If you’re confused about terms like clean, cruelty-free, green or vegan when it comes to sustainable beauty, then our guide will help you break down the definitions. Plus, brands that fit the bill for each category.

The first step to a sustainable lifestyle is awareness. What goes into your food, fashion or face wash is one of the fundamental questions to ask yourself and the brands you are engaging with. As you scroll through the beauty shelves at a pharmacy or online, you’ll encounter various brands that throw terms like sustainable, natural, eco-friendly, vegan, cruelty-free at you. With sustainable beauty becoming an umbrella term for products that do not harm the environment in any way, there is a lot of greenwashing in the space. We cut through the jargon to simplify the various beauty categories so you can make an informed choice. We decode the terms along with brands that are adhering to the sustainable beauty guidelines.

Waterless beauty

Ruby's Organics Sustainable beauty
Image: Courtesy Ruby’s Organics Instagram

Water might be the essence of life but when it comes to beauty it only adds to the packaging cost and environmental waste. Think shampoo bars, dental tablets, cleansing balms, body butters, and pressed serums as the backbones of anhydrous or waterless beauty. The removal of water from skincare formulas leaving behind concentrated ingredients is also said to have higher efficacy. While the trend originated in Korea, even big beauty conglomerates like L’Oreal and Unilever are reducing the water consumption in their finished products.
Shop: Closer home, organic beauty brand Ruby’s Organic is making great strides into the space with waterless cheek creams and lipsticks. Shop Ruby Organic’s Crème Blush in Deep Rose for the subtle cheek glow.

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Zero-waste beauty

Earth Rhythm Sustainable beauty
Image: Courtesy Earth Rhythm Instagram

The growing landfills are one biggest cause of worry for the environment which is why we are pro brands that contribute to minimal or no waste. Makeup and skin items with biodegradable or reusable packaging along with made on order products.
Shop: Earth Rhythm’s shampoo bars that lather and cleanse like your regular shampoo can be your first step towards a zero-waste beauty routine. The damage control bar is enriched with biotin (stimulates keratin production), Niacinamide (boosts circulation) and Ginseng Extract (increases dermal cell).

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Vegan beauty

Arata Sustainable beauty
Image: Courtesy Arata Instagram

A vegan diet might be hard to stomach but vegan beauty is a fairly easy and sustainable way to reduce your carbon footprint. Vegan beauty products are made without the use of any animal products, that is often simplified as plant-derived ingredients. The vegan beauty market is buzzing yet it’s important to check for synthetic stabilisers in the ingredient list.
Shop: Switch to chemical- free, plant-powered skincare with Arata, our pick the soothing Hempocado oil for hair damage.

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Cruelty-free beauty

Image: Courtesy SkinKraft Sustainable beauty
Image: Courtesy SkinKraft

Different from vegan beauty, cruelty-free entails brands that don’t test their products and ingredients on animals. Incorporated by major brands like Garnier as well as many of our favourite beauty brands. The cruelty-free certification in India is usually done by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
Shop: Indulge in a customised beauty regime with products based on your lifestyle, eating habits and skin type from SkinKraft.

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Refillable beauty

ASA Beauty Sustainable beauty
Image: Courtesy ASA Beauty Instagram

Is refillable packaging the solution to the waste generated by the beauty industry? We think so, which is why we are slowly seeing a bend towards it in the makeup and skincare sectors. From MAC offering a free lipstick in exchange for six empties to homegrown brands offering refillable options for single-use products.
Shop: Lipsticks to foundations, ASA Beauty’s reusable aluminium packaging for their Powder Foundation in Soothing Ginger makes for a great pick.

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Clean beauty

Just Herbs Sustainable beauty
Image: Courtesy Just Herbs Instagram

One of the most overused and misunderstood terms is clean beauty. Products claiming the tag aren’t necessarily 100% natural but have a transparent ingredient list, are ethically sourced and focused on minimal environmental impact. These are usually made without controversial ingredients like phthalates, parabens and oxybenzone etc.
Shop: Ayurvedic formulas made with 98-100% natural ingredients and a fully disclosed ingredient list, Just Herbs with excellent serums like the Elixir Facial Serum with herbs such as Gotukola, Indian Ginseng, Safflower and more.

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Hero and featured image: Courtesy Shutterstock

Akshita Nahar Jain
Sr Associate Editor
Akshita Nahar Jain has worked with various publications, including Elle, Harper’s Bazaar Bride, and Time Out Delhi, and written extensively on fashion and lifestyle. A sucker for alliteration and shows with more style than script, she enjoys scrolling the web for less travelled destinations.