Beauty is both in the eye of the beholder, and in the interest of our environmental well-being and safety. As other industries, including fashion and tech, have worked on becoming more sustainable, so are beauty companies. A recent study by Whole Foods that showed a handful of beauty trends for the year had upcycled beauty and other eco-friendly beauty trends as top trends for this year.
Upcycling, as defined by upcycledbeauty.com, involves the reuse of discarded materials or objects in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original. Companies like Full Circle have committed themselves to accessing plant-based by-products and upcycling them into new cosmetic ingredients.
Things that were once considered waste have are becoming more common for beauty ingredients including coffee grounds, banana peels, and plum kernels. Repurposing food has become one of the biggest components to upcycled beauty products, and companies are making efficient use of plant-based waste. One person’s trash is another person’s beauty regimen; take “ugly” bananas for example.
Shirly Billot, founder of organic skincare brand Kadalys, sought to drive change by addressing the banana industry, which is the largest private employer in Martinique, a small island with few natural resources.
“The banana industry makes Martinique less dependent on tourism and the exportation of rum and sugar cane,” Billot said. “Without the banana industry, containers would go back to France empty, and I saw this as a possibility for change. Bananas also represent an opportunity to be more sustainable given the number of “ugly” or single bananas that are discarded every year.”
Globally, 22 million tons of bananas are thrown away each year, representing 20 percent of the world’s banana production, virtually the equivalent of 2178 Eiffel Towers.
Billot chose to focus on food waste because according to Project Drawdown, a nonprofit organization staffed by leading researchers who studied ways to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reducing food waste has the potential to reduce global carbon emissions by 87.45 to 94.56 gigatons.
Reducing food waste also avoids the deforestation of additional farmland, preventing 74.9 to 76.3 gigatons of additional emissions. Tackling and reducing food waste is ranked as the third in the top ten solutions to reverse climate change, which is why Billot believes the circular economy approach of upcycling food into beauty is so beneficial.
“We save unsellable bananas to build a circular economy for the future,” Billot said. “From the farm to the supermarket, we address every key waste point. We support all Martinique’s farmers in collecting and creating added value from waste and we educate our consumers by creating campaigns that celebrate ‘ugly bananas’ and how to recycle, so we’re having a big impact on the environment.”
After Whole Foods found how popular upcycling would be, the retailer began increasing upcycled products in its stores. The company’s global beauty buyer, Amy Jargo, says that Whole Foods is always on the hunt for innovative products that align with their values. One brand that caught Jargo’s eye and is currently available at Whole Foods is UpCircle, a company that bestows a new lease on life to used coffee grounds.
“I love the UpCircle Face Serum made with oil from repurposed coffee grounds,” Jargo said. “The oil is packed with great ingredients like sea buckthorn oil and rosehip oil to help skin appear more hydrated and firm. The subtle coffee fragrances also help me wake up in the morning.”
To create their products, UpCircle collects coffee grounds from a portfolio of artisanal cafes. They specifically want used coffee grounds because the antioxidants in coffee increase as they are brewed.
Jargo is working to ensure that Whole Foods continues expanding its upcycled product offerings, because she sees the beauty in bringing new life to ingredients that would have otherwise been discarded.
“I would love to see more brands using upcycled ingredients, considering alternatives to plastic packaging, and providing supply chain transparency,” Jargo said. “It is important that brands also make these products accessible to customers, so that they can easily choose to incorporate products that could have an impact beyond just their routines.”
Brands that have long been committed to sustainability are currently exploring how to incorporate upcycled ingredients in their products.
Versed, a vegan, cruelty-free skincare brand has been sustainably minded since their inception from recyclable packaging to fuel-efficient shipping methods. They have recently begun in looking in to how they could make this happen with their manufacturers. While their first official upcycled products are far out as they work on getting formulation right, in the meantime, the company has worked on educating the beauty industry and consumers on sustainable minded practices and the future of trends like upcycling.
“The biggest thing I’ve seen in the beauty community is people wanting to know more,” Devon Hopp, brand director of Versed, said. “That’s what leads a lot of beauty trends, and you see that especially with sustainably minded beauty brands. Ingredient sourcing is a big thing that consumers want to know more about and understand where ingredients come from, so sourcing will be a huge focus for beauty brands.”
Despite the increase in more brands trending toward upcycled ingredients, the lack of inclusivity in the upcycled beauty space is proving to be an issue in growing the movement.
Lesley Thornton, founder of Klur Botanics, one of just a handful of Black-owned sustainable beauty brands, prides herself on local and domestic sourcing. Her products use ingredients like avocado and tomato seed oil made from food waste.
In addition to her firm beliefs in sustainable sourcing practices, Thornton says the sustainable and upcycled beauty movement needs to work on diversifying to properly address these issues. There is a broader range of people who believe in upcycled beauty products created through reducing food waste than general marketing departments think they are.
“The movement and these companies need to address their inclusivity issues,” she said. “The movement values whiteness over science, facts, and data. The green and sustainable beauty space is very small, and it has to take a look at itself and be more inclusive. These issues of upcycling and clean beauty aren’t just important to white women and cisgender people, and more people need to be invited to these conversations. When we’re all invited to the table, then a real shift for upcycling and sustainability can take place.”