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Finding natural and cruelty-free makeup and cosmetics: ratings for 56 makeup brands, with recommended buys and what to avoid. 

We rate the major brands like Bobbi Brown, Elizabeth Arden and Boots No 7, as well as smaller eco brands, and look at which makeup brands are vegan, if there is organic makeup, and how to avoid toxic chemicals in your cosmetics. 

About Ethical Consumer

This is a shopping 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.

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What to buy

What to look for when buying make-up:

  • Is it cruelty-free and vegan? Although it is technically banned in the UK and the EU, much of the world still permits cosmetics to be tested on animals. Look out for the Leaping Bunny logo, which is the strictest certification guaranteeing no animal testing. Also look out for vegan certification for makeup that doesn’t contain any animal ingredients.

  • Is it organic? This avoids most of the nasty artificial chemicals that are in so many products, and also supports organic agriculture which protects biodiversity.

  • Is it fair trade? Cosmetics use many agricultural products, which are often grown by overworked and underpaid labourers. Only two brands appear to use any fair trade ingredients: Odylique and Dr Hauschka.

Subscribe to see which companies we recommend as Best Buys and why 

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying make-up

  • Makeup. Is the pressure of marketing and society’s expectations to look ‘good’ having an influence on your decision to wear makeup?

  • Does it contain palm oil? At its most unsustainable, palm oil is linked to massive deforestation and serious violations of human rights. Look for brands that commit to sourcing palm oil sustainably or choose palm oil-free products.

  • Does it contain toxic chemicals? The confusing and complex ingredients lists of makeup products often include toxic chemicals which can be bad for human health as well as polluting the environment.

Subscribe to see which companies to avoid and why

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 100) Ratings Categories

Our Analysis

The Body Shop

It was announced in February 2024 that The Body Shop's private equity owners, Aurelius, had called in the administrators which was likely to result in shop closures and job losses. We have therefore removed The Body Shop from this guide until we can be sure that the brand will continue to exist and in what format and if Aurelius will continue to be the owners of a restructured Body Shop.


People have been altering their complexion, exaggerating facial features, and painting themselves for thousands of years. Many date makeup use by all genders to ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, and Rome, while others refer to evidence much earlier than that. Makeup and body painting have also been used by Indigenous communities for many thousands of years. 

The way that makeup is used has often changed throughout history, but what is newer is the enormous industry behind ‘beauty’ and makeup products that we see today. 

In this guide to ethical makeup we take a look at the ethics of the companies behind makeup as well as the contents of the products themselves. 

Natural and ethical makeup and makeup brands

This guide includes a wide range of makeup brands, from small independent companies, to popular high street shops like Boots, the Body Shop and Superdrug, as well as international brands like Estée Lauder and L'Oréal. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a huge difference in ethical scores between these brands. 

Vegan makeup

Vegan makeup ranges are becoming more mainstream, with The Vegan Society reporting registering a record 30,000 vegan cosmetic products in 2023. The meaning of ‘vegan’, for many, is beyond just ingredients and extends to no animal use whatsoever. 

Animal products which can be used as ingredients in makeup and cosmetics include beeswax, cochineal and shellac. Our separate article on animal products in cosmetics has more information about this.

Vegan makeup brands vs vegan companies

Some of the brands in the guide offered a vegan makeup range but were owned by companies that were not vegan and that test on animals.

  • Aveda is vegan but owned by Estée Lauder, which scored a worst for Animal Testing.
  • Ethique is a vegan company, however, it is owned by private equity company Bansk Group, which also owns a company selling factory-farmed animal products.
  • KVD Vegan Beauty is vegan but owned by LVMH, which scored a worst for Animal Testing.
  • Studio London by Superdrug is vegan but owned by CK Hutchison Holdings. Its immediate parent, A.S. Watson scored a worst for Animal Testing.

The 100% vegan companies in the guide:

Animal testing and makeup

Well-known consumer-facing companies and brands rarely test their end products on animals. But sadly, almost all of the ingredients that go into our cosmetics have been tested on animals at some point.

In the EU, the marketing of cosmetic products containing ingredients tested on animals was banned in 2013. But as a result of Brexit, a loophole now exists in the UK and such testing has been going on since 2019. Ingredient testing is still commonplace, not least because many ingredients are used in products other than cosmetics and other European regulations (such as REACH) continue to require them.

We have an introductory article into animal testing policies which has more information about this topic.

