A Follow up to the Beauty Industry and the Environment
By: Bridget Bartos
November 16th, 2023
Originally Published: November 29, 2019
This article appears as part of The Current’s “Throwback Thursday” series.
As someone who is a very minor beauty guru and a very major environmental activist, writing about natural beauty products made sense. I was able to talk to Rachel Nussbaum, a freelance beauty journalist and author of the upcoming book Cellophane — all about the dark side of the beauty industry.
After getting her dream job as a magazine journalist for a magazine, Nussbaum began to discover just how dark the beauty industry’s dark side was. “That’s when I started seeing, covering all these stories day in and day out, all of the really unsavory aspects of…beauty that the beauty media world could not cover because it was at odds with the interest of the advertisers who kept the lights on,” Nussbaum said.
But according to Nussbaum, the beauty industry is making a move in the right direction. For example, some companies are looking to move away from ingredients like palm oil, which according to Nussbaum is in almost everything.
“Especially with the deforestation in New Guinea with palm oil. That’s having a massive, really horrible impact on the rainforests and those really necessary ecosystems,” Nussbaum said. She also said that companies are looking to move toward coconut oil, but it’s a work in progress. If it is not done with fair trade, then it won’t work at all.
“Anything if you source it without fair trade is going to wreck everything, but if you go through the right avenues then it’s okay,” Nussbaum said. “The downside of that is it can be more expensive.”
According to Nussbaum, synthetic palm oil is a great alternative to both palm and coconut oil: “With things like palm oil actually, synthetic palm oil is a great alternative because it doesn’t [screw] with everything.”
But what does mess with everything is when big time companies don’t practice fair trade. According to Nussbaum, fair trade is tough.“You go to CVS and the drugstore and things are so cheap and when it seems like it works it’s like ugh, why would I have to pay more than like twelve dollars for anything when I can get it and it’s good for me,” Nussbuam said.
But, this comes with a drastic downside. “When you just take things at how cheap they are, inevitably someone’s getting shafted on the supply line,” Nussbaum said. And that someone could be anyone from manufacturers to workers. Overall, however, the beauty industry is making a turn for the better.
“The beauty industry is coming, like, in leaps and bounds. These two past years especially in that they are finally catching up to the consumer demand for products that don’t [screw] over the environment,” Nussbaum said.
According to Nussbaum, most beauty products are packaged in levels and levels of plastic that you throw away, but companies who are zero waste try and prevent that. “In addition to being made out of sustainable materials like glass…natural fibers like bamboo and corn…zero waste avoids all of those end user pitfalls,” she said.
Even beauty salons are making a change for the better. Places like Green Circle Salons are working to reduce beauty waste and make salons more sustainable.
“Circle Salons provides the world’s first, and North America’s only, sustainable salon solution to recover and repurpose beauty waste ensuring that we can help keep people and the planet beautiful,” said Green Circle Salons rep Jess Dempsey. According to Dempsey, Circle Salons helps beauty salons move closer to zero waste.
“Our program allows salons to repurpose and recover up to 95% of their beauty waste. Beauty Waste is everything that has previously gone into the trash – including the recycling ‘basics’ like paper and plastic, as well as salon specific materials like hair, foils, excess hair color, and more,” Dempsey said.
And why is making our salons green so important? The answer is simple, but terrifying: the extreme amount of waste that’s created by them.
“The salons in North America created over 421,000 lbs of beauty waste every day,” Dempsey said. “Clients can feel confident in their choices when they visit a Green Circle Certified Sustainable salon because over 95% of the waste created with their visit will be responsibly purposed and recycled.”
According to Dempsy, being a member is making an actual difference by keeping over 1 million pounds of waste out of both landfills and waterways each year. And this is making an impact on the beauty community.
“North American salons generate over 877 pounds of waste per minute without any way to recycle – that’s 421,000 pounds per day heading needlessly to landfills. If you think about what’s left over at the end of a hair appointment, you can begin to really understand that a lot of waste is created for the planet,” Dempsey said.
Simply choosing a Green Circle Salon, or checking up on beauty reviews on beauty blogs, Instagram and Reddit can help you find out which companies are doing the right thing.
Bridget Bartos is a senior studying media marketing journalism with a double minor in public relations and graphic design. With her love for writing and public speaking, she hopes to work in public relations or marketing after graduation. Along with her love for writing, she enjoys art, photography, and social media. Speaking of which, follow her on Instagram @bridgetbart or on twitter @bridget_bartos.