"Sustainable Skincare": an oxymoron?

I decided a long time ago that I wouldn't use the word "Sustainable" in reference to my skincare and its ingredients. The reason is that I don't think it would be a true statement.

As a botanical skincare formulator, I'm acutely aware of the complex challenges around sustainability of natural resources, such as the raw ingredients used in the cosmetics and beauty industry. True sustainability is far too slippery a concept to apply in this context.

"Sustainable" is a term that has become almost meaningless, and even misleading. Nothing can be truly sustainable when our natural resources are finite. This static description seems overly simplistic when viewed against the backdrop of a dynamic, globally interconnected and evolving supply chain. And even more so in the context of the pressing climate crisis.

And by applying this term to a natural ingredient, there is a danger that we are lured into a false sense of understanding around its provenance, use, and its subsequent impact on our planet. 

I prefer to say that something is "Sustainably-sourced", meaning that social, ethical, and environmental factors are considered when sourcing ingredients and selecting which suppliers to work with. However, even this approach is fluid territory, where supply choices made today may diverge from those made tomorrow, as we account for the ever-shifting supply chain landscape.

There are also the unintended consequences of what we think are more ethical choices, such as avoiding the use of palm oil. This avoidance can precipitate an overreliance on what we believe are "greener" alternatives, which in turn inadvertently triggers the depletion of other resources.

This is a perplexing quandary for anyone wanting to make a more ethical choice when deciding what skincare to buy, and it’s certainly not helpful when it’s often impossible to decipher the long list of unfamiliar ingredients on skincare labels.

This was a big motivation for starting Earthly Rebels, to bring transparency to the product and its ingredients, and also to help people develop the knowledge and skills to create their own formulations at home, using simple, minimal ingredients sourced mindfully.

This offers an alternative - not necessarily a substitute - for conventional commercial skincare, which often contains ingredients whose primary purpose is not actually to care for your skin, but to care for the product.

Through our workshops, we explore a more empathetic approach to our perception of natural ingredients, shifting the lens and narrative away from “using” these ingredients as a one-sided practice, to “working with” them, in a more collaborative approach.

When we view plants as a vital natural asset, we develop a more compassionate, responsible and symbiotic relationship with a most important life support system. And as a bonus, we discover the power of plants to heal, nourish and enrich another vital support system: our skin!

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