the continent for a partnership that’s helped them, technically, reach carbon-negative status.
To create an atmospheric version of their fragrance worn by Jackie Onassis, Krigler infused it into non-GMO soy wax. Poured into hand-made glass by French artisans, the vessel is designed to be reused again and again. Once the candle is at the end of its life, Krigler locations will refill the glass with the scent of your choice.
Made from clean ingredients with sustainability in mind, La Perla’s new probiotic body lotion serum pump can be swapped out of its sculpted base.
A marriage of high fashion and forward-looking logic, Hermès’s blush refill comes with a tiny key that can be inserted to pop out the powder pan and replace it with a new one. Perfect for the consumer who isn’t ready to forgo design for a category as aesthetically focused as beauty.
For Rihanna’s invisible SPF, the niacinamide-powered broad-spectrum formula is stamped with Sephora’s clean seal of approval. It also now comes in a refillable container that can be used on its own for a more travel-friendly sunscreen format.
Glow Recipe has built a reputation for adorable packaging, so it makes sense that the brand launched refills so that fans never have to throw them away. The Plum Plump Hyaluronic Acid moisturizer’s clean formula also received reviews from 100% of consumer study subjects that it kept skin dewy and hydrated all day.
Long celebrated for clean mineral formulas, Jane Iredale was a leader in the refillable complexion category. Recyclable aluminum tins of pressed powder can be swapped in and out of lightweight compacts for easy transport.
An industry favorite for thoughtful design, Byredo offers a set of their refillable brow pencil and cartridge. Once the last bits have been used, empty refills can be dropped into Nordstrom’s Beautycycle bin.
Dior’s Rouge Dior line of lipsticks is refillable (and recently relaunched with more natural ingredients). For those avoiding lipsticks for masking purposes, consider the crystal clear balm.
The Organic Pharmacy launched its Diamond Refillable Collection last year for bestsellers like their eye cream. Easily popped into its glass container, the formula combines rose flower water and diamond powder for a hydrating, soft-focus effect.
Launched this week, the Everyday Humans oil cleanser (that doubles as an exfoliator) is designed to remove SPF and fight sun damage thanks to upcycled green fig extract. Repurposed fig stones that would have been food waste are pressed into an antioxidant-rich extract that’s packed with vitamin C.
Charlotte Tilbury’s cult-favorite Magic Cream (which was initially inspired by a home recipe she would use behind the scenes on models like Kate Moss) now features an entire refill set. Brands housing products in glamorously heavy lucite jars, take note.
For its 97% naturally derived scents, St. Rose also upcycles ingredients. Petals that create rose concentrate (a fragrance staple) are typically discarded—instead, St. Rose captures its “smokier” rose essence by saving them and distilling the petals a second time, while sawdust from a Moroccan furniture business using wood from the Atlas mountains is saved and turned into cedarwood atlas notes. Both are present in their Vigilante eau de parfum. With its recycle program, empty bottles can be returned for customer credit on a next purchase.
While the full version features a luxury glass, zero-plastic, refillable bottle, this refill wash comes in what the brand describes as “the world’s first compostable refill” designed to biodegrade in six weeks with industrial composting.
Saalt shares that the average person using disposable products uses approximately 16,900 tampons in their lifetime, when a single menstrual cup can last up to ten years. After teaming up with rePurpose Global, they’re slated to be the first period care brand to certify as Plastic Negative (a step beyond neutral) by pledging to remove twice as much waste from the environment as is generated in their supply chain by funding the cleanup of low-value plastic waste. Plus, those funds support recycling programs for impoverished communities affected by plastic waste and provide higher-paying jobs for waste workers.
An exponentially less wasteful alternative to makeup wipes, Face Halo’s dual-sided, reusable rounds are safe for sensitive, reactive skin types thanks to pH neutrality—plus compatible with preferred cleansers. Lasting for up to 200 wash cycles (a year or more), the brand also offers a circular option for end-of-life with its launch of Modern Merch, where a team of local designers hand stitch upcycled Face Halos onto garments.
Youth to The People created an extra-large refill size for its pH-balanced cleanser that’s become a favorite for even sensitive skin types. It’s also stamped with Sephora’s Clean + Planet Positive seal, which means that ingredients that are harmful to both humans and the planet are left out, and brands are active in climate commitments and environmental giving.
Thanks to super-concentrated formulas, one bottle of powdered hair wash is the equivalent of four liquid-based formulas. Sephora stamped the line’s fragrance-free launches with their Clean + Planet positive seal of approval, and Susteau notes that removing the emulsification process during manufacturing alone eliminates over 90% of the energy in the product life cycle of traditional liquid shampoo and conditioner. Formulations are biodegradable, and bottles are made with over 95% ocean-bound, recycled plastic, and can be recycled curbside.
