Sustainability Local sourcing

Sustainable ingredient sourcing and the use of commodity crops in cosmetics and personal care products

By Deanna Utroske

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images \ (fotokostic)
© Getty Images \ (fotokostic)

Related tags commodity crops Sustainability Safe cosmetics green beauty

Everyday it seems there’s a new beauty product on the market claiming to be all-natural, clean, green, or otherwise remarkably sustainable. Here, in an effort to better understand the future of the industry, Cosmetics Design shares insights from emerging experts in sustainable beauty.

Holly Harding leads a skin care brand called O’o Hawaii. The brand, founded just last year, “uses only the most beautiful, high-functioning superfood-level ingredients from nature that are from non-GMO sources and, when available, are grown organically in Hawaii,”​ according to the brand’s 'about' blurb on LinkedIn.

Explaining her approach to ingredients in more detail, Harding tells Cosmetics Design that, “as a founder, and an integrative nutrition practitioner, I am extremely passionate about avoiding GMOs and pesticides.”

And this is where the issue of commodity crops comes into the equation. Plenty of ingredients used in cosmetics and personal care products today are derived from conventional food crops; and even a lot of innovative ingredients produced using biotech have commodity crops as their input or feedstock.

From Harding’s perspective, she sees that “commodity crops like soy, wheat, sugar beets and corn are encapsulated with BT toxin and then sprayed with glyphosate (Roundup).” ​And this is a concern for her and her brand’s customers: “In addition to anecdotal evidence, there is now strong science that supports the theory that GMOs and environmental toxins are destroying our gut bacteria and in part leading to the huge rise in endocrine disruption, auto immune disorders and cancer,”​ Harding tells Cosmetics Design.

“The argument that ‘it's such a small amount' in an overall food item or cosmetic product really isn't a good one; as the accumulation in the body over time is what is the problem. There are now studies that show glyphosate is being found in the placenta of pregnant women, especially in areas that are heavily sprayed,” ​emphasizes Harding, who points to publications from as evidence​.

Planning for the future of beauty

“It is our full intention to create products that people can feel good about using and not have to worry that they are causing harm to their bodies,” ​says Harding. “We do the best we possibly can to vet our suppliers and hope that one day there will be a world standard for sustainable, organic farming.”

Other experts Cosmetics Design spoke with on the topic of safe and sustainable ingredient sourcing focused more on the distinction between local and sustainable. “While local sourcing has a lot of benefits, supporting your local community and economy, it is not synonymous with sustainable,” ​notes Jen Novakovich, cosmetic chemist at The Eco Well.

“In some cases,” ​she says, “sourcing internationally for certain ingredients may be arguably more sustainable - e.g. if the plants are grown in a greenhouse in Canada versus outdoors in the tropics (cannabis may be a good example here), the carbon footprint of the greenhouse may offset the footprint from transportation."

“In addition, it's really a case by case basis for the plant itself. How much time, land, and resources are required to cultivate a certain ingredient? How much plant material, in general, is used to produce the end ingredient? Are we using the fruit, leaves and branches to produce the ingredient, where harvesting doesn't kill the plant, or the roots? Sustainable sourcing, in contrast, is about using materials in a way, wherever they're from, that even in light of our growing demand, changing climate and diminishing resources, we'll be able to continue into the long run,” ​notes Novakovich.

And, while not every beauty industry expert Cosmetics Design reached out to for comment on this topic was able to share their insights in time for publication, it’s interesting to consider the challenges that arise from just 2 vantage points. What is clean, green, safe, and sustainable is still open for debate.



Deanna Utroske, Editor, covers beauty business news in the Americas region and publishes the weekly Indie Beauty Profile column, showcasing the inspiring work of entrepreneurs and innovative brands.

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