These cruelty-free brands are standing up for social change. | Polly Haas for LIVEKINDLY

Ethical Beauty Brands: How to Shop Your Values

Ethical beauty brands, many of which also sell vegan and sustainable products, are engaging in activism and supporting community charities.

Beauty is about more than just looking good; it’s about feeling good too. And now more than ever, the cosmetics and skincare industries are focused on doing good. As these ethical beauty brands show, led by consumer demand, the beauty industry is changing for the better.

According to research by Sprout Social, 72 percent of consumers would like brands to be “positive contributors to society.” And around 64 percent also want companies to “use their power to help people.” As the social media management company says: “connection is the new currency.”

Now, beauty brands are beginning to engage in activism and support community charities. They are also increasingly looking to amplify the stories and needs of marginalized people, whether this is through financial support, passing on knowledge and skills, or raising awareness of major gaps in fundamental rights.

We’ve picked seven stand-out ethical beauty brands, all of which are cruelty-free, vegan, or mostly vegan, that prove you can sell high-quality cosmetics, but you can also choose to give back to society too. 

Herbivore Botanicals donated nearly $130,000 to charity last year. | Herbivore

Herbivore Botanicals

Vegan, cruelty-free Herbivore Botanicals is known for its non-toxic, perfectly Instagrammable, high-quality cosmetics. Each of its products are carefully formulated without filler ingredients, and include essential vitamins, minerals, and, of course, botanicals.

Infused with willow bark extract to minimize the appearance of pores, its PRISM 12% AHA + 3% BHA Exfoliating Glow Serum will smooth and hydrate your skin, leaving you with a healthy, bright glow.

But the brand’s mission is more than just great beauty products. It’s also about supporting social change. For every sale of the serum, it donates $1 to LGBTQIA+ organizations, like The Trevor Project, a national 24 hour confidential suicide hotline for LGBTQ+ youth. 

According to Betsy Han, director of marketing, last year, the brand donated $129,000 to charities that aligned with its company values. As well as The Trevor Project, it supported civil rights organization NAACP; Black Lives Matter; the American Civil Liberties Union; WIRES Australian Wildfire Rescue; Americans for Safe Access (a nonprofit ensuring safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research); and the Trans Women of Color Collective.

While Herbivore acknowledges that “the work toward social justice is never done,” the aim, Han told LIVEKINDLY, is to partner with institutions that are on the “front lines of evoking change.” This year, Han says the brand will remain accountable for justice and equality “with authentically rooted and consistent action.”

As well as social justice, Herbivore is also committed to sustainability. Most of its packaging, for example, is made with 100 percent recyclable glass (ideal for upcycling, which it talks you through how to do on its website).

Check out the brand here

LipSlut makes a statement with all of its products. | LipSlut

LipSlut

All of LipSlut’s vegan, cruelty-free products are designed to make a statement. Not just a beauty statement, but a social justice one too. Its entire ethos is to keep confronting the status quo, starting with the ways of the beauty industry. Its website reads: “We’re here to challenge what a beauty company can do, be, and say.”

It also doesn’t shy away from taking a political stand in its product naming. It has an entire range called F*ck Trump, which includes shades like Tax Returns and Fake News, and recently, the brand chose to honor Democratic politicians Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren with its red-plum Madam Speaker and its poppy pink Persist options.

Described as “buildable and weightless,” the lip glosses soften and hydrate lips thanks to the addition of shea butter and vitamin E, they’re also perfectly glossy without being sticky, and they’re long-lasting too.

But now for the best part: Fifty percent of the earnings from Madam Speaker and Persist goes towards voting rights charities. You can choose an organization before you add the gloss to your cart (options include The League of Women Voters Education Fund and When We All Vote) and the charity with the most votes gets the donation. Since the brand started, it has donated more than $200,000 to various social justice organizations.

In 2018, founder Katie Sones told Refinery29: “I know a lot of brands really don’t take hard stances on political and social issues. But I think we’re showing the makeup industry that consumers want to support a brand that has an opinion. It feels pressing.”

Other notable products from LipSlut include: Notorious R.B.G. (in honor of Ruth Bader Ginsburg), Feel the Bern (named after Bernie Sanders), Kevin, and Jake. The latter two options are part of the brand’s Male Tears range, and are named after two authors of “cunning wit” (hate mail) sent to the brand.

Check out LipSlut here

Tower 28 launched the Clean Beauty Summer School to support Black-owned brands.| Tower 28

 Tower 28

Tower 28 is all about “good, clean, fun.” Its products are safe, effective, vegan, and they look great too. Its ShineOn Lip Jelly, in particular, is renowned for the glossy, juicy, shiny look it gives your lips, without any stickiness.

Last June, Tower 28 launched the Clean Beauty Summer School. The initiative, led by CEO Amy Liu alongside a collective of other women founders and leaders in the industry, aimed to support Black-owned beauty brands. Not just financially, but by passing on valuable industry know-how, advice, and skills too.

The selected finalists received a 10 session course from expert mentors. The winner, a CBD wellness line called Frigg, was awarded a $10,000 grant from the New Voices Foundation, as well as multiple other benefits, including meetings with Sephora and Ulta buyers.

Check out Tower 28 here

Base Butter participated in Tower 28’s Clean Beauty Summer School. | Base Butter

Base Butter

With face jellies, sustainable makeup remover, and cleansing cloths, Base Butter is on a mission to make skincare easy. Its lightweight vegan, cruelty-free products are soothing, refreshing, and thanks to the addition of aloe vera, primrose, and lavender, they rejuvenate the skin, restoring elasticity and moisture. (Fun fact: the brand was a finalist in Tower 28’s Clean Beauty Summer School.)

