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.

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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.

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

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 banned in ‘wash off’ products in the UK, cosmetics companies may still use them in ‘leave-on’ products, as well as other non-biodegradable liquid polymers. Choose a company that is clear it doesn’t use any of these.

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Score table

Updated live from our research database

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

Our Analysis

A large proportion of the population uses some kind of skincare product to moisturise, cleanse or 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. From 1999 to 2018, the average annual household spending on ethical cosmetics went up from £7 to £31.

What makes an ethical skin care brand?

In this guide we explore which brands have independent organic or Vegan certification; which are cruelty-free or palm oil-free, and which are doing the best at avoiding toxic chemicals and microplastics.

 

Image: Neal's Yard Skincare

Organic skin care brands

As certification schemes offer an independent check on a company’s ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ claims, we have given certified organic products an extra Product Sustainability mark on our tables. (Look for the [O] next to the brand names).

Organic certification ensures that the agricultural ingredients used in skincare are grown using organic growing methods, without the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides and GMOs.

Products from the following companies carried organic certifications:

Palm oil free skin care

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

For example, palmate is an ingredient in many skincare products and is mostly made from palm oil. It is often used to add vitamin A to food or skincare products.

Due to issues of deforestation, habitat degradation, climate change, animal cruelty and indigenous rights abuses associated with palm oil production, we ranked all the companies on their palm oil policy and practice.

The table below shows which companies received a best rating for their palm oil policies and practice and which are palm oil free.

Best rating Palm oil free?

A Vogel

No

Caurnie Soap Co

Yes

Conscious Skincare Ltd

Yes

Cut Le Crap

Yes (apart from one moustache wax)

Essential Care (Organics) Ltd (Odylique)

No

Lucy Bee

Yes

Lush Cosmetics Ltd

No

Maxingvest ag (Nivea)

No

Neal's Yard (Natural Remedies) Limited

No

Pure Nuff Stuff Ltd

Yes

Queenie Organics

Yes

Weleda

No
WS Badger Co Inc No

Toxic chemicals in skincare

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 Middle and Worst ratings listed below, the use of these chemicals is still widespread.
 

Best rating Middle rating Worst rating

9055-7588 Québec Inc (Attitude)

Baylis and Harding PLC

CK Hutchison Holdings Limited

A. Vogel

Edgewell Personal Care

Clarins

Amsvest Ltd (Tropic Skincare)

Origins by ELC

ELC

Bentley Organic Limited

Johnson & Johnson

Fung Group

Caurnie Soap Co

Lush Cosmetics Ltd

KKR & Co. L.P.

CIME S.C.A. (L'Occitane)

Maxingvest ag

LVMH

(Givenchy, Guerlain, Dior, Benefit, Fresh, Make Up For Ever, Acqua di Parma, Loewe, Fendi, Christian Dior, Kenzo, Louis Vuitton, Pepe Jeans, Marc Jacobs, Givenchy Parfums, Perfumes Loewe, Kenzo Parfums, Fenty Beauty and KVD Vegan Beauty)

Colgate Palmolive

Midsona (Urtekram)

Pacifica Beauty LLC

Conscious Skincare Ltd

Natura

Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC

Cut Le Crap

Pai Skincare Ltd Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc.

Desford Holdings (Green People)

Procter & Gamble  

Essential Care (Organics) Ltd (Odylique)

PZ Cussons  

Faith in Nature Ltd

Unilever  

Hain Celestial

Wala-Stiftung (Dr. Hauschka)  

Honesty Cosmetics

Yaoh  

L’Oreal

   

Laverana

   

Lucy Bee

   

Neal's Yard (Natural Remedies) Limited

   

Pure Nuff Stuff Ltd

   

Queenie Organics

   

Weleda

   
WS Badger Co Inc    

Microplastics and liquid polymers

Under UK law, ‘rinse off’ products should not contain microbeads. However, skincare products are mainly designed to ’leave on’ and are not subject to the ban.

