Make-Up

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 62 brands of make-up

We also look at toxic chemicals, animal testing, shine a spotlight on the ethics of PHB Ethical Beauty and give our recommended buys. 

About 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.

Learn more about us →

What to buy

What to look for when buying make-up:

  • Is it cruelty-free and vegan? 80% of the world still permits animal testing for cosmetics, although it is banned in the UK. Leaping Bunny is the strictest certification to look for. Plus, there are many brands of make-up that do not contain any animal ingredients.

  • Is it organic? This is a fail-safe way to avoid most of the nasty artificial chemicals that are in so many products, and also support organic agriculture which protects biodiversity.

  • Is it Fairtrade? Cosmetics use many agricultural products, which are often grown by overworked and underpaid labourers. Look for Fairtrade products to guarantee that the growers involved in producing your make-up are paid a fair amount.

Best Buys

Our best buy brands are certified organic, or campaign against animal testing: Odylique, Green People, Lush. Odylique and Lush also use some Fairtrade ingredients.

Also recommended are PHB Ethical Beauty, Dr Hauschka and Lavera.

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying make-up

  • 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.

  • Does it contain toxics? The long and complex ingredients lists of make-up products often include toxic chemicals. These are bad for the environment as well as health.

  • Do you really need to buy make-up? Is the pressure of marketing and society’s expectations of women to look ‘good’ having an undue influence on your decision to wear make-up?

Companies to avoid

Boots sits at the bottom of our ratings table and received a worst rating for animal testing. LVMH brands are on the ‘Grab Your Wallet’ boycott list due to the LVMH chairman’s support of the Trump administration. The company also sells fur.

  • Boots
  • CYO (Boots)
  • Liz Earle (Boots)
  • Natural Collection (Boots)
  • No. 7 (Boots)
  • Soap and Glory (Boots)
  • Sleek (Boots)
  • LVMH
  • Dior (LVMH)
  • Makeup For Ever (LVMH)
  • Benefit (LVMH)
  • KDV Vegan Beauty (LVMH)
  • Fenty Beauty (LVMH)

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

Odylique Fairtrade make up [F,O,V]

Company Profile: Essential Care (Organics) Ltd
16.5

Odylique make-up [O,V]

Company Profile: Essential Care (Organics) Ltd
15.5

PHB Ethical Beauty [Vg]

Company Profile: PHB Ethical Beauty Ltd
15.5

Green People make-up [O,A]

Company Profile: Green People Company Ltd
14.5

Lush vegan make-up [Vg]

Company Profile: Lush Cosmetics Ltd
13

Dr Hauschka vegan make up [O,Vg]

Company Profile: Dr. Hauschka Skin Care, Inc.
12

Lavera make-up (vegan) [O, Vg]

Company Profile: Laverana GmbH & Co KG
12

Dr Hauschka make up [O]

Company Profile: Dr. Hauschka Skin Care, Inc.
11.5

Lavera make-up [O]

Company Profile: Laverana GmbH & Co KG
11

Tropic makeup [Vg]

Company Profile: Tropic Skincare
11

Pacifica make up [Vg]

Company Profile: Pacifica Beauty LLC
10.5

Nude By Nature

Company Profile: Company NBN Limited
10

L.A. Girl Cosmetics

Company Profile: Comedic Ltd
9.5

Makeup Obsession

Company Profile: Revolution Beauty Limited
9.5

Revolution Beauty

Company Profile: Revolution Beauty Limited
9.5

Revolution Pro

Company Profile: Revolution Beauty Limited
9.5

Avon Distillery [Vg]

