What’s Behind the Upcycling Beauty Trend?


 September 21, 2021

Upcycling — 2021’s Hottest Beauty Trend

In the quest to integrate more sustainable beauty products into their daily routines, environmentally-conscious consumers have stumbled onto the latest skincare trend — upcycling. The upcycled beauty trend takes ingredients that might otherwise go to waste and turns them into innovative clean beauty products. Upcycling is one of the latest ways that women and men are cleaning up the beauty industry.

The demand for eco-friendly makeup and skincare has led more beauty companies to invest in the development of sustainable product formulations. Many of these product formulations integrate food waste, sourced from unusable ingredients. Using upcycled ingredients creates a circular system, in which organic waste is turned into clean beauty products. 

Leveraging rejected ingredients and leftover food as a tactic to boost sustainability is still an emerging trend, which means it hasn’t gone mainstream just yet. The top-selling clean beauty manufacturers are nearly all startups or direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands. However, as the mainstream beauty industry becomes more aware of sustainable environmental practices, and the push toward selling toxin-free product formulations continues to grow, consumers can expect to see more top brands selling upcycled makeup and skincare products. Brands that get in on the upcycling beauty trend in 2021 are at an advantage, since they have more time to develop and perfect their innovative product formulations.

Waste Not, Want Not — The Sustainable Beauty Initiative

When consumers think about sustainable beauty, they think about reducing waste. Upcycled beauty products do just that, turning leftover ingredients and waste matter into innovative product formulations.

The average consumer might not think about how their makeup and skincare products are created, but among a certain group of environmentally-aware consumers, the concept of scarcity and waste is coming up more frequently. The number of beauty brands getting in on the sustainable cosmetics trend, with new products targeted directly at this market, has rapidly expanded in the past 12 months.

According to a report by Whole Foods, upcycled beauty is expected to become one of the hottest beauty trends in 2021. Items like coffee grounds, apricot stones, and argan shells are all finding new life in skincare product formulations. As consumer acceptance of this practice grows, beauty manufacturers are rushing in to repurpose discarded materials to support skin health and wellness.

Sustainable Packaging

It’s not just product formulations that are undergoing a massive change. Beauty manufacturers are also rethinking how they develop the packaging that products go into. 

With 35% of the materials used in the global fashion supply chain ending up as waste, beauty brands are looking at what they can do to make a difference. Mainstream brands that are still selling single-use bottles are increasingly packaging those products in recyclable materials. A number of beauty retailers launched their own recycling initiatives, offering to take back customers’ used cosmetics bottles in exchange for rewards or loyalty points.

Refillable containers are now ubiquitous on the shelves of high-end beauty retailers. Some brands are making a name for themselves by exclusively selling products in refillable containers. For example, KANKAN is known as a refillable beauty brand. The company sells body wash, hand creams, and other skincare products with minor imperfections (like labeling misprints) for a discounted price. Like many other companies in the sustainable beauty business, this brand’s goal is to reduce waste and keep its products out of landfills.

Beauty Products Minimize Food Waste

Eco-conscious beauty brands have worked to minimize waste in a number of ways. This trend has been going on for more than a decade. With upcycled beauty products, though, brands are actually incorporating leftover ingredients from food suppliers and preparing those ingredients for cosmetic use. With food waste making up 30% to 40% of the food supply, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the upcycled beauty trend has the potential to have a real impact on social good.

The skincare brand Circumference sells a cleanser made of olive leaf extract. The extract is sourced from unusable leaves that are leftover in the olive oil making process. Another skincare brand, Farmacy, sells a cleansing balm that incorporates leftover apples that it receives from ingredient suppliers. The beauty company Klur turns avocado and tomato seed oils that have been discarded by the commercial food industry into cuticle oil. Superzero, another beauty brand, uses blueberries that have been discarded by the juicing industry in a popular hand balm.

To source their upcycled ingredients, beauty brands are partnering with farms and other food manufacturing businesses. In some cases, the ingredient suppliers prepare the waste material for cosmetic use before shipping it to the beauty brand. In other cases, the beauty brand must prepare the ingredients for use in skincare products based on their own formulations.

One aspect of upcycling that isn’t discussed as frequently has to do with the cost. Sustainable beauty brands are finding that using discarded materials is actually a less expensive option than traditional chemical ingredients, especially when suppliers have agreed to provide the organic materials for free. Depending on the material, companies have been able to generate revenue by selling the biomass that remains after their own processing needs are met. The leftover waste can be used to make enzymes, animal feed, or other organic acids.

Upcycled Skincare Products to Try

Naturally-sourced ingredients can work wonders on the skin. Currently, beauty manufacturers are using upcycled ingredients in the following products:

  • Coffee face scrubs
  • Apricot face balms
  • Skin salve with lanolin
  • Face oil with plum seeds
  • Carrot moisturizer
  • Clarifying masks with olive powder

A Broader Definition of Sustainability

The concept of sustainable beauty has to be expanded. With so much experimentation going on within the beauty industry today, and manufacturers developing more eco-friendly products using upcycled materials, the general assumptions that we hold about what makeup and skincare products should be made from will have to expand. Toxic chemicals are quickly being replaced by organic compounds and enzymes. Natural ingredients that are commonly thrown out by commercial manufacturers can actually deliver exceptional results when used in the right skincare formulations. Coffee grounds, for example, have been shown to reduce inflammation and brighten skin. Blueberries, which are used in a number of popular balms and creams, can protect the skin against free radicals.

Rather than discarding products with slight imperfections, more beauty manufacturers are selling those products at a discount. This trend can especially be seen among manufacturers of solid beauty products, like soap bars. When production errors lead to products being made in the wrong size, brands are selling these “offcuts” at a discount. 

Beauty subscription boxes offer another avenue for manufacturers with off-sized products. Manufacturers can sell their products to subscription box makers at a discount, or they can create their own subscription boxes as a way to sell surplus stock in a way that promotes sustainability and reduces waste.

Beauty packaging is being redesigned, as well, to take better advantage of recycled materials. Zero-waste beauty products are set to go mainstream, and forward-thinking manufacturers are already investing heavily in this area.

Omya Kinetik represents top beauty and skincare manufacturers across the globe. Contact us at (732) 335-5775 to speak with a sales representative about sustainable beauty products and learn more about the hottest trends in the cosmetics industry.