Skincare

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 70 brands of skincare products

We also look at toxic chemicals, vegan and organic options, shine a spotlight on the ethics of L'Oreal 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.

What to buy

What to look for when buying skincare products:

  • Is it organic? This is a fail-safe way to avoid most of the nasty, artificial chemicals that are in so many products. And thereby also help to protect the environment.

  • Is it cruelty-free? 80% of the world still permits animal testing for cosmetics, although it is banned in the UK. The Cruelty-Free logo guarantees that the company is not animal testing anywhere in the world.

  • Is it vegan? Many skincare brands use animal products such as honey. Look for a vegan brand.

Best Buys

We recommend brands that are certified organic and/or get a best rating for animal testing:

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying skincare products:

  • Does it contain palm oil? At its most unsustainable, palm oil is linked to mass 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 for skincare products often include toxic chemicals. These are bad for the environment as well as health.

  • Does the manufacturer use microbeads? Although these tiny pieces of plastics are now banned in the UK, lots of cosmetics companies use them in products elsewhere in the world. They are disastrous for marine-life, so avoid those companies.

Companies to avoid

We recommend avoiding brands owned by Unilever who get a worst rating for animal testing: 

  • Vaseline
  • St Ives
  • Simple
  • Ponds
  • Lux
  • Dove

Score table

Updated live from our research database

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

Odylique moisturiser [O,A]

Company Profile: Essential Care (Organics) Ltd
16.5

Bentley Organics skincare [A, O]

Company Profile: Bentley Organic Trading Limited
16

Badger Skincare [O]

Company Profile: W S Badger
15.5

Caurnie skincare [A]

Company Profile: Caurnie Soap Co
15.5

Faith in Nature skincare [A]

Company Profile: Faith in Nature Ltd
15.5

Green People skincare [O,A]

Company Profile: Green People Company Ltd
15.5

Neal's Yard organic skincare [O]

Company Profile: Neal's Yard Remedies
15

Honesty Skincare [A]

Company Profile: Honesty Cosmetics
14.5

Pure Nuff Stuff skincare

Company Profile: Pure Nuff Stuff Ltd
14.5

Neal's yard skincare

Company Profile: Neal's Yard Remedies
14

Yaoh skincare [A]

Company Profile: Yaoh Ltd
14

Dr Hauschka skincare [O]

Company Profile: Dr. Hauschka Skin Care, Inc.
13

Dr Hauschka vegan skincare [O,A]

Company Profile: Dr. Hauschka Skin Care, Inc.
13

Lush vegan skincare [A]

Company Profile: Lush Cosmetics Ltd
13

Urtekram skincare [A, O]

Company Profile: Midsona
13

A Vogel Bioforce/Echinacea/Comfrey Creams [A]

Company Profile: Bioforce AG Roggwil TG
12.5

Attitude skincare

Company Profile: Bio Spectra
12.5

Weleda skincare [A]

Company Profile: Weleda AG
12.5

Lavera moisturiser [A, O]

Company Profile: Laverana GmbH & Co KG
12

Lush skincare

Company Profile: Lush Cosmetics Ltd
12

Pacifica skincare [A]

Company Profile: Pacifica Beauty LLC
12

The Body Shop Nutriganics Skincare [O]

Company Profile: Body Shop International plc
11

Body Shop skincare

Company Profile: Body Shop International plc
10.5

Aesop skincare

Company Profile: Aesop
9.5

Original Source Skincare range [A]

Company Profile: PZ Cussons PLC
9.5

Baylis and Harding skincare

Company Profile: Baylis and Harding plc
9

L'Occitane skincare

Company Profile: L'Occitane International SA
8.5

Sanctuary Spa skincare

Company Profile: PZ Cussons PLC
8.5

Clarins skincare range

Company Profile: Clarins
8

Avalon Organics skincare [O,A]

Company Profile: Avalon Organics
7.5

Alba Botanica body lotion [A]

Company Profile: Alba Botanica
7

Aveda skincare

Company Profile: Aveda
7

Avon skincare

Company Profile: Avon Products Inc
7

Bulldog Moisturiser [A]