Company Profile: Avon Products Inc
7.5

Buxom make up

Company Profile: Shiseido Company Limited
7.5

NARS make up

Company Profile: Shiseido Company Limited
7.5

Shiseido make up

Company Profile: Shiseido Company Limited
7.5

bareMinerals make up

Company Profile: Shiseido Company Limited
7.5

Avon make-up

Company Profile: Avon Products Inc
7

Body Shop makeup

Company Profile: Body Shop International Limited
7

Clarins make up

Company Profile: Clarins
7

Aveda cosmetics

Company Profile: Aveda
5

BECCA cosmetics

Company Profile: Estée Lauder Companies Inc
5

Bobbi Brown make-up

Company Profile: Bobbi Brown essentials
5

Clinique make-up

Company Profile: Clinique
5

Collection You do you

Company Profile: Lornamead UK Ltd
5

Elizabeth Arden

Company Profile: Elizabeth Arden Inc
5

Estée Lauder make-up

Company Profile: Estée Lauder Companies Inc
5

Glamglow

Company Profile: Estée Lauder Companies Inc
5

La Mer

Company Profile: Estée Lauder Companies Inc
5

MAC make-up

Company Profile: MAC Cosmetics
5

Origins make-up

Company Profile: Origins Natural Resources Inc
5

Revlon make-up

Company Profile: Revlon Inc
5

Smashbox Make-up

Company Profile: Estée Lauder Companies Inc
5

Tom Ford cosmetics

Company Profile: Estée Lauder Companies Inc
5

Too Faced

Company Profile: Estée Lauder Companies Inc
5

Collection

Company Profile: Lornamead UK Ltd
4.5

Bourjois make up

Company Profile: Coty Inc
4

Burberry make up

Company Profile: Coty Inc
4

Cover Girl make-up

Company Profile: Coty Inc
4

Logona make-up [O]

Company Profile: Logocos Naturkosmetik AG
4

Max Factor make-up

Company Profile: Coty Inc
4

Rimmel make-up

Company Profile: Coty Inc
4

KVD Vegan Beauty [Vg]

Company Profile: LVMH Perfumes & Cosmetics House
3.5

L'Oréal make-up

Company Profile: L'Oréal
3.5

Lancôme makeup

Company Profile: Lancôme
3.5

Maybelline makeup

Company Profile: Maybelline New York
3.5

NYX make up

Company Profile: L'Oréal
3.5

Sante make-up [O]

Company Profile: Sante Naturkosmetik
3.5

Urban Decay make-up [A]

Company Profile: Urban Decay
3.5

Yves Saint Laurent

Company Profile: Yves Saint Laurent Beauté
3.5

Benefit cosmetics

Company Profile: Benefit Cosmetics LLC
3

Chanel make up

Company Profile: Chanel Limited
3

Fenty Beauty

Company Profile: LVMH Perfumes & Cosmetics House
3

Guerlain cosmetics

Company Profile: Guerlain Inc
3

Make Up For Ever cosmetics

Company Profile: LVMH Perfumes & Cosmetics House
3

Dior cosmetics

Company Profile: Christian Dior SA
2.5

Superdrug B. make-up [Vg]

Company Profile: Superdrug Stores Plc
1.5

MUA Make Up Academy

Company Profile: Superdrug Stores Plc
1

Superdrug make-up

Company Profile: Superdrug Stores Plc
1

CYO make up

Company Profile: Boots UK Ltd
0

Liz Earle make up

Company Profile: Boots UK Ltd
0

Natural Collection make up

Company Profile: Boots UK Ltd
0

No7 Make Up

Company Profile: Boots UK Ltd
0

Sleek MakeUP

Company Profile: Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc.
0

Soap & Glory make up

Company Profile: Boots UK Ltd
0

What is most important to you?

Animals
Environment
People
Politics
Product sustainability

Our Analysis

If we’re going to use make-up, how can we be cruelty-free and natural? One of the biggest concerns around cosmetics is animal testing. We have dug out the detail on the cruelty-free certifications (or lack of) for all the brands on our table, plus we look at what the REACH legislation means for animal testing, and which brands are vegan, or palm-free.

Another big issue is the word ‘natural’. There is, in fact, no legal definition. Again, we list the certification standards to look for, as well as discussing issues around genetic engineering (GMOs), toxic chemicals, microplastic ingredients, and packaging.