Bathing Culture’s concentrated mind and body wash (which lasts longer than traditional liquid soaps) has become such a favorite for its clean ingredients and ethical production that it now offers an entire gallon-sized refill. It’s also biodegradable, made with certified organic ingredients, and the rainbow glass packaging is what the industry calls “counter-worthy.”
While Susanne Kaufmann’s glass bottles fall into the industry’s aforementioned “counter-worthy” category, the refill system cuts carbon emissions by 69%. Designed with 75% post-consumer material, refill bags can be recycled after use.
With a 100% post-consumer paper-wrapped box and compostable cellophane, Ayond’s dreamy natural formulas are delivered consciously, though the brand takes it a step further with a recycling program. Save the original box, then gather caps, pumps, and droppers, request a shipping label, and they’ll take it from there.
Disposable masks are no longer an acceptable form of self-care to many in the industry. Dieux, instead, offers a 100% medical-grade silicone alternative that can be used daily without adding to the waste cycle.
A plant-based, color-changing blush oil that reacts to your skin’s natural pH, Youthforia’s formulas are USDA BioPreferred (meaning they’re made with fewer fossil fuels than traditional formulas for a smaller carbon footprint) and recyclable through Terracycle.
Model Miranda Kerr launched her Kora Organics brand with a focus on 100% certified organic ingredients, though the many products with refillable packaging have brought the brand recent recognition. The Vitamin C Eye Cream refill is praised in reviews for cutting cost—and waste.
Certified free of all microplastics and technically zero-waste, Superzero’s waterless formulas also use compostable bio-wrappers made from beer industry leftovers and make an effort to upcycle food waste like blueberry seed oil (from the juicing industry) in their hand balm bars.
Using proprietary native plants to support biodiversity and improve soil on their regenerative farms in Costa Rica is step one for Thrive Natural Care, which also packages its products in plants like this tube, made from sustainably sourced sugarcane from Brazil. BodyShield 50 features medicinal plant oil with anti-inflammatory skin benefits, and the brand was awarded an Amazon Launchpad Innovation Grant for its mineral SPF formula and its regenerative business model.
A project of Jada Pinkett Smith (who acts as the face of the brand, its creative director, and its co-founder), Hey Humans products are packaged in “infinitely recyclable” aluminum and paper. The clean formulas are also naturally-derived and designed to be gender-neutral.
With free-range mint sourced sustainably from 4th-generation farmers in Oregon, Hello offers another addition to the waterless category of the future. Their toothpaste tablets shake around in a recyclable, reusable tin jar that requires less energy and carbon emissions for shipping and storage.
The Taos-based brand runs on 100% renewable solar energy, and recognizes water as a precious resource, making 97% of their clean line waterless, or “anhydrous” as they say. Products are housed in FSC Certified paper and recyclable through Terracycle.
“Check out MOB Beauty,” Davis suggests of the line founded by Victor Casale, an original MAC team member. “Their packaging is simple and beautiful, sustainable and refillable.” The compacts are reusable and created with post-consumer recycled PET, which the brand notes is the most easily recyclable resin.
Made out of 99.7% pure aluminum, the tubes used for Everist products are single-use plastic free and recyclable. The super-concentrated formulas rely on biodegradable ingredients, and the line’s small carbon footprint is offset to be neutral.
Cleo + Coco’s zero-waste deodorant bar (which includes charcoal without triggering a detox process) arrives in biodegradable FSC certified packaging, wrapped in compostable paper. It comes with a reusable storage bag, and the bottom consists of a wax mold (for gripping) that can be recycled, reused, or absorbed safely back into the earth.
ANISA’s beauty tools are created with closed-loop manufacturing and committed to producing with 20% reduced landfill waste and scrap reduction, 50% recycled water (treated and released with a pH6 level), and 80% improved electrical efficiency with LED lighting.
Already an industry favorite for style-lengthening products (like dry shampoo), Klorane designed this innovative 2-in-1 mask to control oil while boosting volume and detangling. Made with 72% less packaging in a 100% recyclable, FSC-certified box, production requires four times fewer CO2 emissions, three times less energy, and two times less water than their traditional liquid version.
AmaSea Beauty’s line depends on the ocean and supports restorative ocean farming and coastal conservation. Founder Antoinette Marquez is an ocean conservationist working to protect a kelp forest off the coast of Santa Barbara and practices ocean stewardship with PharmaSea to maintain and restore coastal marine habitats.
Touting itself as “the world’s first zero-waste mascara,” Izzy’s mascara is reusable, recyclable, and CarbonNeutral®. Thanks to a medical-grade stainless steel tube designed to be refilled again and again, once the formula runs out, it can be dropped in a multi-use mailer (where even the shipping process is zero-waste).