Sustainability is a hot topic among beauty brands these days, and for good reason, too. With more and more consumers demanding beauty products that are safe, effective and environmentally conscious, sustainability has become a point of contention—and is much more complicated than the industry wants you to believe.
So, what exactly is sustainability? Scientifically speaking, it’s the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance. Personally, this means creating something with the least impact on our earth—from animals to plants, air and water quality. And, believe it or not, how we choose to create even one beauty product may actually have more impact than you think.
According to Jessica DeFino’s recent newsletter, The Unpublishable, beauty pollution can be created from:
- the number of ingredients that go into a single beauty product (about 15 - 50)
- the environmental impact of farming, harvesting, processing, and extracting each individual natural ingredient
- the industrial production of each individual synthetic ingredient (including chemical emissions and hazardous waste disposal)
- the supply chain involved in getting all of those ingredients to a single manufacturing facility
- the industrial production of the final product
- the layers and layers of packaging for the product
- all the non-recyclable plastic parts of the product (the pump, the cap, etc)
- the distribution of the product
- the sampling of the product
- the shipping of the product (from fuel to boxes to packing materials like bubble wrap)
- the potential return of the product
- the customer use of the product (like… beauty products get washed off every night into the water supply, the soil, the animals, the earth — the us — and reapplied and re-rinsed the next day. even ingredients/contaminants that evaporate [like benzene, the topic of much misguided beauty discussion lately] don’t just disappear. they evaporate INTO THE AIR, and air pollution is a HUGE source of environmental health issues!!)
- the customer disposal of product (both the packaging and the remaining ingredients inside)
- the corporate disposal of products (it’s hazardous waste!)
- the fact that while a dress lasts for years, even “sustainable” beauty products last for mere months — the typical use and limited shelf life of beauty products means we have to repurchase, over and over and over again (example: how many cotton t-shirts have you purchased in the past year? and how many cotton sheet masks have you thrown in your trashcan?)
- the fact that a person’s daily “outfit” typically includes three or four clothing items that can be reworn but 12 personal care products that will inevitably run out
- and more!
As a beauty brand founder, this list was beyond eye-opening. In fact, I’ve struggled to overcome many of these wasteful behaviors, myself. That being said, I’ll never believe that simply using recycled packaging and donating 1% of profits to the planet—or even becoming carbon neutral—is enough. Because it’s not. We’re only skimming the surface, and in many cases, it’s a facade.
Instead, let’s do something that actually makes a difference.
At Otto Skin Goods, we’re continuously tackling the growing issue of sustainability. It’s an ongoing process of improvement that can only be achieved by recognizing our shortcomings and rising to the challenge. Here’s where we intend to start—but we’re nowhere close to finishing:
1. Encourage minimalism with skincare products.
This has always been ingrained in our brand. I’m a firm believer that your skin doesn’t need much to look its best. As someone with a medical background, I do believe a person can suffer from skin diseases such as acne, rosacea, and eczema—but I also believe that many skin diseases, allergies and sensitivities can be worsened by product overload, as well as the product itself. I believe in clinically proven active ingredients that have been backed by science to make a difference in your skin—however, I will never support layering products and active ingredients.
My motto? The fewer products, the better. Our routine contains two serums, a face oil and a cleanser. For many of you, only one or two of these products is necessary. I’m also an advocate of cleansing once a day—no more, no less. I’m not a fan of masks, toners, spot treatments and many other fad products created for no particular purpose. As a brand, we’ve spoken up against layering, championed educating yourself on ingredient labels and ensuring you’re only using one particular active ingredient in your routine.
When it comes to choosing between two products, face oil is far superior to moisturizers—not only does face oil use fewer ingredients, it’s less processed, as well. As for the sunscreen debate? With many years as a dermatology nurse practitioner under my belt, I understand the benefits of sunscreen, but it’s not something to be slathered on absentmindedly day after day, with no sunlight in sight. Many of these topics are controversial, but we will continue to ask the questions and always support a ‘less is more’ beauty routine.
2. Improve supply chains & choose ingredients with minimal impact on the environment.
Because we’re a very small brand, we’ve always created our products in small batches—but later this year, we’ll be transitioning our manufacturing to a wind-powered facility. And although I handpick every ingredient for our products and have them formulated with the utmost care, we’re working on our transparency. At this moment, every ingredient we use in our products is listed on our website with a coordinating safety rating, courtesy of the Environmental Working Group—but moving forward, we’ll be adding the source of the ingredient, as well as its measures of sustainability, such as the transportation of the ingredient, the impact of sourcing the ingredient has on the environment, and the possible harm related to the ingredient once it’s rinsed off or discarded.
Our formulations are constantly improving, not multiplying. If we come across an ingredient that’s believed to have a negative impact on the environment and is currently used in our products, we will simply reformulate and remove it. By Google searching which skincare ingredients negatively impact the environment, you’ll quickly find a few lists—but much more research needs to be done in this area. Some of the obvious offenders are oxybenzone, parabens, triclosan, sulfates, microplastics, synthetic fragrance, silicones, and the list goes on. There is definitely an overlap of ingredients considered to be harmful to both human health and the health of the environment, but this information needs to be more concise so that the ingredients can be avoided.
Another topic that’s rarely discussed is the issue of natural ingredients and their impact on the environment. Bottom line? ‘Natural’ is not always better—yep, that goes for trendy ingredients such as bakuchiol.
3. Innovate sustainable packaging.
Our packaging is mostly glass, but the droppers contain a plastic component that we’re trying to eliminate altogether. And although our boxes are made from forestry certified recycled paper, our goal is to completely eliminate the outer box in the future.
In my opinion, the best way to support the elimination of packaging waste is to support small retailers who are making an actual change. For example, refillerys like Koko in Columbus, Ohio are going to be the way of the future when it comes to finally ending the packaging waste issue. When you visit one of their five locations, you can fill up on hand soap, laundry detergent and, hopefully soon, Otto Skin Goods in upcycled bottles. Our mission is to one day introduce a bottle with scannable codes that would bring up label content on your phone without the need for an exterior box or label—but this will take some time to be approved by the FDA. We’re also working on convincing Whole Foods and other retailers to start carrying our products in bulk, with a similar concept to these refilleries. In the meantime, obtaining more retail partners will help eliminate shipping waste, as well.
4. Address self-worth and end unrealistic beauty standards.
I bet you weren’t expecting this one. If we continue to relate beauty products to becoming more worthy, then we’ll continue to over-consume products we don’t need in the race for beauty standards that are completely unachievable—not to mention, ones created by the beauty industry itself. Our goal here at Otto is to make skincare more utilitarian. Translation? Use only what’s necessary for your skin’s unique needs. As beauty brands, we have a responsibility to stop unauthentic beauty standards with the use of unrealistic models. We need to say no to unachievable messages of self-worth displayed on social media, as well as pushing the mental health crisis of our youth in the pursuit of selling more. Maybe this is a lofty goal for a tiny beauty brand such as ourselves, but I have four young children who are well worth the effort.
Skin health should always be the goal and selling products without any meaningful education to offer consumers is of no use today. At Otto, we try to educate our consumers on skin issues, ingredients, and alternatives to achieve skin health (even without products). The skincare industry is saturated, but very few brands actually put out any meaningful information to educate their consumers.
This is just the first step for us in an ongoing process to become more sustainable—it requires educating yourself, admitting what’s wrong and trying to make a change. It’s only when we start believing we’ve done “good enough” in our pursuit of sustainability that we fail. All that being said, we would love to hear from you. Being small allows us to be limber and make change more quickly. If you have a suggestion as to how we can be more earth conscious, let us know!