We also have a not-so-glittery update on the Responsible Mica Initiative, news of make-up protests in South Korea, and reader’s comments on making up under lockdown.

Thanks also to researcher Leah Gordon, who spent some time under lockdown investigating which brands from the world’s biggest make-up companies are best all-round for darker skin.

Which brands produce make-up for those with darker skin?

Since the early noughties there has been a significant growth in cosmetics for non-white people available in major pharmacies and supermarkets in the UK.

More and more brands offer darker shades of foundation, but the variety of shades remains quite limited. The growth is obviously welcome, but darker-skinned makeup-users still struggle to find shades that match their skin.

Find out which make-up brands are best for darker skin, and use this article together with this guide to see whether you can find the make-up that is best for your skin, as well as best for workers and the planet.

Is your make-up really cruelty-free?

Best rating for animal testing policy

Leaping Bunny certified

Listed by Naturewatch (requires FCOD for parent company*)

  • Odylique

Own policy with FCOD*

Middle rating for animal testing policy

PETA approved

Own policy against animal testing, but no FCOD*

Worst rating for animal testing policy

No policy

Tests where required by law (e.g. in China)

  • Boots (Liz Earle brand is Leaping Bunny certified)
  • CK Hutchison (Superdrug brands are Leaping Bunny certified)
  • Coty (Cover Girl brand is Leaping Bunny certified)
  • Estee Lauder (Smashbox brand is PETA approved)
  • LVMH (KVD Vegan Beauty brand is PETA approved)
  • L’Oréal (NYX brand is PETA approved)
  • Revlon
  • Shiseido

*FCOD = fixed cut-off date

The first thing to remember is that the terms ‘cruelty-free’ and ‘vegan’ mean different things. One is about avoiding animal testing (the former), and the other avoiding animal ingredients (the latter).

Animal testing of cosmetic products and ingredients and the sale of animal-tested cosmetics has been officially banned in Europe since 2013. However, many brands such as KVD Vegan Beauty (owned by LVMH) are part of company groups that operate worldwide and sell in countries where animal testing is still required.

In fact, most of the biggest multinational companies have one brand in their portfolios that is certified and marketed as cruelty-free, including Liz Earle (Boots), NYX (L’Oréal), Smashbox (Estee Lauder) and Cover Girl (Coty). This way they don’t miss out on the customers who wouldn’t buy their products otherwise.

The two main certifications to look out for are Beauty Without Bunnies (by PETA), and Leaping Bunny (by Cruelty Free International).

Leaping Bunny certification is backed up by audits of the company’s supply chain and requires companies to have a ‘fixed cut-off date’ (FCOD) after which none of its ingredients were tested.

Leaping Bunny is therefore more stringent than a PETA approval, which requires the company to sign a legally binding statement but does not include audits or a FCOD. Ethical Consumer researchers audit Lush’s supply chain for its animal testing compliance.

The EU cosmetics testing ban, however, is contradicted by another piece of legislation called REACH. This can mean some ingredients used in cosmetics and other products may be tested on animals if alternative methods have not been approved.

If a company is certified by Leaping Bunny, it has the strictest criteria against animal testing but, at the moment, no certification can guarantee that some ingredients won’t have been tested under this law.

Cruelty Free International is actively campaigning to minimise the use of animal testing under REACH, and you can sign their petition, demanding that the cosmetics testing bans are honoured, here.

Vegan make-up and beauty products

Increasingly, companies are labelling which of their products are vegan. The only fully vegan companies on our table are PHB Ethical Beauty and Pacifica. Tropic Skincare is vegan but its company group is not.

Some companies have vegan brands, such as ‘B’ by Superdrug, Distillery by Avon or KVD Vegan Beauty (now owned by LVMH).

Other companies such as Body Shop, Green People, Lush, Nude By Nature, and Odylique are vegetarian but use animal by-products such as beeswax, honey, lanolin from sheep wool, or shellac, a secretion from beetles (Body Shop only, and not in new formulations). Revolution Beauty says 76% of their products are vegan, and growing. Lavera says 95%.