Company Profile: Bulldog Skincare Limited
7

Clinique skincare

Company Profile: Clinique
7

Estée Lauder skincare

Company Profile: Estée Lauder Companies Inc
7

JASÖN skincare [A]

Company Profile: JASÖN Natural Products
7

Origins skincare

Company Profile: Origins Natural Resources Inc
7

Nivea skincare

Company Profile: Beiersdorf AG
6.5

Aveeno skincare

Company Profile: Johnson & Johnson
6

Johnson's skincare

Company Profile: Johnson & Johnson
6

Logona moisturiser [O,A]

Company Profile: Logocos Naturkosmetik AG
6

Norwegian Formula by Neutrogena moisturiser

Company Profile: Johnson & Johnson
6

Sante moisturiser [O,A]

Company Profile: Sante Naturkosmetik
5.5

Dr Organic skincare [O,A]

Company Profile: Holland & Barrett
5

Gillette skincare

Company Profile: Procter & Gamble Company
5

Olay skincare

Company Profile: Procter & Gamble Company
5

SK-II moisturiser

Company Profile: Procter & Gamble Company
5

Biotherm skincare

Company Profile: Biotherm
4.5

E45 Lotion

Company Profile: Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC
4.5

Garnier skincare

Company Profile: Garnier
4.5

Kiehl's skincare

Company Profile: L'Oréal
4.5

L'Oréal skincare

Company Profile: L'Oréal
4.5

Lancôme skincare products

Company Profile: Lancôme
4.5

Vichy skincare products

Company Profile: Vichy Laboratories
4.5

Benefit skincare

Company Profile: Benefit Cosmetics LLC
4

Tom's of Main skincare [A]

Company Profile: Tom's of Maine
4

Superdrug skincare

Company Profile: Superdrug Stores Plc
3

Boots skincare products

Company Profile: Boots UK Ltd
2

Botanics skincare

Company Profile: Boots UK Ltd
2

No7 Skincare

Company Profile: Boots UK Ltd
2

Dove skincare

Company Profile: Unilever Home & Personal Care Division
1.5

Lux skincare

Company Profile: Unilever Home & Personal Care Division
1.5

Ponds skincare

Company Profile: Unilever Home & Personal Care Division
1.5

Simple Skincare

Company Profile: Simple Health & Beauty Group Limited
1.5

St Ives skin care

Company Profile: Alberto-Culver Company
1.5

Vaseline Skincare

Company Profile: Unilever UK Ltd
1.5

What is most important to you?

Animals
Environment
People
Politics
Product sustainability

Our Analysis

Soap and water might be enough for some, but a large proportion of the population uses some kind of skincare products to moisturise, cleanse or to smooth over the bumpy bits.

Although the big names may dominate the market in terms of units sold, we’re seeing an increasing number of companies offering more ethical alternatives. 

Image: Neal's Yard Skincare

Toxic chemicals

We have rated all the skincare companies for their toxic chemicals policies. Those companies which received a best rating had a policy which has banned the use of parabens, phthalates and triclosan (see our feature on toxic chemicals for why we have chosen these chemicals).

As you can see from the table below, the use of these chemicals is still widespread.

Best Middle Worst

Alba Botanica

Aesop (parabens)

Aveda
Avalon Attitude Avon
A. Vogel

Aveeno (pthalates / triclosan)

Baylis and Harding
Badger

Norwegian formula by Neutrogena (phthalates / triclosan)

Benefit
Bentley

Body Shop (parabens and phthalates)

Biotherm
Caurnie

Boots/Botanics/No. 7 (phthalates / triclosan)

Clarins
Faith in Nature

Bulldog (parabens)

Clinique
Green People

Honesty (parabens)

Dr. Organic
JASON

Dove (parabens with date for ending triclosan)

Estee Lauder
Lavera

Dr. Hauschka (parabens)

E45
Little Satsuma

Johnson’s (phthalates / triclosan)

Garnier 
L'Occitane

Logona, Sante (parabens)

Gillette
Odylique

Lush (phthalates, triclosan)