Companies with a strong approach to preventing animal testing ensure their ingredient suppliers do not, and have not recently, tested the ingredients they supply on animals. A fixed cut-off date helps ensure a product has high standards when it comes to monitoring against the risk of animal testing. We have a separate article on animal testing certification schemes.

There was a pretty clear split for animal testing scores between companies at the top and bottom of our score table. Natura & Co (Avon and Body Shop) has previously scored badly but now scores a best rating after the Avon brand was finally approved by Leaping Bunny in July 2023.

Superdrug receives a worst rating, which might be a surprise, as its makeup and personal care products are all Leaping Bunny approved. But as the company also sold own-brand medicines and said nothing of its policy around animal testing for these, it got a worst rating overall.

What is natural and cruelty-free makeup?

Makeup labelling is not as closely regulated as some other sectors such as food, but there are plenty of certifications which provide some third-party oversight of a company’s ethics.

Our article on natural and organic labels for cosmetics has more information on some different certification schemes including for organic products. We also have an article on animal testing certification schemes. Those articles outline what the different schemes cover.

The table below highlights which brands are certified with which schemes.

Certification schemes and brands
Certification Certified brands
The Vegan Society Beauty Without Cruelty, PHB Ethical Beauty, some of Lavera
Leaping Bunny 

17, Aveda, Studio London

Whole company: Beauty Without Cruelty, Ethique, PHB Ethical Beauty

PETA Lavera, Odylique
NATRUE Dr Hauschka, Lavera
Soil Association (COSMOS standard) Odylique
BDIH Lavera
Fairtrade Odylique lipsticks contain Fairtrade shea butter

What ingredients should I avoid in makeup and cosmetics?

The list of ingredients on some products can be long and unpronounceable! We look at some of the ingredients you might not want to see on the label.

Liquid polymers

Did you know that polyethylene can be found in a non-solid form in eyeliners, mascara, eye shadows, eyebrow pencils, lipsticks, face powders, and foundations? It can be used to hold together ingredients, increase thickness, or form a coating on the skin.

Odylique, Green People, and Dr Hauschka were the only brands with explicit statements against these poorly biodegradable ingredients. Dr Hauschka uses natural waxes and oils instead. 

Lavera said all of its products were biodegradable and certified by NATRUE which does not allow synthetic polymers. PHB Ethical Beauty said it did not use ingredients derived from petrochemicals. No common polymers were found amongst its ingredients, nor for Ethique.

Toxic chemicals in makeup

There are thousands of ingredients used in personal care, many of them have negative environmental impacts and health effects ranging from skin irritation to carcinogenicity. Parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde and triclosan have been selected by Ethical Consumer as important indicators for our own toxics rating. Some forms or uses of these chemicals are banned or restricted in the EU or the USA.

We look for company policies on chemicals of concern that they may use in makeup or other products, specifically preservatives in the form of parabens, formaldehydes, and triclosan, and phthalates which can be used in fragrances.

The majority of the companies we rated lost marks under our toxics rating, with the exception of Beauty Without Cruelty, Dr Hauschka, Ethique, Green People, Lavera, Odylique, and PHB Ethical Beauty.

Beauty Without Cruelty lost a mark for microplastics however, due to our polymers rating, and Ethique due to its private equity owner also owning a pest control company.

‘Forever chemicals’ in makeup

PFAS, or Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances, are widely known as ‘forever chemicals’ due to their highly persistent properties in the environment. In fact, they barely degrade at all. It may not be surprising to some that they are derived from fossil fuels.

The CHEM Trust have described PFAS’ concerning properties as including their persistence in the environment, that they bioaccumulate, are highly mobile, and many are extremely toxic to human and non-human health. Out of several thousand substances, only a handful are currently regulated.

As well as being used in disposable food packaging, non-stick pans, waterproof jackets, and electronics, PFAS are also widely used in cosmetics. Some of the most common makeup products containing PFAS include mascara, foundation, and liquid lipstick.

The BBC found that many brands selling makeup in the UK contain PFAS. An article from Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet also recently reported on companies including L'Oréal and Estée Lauder that are still using PFAS in their products, although the number of cosmetic companies using PFAS will be many more. Some companies are phasing out the use of PFAS, but not acting quickly to remove them altogether.

The issue of PFAS in makeup will be debated in Swedish Parliament. The article quoted Jytte Guteland, Member of Swedish Parliament's Environment and Agriculture Committee, who said, “It is ignorant of big companies like L'Oreal, who are supposed to protect their customers and health, to drag this out and not take it seriously. To talk about phasing out something when it is obvious that they want to make money from it in the future. Then you don't take human health seriously. PFAS should have been banned yesterday”.