Make-up ingredients that might be from animals

Ingredient May be taken from Used in

carmine, natural red 4, E120, and C.I. 75470

crushed cochineal beetles

lipstick and blushes

guanine

fish scales

eyeshadow, highlighters, bronzers, and blushes

glycerin, or tallow/oleic acid - aka oleyl stearate, oleyl oleate

animal fat

eye make-up, lipstick, make-up bases, and foundations

Gelatin or gelatine, hide glue, isinglass

boiled skin, tendons, ligaments and bones of animals

creamy cosmetics

squalene

livers of sharks

eye make-up and lipsticks

collagen or elastin

protein from animal tissue

 lip-plumping glosses

sericin and serica powder, silk

silk

facial powders and mascara

Palm oil in make-up

Palm oil and palm oil derivatives have become an important component in many make-up products. In particular, it is used for its viscosity and as a skin conditioning agent.

Best palm ratings

There were three companies on our table, Lush, Odylique and PHB Ethical Beauty, which made the most effort to be palm-free, and disclosed volumes of palm ingredients used.

As PHB put it,

“The industry is linked to major issues such as deforestation, habitat degradation, climate change, animal cruelty and indigenous rights abuses in the countries where it is produced, as the land and forests must be cleared for the development of the oil palm plantations”.

However, all three still had not found guaranteed alternatives to small volumes of ingredients that were derived from palm, but were working on it.

Middle and worst palm ratings

Companies scored a middle rating if palm ingredients they used were mostly RSPO certified, or organic. Dr Hauschka and Green People were both organic but had no information on palm derivatives. Estee Lauder, L’Oréal, LVMH, Boots and Shiseido all scored middle too.

Those that scored a worst rating, for low certification levels or lack of information were Chanel, Clarins, Coty, Lavera, Natura, Nude by Nature, Pacifica, Revlon, Revolution Beauty, Superdrug and Tropic Skincare.

Natural Certification standards

Any brand can, in theory, describe its cosmetic products as organic or natural because the words are not regulated, unlike the strict regulations around the term ‘organic’ for food.

Brands like Nude by Nature may use plant-based rather than synthetic ingredients, but they do not discuss the agricultural practices used to grow these ingredients.

To find the brands that are serious about being natural and using organically certified plant ingredients, look for these certification labels:

logo: organic soil association

Soil Association or Ecocert

All make-up by Odylique, and some from Green People, is certified organic by the Soil Association. Green People has other products certified by Ecocert.

For cosmetic products to be certified organic by the UK’s Soil Association, or Ecocert, at least 95% of all plant-based ingredients must be organic.

logo: BDIH certified natural cosmetics

BDIH

Products made by Dr Hauschka, Logona and Sante have been certified by BDIH.

BDIH is a German non-profit organisation which certifies natural cosmetics. BDIH certifies products which contain “Raw materials of plant origin originating from certified organic raw material”.

logo-natrue-organic

NATRUE 

Products certified under this label are Dr Hauschka, Logona, Sante and Lavera.

NATRUE is a Brussels-based international non-profit association committed to promoting and protecting Natural and Organic Cosmetics worldwide. It specifies minimum percentages of natural and organic ingredients through its three levels of certification.

GMOs in make-up

Genetically modified organisms are seen by Ethical Consumer to be a ‘controversial technology’, largely due to the social and economic impacts of seeds being patented by corporations, but also their relationship to herbicide and pesticide use too.

In the three biggest soya producing countries, almost all the soya is GM. Many cosmetic ingredients can be made from soya, including soya lecithin for softening and conditioning. Corn may also be GM, and derivates are used for a variety of ingredients, which probably won’t be labelled as GM. The best way to avoid GM is to opt for products that are certified organic.

There is also a new type of GM, sometimes known as GMO 2.0, which is said to be ‘shaking up the industry’, but with even less regulation, or consumer awareness. The technology can go under many different names, from synthetic biology or synbio, to bioengineering, ‘engineered natural ingredients’, or even ‘plant cell culture’ or fermentation.