Jergens
Neal's Yard

Lux (parabens with date for ending triclosan)

Kiehl's
Pacifica

Original Source (triclosan)

Lancome
Pure Nuff

Ponds (parabens with date for ending triclosan)

L'Oreal
Weleda

Sanctuary Spa (parabens / triclosan)

Nivea
 

Simple (parabens with date for ending triclosan)

Olay
 

St. Ives (parabens with date for ending triclosan)

Origins
 

Tom’s of Maine (parabens)

SK-II
 

Urtekram (parabens)

Superdrug
 

Yaoh (parabens)

Vichy
 

Vaseline (parabens with date for ending triclosan)

Witch
    Yardley of London

Vegan and organic 

Vegans might want to avoid animal derivatives in their skincare products. Ingredients to watch out for include honey, beeswax, silk, collagen and lanolin.

Companies which are suitable for vegetarians or vegans have been marked on the table using the symbol [A] while those made with organic products have been marked with an [O].

Brands that are certified by the Vegan Society and the Vegetarian Society get an extra whole plus point, while those that just market themselves as vegan or vegetarian only get and extra half point.

The following brands were certified by the Vegan Society: Faith In Nature, Green People, Honesty, Lavera, Lush, Original Source, Urterkram, Yaoh.

The following brands were certified by the Vegetarian Society: Bulldog

The following brands carried organic certifications: Avalon Organics, Badger, Bentley Organics, Dr Hauschka, Green People, Lavera, Logona, Neal’s Yard, Odylique, Sante, Urterkam.

Animal testing

Although the testing of cosmetics on animals has been banned in the EU, this is not the case everywhere else in the world. The EU’s REACH legislation has also complicated the issue. See our feature on ending animal testing.

Ethical Consumer rates all companies selling cosmetics on their animal testing policy. Companies will score a best rating if they have a policy not to test on animals, have a fixed cut-off date (a date after which none of their products or ingredients will have been tested on animals), and are not selling to markets, such as China, where animal testing of products is required by law.

The following brands were certified by the Leaping Bunny certification for not using animal tested ingredients: Alba Botanica, Avalon Organics, Badger, Body Shop, Bulldog Skincare, Faith in Nature, Honesty Cosmetics, JASON Natural Cosmetics, Neal’s Yard Remedies, Superdrug, Tom’s of Maine, Urtekram.

Additionally, Caurnie, Green People, Pure Nuff Stuff, Little Satsuma, Dr Hauschka, Logona, Sante, Lush, Weleda,  Aesop got our best rating for animal testing policies.

Palm oil

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

The new column on our table shows how all the companies rank on their palm oil policy and practice.

The following brands scored best in our palm oil category: A. Vogel, Bentley Organics, Caurnie, Dr. Hauschka, Honesty, Lush, Odylique, Pure Nuff Stuff.

Of those, Caurnie, Honesty and Odylique were palm oil free.

Company profile

L’Oréal (whose brands include Garnier, Elvive, The Body Shop, Maybelline and Ambre Solaire) is the world’s largest cosmetics company. It is part owned by Nestlé and part owned by Liliane Bettencourt, the daughter of the company’s founder and the 11th richest person on earth.

Over the past few years, L'Oréal has been at the centre of a high-level French political scandal over tax avoidance and alleged illegal donations to French conservative politicians who, it is claimed, were given envelopes stuffed with cash at the Bettencourt’s mansion. Journalists reporting on the case said that they were intimidated, and that they suffered mysterious burglaries, with computers containing details of the case being stolen. The police investigation is still ongoing. The affair has also brought up L’Oréal’s historical roots in French pro-Nazi groups.

In addition to its alleged donations to right wing politicians, L’Oréal is itself involved in right-wing political lobbying. In 2012, Jean-Paul Agon, the head of the company, was widely publicised as speaking vitriolically against François Hollande’s plan to introduce a 75% tax rate on earnings over €1 million (L’Oréal’s own CEO is currently paid €2,200,000 plus bonuses). The company is also a member of several free trade lobby groups and, in 2014, it spent $80,000 lobbying US politicians.

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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