There are two main brands of sugar available in UK supermarkets. One is Fair Trade… Yay to supporting good working conditions and fair wages! The other is British grown…. Yay to less transport! Only which do I buy? Short of alternating between the two, I have to decide which means most to me: the good jobs or a smaller carbon footprint?
This is just one dilemma about one product. If we commit to becoming more conscious consumers, we face similar choices all the time. It can become confusing – not to mention exhausting! This is particularly the case with beauty, an area of consumer culture that is particularly rife with disparate ethical debates and rival calls for action.
The Complex Notion of Conscious Beauty
The last ten days illustrated how complex the whole notion of conscious beauty can be. For a start, it’s Organic Beauty and Wellbeing Week (15th – 21st May 2017) and the Soil Association are promoting their #comecleanaboutbeauty campaign. This challenges brands to be more transparent about their ingredients, and not use misleading marketing that presents products as ‘natural’ when they contain artificial chemicals.
15th to 21st May 2017 is also National Vegetarian Week and the windows of The Body Shop stores are highlighting the trend for vegan beauty, encouraging consumers to buy more non-animal derived products (preferably from their range).
At the same time, Stylist have launched their innovative Hair Equality Initiative, underlining the breadth of issues covered by the concept of ethical beauty. Having reported on the poor salon experiences of many women with Afro hair, the magazine is urging ‘UK salons to treat and represent everyone equally’ in terms of visibility, pricing and diversity – and a number have already taken their pledge.
These are just three examples of efforts to change the industry for the better. They are valuable contributions that warrant support, but it is too overwhelming for individuals to be actively involved in every single campaign or effort for better industry practice. Instead we need a straightforward strategy to maximise the contribution that we personally can make.
How To Avoid Ethical Burnout
Here is a simple two-step approach that anyone can follow to get help and get started as a conscious beauty consumer without getting ethical burnout:
1) Remember that it’s reduce first, then reuse and recycle
We’ve had the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ adage drummed into us for years, but did you know that we are supposed to follow it in that specific order? Reduce first, and only after that reuse, and then finally recycle. This makes sense, of course; it’s only logical that it’s more environmentally sound to use less in the first place.
We can easily apply this to our conscious beauty commitment. Being more mindful about the amount that we buy needs to be our first step. Dare I say it, how many nail varnishes does one person need?! We can also reduce by switching to longer lasting products such as natural deodorant, which I’ve written about in 3 Easy Conscious Beauty Swaps, as well as make efforts to completely finish one item before cracking open its replacement.
Yes, that may mean rolling up the toothpaste tube, or turning the shampoo bottle upside down – but totally using up a product brings its own kind of satisfaction too. Knowing that you have genuinely run out of something mentally justifies a new purchase, more than a half used container ever will. I used to laugh at my mum for eeking out her lipsticks with a little brush, but perhaps she was ahead of the environmental game!
2) Find a resource that supports your quest
Note this does not mean try to read every blog post or policy document ever about the subject. This will only feed into the helter-skelter of overwhelm and confusion! Instead find one good resource that focuses on the aspect of conscious beauty that you are most concerned about.
Specialist groups do research on your behalf and endorse brands that meet the standards they set, helping you to know what to buy. The Soil Association (the folks behind the Organic Beauty and Wellbeing Week) are great for natural products, or check out the Naturewatch Foundation’s Compassionate Shopping Guide for a list of cruelty free beauty. There are also useful websites like Logical Harmony.
Many of these organisations include well-known high street names as well as small independent firms, proving that conscious beauty is widely available and not necessarily more expensive. All products from the high end cosmetics firm Nars* are cruelty free but so is Tesco own brand shampoo – and drug store favourite Barry M has been both vegan and cruelty free since its beginning.
Just a small amount of research means that you’ll know where to go when you’ve used up the supplies already in your bathroom cabinet!
So that was our guide to conscious consumption beginning with two simple steps. What are your biggest challenges when it comes to switching to more ethical and sustainable products? Tweet us @revival_collect and let’s see if we can address these together!
* Its parent company, Shiseido, doesn’t share these credentials.