In synthetic biology, yeast, bacteria or algae undergo DNA editing, so that they produce new  ingredients. For instance, hyaluronic acid (for hydration) or squalene (for spreadability or absorption) may come from such a process.

Companies may claim that producing ingredients in a lab uses less land and is therefore more sustainable, but feedstock such as sugar still needs to be grown in the real world to get the microorganisms to do their work.

Toxics

Campaigners warn that a US UK trade deal ‘could flood Britain with toxic cosmetics’. Unlike in the EU and UK, where the industry has to prove an ingredient is safe, in the US the regulator has to prove that it’s not.
 

This difference means that only 11 toxic ingredients are banned in the US, while the UK currently bans over 1300. Cosmetics refers to more than just make-up, but as recently as 2019, for example, asbestos was found in make-up marketed to children in the US.

Our toxics rating for cosmetic products is based on what a company says about the use of three key chemicals: parabens, phthalates and triclosan. Of course, there are other problem ingredients, but we use these as an indicator.

Companies with a policy of no use of these chemicals or clear, dated targets for ending their use, which got a best rating, were Odylique, PHB Ethical Beauty, Green People, Lavera, Nude by Nature and Tropic Skincare.

Plastics in make-up and make-up packaging

Plastics

Microplastics have been added to cosmetics since the 1960s, and you may have heard of polyethylene microbeads used in skincare products for exfoliating, smoothing, or polishing the skin. However, microplastic particles and other poorly biodegradable synthetic polymers remain for years in our ecosystem, in the air, water and soil.

On a global average, a human being absorbs up to five grams of plastic per week, and the consequences are unknown.

Thankfully the Beat the Microbead campaign has had many wins in recent years, with 15 countries taking steps to ban microbeads. In 2018, the UK government banned the use of microbeads in toothpastes, shower gels and facial scrubs.

However, some products classified as ‘leave on’ were not subject to the ban, including lotions, sun cream and make-up, as well as abrasive cleaning products. This ban also did not extend to non-biodegradable 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.

Acrylates Copolymer (also known as acrylics or polyacrylates) may also be used to add waterproof properties to mascaras and lipsticks. These are two of the most commonly used of these polymers in cosmetics, but new research has found there are over 500 more.

None of the make-up companies we rated had yet got a clear public policy on all microplastics and non-biodegradable liquid polymers, however, Green People contacted us to say they had never used these ingredients.

We did not mark down Dr Hauschka or Lavera either, as both were certified by NATRUE, which had a fact sheet on microplastics, explicitly stating that “all microplastics are prohibited”, and neither had any of the most common liquid polymers in their ingredients lists.

Sign the petition by the Plastic Soup Foundation to tell the EU to ban microplastics in cosmetics.

Packaging

You can find examples online of make-up in refillable, recycled, compostable or biodegradable packaging, but those brands are not generally available in the UK.

For the dedicated out there, one way to avoid packaging is to make your own make-up, but if you want to buy charcoal to try and make your own mascara, you might want to check the label closely, as it can be made from many things including coal, peat, or bone.

Each of the companies at the top of the table discussed packaging on their websites, from experimenting with plastic made from sugar cane, to using recyclable materials. Lush was the only company we found that actually sold packaging-free make-up, including concealer, foundation and lipstick refills cupped in biodegradable wax, which go into a partially recycled aluminium and brass case.

They are also working on biodegradable tagua nut packaging for eyeshadow.

According to the recycling company TerraCycle, the global cosmetics industry produces 120 billion units of packaging every year, and few (other than glass jars and plastic bottles) are accepted by kerbside recycling programmes. Partly due to the resulting confusion, far fewer people are in the habit of recycling packaging generated in the bathroom, compared to the kitchen.

