5 steps for eco-designing in the cosmetic industry

5 steps for eco-designing in the cosmetic industry

When it comes to eco-design in the cosmetics industry and more specifically to sustainable beauty, the first idea that comes to mind is developing  environmental-friendly packaging. However eco-design is far more than that! At Safic-Alcan we are always aware of the latest trends in the cosmetics market, especially when it comes to a sustainable approach: check out our previous article on the upcycling trend.

Eco-design is a whole perspective on including social, economic and environmental aspects in the production chain and life-cycle of products. Its objective is to produce with the lowest negative impact while guaranteeing an overall positive one.

More than that, the ADEME (Agence De l’Environnement de la Maîtrise de l’Energie) , French agency for the ecological transition, provides a complete definition of eco-design, for a brand to be considered as implementing actions and falling within an approach in response to environmental concerns:

  • Environmental aspect: where are the products manufactured and produced? What are the raw materials used? What is their environmental impact? How are the products packed?
  • Social aspect: Are the rights, health and safety of workers respected in all the value chain? How are the raw materials extracted or produced? Is the brand in partnership with producers distributing raw material from abroad? Is the product locally manufactured? Does the brand choose to collaborate with local partners?
  • Economical aspect: Is it economically viable for all the value chain stakeholders? Is the brand transparent towards its customers? Is there any « greenwashing communication » that would compromise the trust in the brand or the essence of eco-design?

Then, to precisely define an eco-design approach when developing a new cosmetic product, one must follow each step of product development:

  • Sustainable sourcing and natural ingredients:

-  Establish a sustainable purchasing approach to integrate environmental and social issues into the purchasing policy such as by applying the principles of the circular economy and reducing the carbon footprint.

-  Setting up a responsible supply chain for ingredients to identify the country of supply, the regulations in force (Nagoya Protocol), solidarity-based collaboration with local people.

  • Eco-designing approach when formulating the products: to promote a responsible consumption with concentrated, efficient and biodegradable formulas. It allows to adapt to the needs of the market (consumer awareness and demands) and to the products trends (in terms of formulas, claims, galenic), to think about the biodegradability and the ecotoxicity of the ingredients such as how to predict the impact of rinse-off formulas and solar products, to develop the use of ingredients coming from biotechnologies, to anticipate the waste produced by the finished product during the distribution pathway (solid or loose products) and at its end of life, and to develop tools that help to eco-design formulas.
  • Processing optimization: to support the reduction of water use, to promote the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions as well as waste production, the energy management and the development of cold processes.  
  • Supply chain control: by way of the cosmetic industry decarbonization and the logistics dealing with the reduction of the carbon footprint during transportations.
  • Responsible communication for a conscious consumption means: companies need to take commitment for more transparency and clear communication regarding their product’s impacts as well as their own impacts. It contributes to support customers and consumers to be more conscious during their act of purchase and to better consume

Beyond that, the finished so-designed products can be labelled assessing they respond to the most demanding specifications (Fair Trade, Fair For Life, COSMOS, organic agriculture…) to ensure companies commitments to sustainability.  It can therefore enhance the development of innovative products while guaranteeing efficacy, planet and people respect.

eco-designing beauty products


So now, what’s on the market?

The concepts of ethical beauty, eco conscious cosmetics manufactured through green chemistry and environmentally-aware processes keep flourishing. To such an extent that, according to a 2020 Kline Market Research, the revolution of “Sustainable beauty” has become a thriving market and has been booming for the past few years. Thus, in 2019, it was estimated at $39 billion and could reach $48 billion by 2024.

Now, let’s detail all the above step of eco-designing a cosmetic product.

Eco-design within the ingredients’ selection or synthesis

A realistic approach to sustainability within the ingredients’ selection or synthesis is achieved through the right balance between wisely sourced natural ingredients and respectful synthetic products

However, it requires a strong expertise. For example, replacing petroleum-derived or non-degradable synthetic ingredients with naturally derived or plant-based ingredients is a challenge. Chemists must pay attention to the formulation process, compatibility with other ingredients over time and temperature variations, and the sensory experience on the skin or hair.

They can also develop a sustainable supply policy of such renewable ingredients in order to:

  • Guarantee the traceability of raw material, knowing the plant origin and its producing country, promoting a solidarity-based collaboration with local people
  • Estimate the social and environmental challenges with the suppliers of each channel
  • Check the respect of following criteria:
  1. The working conditions must be decent and safe in accordance with human rights and principles specified in the International Work Organization, along the whole production line
  2. Equality at work and the absence of discrimination between producers, and women promotion is encouraged
  3. Crops growing and harvest must contribute to economic development of producers, within respects to traditional knowledge coming from biodiversity, in compliance with the Nagoya Protocol procedure
  4. Crops growing and harvest preserving biodiversity, especially the forests
  5. Responsible and low-carbon farming practices are implemented
  • Ask an independent organism to check all the above steps of a global approach, to measure the impact of such programs on the channels.