Although the contamination caused by PFAS could be found everywhere in the environment, in cosmetics, avoid buying products with “fluoro” or PTFE in the ingredients list.

You can follow the Ban PFAS Manifesto for more information.

Reducing your risk from toxic makeup

To avoid some of the risks of harmful ingredients in cosmetics, you could:

  • Buy from companies you trust. These could include brands that get our best rating for toxic chemicals policies.
  • Use less of the product at each use.
  • Use fewer products, less often.
  • Check ingredients lists before you buy.
  • Make your own if it's a product where you can do that.
Person using makeup

The problems with mica in makeup

Mica is a mineral that is mined for industries including pharmaceuticals, electronics, construction, and for makeup due to its glitter-like properties. Your eyeshadow may have more in common with cement than you might have thought.

Although considered safe for skin application in cosmetics, research has shown that workers with repeated exposure to mica can suffer from pneumoconiosis, affecting lung tissue. 

A lot of workers extracting mica are likely to be children working in unregulated mines in the Bihar and Jharkhand regions of India, where the majority of mica comes from.

The Responsible Mica Initiative, founded in 2017, has a mission to establish a “fair, responsible and sustainable mica supply chain… free of child labor and provides responsible working conditions”. As reported by Ethical Consumer in 2020, the RMI’s original target was to eradicate child labour by 2022. It didn’t reach that target, but the RMI’s 2022 annual report said, “Five third-party audits at processors were conducted with the close support of the RMI team on the ground. RMI has added 50 villages under its Community Empowerment Programs, reaching 180 villages”. Five audits doesn’t seem very many.

Corporate members from the makeup industry now include Clarins, Coty, L’Oreal, LVMH, Natura & Co, Shiseido, and Estée Lauder.

Although more attention is now being drawn to the issue, other work such as from Kailash Satyarthi Children's Foundation (KSCF) in India has been looking more holistically at the issues surrounding child protection across India for the last 16 years, where root causes of child labour and child trafficking can be addressed. It works to create ‘child-friendly villages’ where child marriage is prohibited, children are withdrawn from child labour, girls have access to school, there are infrastructure improvements, and community leaders include women and young people.

Most companies still have a long way to go to show that their commitments towards mica and human rights is a priority, with many not being transparent about their sourcing.

Companies in the guide with mica policies:

  • Avon says that its supply chains, including for mica, will be “fully traceable and/or certified by 2025”.
  • The Body Shop says, “our suppliers must demonstrate to us that they work exclusively in gated mines, which don’t allow children to enter, to prevent child labour”.
  • Dr Hauschka requires Fair Trade certificates to be produced from its mica suppliers, which prohibits child labour.
  • Estée Lauder works with KSCF and has supported the establishment of 150 ‘child-friendly villages’.
  • Ethique doesn’t use mica sourced from India or Madagascar.
  • L'Oréal sources from the USA and India and is part of the RMI, “We believe that discontinuing the use of Indian mica would further weaken the situation in the region.”
  • Lush has only used synthetic mica since 2018 and says that “natural mica is a no-no” due to ethical reasons. Synthetic mica is still made from natural materials, so there are no microplastics. 

Green People was the only brand in the guide that didn't use any mica in its products; however, rather than having an explicit ethical policy this is probably because it doesn’t sell any eyeshadow. 

Voice from the supply chain

Workers in mica mines

Refinery29 conducted an investigation into conditions in mica mines in India in 2020, where child labour is common.

11-year-old Surma’s sister died when a mica mine they were working in collapsed.

"We couldn’t get her out for an hour," says Surma Kumari, aged 11, whose sister Lakmi died, aged 14, in a collapsing mica mine they were working in together. Over a year later, Surma was still dealing with the aftermath of two broken feet, a fractured leg and damage to her spine. "It still hurts when I walk." 

Surma’s father, Kishar Kumari, says the traders who control the mine have a set rate for families of those who die in the mines.

"For each person who dies, they give 30,000 rupees [about £330] … That was it; they don’t do anything for safety." 

Kishar continues: "There’s no other form of [work] … When you’re hungry, there’s no other way."

Brands haven’t been made to acknowledge their role in child labour, partly because it’s so difficult to identify where they source mica.

Investigative reporter Peter Bengtsen, who researched the mica industry, says:

“There are too many opaque layers in the supply chain between mines and brands”.

There’s no call for a boycott of mica currently – having no income at all would be even worse for workers and their families.