Ultimately, Base Butter wants to make your skincare routine simple and effective. But while its there, it’s going to try and help dismantle systemic racism too. Last summer, the brand pledged to donate 10 percent of all profits every month to organizations like The Loveland Foundation. Established by Rachel Cargle, the nonprofit aims to bring “opportunity and healing to communities of color, and especially to Black women and girls.”

The brand also partnered with the JOYDAY Movement to launch a therapist-led workshop series, called Finding Yellow. The aim is to support Black people “to heal and find joy.”

Check out the brand here.

“Where people put their money is ultimately a vote for what they believe in.” | Noto Botanics

Noto Botanics

Noto Botanics’ simple yet effective sustainable, vegan, gender-neutral products are designed to enhance skincare rituals, not over complicate them. For example, The Wash provides one gentle formula designed to be used for your face, hands, body, and even your hair (basically, it applies to anywhere that’s dirty). It’ll remove bacteria while replacing moisture, leaving you feeling fresh, clean, and rejuvenated.

Noto’s approach to beauty is minimalist, but its attitude towards giving back is all-in. The brand has donated thousands of dollars to a number of nonprofit organizations, including Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, and LGBT Youth Center, from the sales of its Agender oil, its first nonprofit product. 

In December, founder Gloria Noto, told Elite Daily: “Today, where people put their money is ultimately a vote for what they believe in. All brands should stand for clean ingredients, diversity and inclusion, social justice, and safer environmental practices at this point. I think these stances and missions are what make supporting a beauty brand worthwhile for customers today.”

Check out the brand here

The Lipstick Lobby also makes big statements through lipstick. | The Lipstick Lobby

The Lipstick Lobby

Much like LipSlut, The Lipstick Lobby is all about making big political statements (and big donations) through its cosmetics. A percentage of the profits from each of its vegan products go to a different organization fighting for social change.

For example, after a rich red lip with a full-coverage formula? You’ll want the brand’s Fired Up option, and 100 percent of the profits go to The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. If it’s a bold matte pink you want, Kiss My Pink is the one for you. And with that purchase, you’re supporting Planned Parenthood.

By buying one of its tote bags, you can also support The unPrison Project, an organization supporting women and girls in prison. The woman-led nonprofit teaches life skills, provides support with post-prison plans, and helps incarcerated women stay connected to their children.

Check out the brand here

Lush divides sales from its Charity Pot lotion between nonprofits. | Lush

Lush

Cruelty-free brand Lush has always been ahead of the beauty curve. Eighty percent of its products are vegan, the rest are vegetarian (they include ingredients like honey and beeswax), and many are sold completely naked without any plastic packaging (like its signature bath bombs and shampoo bars). The brand has also led the fight against animal testing. Every year it awards the Lush Prize to initiatives working to end the practice entirely or develop alternatives.

And on top of that, it takes its commitment to social justice very seriously.

For example, in 2018, in support of transgender rights, for one week it displayed quotes from its transgender employees in its digital spaces and each of its storefront windows across the U.S. (Lush has around 200 stores in the country). It also provided resources on the fight for trans rights on its website, and launched a bath bomb in honor of the cause. It donated 100 percent of the proceeds to trans advocacy groups, including the National Center for Transgender Equality.

The company has created a brand out of supporting social justice values that its consumer-base cares about. Since 2007, the sales from its vegan Charity Pot hand and body lotion have been divided between a number of nonprofits in the human rights, environmental justice, and animal welfare spaces. These include Movement Rights, a nonprofit working for climate justice and to protect the rights or Indigenous Peoples;  the PangeaSeed Foundation, an art activism group working for ocean conservation; and Montreal in Action, an organization working to end systemic racism and discrimination in Montreal through public consultation at the municipal level.

Of course, Charity Pot is also great for your skin. Made with a self-preserving formula, which includes Ylang Ylang Oil, Fair Trade Shea Butter, and Rosewood Oil, your skin will soak up the creamy lotion, leaving you feeling moisturised, hydrated, and positively dewy. 

It’s important to note here that in 2020, Lush UK came under fire for donating £3000 from its Charity Pot lotion to Woman’s Place UK, an anti-trans pressure group. The company responded to critics in a statement on its website; it apologized for the donation, and noted that the grant was awarded before its “awareness of how toxic discussion around this issue had become and before we put rules in place around this subject.”

It added that it does not believe that trans rights are a threat to women’s rights and that in the last five years, it has donated around £1.6 million to LGBTQ+ organizations.

It continued: “To make our stance clear, we do not believe that trans rights are a threat to women’s rights. Our belief is that a decent society should be able to structure itself to give rights and protection to all who need it. Those who are on the margins should not have to fight other marginalized groups to get the protections they deserve.”

Lush USA also posted the statement to its Twitter, with the caption: “As a global brand, we believe that trans rights are human rights. Period.”

Check it out here.

Ultimately, when you buy from brands that support social justice, you cast a vote for the kind of world you want to live in. It’s not a miracle fix-all for the world’s inequalities, but by making conscious consumer choices, you send an important message to brands about how you want them to behave. And not just the brands you already buy from, but the brands who want you to buy from them too.

By 2025, the global beauty market is projected to be worth more than $758 billion USD. We can demand that companies put at least some of that money to good use, and we can do it in a language big businesses understand: spending power.

As Jessi Baker, the founder of digital social enterprise Provenance, wrote for the Guardian in 2015 ahead of the UK general election: “When corporations can be more influential than entire states, where we put our pounds is where the power lies.”