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 applaud your vision and will continue to support LXMI by buying and sharing your kind Nilotica nut nutrients with all mug loved ones.
    Recently my Nilotica order came in a plastic tube rather than the black glass vessel I was used to receiving. I was bummed about that.
    Can you ensure that packaging going forward will be biodegradable? Please?
    With Gratitude,
    Chelsea Cooper-Clarke

    Chelsea Cooper-Clarke on

  • Full respect open your for doing this Leila! I will absolutely be supporting LXMI by purchasing your products for leading the way in demonstrating this level of integrity. I also have a small Zero Waste business and have intentionally kept it small so that we can keep our manufacturing process closed loop and supply chain carbon neutral.

    Stefani on

  • Anything LXMI can do to provide its excellent products in glass or other nonplastics we can recycle would make this customer happy. Our household tries to reuse or substitute but are faced daily with plastics that cannot be reused.

    Lindsay Paulson on

  • Yes! Thank you. This is just what I wanted to hear from you.

    Elizabeth Doyle on

  • Thank you!!! ❤️

    Trish Parker on

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published