BY POPULAR DEMAND, cosmetics are going green. It's not a return to unglamorous frosted-green eye shadow but a response to customers' growing concerns for the environment, animal rights and their own beauty routines.
Major American and European cosmetics companies are introducing more botanically based products and reducing the amount of animal-derived ingredients in their lotions and creams. They're turning down the volume of fragrance and preservatives, both possible sources of skin irritation for some women. And they're devising ways to make elaborate, and often wasteful, cosmetic packaging more environment-friendly and, in some cases, recyclable.
On the cutting edge, the 44-year-old Estee Lauder company launched its botanically based Origins line at Nordstrom stores this fall. All packaging is recyclable; even the printed materials and folding cartons are made from recycled paper and only soy-based inks are used. "The time is right to relate cosmetics to the issues, like the Green Movement, that will affect us in the future," says vice-president William Lauder (Estee's 30-year-old grandson). "We knew from focus groups that many consumers were disenchanted with cosmetics out there," he says. "They felt they were being hyped. Origins wants to have more respect for the issue-oriented consumer."
Origins uses no animal-derived products. The active primary ingredients of its skin-care products are essential oils such as vetiver, juniper and eucalyptus as well as those from flowers such as lavender and rosemary. A soap, for example, is vegetable-based. Makeup brushes have special synthetic fibers rather than traditional sable and pony. Origins also has initiated a recycling program at store counters; their bottles, plastic tubes and caps can be returned to be disposed of correctly. And to top it off, Origins is less expensive than comparable cosmetic lines.
"We're booming," Lauder says. "Origins has more than exceeded our expectations. Customers absolutely love it."
For women concerned about potentially irritating fragrances in cosmetics, Prescriptives, an Estee Lauder company, has a solution.
"Prescriptives knows that our customers do not like products with fragrance. With that in mind we have developed modern, efficacious treatments without fragrance," says Daniel Maes, executive director of research and development for Prescriptives. "We are also finding better ways to protect our products against microbial contamination by using new preservative systems."
Not to be outdone, Elizabeth Arden recently launched Ceramide Time Complex single-dose skin-treatment capsules, which are free of fragrance, preservatives, additives and surfactants.
And, in response to the demands of animal-rights advocates' many cosmetics giants, including Avon, Revlon and Estee Lauder, have stopped all animal testing, including that performed on their behalf by outside doctors or scientists. They now use only human volunteers for skin-sensitivity tests.
Several beauty companies, notably The Body Shop, are purists; they use no animal-derived or petrochemical ingredients. Others, like Clarins and Sisley, base their products primarily on plants and flowers, with Clarins using herbs, too. In another dramatic change, glamorous perfume and cosmetics companies are rethinking their glitzy and, some say, wasteful paper, glass and plastic packaging.
"Recyclable packaging makes a lot of sense at this time," says Julie Farrell, New York-based president of Guerlain, the venerable French beauty house. "We're actively exploring non-plastic containers while still maintaining the luxurious presentation we're known for."
Small companies are showing their environment-conscious spirit, too. Luxurious new citrus, lavender and sandalwood bath salts by Aquamirabilis (available at Fred Segal Melrose) are not only biodegradable but they're also packed in reusable glass jars. Animals were not used in either the testing or the finished product, and packaging is kept to a minimum.
Cynics may say that cosmetics moguls' are joining the Green Movement in pursuit of greenbacks. Perhaps so. Still, the customer and her conscience are likely to come out the winners.
Photographed by Susan Goines