Write to companies to ask them what they are doing to eliminate child labour in their mica supply chain and whether they are doing enough. We have drafted a template email at the bottom of the page. 

Makeup for Black, Asian and Latinx skin tones

Black woman applying make up

Makeup brands in the UK have historically failed to adequately cater to the diversity of skin tone of the population. We viewed the websites of each brand in the guide and looked at the range of skin shades available for foundation. This wasn’t formally incorporated into our current rating system for companies but was an important issue to highlight.

We looked at each brand’s products for range and whether there were models used for each shade, to help with matching skin tone rather than looking at a square of colour. Out of 49 brands, 26 had a good range of shades for different skin tones.

Bourjois only referred to “tanned skin”. One brand, Vichy, even used a photo of a white-skinned model with a spot of its darkest brown foundation on her white skin.

Some of the brands, including the majority of the more ethical options like Beauty Without Cruelty, Dr Hauschka, Green People, Lavera, and PHB Ethical Beauty offered very little or nothing at all for dark skin tones.

Some brands did not use models to distinguish between skin tones, making options hard to tell apart, relying instead on unhelpful names such as ‘hazel’, ‘deep honey’, ‘warm coconut’ and ‘chestnut’ and an isolated block of colour.

We researched all the brands in this guide for their provision of skin shades of foundation and have created a downloadable pdf with this information in a table.

Click for the table of brands and their foundation skin shades.

Brands with a good range of skin shades are: 17, Avon, Bareminerals, Benefit, Bobbi Brown, Body Shop, Cover Girl, Dior, Elizabeth Arden, Estée Lauder, Fenty, KVD Vegan Beauty, Kylie Cosmetics, Lancôme, L’Oreal, Lush, Make Up For Ever, Maybelline, NARS, NYX, Rimmel, Shiseido, Sleek MakeUP, Too Faced, Uoma, and Urban Decay.

Palm oil and cosmetics

The unsustainable production of palm oil is one of the biggest threats to the forests and wildlife of areas where it’s grown, like Borneo and Sumatra. Palm oil production is continuing to spread to other countries like the Philippines, Nigeria, and throughout South America.

Most companies got our worst rating for palm, but even those which try to avoid palm ingredients can find it difficult.

For example, PHB used palm-derived stearic acid as the only alternative comes from beef tallow, and PHB is a vegan company.

Lush used some palm oil derivatives because alternatives were often tested on animals which they avoided at all costs.

Odylique and Lavera ensured any derivatives used were from certified sources and so received our best rating for palm. Ethique was the only company certified by the Orangutan Alliance, an organisation which certifies that no palm oil or derivatives have been used.

You can read more about palm oil and the cosmetics industry in our separate article.

Are cosmetics over packaged? 

TerraCycle estimates that around 120 billion units of packaging are used for beauty products every year.

According to the British Beauty Council, around 95% of cosmetic packaging is thrown away. Most of this is single-use plastic packaging, which mostly ends up in landfill or incinerated.

In the words of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, "the best packaging is no packaging".

The only fully plastic-free, zero waste company in our guide is Ethique, although the only makeup the company sells is lipstick, with the rest of its range focusing on solid soap and shampoo bars.

Lush has tried to minimise its packaging for its makeup range, with the majority free from any packaging.

If not possible to go packaging-free, choose glass containers over plastic. Although refills are on the rise for other products, refillable makeup is still relatively niche. Lipstick seems to be the most popular choice for companies offering a refill option, with refills available from The Body Shop, Clarins, Dior, Fenty, Guerlain and Lush.

Can you recycle old cosmetics and makeup?

For old products you may have lying around, the Maybelline Makeup Free Recycling Programme allows you to bring in your empty makeup packaging to participating shops to recycle with TerraCycle for free. This applies to all brands of makeup.

Excessive pay in the cosmetics industry

About three quarters of the brands on our table were owned by companies that paid over £1 million to a director in their latest financial year. This included Advent, Boots, CK Hutchison Holdings (ultimate owner of Superdrug), Coty Inc, Estée Lauder, L’Oréal, Lush, LVMH, Revlon, and Shiseido.

Natura brands (Avon and the Body Shop) also lost a mark for not disclosing director pay. 

One of the highest compensation packages we’ve ever seen went to a director of Coty, at $149 million! 

Full online access to our unique shopping guides, ethical rankings and company profiles. The essential ethical print magazine.

