Sustainability in the Cosmetics industry in Asia

Sustainability in the Cosmetics industry is of increasing importance. Asia is no exception, last year I attended the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit in Hong Kong which gave me a lot of food for thought. In order to future proof your brand there are several areas you should consider as your competition will be and your customers will soon demand it.

What does Sustainable mean in Beauty?

Sustainable beauty these days goes way beyond just packaging, it covers every step in the product life cycle – sourcing ingredients, labour, transportation, how they are used and how they breakdown.

That is a lot of due diligence brands need to do when they are creating a product as consumers are increasingly informed and demanding.

I’ve broken it down into different sections below.

Packaging – Recycling?

Sustainable Beauty packaging is a very interesting and complex topic – being recyclable is not enough anymore. It is shocking how little of recyclable products actually get recycled effectively. This article in the FT is an eye-opening read.

We know that plastic takes forever to decompose and so much plastic ends up in our Oceans – over 80% of the world’s ocean plastic is in Asia.

However there are some pioneer brands really innovating in this space – a couple of examples here:

Ren Skincare in 2018 announced a zero waste goal by 2021. They have redeveloping their packaging to be 100% recyclable and have one bottle made from 100% recycled plastic, 20% of which is from oceans, rivers and waterways.

P&G did something similar with Head and Shoulders shampoo – bottles made out of ocean plastic….just wish they would re look at their formula to takeout the many nasty ingredients too;)

Natural ingredients – does this mean sustainable?

Another hot topic that came up in the 2019 trends is how sustainable are natural ingredients? Green chemistry could help this issue significantly but is not widely used enough. A few troublesome ingredients:

How it is grown & harvested?

Palm Oil is not harvested in a sustainable way at all with often complete devastation of the natural habitat in the local areas where it is planted. Even sustainable palm oil is questionable because of how it is regulated.

Sandalwood is in high demand. Sandalwood has traditionally been grown in India and Australia. However, India has declared them endangered due to over deforestation and illegal exportation. Western Australia is a better regulated source for sustainably grown sandalwood.

Overall Ingredient sourcing needs to be more sophisticated and transparent – Ecovadis provides CSR/business sustainability ratings for suppliers and buyers. They look at 3 pillars – People, Process and Platform, this is an efficient and effective way of companies to track the CSR credentials of suppliers they work with across the supply chain.

Once you’ve used it how does it break down especially into the water ways.

We know about micro beads and how they are clogging up our oceans but these are not natural. Natural ingredients can have the potential to cause Eco toxicity as well.

Green chemistry is needed for the natural beauty industry as we need sustainable, efficient solutions of creating natural ingredients.

Social impact

Social impact initiatives are important and customers in many parts of the world want to know the brands that they buy are supporting good causes and implementing them into the supply chain.

Companies who can do full due diligence on their raw ingredients and suppliers are better placed for the direction the industry is going. Consumers are demanding transparency so brands need to be able to back it.

Then there is always the question about certifications like fair trade and how much importance customers place on this – again this really depends on where you are in the world. In Asia for the moment most of the certification bodies do not have much broad recognition but they do place importance on official bodies – we can discuss this in another post!

Sedex is resource available to companies that encourages transparency and responsible sourcing information on supply chains, it is used by more than 50,000 companies in 150 countries. They assess company’s performance in terms of labour rights, health & safety, the environment and business ethics.


Sustainability is a journey. No one is perfect but there is positive momentum and change. Consumers in different markets have differing priorities but overall there is a strong momentum for increased transparency.

Transparency is not easy – many suppliers or manufacturers are not willing to divulge sources or formulations but in order for a truly sustainable ecosystem we need collaboration and transparency from everyone.

Companies see that spending more on sustainable raw materials or recycled packaging will have a positive effect in the long run on their bottom line because consumers are more conscious and are increasingly voting with their wallets.

Although most of Asia is not as sophisticated as US, Australia and Europe when it comes to the awareness of sustainable issues, it is only a matter of time. So as brand founders you need to future proof and lead by example!

2 thoughts on “Sustainability in the Cosmetics industry in Asia”

  1. This information has been invaluable for me as I am just starting my brand and I am definitely looking to the Asia market. Thank you.

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