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Green Beauty Decoded: A Quick Guide To Reading Labels

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With every beauty purchase I make, I can sense a pang of guilt—of possibly adding to the multitude of issues surrounding our environment. To inform myself better, I’ve been asking more questions about the processes and recycling practices of the products I buy; how ingredients affect the environment (and my skin), and the ones that have the least negative impact. The answers, over time, have helped me find brands that I can align my own values with, and that can become repeats in my beauty kit.

There is a myriad of labels and products within the beauty industry that speak of sustainability, but what is sustainability truly? Is there only one way to be responsible? Here, I’ve attempted to break down the common terms that you will find on beauty product labels, so it’s easier for you to make these decisions if you’re on the same beauty journey as me.


These are products that aren’t tested on animals and the labels ensure that no animals were harmed or killed throughout the manufacturing and marketing process. Products that are cruelty-free are marked with a symbol of a leaping bunny. You can also look for PETA approved labels. However, these products may use ingredients obtained from animals, such as honey, milk, etc.

Brands to look out for:

Nykaa Naturals, Plum, Cetaphil, Laneige, Mamaearth, Just Herbs


This term denotes that no animal-derived ingredients or by-products, including milk or its products, eggs, honey, beeswax, and others, were used in the making of the products. The most commonly used vegan symbol is a set of two green leaves joined at the centre making a ‘V’.

Brands to look out for:

Wow Skin Science, Pixi, Love Beauty & Planet, Sol De Janeiro, e.l.f. Cosmetics, The Body Shop

Clean beauty:

An overarching label, it signifies products that omit ingredients such as parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde, refined petroleum, synthetic fragrances, etc, that may possibly cause harm to skin and health. A global set of regulations for toxic ingredients is yet to be approved, but while we await, a few trustworthy labels completely steer clear of proven toxins.

Brands to look out for:

Dot & Key, Aveda, The Moms Co, mCaffeine, Biotique, Iba, Disguise Cosmetics

Recycled or recyclable packaging:

We have all heard about and experienced the environmental impact of non-biodegradable waste—whether it comes from fast fashion, the beauty industry or elsewhere. The easiest way out of this problem is to use products that come in recycled or recyclable packaging. Some brands use materials that have already been recycled, while others use materials that you can choose to recycle forward.

Brands to look out for:

L'Oréal, The Body Shop, mCaffeine, Ras Luxury Oils, Juicy Chemistry

Waterless Beauty:

If you read the ingredients on the back of most cosmetic products, ‘aqua’ is usually the first on the list. But reduce the use of drinkable freshwater for cosmetics, brands are now leaning towards ‘waterless beauty’. Popularised by Korean labels, the idea refers to formulating beauty products without water. Instead, they are using oils, waxes, butters and oil-soluble actives. This not only reduces water consumption but also water-based manufacturing waste. A win-win solution.

Brands and products to look out for:

L'Oréal, Ruby’s Organics (everything is waterless except foundations), essential and cold pressed oils

Zero Waste:

The lesser the waste, the more are we in tune with the environment. Nobody likes the nightmarish images of heaps of plastic and non-biodegradable materials deforming our planet one landfill at a time. The solution? A wasteless lifestyle, starting with beauty labels and products that use less to no plastic, use materials that can be reused or re-purposed, or products that barely need any packaging like bathing or shampoo bars. Other than biodegradable cardboards, you can consider using products that use glass, time or paper packaging as well.

Brands to look out for:

Vilvah, Neemli, SoulTree, Earth Rhythm, Juicy Chemistry

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