Besides, companies can try to find alternatives to replace current ingredients by changing the extraction or production processes. Thus, green chemistry-compliant processes and biotechnologies such as enzymatic process can be used to extract or synthesize ingredients with cosmetic applications. Some research also has been conducted to develop environmentally-aware processes by reducing the number of synthesis steps, the consumption of solvents and energy or even using catalysts to fasten the synthesis or supercritic C02 that can be recycled.

Another source of finding ingredients with cosmetic properties has been also developing these past few years: upcycling, to reduce the amount of waste in the food or wood industry and to give value to this waste by developing cosmetic products.

Eco-design within the formulation

First and foremost, this step of the eco-design of cosmetic products must meet the consumer demands. Indeed, they are looking for new formulas and galenics respectful to both their health and the environment.

Besides, they are increasingly aware of the cosmetics compositions and require transparency from brands. It is crucial to communicate more about the ingredients’ traceability, production processes and commitments towards tackling climate change issues while preserving local populations and promoting innovation with Corporate Social Responsibility -CSR- policies.

Furthermore,  considerations must be taken towards the ingredient’s biodegradability and ecotoxicity, such as how to anticipate the environmental impact of solar and rinse-off products on the aquatic wildlife , the issue of the substances bioaccumulation and to reach the goal of the “toxic-free environment” European Green Deal . To take into account the water resources preservation, the last decades have seen the development of solid formulas (containing up to 40% of water) and waterless ones.

Some tools using AI for example already have been developed to evaluate the safety of cosmetic ingredients and to measure their environmental impact.

What is more, the development of low environmental impact-ingredients allows to produce sustainable and clean formulas and then commercialized products with a reduced water footprint and a higher biodegradability.


Eco-design within the production processes

As the other industrial fields, the beauty industry must tackle the climate change issues. The industrial production is one the most resource-consuming step of creating a product. Some solutions can be foreseen to reduce so-produced pollution and waste. For instance, the decarbonation of the cosmetic industry has been developing for ten years with the final goal to reach carbon neutrality within 2030 (in France).

The transportation field also needs to be considered to focus on the carbon footprint of the supply chain (transportation).

Eco-design within the packaging

Companies may opt for many different alternatives which can be complementary:

  • The use of recycled raw material (glass, plastic)
  • The use of natural-origin material or material coming from renewable sources to replace other raw material (for example plastic made with sugar cane)
  • The reduction of the volume and weight of existing and such developed packagings
  • The refilling, at home or point of sale, of bottles and packagings to restrict the number of single-use containers
  • The suppression of packaging thanks to innovative formulas, including solid cosmetics
  • The printing of notices directly on the packaging
  • The reduction of secondary packaging

The key goal is to choose the material with the lowest environmental impact without compromising on the practicality for the consumer and the compatibility with the formula.

Eco-design within the supplying, consumption and communication

Supplying and means of consumption

The retail industry has been evolving to integrate environmental concerns. Indeed, returnable and loose products are more and more spread along the points of sale.

Solutions to suppress single-use packaging waste are also being studied. As part of this approach, the entire product life cycle has been redesigned to minimize waste through the use of reusable and returnable containers.


Responsible communication rules consist of: target definition (consumers, partners, investors…), valorization of the approach and message broadcast. When it tackles the sustainability issue, it includes a clear, transparent and proportionate communication with access to the information and sharing in the value chain.

The aim is also to communicate about the CSR policy and Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) commitments that companies stand for.

It can be so relevant so that people can be dissuaded or persuaded to buy a cosmetic product rather than another as shown by the key figures released in the 2021 Mintel study “Pivot skincare to skin health care ». For consumers, the naturality statement is a guideline, communicating a desire to protect people’s skin, which represents a surface of 2 square meters per person, in the most natural way. In China, for example, 64% of females aged 18-49 perceive that naturally derived ingredients are more effective in maintaining skin health. 

While the definition of "green beauty" is not regulated, it generally refers to the concept of “growing demand for sustainably sourced, label-friendly and plant-based functional ingredients that deliver on performance”.  Eco-design aims to reduce the environmental impact of a product at each stage of its life cycle, from the extraction of raw materials to its end of life (recycling and reuse), through its manufacture, supply and use.

For several years, Safic-Alcan has developed a growth strategy using sustainable development as a driver of innovation.

Since 2021, in order to guide you through the process of eco-designing cosmetics products, we have set up 4 pillars which are followed by our application laboratories for each new development.


If you want to know more, do not hesitate to contact us or fill the form below to get our brochure!

Let’s discover our partners’ solutions to integrate eco-conception challenges into products development and ask for our brochure!

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