All companies’ policies regarding microplastics were therefore assessed by Ethical Consumer. See our feature on microbeads, 'The hidden plastics in your cosmetics' for more information about our rating and the ethical issues with microplastics.

Skincare companies that are considered to have positive microplastics policies (that exclude the use of microplastics and non-biodegradable liquid polymers in all products) include:

All other companies lost a mark under the Pollution and Toxics category as they either had no publicly available policy or had a policy that prohibited microbeads only.

Vegan skincare

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 vegans have been marked on the table using the symbol [Vg].

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

Products from the following companies were certified by the Vegan Society:

Conscious Skincare was certified by the Vegetarian Society as ‘Vegan approved’. Caurnie, Honesty and Yaoh were very small dedicated vegan companies, but not certified.

Image: rabbits in cages factory farming pet food dog food

Animal testing and cruelty-free skincare

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, with 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 cruelty free by Leaping Bunny which requires a fixed cut-off date:

Superdrug own brand products were also Leaping Bunny certified but its parent company was not.

Tropic Skincare was also Leaping Bunny approved. However, it lost half a mark in the Animal Testing category, because it was 50% owned by Lord Alan Sugar's company Amsvest Limited, which also owned 50% of a cosmetics procedures company, an industry in which animal testing is ubiquitous.

The following companies also got our best rating for animal testing policies:

Hand cream for dry hands

Since we’ve all been washing our hands more, you might find they’re drier than usual. You can reduce the drying effect by using lukewarm instead of hot water, but a hand cream can also help stop your skin cracking and becoming sore.

Dry your hands before applying the cream, and try applying at night to give your skin the most time to absorb the moisturising ingredients before the next wash!

All but two of our Best Buy brands sell hand cream for dry hands. Here we list them in order of price/gram, with the cost (as of June 4th 2020, before P&P), the size and type of packaging, and whether it is not vegan (contains beeswax).

Brand Price Packaging Vegan?
Lush £9 100g recycled plastic tub Yes
PHB Ethical Beauty £16 150 ml plastic tube Yes
Pure Nuff Stuff £9.25 60 ml glass jar Yes
Caurnie £25 150 g jam jar Yes
Badger £8.99 56 g metal tin Contains beeswax
Pai Skincare £18 75 ml plastic tube Yes
Weleda £7.95 30 ml 50% recycled plastic tube Contains beeswax
Queenie Organics £9 50ml glass jar Yes
Neal's Yard £10 50ml plastic tube Contains beeswax
Conscious Skincare £11 50ml aluminium tin Yes
Green People £12.50 50ml plastic tube Yes
Odylique £15 50g recycled plastic jar Contains beeswax

Company profile

L’Oréal (whose brands include Garnier, Lancome, Logona and Sante) is the world’s largest cosmetics company, with annual beauty product sales of over $29billion. It is part-owned by Nestlé and part-owned by Mrs. Françoise Bettencourt Meyers and her family. Françoise is the granddaughter of the company founder, and also the richest woman on earth with a net worth of $58billion. L’Oréal’s own CEO is currently paid €2,200,000 a year, plus bonuses.

L’Oreal was criticised in June 2020 by activist and model Munroe Bergdorf, for using Black Lives Matter as a “window of PR opportunity to jump on the bandwagon.”  L’Oreal had commented on the protests against police violence towards black people by posting on social media, "Speaking out is worth it".

L’Oreal ended its partnership with Bergdorf in 2017 when she spoke out about racism after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The company stated that her values were at odds with their own after she’d written a post addressed to all white people saying, “Most of y'all don’t even realise or refuse to acknowledge that your existence, privilege, and success as a race is built on the backs, blood, and death of people of colour.”

L’Oréal has since hired Bergdorf as a consultant for diversity issues, and she will be joining the company’s UK diversity and inclusion board.

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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