How to Shop Eco-Friendly Beauty, According to Sustainability Experts

You can be glam and green at the same time.

collage of sustainable beauty products on a beige textured background
(Image credit: Future)

Today, more consumers than ever are choosing to opt for a sustainable beauty routine. Issues such as climate change, animal cruelty, and ocean pollution have impacted the way beauty brands formulate and market their products, evidenced by the increasing number of companies with B-Corp certifications, Leaping Bunny accreditation, and climate pledges. But with greenwashing at an all-time high, how can you make sure your beauty products are truly eco-friendly?

According to sustainable beauty expert Kristen Arnett, actively choosing to buy from brands that care about the environment is a powerful first step. "These are micro-decisions that we can make as consumers," she explains. "I can see how a consumer might say, Why would I bother? Part of why you bother is because some companies do care and are making a difference. When you choose them and involve yourself in sustainability, you can help move the needle towards more sustainable corporate practices."

Ahead, our favorite products from brands that are forging towards a cleaner, more ethical world. Plus, Arnett and fellow sustainable beauty expert Ashlee Piper talk about how to live and shop more sustainably.

Best Sustainable Beauty Products

How to Create an Eco-Friendly Beauty Routine

Piper admits it can feel overwhelming to combat animal cruelty, plastic pollution, and human rights at once, saying there's no such thing as a perfectly sustainable beauty routine. Instead, what's important is that customers stay mindful and do their best.

Arnett and Piper urge consumers to opt for eco-friendly products, though they warn users to proceed cautiously when reading labels. "There are no reliable, standardized certifications out there that make a product 'sustainable,'" says Piper, adding that while the Federal Trade Commission recently cracked down on some of the terminology among large businesses, much of the faux eco-friendly marketing terminology (often known as "greenwashing") still goes unregulated.

Below, find their tips for shopping eco-friendly.

Don't Buy Excess Products

Piper and Arnett also advise against completely overhauling your existing beauty routine. They note that throwing away all your half-empty or unused beauty products is wasteful, so you should finish what you own before buying anything else. You should invest in something new only once you've completed everything in front of you.

Use Multi-Purpose Products

Piper recommends multi-use products, such as pigments that can be used on the lips, eyes, cheeks, or liners that can be used on both the eyes and brows. Arnett adds that multi-use products generate less waste, decrease clutter, save money, and simplify your routine.

Look for Sustainable Ingredients

Many products claim to be sustainable but these statements are often unchecked. To examine these claims more closely, Arnett and Piper suggest examining the ingredients. "Take a moment to really investigate," suggests Arnett. "Does this company just rely on imagery that makes you feel better? Like a leaf, or a farm, or a dew drop. Turn the package around and look at the ingredients."

Piper agrees, adding that there are specific third-party certifications customers can rely on. "I would recommend looking for more of those tried-and-true certifications like the PETA bunny, the Leaping Bunny, the Fair Trade symbol, and the vegan symbol," she says. "Those all require a lot of monitoring, and they're also expensive for companies to acquire."

Greenwashing also exists with regards to how companies source their ingredients. Arnett says that while plastic-neutral and carbon-neutral designations are better than nothing, they're still not as meaningful as regenerative, plastic-negative, and carbon-negative designations.

Examine the Parent Company

Piper says to also look at the parent companies of your go-to brands, noting that while particular brands may not test on animals, they're owned by larger organizations that test on animals, source their ingredients unsustainably, or have unethical manufacturing practices. Arnett adds, "I don't think anything in the aisles of any mass market department drug store is sustainable."

Opt for Sustainable Packaging

While many recyclable packaging options on the market, Arnett suggests prioritizing refillable options.

When you can't get a refillable option, though, Piper recommends finding products with little to no packaging like loose bar soaps. "I place emphasis on the least amount of packaging possible," she says, "If there has to be packaging, I want that packaging to be compostable, reusable, or, at the very least, recyclable." For example, she prefers glass bottles and jars, which can be reused, over plastic packaging. She especially cautions against mixed material packaging (such as a pump, which is made from glass, plastic, and metal), noting they're notoriously difficult to recycle in a traditional system.

Regarding compostable packaging, Arnett says to pay attention to how long it takes to compost. For instance, she says that most compostable materials take around 300 years to decompose, which does little to mitigate the impact of pollution in the short term.

Meet the Experts

Ashlee Piper
Ashlee Piper

Ashlee Piper is a sustainability expert, TV personality and author whose work has been featured on over 200 television segments, including The TODAY Show, Good Morning America, LIVE with Kelly & Ryan and CNN, and in VOGUE, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic and Newsweek. Piper's book, Give A Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet. has been hailed as a 'sustainability Bible' by celebrities and reviewers.

Piper is a Professor of Sustainability Marketing at Loyola University Chicago, and holds a BA from Brown University and an MA from the University of Oxford, UK.

Kristen Arnett
Kristen Arnett

Kristen Arnet spent years traveling the world as a celebrity makeup rtist before turning her attention to sustainability. Now she is a green beauty educator who specializes in helping women over 40 look and feel their best.

Gabrielle Ulubay
Beauty Writer

Gabrielle Ulubay is a Beauty Writer at Marie Claire. She has also written about sexual wellness, politics, culture, and fashion at Marie Claire and at publications including The New York Times, HuffPost Personal, Bustle, Alma, Muskrat Magazine, O'Bheal, and elsewhere. Her personal essay in The New York Times' Modern Love column kickstarted her professional writing career in 2018, and that piece has since been printed in the 2019 revised edition of the Modern Love book. Having studied history, international relations, and film, she has made films on politics and gender equity in addition to writing about cinema for Film Ireland, University College Cork, and on her personal blog, Before working with Marie Claire, Gabrielle worked in local government, higher education, and sales, and has resided in four countries and counting. She has worked extensively in the e-commerce and sales spaces since 2020, and spent two years at Drizly, where she developed an expertise in finding the best, highest quality goods and experiences money can buy.

Deeply political, she believes that skincare, haircare, and sexual wellness are central tenets to one's overall health and fights for them to be taken seriously, especially for people of color. She also loves studying makeup as a means of artistic expression, drawing on her experience as an artist in her analysis of beauty trends. She's based in New York City, where she can be found watching movies or running her art business when she isn't writing. Find her on Twitter at @GabrielleUlubay or on Instagram at @gabrielle.ulubay, or follow her art at