Image source: POPSUGAR Photography / Matthew Kelly

There are hundreds of thousands of beauty brands in the market. In fact, in 2021 it was reported that there were 101,448 beauty, cosmetics, and fragrance companies in the U.S. alone. With numbers like this, it’s hard for brands to stand out from the crowd – but there is a huge area of ​​opportunity in the industry facing unprecedented innovation: the plastics problem.

From unconventional concepts to packaging solutions that take recycling and sustainability to the next level, we’re introducing five brands that are transforming the beauty industry as we know it.

When Plus Products launched in May 2021, the entire personal care category was turned upside down. The brand had found a way to make the shower accessories we all use without a bottle – no plastic, no glass, no refillable cartridge, just the conditioner.

“The idea came when we learned that every third item in a landfill was made from personal care and beauty products,” Cathryn Woodruff, CEO and co-founder of the brand, told POPSUGAR. “And we have also learned that products such as body wash with a very small amount of active ingredients can consist of up to 90 percent water.” Woodruff and her co-founder Julie Schott set out to rethink the product from the ground up and, with the help of cosmetic chemists, developed a dry shower gel that activates to a rich foam when it comes into contact with water.

“For this to be successful and for people to adopt this product, it had to be as good as the shower gel they are currently loving.”

“It comes in this dissolvable sheath that is made from wood pulp and goes down the drain,” said Woodruff. “Essentially, you hop in the shower, tear open the dissolvable pouch, pull out your shower gel square, submerge it, and it foams up into a foamy liquid shower gel. Then you can drop the bag down the drain and watch it dissolve within 10 seconds. ”

Nice idea, but it didn’t come without its own set of challenges, like making sure the ink used in the dissolvable packaging is actually safe and FDA and USDA cleared to go down the drain. (It’s approved for food contact, only as FYI.) Then came the challenge of finding the right formula. “For this to be successful and for people to adopt this product, it had to be as good as the shower gel they are currently loving,” said Woodruff. She stressed that sustainability is incredibly important, but for a more sustainable option to replace the existing products on the market it has to work just as well, if not better.

Image source: Courtesy of Plus

This is a fact Shannon Goldberg, founder of Izzy Zero Waste Beauty – the first zero-waste, CO2-neutral, refillable mascara – knows only too well. When she launched Izzy in April 2021, she knew her branding concept was unique, but her mascara formula had to be able to hold its own against a myriad of competitors too. Because of this, the brand launched four months after its first launch date. “If we are to change the world and the way we do things in beauty, this product has to be good,” she said.

She got the idea for Izzy and a fully refillable mascara when she moved to Florida and saw firsthand all the waste from the beauty industry that is never recycled and eventually ends up in the ocean. “My engineer and I asked ourselves what the rest of the industry is doing? We looked at carton solutions, we looked at PCR plastics, we looked at the refill business, ”said Goldberg. “We thought this was probably the deepest beauty we can do in refills to make any significant difference, but on closer inspection we found flaws in it. At the end of the day, you give a customer a starring container, whatever whether it’s a primary plastic or aluminum container, but then give them bags or small plastic containers to put into those larger containers. “

Then she got the idea to use stainless steel. “When you think of our jewelry or silverware and other things that are really supposed to be traditional and durable, they are made of stainless steel,” she said, explaining why the mascara tube is made of medical grade stainless steel. This durability allows the tubing to be returned to the company in a cloth bag every two months, where it is cleaned using the same process that sterilizes surgical instruments. The wand itself is melted down and reshaped into a new one, and the tube is refilled and sent back. “The mascara I use today could essentially one day be passed down to my grandchild,” Goldberg said. “That’s how disruptive this idea is.”

With the goal of not throwing anything away, Izzy had to find a new solution for labels as well. The engraving of the steel pipe worked for the product name itself, but the marketing information and product instructions did not match. “We chose to have a QR code engraved on the bottom of our stainless steel packaging and also in our reusable shipping box,” she said.

Image Source: Courtesy of Izzy

In addition to mascara tubes made of stainless steel and dissolvable shower gel, Opulus Beauty Labs is another brand that only came onto the market in April 2021 with a completely unconventional concept, inspired by pralines. The brand’s founder, Robb Akridge, PhD wanted to transfer the idea of ​​self-contained single servings in the confectionery world to beauty without disposable packaging. “I thought, how can we create single-dose cosmetics in all areas of beauty that are activated fresh when needed, create an experience that touches all the senses and offers the consumer something that they have never seen before?”

The idea of ​​freshly activating cosmetic ingredients when applied is similar to that of ampoules, but Dr. Akridge went one step further (eliminating the single-use plastic or glass component that usually comes with ampoules) and the “Opoule” was born. “It’s a precise, self-contained, single-dose product, the size of a small chocolate, made up of two separate formulations – the outer shell and the inner core – both made of only cosmetic ingredients, with no plastic or pods to throw,” he said To “activate” the self-contained formula, put it in the Opulus activator, a small handheld cosmetic device that acts like a mortar and pestle and breaks it down in just 60 seconds.

The result is a face cream that, unlike traditional products that are bottled in a factory before they hit shelves, is whipped just before application. The device also eliminates the need for a jar or bottle to store the formula and can be used for years, reducing single-use waste.

Loli Beauty is another leader in sustainability in beauty care that has been around for a few years but continues to redefine what it means to be waste free. All of the brand’s products are already packaged in food-safe jars that can be reused to store food, and the labels are compostable, but in March 2021 the brand is launching their arnica and elderberry jelly at Ulta Beauty, which is still pushing the boundaries further exceeds.

“I can’t tell you how many laps it took to get to where we are today because it’s never been done before – we threw our heads a few times because there wasn’t a scale to copy. ”

“We wanted the gel to be waterless, food-safe, organic, cruelty-free, vegan and made with upcycling ingredients,” says Tina Hedges, founder of the brand. “The next step was to ensure that our packaging met all of our zero-waste requirements.” Therefore, in addition to the recycled, recyclable glass and compostable labels, the box itself has also been rethought. “We grow mushrooms to create the bowl that the product is placed in and wrap it with hemp paper,” said Hedges. “Our packaging is therefore 100 percent compostable for worm feed and the garden.” It is a much cooler and more sustainable alternative to cardboard, which is where most personal care and cosmetic products come from.

But making the switch to sending everything in mushroom paper and never throwing anything away is a huge challenge, which is why it’s worth noting that many other brands are making incredibly meaningful changes in other areas. For example, when Rihanna launched Fenty Skin, all packaging was refillable from the start. Then there is PYT Beauty, which has started adding a patented ingredient to some of its packaging that chemically degrades the plastics during the manufacturing phase to act as a “safety net in case the plastic is not recycled,” the brand said in a meeting with beauty editors. This ingredient depolymerizes and decomposes the plastic, reducing the molecular weight by 50 percent, which reduces the ecological burden on nature.

Challenging the norm and reinventing the wheel, so to speak, is not an easy task – but when done successfully it is incredibly rewarding. “I can’t tell you how many laps it took to get to where we are today because it has never been done before – we threw our heads a few times because there was no scale to copy,” said Goldberg. “I always tell my team that there is no such thing as a creative glass ceiling. Where there is a will, there is a way.”