As beauty insiders shift their focus from green beauty to blue beauty, Rosie Greenaway takes a deep dive into this mysterious sub-section of the natural beauty space
If you’ve heard the term ‘blue beauty’ casually thrown into conversation and secretly wondered what on earth it means, you’re not alone. It’s a forgivable assumption that blue denotes ocean-friendly products – and that’s certainly part of it, according to Jeannie Jarnot, founder of US beauty discovery service Beauty Heroes, who first coined the term in 2018 when she began Project Blue Beauty.
But it reaches further: it’s about going beyond green, it’s about brands ensuring that not only are their products ocean-safe and sustainably sourced with a low carbon footprint, but that they are ‘looking at ways their practices are contributing back to and have a net positive effect on the environment’. So yes, minimizing environmental footprint is one aspect, but championing blue beauty means actively striving to leave the planet in a better state than you found it.
Over to Jarnot to explain: “Moving beyond green beauty means that above and beyond finding ways to wholeheartedly embrace organic and plant-based beauty and minimize our impact on the environment, blue beauty brands are finding ways to regenerate, improve and repair it in ways big and small.”
Jarnot’s approach as a retailer includes a multitude of planet-positive actions – reducing waste in fulfilment; partnering with rePurpose to make purchases plastic negative; planting trees; packaging responsibly; hosting beach clean-ups. But it also means working with ‘blue ambassadors’ to educate consumers and to promote her concept of ‘living lighter’.
The business of being blue
For New York-based beauty thought leader Deanna Utroske blue beauty is ‘an important movement for the future of life on Earth’ – but it’s not the term itself that matters. “Retailers, brands and suppliers eager to be part of a better future must first be concerned with the true blue merits of their effort and only then with marketing strategy and environmental impact messaging.”
“It is about healing the Earth and is the inspiration for new business models”
Utroske defines blue beauty as ‘a movement to recoup the damage industrialization has done to our blue planet’. “It is about healing the Earth and is the inspiration for new business models; for truly innovative ingredient, packaging, and manufacturing solutions; and for developing a fully circular personal care and cosmetics economy. This is distinct from green beauty, which is focused on what we conventionally think of as environmentally sustainable products and business practices – those that somehow limit further harm to the natural environment.
“The concept of blue beauty holds meaning for a subset of conscious beauty consumers, particularly those with a passion for clean, green, or natural beauty. And insofar as the beauty industry thrives on newness, this relatively new term has potential to capture the attention of even more shoppers. While any ambiguous term can cause confusion, what’s important to know is that today’s consumer is increasingly motivated to make purchases that clearly communicate the impact of a product. Shoppers today, buying beauty or anything, are more likely to consider the environmental, social, ethical, and political implications of their purchase.”
Going the extra nautical mile
Back on this side of the pond blue beauty has been bubbling away, catching the eye of trend forecasters and beauty gurus such as Fiona Klonarides, founder of The Beauty Shortlist. “Blue Beauty clearly embraces ocean-friendly and ‘do no harm’ beauty brands, but it’s about going deeper overall – for example: giving back; a longer sustainability journey, from sourcing ingredients all the way through to packaging; eco solutions and innovation; and proactively protecting and helping regenerate important natural resources like coral reefs (seagrass restoration is one area I’m very interested in). Last, but not least, facing the plastic problem that plagues our oceans head-on. ‘Do no harm’ is good; prevention and proactively solving problems is better. Regenerative environmental projects and solutions, at land and at sea, really are key.”
Klonarides differentiates blue beauty from its green predecessor like this: “Both are beautiful and commendable, but broadly speaking, while green beauty encompasses natural, organic, wildcrafted products, and emphasizes planet-friendly formulas and packaging, blue beauty has a stronger natural tie-in with ocean conservation and there’s an element of ‘going the extra nautical mile’. You could also include brands that use ocean-waste plastic and/or collaborate with ocean protection organizations, like REN Skincare’s REN x Surfrider ‘Clean to Skin. Clean to Planet’ partnership with The Surfrider Foundation.”
Plenty of blue beauty brands have entered the Beauty Shortlist Awards. “If you looked at the winners list and cross-checked the ingredients and packaging, a good percentage would belong under the blue beauty banner,” she comments. Among them are plastic-free brands such as EarthWise Beauty and Dr Jackson’s; ‘solid beauty and zero waste newcomer’ SBTRCT; MADARA (for its ocean-safe self-tanners and SPFs); French circular economy brand Kadalys, which repurposes banana waste into its ECOCERT-certified skincare; Cypriot line Kypwell, which makes packaging from cork scraps; and Beauty Kitchen for its Return Refill Repeat programme.
In 2020, The Beauty Shortlist expert predicted that waterless formulations would start to grace awards lists in their droves: “With the global climate now all over the place and a sobering, dramatic increase in heat waves [and] melting glaciers … water is the new gold. Preserving it, keeping our oceans clean and our marine life healthy has never been as critical,” asserts Klonarides.
With waterless ‘heralded as a new trend’, she has observed an abundance of individual water-free products coming to market – from bars and cleansing balms to face oils and powder masks – but says she isn’t aware of brands positioning themselves overall as entirely waterless as yet.
