This Is What an Ethical Beauty Company Actually Looks Like

Updated 05/19/17
Ethical Beauty Brands
Urban Outfitters

You care about the planet, right? You care about animals, the environment, and humanitarian rights. And you try to back that up with your dollar, opting out of buying from big corporations whenever you can in favor of smaller brands with cool indie packaging because that's the ethical thing to do. At least, it definitely seems that way.

Ethically conscious shopping is something that beauty consumers are caring about more and more, but just because a brand claims to be "small-batch," "natural," or "eco-friendly" doesn't really mean, well, anything. "There's a lot of greenwashing of business these days," says Susan Griffin-Black, co-founder of organic personal care brand EO Products. That term "greenwashing" is used to describe brands that make it seem like their company has high ethical standards, but doesn't have any real proof of that. "Many of the certifications and awards for being 'eco' are created simply to add these buzzwords into marketing materials for unethical companies," Griffin-Black explains. Le sigh.

Because of this murkiness, it's hard to know which businesses are truly "ethical" (and how that word even translates to a company's practices). "It takes a bit of research to see which corporations are doing good and which are simply monetizing the public demand," says Griffin-Black. For example, you can reference websites like Leaping Bunny to find out if a brand is cruelty-free, you can check for Fair Trade certification to see which companies protect worker's rights and factory standards, and you can always contact a brand directly. (If they are truly ethical, they'll be transparent with you.) Regardless, Griffin-Black says that the process does, unfortunately, take some research on the part of consumers.

But EO Products, co-founded by Griffin-Black in 1995, is one beauty brand that does uphold all the ethical standards and certifications you'd hope for in an "eco" company. To get a firsthand look at how the brand operates in real life, I paid a visit to the EO Products factory in Sausalito, CA. Keep scrolling to see what a truly ethical beauty company looks like.

EO Products
Harlowe James

Delivering on values means just as much, if not more, to the folks at EO than making tons of cash, which for any business is rare. "What makes an ethical company really comes down to people running the company versus the company running people," Griffin-Black says. "Corporations that put the needs of the people who work for them, the people using its products, the planet we all share, and a deep purpose before profit is how we would describe an ethical company."

These are the intentions upon which EO was founded over 20 years ago, and today, at the brand's HQ, it's clear everywhere you look. From the company's meticulous recycling process to its gender-neutral bathrooms to its bohemian, smiley-faced employees, it's obvious that EO practices what it preaches on every level.

Eco Friendly Beauty
SF Chronicle

Something you'll find at legitimately ethical companies is that from day one, everything they do has to comply with their "bottom line." EO's bottom line has four alliterative parts: people, planet, purpose, and profit. "We feel that these are the four most important missions of our company," Griffin-Black explains. "To honor and respect the people who make up our company, as well as the people who use our products, to do as little harm to our planet as we can, to further our passion for bringing healthy bodycare to as many people as possible, and to do so while making enough profit to both operate and expand." (Because, of course, the company can't do any good if it doesn't make any money.)

For EO, this starts with taking care of its employees. "Because products that are made by people who are treated badly aren't good for anyone," says Griffin-Black, who is proud to report that EO pays competitive salaries and offers paid vacation and volunteer days, quarterly bonuses, 401K, health benefits, and a major discount for every employee. 

The work experience itself is also super positive. (I swear I did not encounter one EO employee who wasn't smiling.) "Our formulations are not only healthy for the people who use them, they're made with ingredients that are safe for our workers to be exposed to on a regular basis," says Griffin-Black. I can attest that the factory space smells quite amazing from all the essential oils the brand is working with.

Eco Friendly Products
Harlowe James

Leaving behind a gentle environmental footprint is also a huge priority for EO. Its facility is certified zero waste and will be solar powered by 2018. The company buys organic extracts and essential oils whenever it can, as organic farming is kinder to the planet. "We use post-consumer recycled plastic in our packaging, and many of our bottles are 100% PCR," Griffin-Black adds. "We are constantly striving to find ways to do business in a way that is sustainable and honors us all."

You'll also never see EO put out a product or take on a project that doesn't connect to the brand's "purpose": to make natural bodycare accessible to as many people as possible. One of the ways the brand achieves this is through its "Daily Soap" program, which brings EO's delightful aromatherapeutic soaps to people living in transitional housing and shelters. "Because we believe that access to a hot shower with good soap is a basic human right," Griffin-Black says. (Hear, hear.)

Part of the reason why EO is able to maintain all of these programs and standards is that it is independently owned (as in, it's never been acquired by a larger corporation like Clorox, which owns Burt's Bees; Unilever, which owns Dove; or Estée Lauder, which owns Aveda). Part of what this means, as Griffin-Black says, is that EO doesn't have a board of directors demanding higher profits. Though this structure keeps the company fairly small, it also allows it to maintain its integrity and vision while growing at a healthy pace.

EO Products Factory
EO Products

If you're suspicious of eco-beauty brands (as you should be), know for certain that when you go to Whole Foods and buy an EO anti-aging serum, essential oil, or body lotion, you're supporting a truly ethical brand whose standards I've seen with my own eyes.

Of course, if you'd like to broaden your beauty collection beyond EO while keeping things ethical, Griffin-Black suggests checking to see if the brand you're considering is a certified B Corp. This is the "easiest way to know you're dealing with a truly ethical company," she says. If a company is certified B Corp, that means they have, as the B Corporation website puts it, met "rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency." (You can use the B Corp website to look up a brand to see if they are certified.) Certified B Corp beauty brands include Beautycounter, Dr. Hauschka, The Honest Company, Badger, Éminence, and Alima Cosmetics.

Griffin-Black is hopeful for the future of brand honesty and ethics. "The changing landscape of consumer demand will most likely lead to more and more transparency," she says. In the meantime, if you're in the market for an affordable skincare or body product, just think of the EO factory, full of smiling faces and the smell of French lavender.

Alima Pressed Foundation With Rosehip Antioxidant Complex $34
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EO Shower Gel
EO Shower Gel, Pack of 2 $22
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Dr. Hauschka Translucent Bronzing Tint $45
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Beautycounter Cleansing Balm $80
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Éminence Organic Skin Care Bamboo Firming Fluid $58
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Honest Beauty Organic Magic Balm $18
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This press trip was paid for by EO. Editors' opinions are their own.

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