Ethical shopping guide to Make-up, from Ethical Consumer

Ethical shopping guide to Make-up, from Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

This buyers' guide includes:

  • Ethical and environmental ratings for 32 brands of make-up
  • Best Buy recommendations
  • Lead in lipstick
  • women's views on make-up


This product guide is part of a Special Report on Cosmetics & Toiletries.  See what's in the rest of the report.

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Our ratings are live updated scores from our primary research database. They are based on primary and secondary research across 23 categories - 17 negative categories and 6 positive ones (Company Ethos and Product Sustainability). Find out more about our ethical ratings


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Best Buys

as of September/October 2012

As our ratings are constantly updated, it is possible that these companies will not always come out top on the score table.

Best Buys for make-up are the following:

  • Essential Care make-up is organic, its eyeshadows are vegan and its lipsticks are Fairtrade.
  • Green People make-up is organic and vegetarian except for its bronzer which is vegan.
  • Inika make-up is all organic and vegan.
  • Neal’s Yard make-up is organic and some of it is vegan.
  • Lush make-up is vegan except for Jackie Oates tinted moisturiser which contains honey.
  • Lavera make-up is mostly organic and vegan.

to buy



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Making up is hard to do



Image: make-up in ethical shopping guide




Animal ingredients


A number of different animal ingredients could be used in your makeup. Vegetarians should watch out for stearic acid and glycerin, both of which could come from animal or vegetable sources, sorbitan or octyl stearate, cochineal/carmine (found in lipsticks and made from crushed beetles), and silk - found in some eyeshadows. Vegans should also look out for beeswax, honey and lanolin.

Unfortunately, most products don’t include ingredients listings.




Harmful cultural practice?


Susan Jeffries in her book “Beauty and Misogyny” suggests that the wearing of makeup not only consumes women’s time and money but also their emotional space.(1) Though makeup’s supporters argue that it offers an opportunity for women to exercise creativity, this is rather limited, she argues, because “women are required to conform to strict rules in order to function in workplaces and escape criticism and discrimination.”(1) She concludes that makeup fits the criterion of a harmful cultural practice as defined by the UN, because “the substances that women apply to their hair, face and body in pursuit of beauty are directly dangerous to our health”.(1)

In liberated 2012, women can do whatever they like. It’s all about choice – including the choice of whether to wear make-up or not. However, given the pressure of marketing and society’s expectations of women to look ‘good’, it’s interesting to examine women’s relationship with make-up. Does make-up feel like a necessity or a fun optional extra? We asked three young women about their relationship with make-up.



Emily Jackson, 18


"I don’t think wearing make-up is necessary but to my age group it is almost a vital necessity to ‘fit in’. I barely know any teenage girls who don’t regularly apply a layer foundation and mascara for school – some more liberally than others.

I do tend to wear make-up every day except for rest days as I do suffer with ‘teenage skin’. It makes me feel a little more confident and does hide dark circles and blemishes fairly successfully! I tend to avoid ‘cheap’ products as often the quality of the products themselves isn’t so good. Because of my pale skin they can make me go a little orange!

Marketing does try to capture the next ‘best thing’ so I do tend to try new, ‘better’ products each time as opposed to sticking to a regular brand. It is the desire to look the best and feel good about yourself that drives it, and often it feels like the cost is just something attached and that the ‘quality’ of the make-up technology is what counts – not whether it is natural or organic."



Anne Laure, 26

"I tend to wear make-up everyday at work to give me confidence. When you work surrounded by men you realize the best way to be listened to (and then heard if you are lucky) is to first make sure people acknowledge the way you look, and in a good way. Wearing make-up permits me to achieve this kind of feeling by hiding what I don’t want to be shown and focussing on what you want people to see. Basically, I want people to look me in the eye, so I will make my eyes more noticeable. I wouldn’t say it is totally necessary but it helps my confidence. It wouldn’t shock me if others didn’t wear it.

My make-up habits change at the weekend for something more visual, with drawing and black line, and then it is more part of the clothes you are wearing, like an accessory.

There seem to be two kinds of consumers: Those sensitive to special offers (e.g. ‘buy one get one free’) and those sensitive to health issues (e.g. ‘supplemented with vitamin E’). I would be more in the second category, ready to pay extra to gain something. Nowadays marketing is more and more clever, with marketing everywhere even where we least expect it."



Marnie Adamson, 16

"I recognise that wearing make-up isn’t necessary and I have the utmost admiration for my friend’s little sister who wears no make-up – but at the same time, I feel more attractive when I wear make-up and that gives me confidence, which most of the time, I severely lack. I’d almost argue that lack of confidence can have much worse effects than wearing make-up every day.

I probably don’t worry about the ethics of my make-up as much as I should. I avoid products that have been tested on animals and my lip colours are from a collection that helps to fund AIDS and HIV treatment and research. My face wash, moisturiser and cleansing products are organic and from a company that seems like they would treat their workers well. I don’t knowingly buy fair-trade cosmetics but it would be nice to find out that they were.

It isn’t so much advertising that sells the product for me, but the reputation of the company. If a company has a reputation of making good quality make-up and cosmetics, then I tend to buy their products as I trust that what I’m putting on my skin isn’t harmful or loaded with unnatural chemicals.

I would agree with many others that there is a lot of pressure, from advertising and also from the sheer weight of numbers of women and girls who do use make-up in order to have ‘flawless skin’. For most, make-up is the way to achieve this.

On the other hand, I find putting make-up on fun. I guess it is still the little girl inside me. When my friends and I go to parties or to clubs, I enjoy going to their houses and getting dressed and doing make-up together. At that point, it’s not about making myself prettier or feeling pressure but simply having a good time with my friends. Would it still be a fun activity with my friends if we didn’t all feel the need to put make-up on in the first place?"



L’Oréal: Get the lead out of lipstick!


In the USA, in September 2007, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics sent 33 lipsticks purchased in the US to an independent lab to be tested for lead. The two highest lead counts were both found in L’Oréal Colour Riche lipsticks.

A new study by the Food and Drink Administration found lead in 400 lipsticks tested, with higher lead levels than ever reported in some of the most popular brands. The worst offender was L’Oréal USA, whose Maybelline Color Sensation and L’Oréal Color Riche lipsticks were #1 and #2 on the list. In fact, L’Oréal USA makes five of the 10 most contaminated brands in the FDA study.

A brand-new report for the US Centers for Disease Control states that there is no safe level of lead exposure for children. That means we must protect women from lead exposure, since lead builds up in the body over time and easily crosses the placenta, where it can interfere with normal development of a foetus and cause irreversible health effects.

According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, lead is a proven neurotoxin linked to learning, language and behavioural problems such as lowered IQ, impulsiveness, reduced school performance, increased aggression, seizures and brain damage, anaemia, and, after long exposure, damage to the kidneys. Lead has also been linked to miscarriage, reduced fertility in men and women, hormonal changes, menstrual irregularities and delays in the onset of puberty in girls.

You can send a message to L’Oréal demanding a public commitment to reformulate all L’Oréal and Maybelline lipsticks to ensure the lowest possible levels of lead.
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1 Susan Jeffries, Beauty & Misogyny 2005



This product guide is part of a Special Report on Cosmetics & Toiletries.  See what's in the rest of the report.


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