Secrets of the upcycling trend in cosmetics

Upcycling main image


Keep remembering Lavoisier’s mantra: “nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed”

A circular economy has been developing to counter the effects of the linear established economy, which depletes non-renewable resources, and poor waste management which pollutes soil, air and water. It takes into account all the steps of the products’ life cycle from the conception to the end-of-life, through the production and the consumption by promoting both efficiency and sustainability.

Thereby, to face the global concerns about biodiversity preservation and resources saving, upcycling offers to rescue and give back value to materials. Otherwise, these low-value materials would be burnt or sent to a landfill, where it would release methane emissions, a greenhouse gas causing even more global heating than carbon dioxide according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

This principle is widespread among fashion and decoration fields, but much less developed in beauty even if becoming popular.

So, let’s deep dive into the secrets of upcycling in the cosmetic industry!

Is Upcycling really a new concept among the cosmetic industry ?

No. This practice has been existing for a long time. However, what is new is the fact that this practice is joining a global context.

First of all, natural or bio-labelled cosmetics with eco-sourced ingredients, both environmental-friendly formulas and formulation processes, and recyclable packaging, have been all the rage for the last ten years. It can be explained by a breakthrough into the consciousness of consumers about an urge for environmental actions and their requirement of transparency from brands.

Consumers grant the environment as a driving force in their ethical considerations regarding purchases. According to a 2019 study by the Personal Care Product Council, 84% of millennials claim sustainability influences their purchase decisions, and more than 60% of Gen Z and Millennial consumers assert they pay attention to the product processing or sourcing. Indeed, they are willing to pay more for brands committed to positive social and environmental effects.

Moreover, as the whole industry has observed, the pandemic accelerated emerging cosmetic trends:

  • Consumers are more aware of their beauty products’ origin and the environmental effects of their consumption, leading to the willpower for more sustainable raw ingredients;
  • The recent disruption of the supply chain led buyers to look towards the food industry waste, which need no introduction to be advocated for their efficacy as emollients, texturizers or active ingredients.

Thus, the issue of waste management has emerged, especially in the food industry, and even more, how to reuse it by integrating it during the development of new cosmetic products.

For cosmetic products, here are some solutions of such a circular economy approach :

  • Ingredients produced with few waste ;
  • Ingredients adding value to waste or untapped elements (co-products from the cosmetic industry itself and from other industries);
  • Means of production that maximize the reduction of waste;
  • A reusable packaging or designed to be easily recycled;
  • Zero-packaging products (e.g. solid cosmetics…);

All over the market, it is noticeable that brands are already starting to move towards zero waste policies to ensure the biodegradability of the product… but what about the upstream of the supply chain?

Upcycling thus appears as the missing piece of the puzzle to respond to the increasing consumer-demand for ingredients committed to a circular economy and a long-term solution for more sustainable cosmetics. 

Upcycling: let’s precisely define the words!

First, upcycling can be translated as « recycling from above » but is often confused with recycling or downcycling. Here are the highlighted differences between these terms :

  • First, recycling allows to transform products or waste, initially intended to be destroyed, into similar or equivalent products.
  • Then, downcycling is reusing an item that will result in something of lesser value than the original.
  • Finally, upcycling is reusing an item that will result in something of greater value than the original.
Picture upcycling


Besides, upcycling can be defined as the use of co-products or by-products:

On the one hand, co-products are desirable secondary goods that are generated during the manufacturing process and can be sold or reused profitably.

On the other hand, by-products are materials of value that are produced as a residual of, or incidental to, the production process. By-products can be recycled, sold as is, or used for other purposes. 

Upcycling: More than a trend ?

A so-called « upcycling trend » can, at first sight, be identified in the food industry, as previously mentioned.

Indeed, as one-third of the food produced each year is wasted according to the United Nations, which is becoming a major issue, producers are looking to reduce their waste by adding value to their food by-products.

Moreover, the pandemic accelerated emerging trends such as the valorization of food waste in an eco-friendlier approach.

Food derived by-products or waste have already proven their efficacy as emollients, texturizers and active ingredients for cosmetic products so that this approach has a strong growth potential.

Cosmetic brands recently have been widely using this potential, as shown by numerous indie brands or start-ups that have achieved initial success in using recycled materials to develop new products. 

Regarding such an enthusiasm and a successful development potential, big companies as well are trying to make the most of it. They are willing to integrate upcycling into existing products and processes, or to launch new products based on upcycled raw material.

Thus, upcycling is a big trend. Mintel released in 2021 that 58% of Canadians consider food waste as an environmental issue when purchasing. In the cosmetic industry, consumers showed a similar mindset: in the United States, 25% of 25–34-year-old skin care users worry about their products’ environmental impact. (Cosmetics & Toiletries)

Although upcycling is still a new concept and there is not much data in the recycled beauty segment, the market is still seeing more successful cases for mass product lines.

Let’s discover our partners’ solutions to integrate upcycled ingredients into your products and ask for your brochure !

Popular post