Beauty with a Conscience

I have an inner-princess who wants to be gorgeous and beautiful. I’m guessing you probably do too and, hey, I’m sure you guys have an inner-prince as well!

So, this post isn’t about me telling you that it doesn’t matter how you look, or advocating that we go around unkempt, unwashed and smelly. Or that make-up and hair-dye is evil.

What I do want us to think about though is the nature of the products we use in this area. I’m not going to go into a long diatribe here about the problems with conventional beauty products (there are plenty of details elsewhere on the internet), but I simply want to highlight that those problems exist:

  • Packaging. This is so obvious I hardly need say more: (nearly) everything we use comes in a plastic bottle and we are using and producing vast amounts. It’s not good enough to say, ‘well we can recycle them’, because the process of recycling itself is energy-intensive. Far better not to produce that plastic in the first place.
  • Chemicals. Conventional beauty products use a dizzying array of chemicals, a number of which are known to be bad for us. Again, you can find more details elsewhere, and maybe you’re happy putting lots of chemicals into your body (skin absorbs remember), but I know I’m not, and I don’t want my kids to do so either. Even if I was, I wouldn’t be happy knowing that those chemicals were being washed away down the sink and entering the natural world in various ways.
  • Palm oil. Palm oil is a massive problem because of the deforestation that has taken place and is still occurring in Asia and Africa to make room for its vast plantations. The abuse of indigenous people’s land rights, huge forest fires (and I mean huge: I remember being in Singapore for a week some years ago and I didn’t see the sun once because of the haze from the fires in Indonesia), and declining species (including of course the orang utan) are all part of the palm oil issue. Palm oil is in pretty much every conventional beauty product and so it can be very hard to avoid for those of us who care about these issues.
  • Animal testing. Huge progress has been made on this and a complete ban on beauty products that have been tested on animals is now in place for the whole of the EU, New Zealand, Israel and India (and also the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo). However, if you are reading this from any other country then this is still an issue for you.
  • Cultural expectations. I find this bit really hard, because who am I to tell you what you should or shouldn’t want to look like? All I know is that the beauty industry itself spends an awful lot of money telling us how we should look, and we spend an awful lot of money trying to conform to what they tell us.

So What Do We Do?

The good news is that there are all sorts of alternatives and it is pretty easy to substitute our conventional beauty products for ones that help us avoid the issues above. And, unless we’ve been buying real cheapo products, they really don’t have to be more expensive (although sometimes they are).

For the high street, I don’t think you can beat Lush. They are ethical superstars and really minimise their packaging. I also like Neals Yard Remedies and use their facial products a lot, but a quick trip around the internet will show you many other companies you can use too.

My latest discovery is a fantastic business and social enterprise called Carishea, which works with communities in Ghana where women harvest sustainable shea nuts to produce butter. This is then hand-crafted into luxurious products by workers from disadvantaged communities in Scotland. I’ve been trying out some of their products recently (as you can see in the picture) and they’re really nice!

Some of us might want to go a step further and try making our own things or avoiding some types of products altogether. As a result of reading around for this post, for example, I’m currently experimenting with not using conventional shampoo or conditioner at all. Maybe in a later post I’ll let you know how I get on…

The point of it all though is to live in ways that do as little damage as possible to this world and all its inhabitants, both human and other-than-human, and that might even do a bit of good. This applies to what we do to our inner-princess as much as to anything else, so go on, treat her to some ethical loveliness!