Price comparison of makeup brands

We looked at the prices of a range of brands from the top of the ethics table versus some popular brands in the middle and lower end. Our results show that the more ethical option isn’t necessarily more expensive than a standard one. Where there were multiple items for a product, we chose the cheapest.

Makeup brands and sample prices
Brand Foundation price Lipstick price Mascara price
Odylique  £31 £18.50 £18
PHB Ethical Beauty £26 £12.95 £16
Lavera £21.90 £14.15 £14.20
Dr Hauschka £30 £20.50 £19
Beauty Without Cruelty £12.50 (15ml) £10.50 £13
NARS £39 £26.50 £26.50
Bobbi Brown £41 £30 £31
MAC £34 (40ml) £22 £25
No.7 £14.95 £9.95 £13.95

All foundations were 30 ml, unless stated otherwise. Table is listed from higher ethical scoring brands to lower. Prices as of autumn/winter 2023.

Makeup: to wear, or not to wear?

Person applying face makeup

Makeup has been worn by all genders throughout history in a multitude of ways and can mean rejecting societal norms as much assimilating them. Makeup can be art, joy, gender bending, self-discovery and expression. It can also feel like or mean survival for some.

Relationships towards makeup use will be very different for different people, but there are certain social norms that dominate. The question must be asked, who profits from current social norms surrounding ‘beauty’? Who is actively shaping and perpetuating those norms, and collecting the profit?

Figures differ for the worth of the global cosmetics market, but it is between $100bn and $600bn per year. Millions are spent on marketing, with some of the most famous and followed people in the world used as celebrity ambassadors and beauty influencers, creating enormous influence and reach. These include Selena Gomez (Rare Beauty), Kylie Jenner (Kylie Cosmetics), Beyoncé (L’Oréal), Ariana Grande (MAC Cosmetics), Taylor Swift (Cover Girl), Jennifer Lopez (L’Oréal), and Julia Roberts (Lancôme). Although difficult to verify exact figures, all are reported to receive over a million dollars (and sometimes much more) per Instagram post.

Many products are marketed using the word ‘flawless’. If being flawless is the goal that the beauty industry is selling, that involves a lot of ongoing consumer investment towards an impossible target. That’s quite a clever business model for keeping people hooked on your products.

Estimates vary for the average spend on makeup per person per year in the UK, but according to Glamour, “16-24-year-olds are the age group with the highest beauty spend, using an average of 16 beauty products a day, worth £153 in total.” Harper's Bazaar estimates that British women will spend an average of £22,000 on beauty products across their lifetime.

What someone wants to do with their face and body is nobody else’s business. But the makeup and cosmetic industry makes it the centre of its business to the sum of billions of pounds, profiting off emotions and insecurities about how people, women in particular, ‘should’ look based on narrow beauty standards that are overwhelmingly based on white, skinny, European-centric features. To tout that it’s everyone’s individual choice ignores power structures and the fact that consumer choices are actively shaped and influenced by enormously influential industries. 

The abbreviations in the score table indicate the following: [F] = fair trade [O] = organic [V] = vegan.

This guide features in Ethical Consumer Magazine 206

Additional research by Ruth Strange.

Company behind the brand

LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton) owns several brands in this guide: KVD Vegan Beauty, Benefit, Dior, Fenty, Givenchy, Guerlain, and Make Up For Ever.

LVMH part-owner Bernard Arnault is one of the world’s richest men. The Paris public prosecutor’s office is currently investigating suspected money laundering related to a ski resort deal allegedly involving Arnault. Locals in Saint-Tropez on the French Riviera are complaining about their town being taken over by the super-rich, calling it LVMH-Ville, as the company owns not just stores but also restaurants serving its own champagne, a cafe, and even a beach club.

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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Mica letter

We’ve written a template email you can use to contact companies about human rights in their mica supply chain. You can often find contact details of companies on the contact section of their website. 


I have been reading about the issue of child labour in mica supply chains, with children often working in unregulated mines.

A recent investigation from Refinery29 found that children as young as 11 were working in mica mines, and children as young as 14 had died due to the working conditions of mining for mica. 

Although the Responsible Mica Initiative has a number of companies signed up, its 2022 update on progress said that “Five third-party audits at processors were conducted with the close support of the RMI team on the ground. RMI has added 50 villages under its Community Empowerment Programs, reaching 180 villages”. Five audits doesn’t seem enough, and the pace of change is too slow. 

As a customer of [insert brand name] I would like to know what you are doing to eliminate child labour from your supply chain, and any targets you are working towards?
Thank you,

[your name]