The eco guide to clean beauty

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Powered by article titled “The eco guide to clean beauty” was written by Lucy Siegle, for The Observer on Sunday 31st July 2016 05.00 UTC

An umbrella term meaning organic, natural, non-toxic/safe and ethical, “clean beauty” is the next thing in the beauty industry. Sales of clean products seem to be outperforming conventional brands, many of which use unsustainable petro- chemicals. recently held the UK’s first clean beauty show.

This interest has led to a rush by giant beauty industry players to reformulate to “cleaner” ingredients. If that means phasing out microbeads and endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs, which are linked to altered reproductive function and abnormal growth and neural development in children), great. But should these be our only focus?

This is a complex issue. The US Environmental Working Group has created the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database, which lists 78,000 toxic ingredients found in products, but sustainability expert and chemist Dr Richard Blackburn at Leeds University is deeply concerned about our approach to the new global apothecary. “Not all things from nature are safe and not all synthetics are bad,” he says. He’s worried that we confuse organic and natural with non-toxic. Some brands advertise the use of natural ingredients when they are not sustainable. He singles out Aveda as a brand that balances real sustainability with green chemistry. For clean beauty to be more than just a fad, it must be sustainable.

We’ll need more products like the Pure Super Grape skincare range developed by Blackburn’s University of Leeds spinoff, Keracol, with M&S. They contain 95% natural ingredients, sure, but the range uses waste grape skins from M&S English wine production so it has a sustainable supply chain. Clean beauty shouldn’t just be skin deep, but also planet deep.

The big picture: the rhino-horn trade debate

Horns of a dilemma: the Rhino trade debate, featuring lovely rhinos like this one.
Horns of a dilemma: the Rhino trade debate. Photograph: Shaul Schwarz

According to 1,175 rhinos were killed in 2015. On 3 August the Royal Institution pits Will Travers, co-founder of the Born Free Foundation and chairperson of the Species Survival Network (SSN), against John Hume, who established the world’s largest private rhino breeding operation, in the debate ‘Should the global trade of rhino horn be legalised?’ Travers is against, Hume for. Both are conservationists. Buy tickets at

Well dressed: fair trade gold at Argos

Good as gold: a Fairtrade 9ct gold wedding ring.
Good as gold: a Fairtrade 9ct gold wedding ring. Photograph: PR Company Handout

It’s hard to conceive of a substance as tainted as gold. Small-scale gold mining employs 90% of all miners but produces just 15% of gold. It is notorious for hellish conditions, subsistence pay and a chronic eco profile. Over the past decade activists have fought to bring about a Fairtrade gold standard that would help these producers have a better life and some future. The road to get Fairtrade gold has been a tortuous process in itself (ethical jeweller and environmental activist Greg Valerio tells the tale best in his book Making Trouble). It remains contentious, but there are signs of improvement. I never thought I’d see the day when you could walk into Argos and buy a Fairtrade-stamped gold ring, but from this month Argos becomes the first UK high-street shop to offer just that.

Email Lucy at or follow her on Twitter @lucysiegle © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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