Last month, a pregnant whale washed ashore in Sardinia, her stomach filled with 49 pounds of plastic. At the current rate, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050.

The global beauty industry is a major contributor to this ugly story — last year, the industry produced over 140 billion units of plastic, most of which ended up in the ocean or in landfills.

Sadly, much of the new investment has gone into companies that can achieve the kind of margins only possible with low-cost plastic packaging — particularly influencer-driven, high-growth brands targeting Millennials, and subscription box companies, which allow consumers to sample many brands for a small monthly fee.

As these new companies successfully blitzscale, so does the plastic. And so do the chemicals, linked to environmental pollution and human disease, found in many of their formulas.

I know this all too well because I run a green beauty business. One of the biggest contributors to climate change is deforestation, and a new body of research shows that a practice called agroforestry — sustainably harvesting assets from the forest, such as rare superfoods and oils for the skincare industry — can help communities protect wilderness areas while also moving out of poverty. It seemed like a win-win: my company would bring rare ingredients to luxury beauty counters, and communities living adjacent to wild trees would benefit from sustainable agroforestry income.

But I didn’t bet on my industry’s plastic or toxic chemical dependence.

Let’s start with plastics. To play ball as an indie brand with major retailers, you must produce samples at a massive scale. One major retailer made clear in early negotiations that we’d need to produce 100,000 single-use packette samples, for no extra charge, to get on counter for a nationwide launch. Several subscription box companies offered partnerships that would keep my business afloat, but at the cost of hundreds of thousands of sample tubes.

I was deeply torn. I’d taken investment from friends and family, and had borrowed against my home to fund my business. It was devastating to imagine that I’d let everyone down and lose their money by saying no to the biggest opportunities available to a young brand. At the time, it was clear that we’d go under if I didn’t take the larger orders.

So I signed the deals. And my company became part of the plastics problem.

Harder still is avoiding the so-called "Dirty Dozen" worst cosmetics ingredients known to cause damage to humans and the environment. It’s nearly impossible to find skincare labs willing to formulate without formaldehyde-releasing preservatives and artificial fragrance, even though both are linked to severe health problems.

The biggest beauty retailers still fill most of their shelves with products containing the "Dirty Dozen," making it extremely hard for clean brands to compete for consumer attention. A few new retailers, including Credo, Detox Market, and the zero-waste Package Free Shop take a different approach, banning toxic ingredients and unsustainable packaging entirely— but these outlets represent less than 1% of US beauty sales.

Why, in 2019, have we made poisoning people and planet the default option?

Countless founders in my position and many good people in the beauty industry know better. But under pressure to grow, we regularly turn a blind eye to the problem we’re all part of.

This problem has become so massive that we have no choice but to face it head-on.

So, this Earth Day, I’m holding our company accountable, and hope you’ll join us by taking two bold steps by the end of next year:

First, a full phase-out of all single-use plastics from every beauty counter, every subscription box, and every brand’s product lineup. New alternatives like sugarcane and bioresin, coupled with older solutions, like bulk packaging and reusable containers, mean that with a little more creativity and short-term investment we can provide consumers with the breadth of options they’re seeking, without creating a giant trash-heap for future generations.

Second, eliminating the "Dirty Dozen” — BHA and BHT, coal tar dyes, DEA, dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, parabens, parfum (a.k.a. fragrance), PEG compounds, petrolatum, siloxanes, sodium laureth sulfate, and triclosan— from all products we make and carry. Clean beauty isn’t a fad. It’s the only ethical option.

This won’t be easy. We’ll need to innovate and reformulate. We’ll take a margin hit in the short term, as we build better, more resilient businesses in the long term. But our industry has no choice. If we don’t own up to our toxic shadow, we will continue to plunge the planet into an unsustainable future.

  • I was not familiar with this brand until I received the Melt in my FitFabFun box.
    It has been one of the absolute best products I have had! I was so excited to share it with everyone I could who would appreciate it. I especially love it for my lips. I was deeply saddened to hear about Leila on a news show I happened to be watching this morning. I did not make the connection until I reached into my purse once again for this product.
    What an admirable and accomplished person I will think of who made a really positive impact in the World.

    Tammy F on

  • I’m devestated to hear that Leila has passed on to greater realms. We will miss her passion & strength that she brought to so many! As an East African Indian woman, I have cheered on her sucess from the side lines. Our utmost condolences to her family & friends. My daughters name is Leila & even as young as she is, she knows what the strength of one compassionate woman can do. Thank you! God bless & I can only pray you carry her mission forward. Our sincere condolences to Mr Tassilo (I hope I’m spelling that correctly), her child(ren) & her family. An angel just got her wings. May she fly free, unencumbered & be as soulful she was on earth. Sad to see her go…sad indeed!

    Jasmine on

  • My sincere condolences to the family and friends of Leila. I read the news and her mission and bought my first jar of Cream Du Nil. Upon receiving it I tried it and love it. I love the product and I love the Mission. I immediately ordered more for family and friends. Thank you so much.

    Theresa Granatella on

  • I love what you are saying and I pray that you succeed at all you have mentioned. Good luck and may GOD help us all to with this big problem of plastic that is destroying our planet. Thank you for caring and let’s pray that more people get on board with this.

    IDA on

  • So proud to be a customer for an awesome company. Love Love Love the changes that will be happening. I am a fanatical about recycling and use glass containers and stainless steel straws. Anything to cut out the plastic. Please continue to be the awesome company that you are. Looking forward to the knew products coming this year. I will continue to be a loyal customer and promote your products to all that I can. Thank you Thank you.

    Sandy Bodin on

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