But you can add bottles from your bathroom to your household recycling with a few extra steps. Pumps are not recyclable so removing these is essential, as well as trigger heads or flip top lids from bottles, which are usually made from a different material. You should also empty any liquids out, and wash and dry the bottles.

If you have make-up packaging you want to recycle, including tubes, compacts, lipsticks and mascaras, there may be a TerraCycle drop-off point near you, or you can even start one.

The latest on the use of mica in make-up

Mica is used by almost all make-up companies for its glittery qualities. But a quarter of global mica comes from illegal and unregulated mines in India, where widespread poverty means child labour is common.

The independent charity KSCF had been working on this issue for over a decade before January 2017 when big players in the cosmetics industry publicly took notice. Members now include Chanel, Clarins, Coty, L’Oréal, LVMH and Shiseido.

The Responsible Mica Initiative was formed with the aim of eradicating child labour in the Indian mica mines by 2022. In 2018, Reuters reported that the coalition had failed to take “any tangible action on the ground”, and that at least nine people had died in collapses of illegal mines that year. RMI members defended themselves saying they were still in the preparation phase.

The Indian government also had plans to regulate the industry but KSCF said they thought more could have been done. Since before the RMI started, KSCF had been creating ‘child friendly villages’. In these villages child labour is banned and all children under 14 go to school as well as learning their rights and collectively organising to speak out. KSCF have freed over 80,000 children from child labour including 3,000 from mica mines.

In May 2019, further reports stated that the RMI was still in the planning stages, and only had a team of three people working on it. In July, it was reported that not one mine was yet legalised, and, in November 2019, Reuters said there had been 19 deaths since 2018, and there was still concern at the pace of change from RMI and the Indian government.
 

Protests against make-up

In late 2018, a protest movement took off in South Korea under the cry of Escape the Corset! In a nation where up to a third of young women have gone to the lengths of getting cosmetic surgery, thousands of images began to appear on social media of smashed up make-up.

#EscapeTheCorset came in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Many women also cut their hair and changed the way they dressed, stating “Looking perfect is unpaid labour and we have had enough.

image: smashed makeup no makeup campaign korea take off the corset

Wearing make-up: Lip gloss under lockdown

In April 2020, just a few weeks into the ‘stay at home’ phase of the coronavirus response in the UK, we asked our readers on social media: If you are/were a make-up user, are you using less make-up under lockdown? How do you feel about it? Here are some of the responses:

“Much less make-up. Still going to work but not wearing as much make-up means I'm touching my face less. Gotta have mascara tho.”

“I'm a veteran of ethical, vegan make-up and I am really enjoying having the time to source different companies and ideas online and away from the High-Street dominators.”

“The first couple of weeks, I stayed off make-up and dressing smartly even though I was working from home. However, I started to feel demotivated so now I dress comfortable smart to make me feel good and wear less make-up but mascara, eye liner and a dash of lipstick especially as I do a lot of video meetings but mainly for me. ”

“I haven't worn make-up since lockdown and I think I'll either wear less when I go back to the office or be happier going out with none at all now. That used to be reserved for weekends only."

“I usually use very little when going to work, since lockdown five weeks ago I stopped using it but this week I thought about it and recognised it helps me to boost my mood, it helps me to feel I pamper myself so I used the past three days and plan to rest from it today and during the weekend and use it again for three days and so on.”

“So much less! However, still feel more confident wearing it for video calls. Loving daily walks with nothing but SPF & my sunnies.”

“Much less! I feel like I look like another person when I put it on now, whereas before I thought I looked weird when I took it off..!”

“Not wearing any in lockdown but a slick of lip gloss. Love wearing make-up but not much and not every day.”

Company behind the brand

L’Oréal, ELC, Coty, and Boots take two thirds of the UK market, with numerous brands each. Shiseido is one of the seven biggest beauty companies in the world and sells under its own name as well as Bare Minerals. LVMH and Chanel are perhaps better known for their perfume or designer clothing.

PHB Ethical Beauty is new to the table. It’s whole range is certified Vegan and cruelty-free by Leaping Bunny.

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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