Four Big Sustainability Challenges the Beauty Industry Is Facing


The beauty industry is valued at over $500 billion and saw about an 8% increment in sales in the second year of the pandemic. As much as the cosmetic industry contributes to individuals expressing their creativity and feeling good about themselves, it is a major contributor to environmental pollution. 

From formulations and unethically sourced ingredients to excessive use of plastic packaging, several aspects of the beauty industry directly contribute to environmental degradation. It is responsible for producing 120 billion units of plastic waste a year. Furthermore, it is responsible for the deforestation of 18 million acres of land per year. These numbers are staggering and eye-opening, to say the least. 

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The new-age customers realize these sustainability challenges. Gen Z makes up 40% of the nation’s consumer base as of 2020. This generation represents an important target demographic for the cosmetic industry. An overwhelming majority of Gen Z buys sustainable products from brands that value environmental safety. The brands that are unable to switch to sustainable production practices are often at the receiving end of bad press.  

The brands need to make the switch to producing sustainable products. What are the top concerns that need to be addressed with this shift?   

Here are the five biggest sustainability challenges that plague the beauty industry.

Ingredients and Formulations

Palm oil is a common ingredient found in beauty products. The increased demand for this ingredient has led to a substantial increment in the cultivation of palm trees. Increased palm tree plantation has led to large-scale deforestation. This kind of disturbance of the ecosystem has caused several animal species to lose their homes. If not cultivated ethically, other oil sources like coconut and soy have a similar effect.

Microbeads are a form of microplastics used in body scrubs and exfoliants. These are incredibly harmful, tiny pieces of plastics that are washed into the water bodies and become food for the fish. The United States banned the usage of microbeads in products in 2015. However, they are still present in products imported from countries without a microbeads regulation law.


Packaging is the biggest sustainability concern for this industry. For several makeup brands, the aesthetic value of the product provided by its packaging trumps the detrimental environmental effects. Non-recyclable materials like plastics, glass, etc. are chosen for ornamental purposes. Packaging waste accounts for 70% of the industry’s total waste output.

Year after year millions of tonnes of waste is disposed into landfills. A survey suggests that by 2050, there will be around 12 billion tonnes of waste in landfills if the beauty industry does not change its approach to packaging. 

Chemical Pollution 

Most sunscreens and lotions contain harmful chemical ingredients like parabens and triclosan that have detrimental effects on the ocean. Sunscreen ingredients benzophenone and oxybenzone are major contributors to coral reef destruction. 

Furthermore, common skincare ingredients like BHA and sodium Laureth sulfate are known to disrupt the chemical balance of aquatic life. These are a few of the many harmful ingredients widely present in beauty products.

An Abundance of Products

Fast fashion and makeup are at the core of a lot of the damage done to the environment by the beauty industry. There is a new makeup collection released every few days. These releases are hardly inspiring and reflect the brand’s incessant need to stay relevant. 

The saturation of products not only overwhelms the consumer but also creates copious amounts of waste. The drop in cosmetic sales reflects the one-track nature of these products. 

The younger generation is switching to hybrid products. These are cosmetic products with skincare benefits. To keep up with the newer generation, cosmetic brands need to adopt a minimalistic approach to releasing new makeup. They need to come out with makeup collections that are thoughtful and innovative.  

In Conclusion

For the longest time, we were not aware of the impact our purchasing decisions have on the environment. However, we know better now. There are sustainable ways to produce beauty products leaving no excuse to continue the cruel practices harming our environment.   

Brands need to adopt a refillable approach for their products to reduce packaging waste. The ingredients that go into making these products need to be ethically sourced, properly regulated, and innocuous to the environment. 

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