“Solid beauty is flying the flag for blue beauty in a big way,” she says. “I’ve seen a lot of shampoo and body bar launches in the last couple of years (one of the fastest-growing sectors for Beauty Shortlist Awards entries, along with sleep solutions).”
And thanks to a ‘high level of awareness’ around nano-plastic pollution, she agrees with Jarnot that blue beauty is set to dominate. “I think it’s just a matter of time until blue beauty gets as much recognition as green beauty has. Blue beauty also freshens things up a bit; it’s a new goalpost and talking point for the industry as a whole.”
For millennials and Gen Z, explains Jayn Sterland, MD of Weleda UK, part of embracing solid beauty is using the right terminology; no longer is a solid face cleanser called ‘soap’ – it’s a face bar. The same applies to every other type of personal care bar you can imagine: body bar, shampoo bar, conditioner bar, moisturizer bar – most of which contain little to no water. Brianne West, founder of regenerative New Zealand beauty brand Ethique, once blogged that since ‘there is water in the shower where you use these products anyway’, water within a product such as shampoo becomes redundant – its inclusion in the ingredients just creates a heavier product, meaning more carbon emissions and unnecessary packaging.
The multipurpose method
One formulator who knows a thing or two about creating waterless, multipurpose skincare is Saman Ali, founder of Beauty Cleanse Skincare, whose Nearly Everything Powder Mask has been picked up by British VOGUE and Condé Naste Traveller. Suitable for hands, face and feet, it’s not a detox mask, nor simply a brightening mask, but one which promises ‘to do the job you need, not matter what your skin type, gender, age or vibe’ thanks to its rich water-free ingredient list loaded with nutrient-dense liquorice, upcycled rice, discarded charcoal extracts, vitamin C, aloe vera and turmeric root.
Since the average skincare product is 70% water, Ali chose to formulate without aqua. “Your skin is waterproof. So quite simply, it’s useless in your skincare. Water doesn’t absorb into your skin, and it doesn’t hydrate you. It’s just diluting down the good ingredients. That’s why we don’t include any water. And because our products aren’t watered down, they are incredibly potent, which means you can use less product. Aside from delivering better skincare, going waterless also means that our products are more sustainable. Water is a valuable resource; we don’t see any reason to waste it.”
Ali says waterless, multipurpose products should be an automatic choice for beauty formulators and ‘the next biggest goal’ for the industry, to help fight the climate crisis. “For me, the most sustainable product is the one that’s not been produced in the first place,” she says, pointing out that water is involved at every stage of a product’s lifecycle – ‘from the harvesting and processing of raw materials to formulation, finishing, packaging, transport and consumer use’.
“Solid beauty is flying the flag for blue beauty in a big way”
“When you consider these factors, creating multipurpose formulas seems way more important than just avoiding water inside the finished product. Until we do something about our production patterns, we cannot avoid the immense reliance on water. There is an urgent need to change the way we produce and consume the products to resolve climate crisis. Multipurpose … is the best solution I can think of.”
Her definition of blue beauty centres around her range ‘being ocean safe as well as sustainably sourced, waterless … utilizing by-products of other industries that often end up in landfill’. It’s also about finding ways to avoid releasing carbon dioxide into the environment.
Changing the rules of retail
The latest single-use issue to be tackled by Holland & Barrett (H&B) is the sheet mask – a convenience item time-poor consumers fell in love with thanks to the influence of K-beauty – as we saw with BB cream, anything that comes out of South Korea (or SoKo if we’re being hip) is bound to catch on in the West. And when Victoria Beckham shares a snap of herself sporting Estée Lauder’s own slice of the sheet mask pie, you can be certain of its imminent cult following. But the problem is, long after the selfie fades into insignificance the mask itself does not; globally, an estimated one million are discarded into landfill and waterways every single day.
For this reason, Holland & Barrett has announced an end to its sales of single-use sheet masks. Joanne Cook, beauty business unit director, explains: “Our beauty ethos at Holland & Barrett is all about clean and conscious beauty – finding natural beauty products that are good for you and the planet and making sure the packaging and ingredients in our products support our oceans. Leading in blue beauty means we’ve had to take some tough commercial decisions to help clean up the beauty products we were offering, including banning microbeads six years before the UK ban, stopping selling wet wipes in 2019, making sure our own-brand sun cream is reef-safe. Most recently we’ve announced the decision to stop selling single-use beauty sheet masks because there are more environmentally friendly alternatives out there.”
Cooke says this latest move joins a ‘strict list of banned ingredients’ which mean that brands hoping to make it on-shelf at H&B must undergo ‘a rigorous due diligence process’.
“We know that environmental concerns are really important to our customers, so we want to give them a beauty department where they can be confident they can find more sustainable alternatives that include zero waste and waterless beauty as well as vegan ranges that have amazing benefits and are easy to use. But we can’t do this alone, so I’m pleased to be representing Holland & Barrett on the British Beauty Council’s Sustainable Beauty Coalition to help drive change across the sector by sharing best practice with others.”
Jarnot may have had big ambitions for blue beauty when she initiated the movement three years ago, predicting it would grow to become a global movement by 2022, but with increasingly more brands now adopting regenerative approaches and transitioning from green to blue, perhaps she had a crystal ball after all.
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