One thing I like about zero waste and sustainable living is that there are many ways to be green. You don’t have to prescribe to a lifestyle of deprivation (though many of us would do well to remember the first tenant of zero waste: refuse). Personally, I enjoy make-up and skincare, and I have greatly reduced my consumption and found my holy grail products. That got me wondering though, who controls many mainstream, “green” beauty brands? And if we investigate further, are they truly green or merely greenwashing?

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Biossance is a Sephora dubbed “clean beauty” brand owned by biotech company, Amyris. Amyris is a California-based company, who on their website states they are committed to creating products that are “good for people and good for the planet.” Amyris is owned by CEO John Melo.

A majority of the skincare line revolves around a key ingredient, squalene. Squalene is naturally occuring in plants and animals, and works as an anti-aging and hydrating ingredient (though according to an article in Self there is limited research to suggest measurable differences). One, huge drawback to squalene is the way in which it is sourced–via shark livers. According to the site, Cosmetics Design-Europe, 90% of world shark livers fuel the cosmetic industry.

Amyris, who owns the cosmetic line, is combating this by sourcing their squalene through sugar. It is unclear if safe labor practices are used to source the sugar.

Amyris has also partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help combat malaria in developing countries.


  • Owner: Amyris, owned by John Melo
  • Charitable Contributions: contributions made to malaria prevention
  • Environmental Working Group (EWG) Rating: Biossance receives a Low Hazard
  • The Money: $143 million in revenue (2017) Amyris,


You’ve likely heard of Tarte and their Amazonian clay they infuse in several products within the line. Tarte was recently sold to Kose, a Japanese cosmetic company with several rather unheard-of brands under their umbrella.

To Kose’s credit, they list a wealth of information regarding their dedication to waste reduction, achieving 100% recycling rates, and setting a goal of increasing their workforce to 50% women. Unfortunately, it seems some information is not currently updated. For example, achieving 50% of women in their workforce was an April 2019 goal, and it is unclear if this was met. It also feels like they put a lot of nice sounding things on their website, but it’s unclear, for example, how many people with disabilities work for them and how much their factory worker makes?

The make-up itself is definitely greenwashing. Many of their products receive a EWG rating of hazardous, despite the many claims Tarte touts as “all-natural.” Sephora is quick to place it on it’s clean beauty list and the line claims it is vegan; however, it does use carmine (crushed beetles) in it’s cheek stains.

Bottom Line

  • Owner: Kose, owned by another dude, Kazutoshi Kobayashi
  • Charitable Contributions: Heart to Tarte, disaster relief
  • EWG Rating: Tarte receives a Moderate Hazard
  • The Money: Kose net sales 2019 $332.9 billion, Tarte $100-500 million


Farmacy, another brand that receives buzz for all of their green beauty, and was ushered along with the help of Sephora and QVC. No need to scroll down to the bottom line, because, it’s owned BY ANOTHER MAN! In an interview with “Influenster,” Mark Veeder explains he has no previous experience in makeup or skincare and came into the industry when he discovered a rare echinacea plant gardening.

Veeder is upfront about Farmacy combining both plant-based and man-made ingredients. They do claim on their website to source their plant-based ingredients from organic farms in New York, Pennsylvania, and Northeast Brazil (that’s a carbon footprint!). Farmacy also goes on to state they only work with farmers who employ sustainable methods, however, it is unclear what those methods or standards are.

Finally, if you are a strict vegan, you should be aware there are several products in the line that use honey.

  • Owner: Mark Veeder
  • Charitable Contributions: unclear, nothing listed on website
  • EWG Rating: Moderate Hazard
  • The Money: unclear


Ah, Fresh, we were so closed to getting a female owner, alas, it was co-founded by Lev Glazman (another white guy!) and Alina Roytberg. Lev and Alina sold Fresh to LVMH, who owns almost every luxury good from wine and spirits to watches and shirts! LVMH represents some huge brands (or as they ever-so-chicly call it, houses) like Louis Vuitton, Fenty by Rhianna, Marc Jacobs, Kat Von Dee, Benefit, Hennessy, Christian Dior, Celine, and more. LVMH is headed up by….another WHITE GUY… Bernard Arnault.

The most recent sustainable article on LVMH’s website is about their commitment to LED lights. Ahem, pardon moi, while I hold my applause for your 2020 year deadline for 100% LED. LED lights have been widely available in the mainstream for a minute, and this feels like bare minimum when many of it’s brands receive a Hazardous score via EWG. There’s much more to change with respect to LVMH’s brands than light bulbs (which inevitably saves the company money, not necessarily the consumer).

Back to Fresh! According to an interview with Lifestyle Asia, Lev, Fresh co-founder, assures that they work with farmers around the world to source plant-based ingredients like roses, soy, and lotus. And that these farmers use natural fertilizers and are kind to the land–though no specific details were offered. He asserts that the growing and use of plants by Fresh is, “not impacting the environment.” I push back on that assertion as the carbon footprint of roses from Sparta, Turkey is much higher than an ingredient sourced more locally. To Fresh’s credit, they do onsite extraction for the lotus flower which allows a smaller carbon footprint and allows for immediate re-planting of the lotus.

Bottom Line:

  • Owner: Bernard Arnault, LVMH; Lev Glazman and Alina Roytberg, Fresh
  • Charitable Contributions: LVMH supports Foundation Louis Vuitton
  • EWG Rating: Moderate Hazard
  • The Money: $96 billion, LVMH networth

Drunk Elephant

This neon indie brand is the fastest growing line in Sephore and is set to do close to $1 billion in sales this year, and IT’S OWNED AND FOUNDED BY A GAL, Tiffany Masterson. Finally! We have a woman in here! Based on these sales she is looking to sell the company, and word on the Internet, is she is looking at Unilever (boo! they own prestige brands Kate Somerville, REN, Murad, Living Proof, and Hourglass. Unilever is also a terrible company, but we will get into that later).

According to their website, Drunk Elephant is committed to keeping the “suspicious 6” out of their skincare. That means silicones, fragrances, essential oils, etc. They receive an EWG rating of Moderate Hazard. This is great news, but I do wonder about how they source their ingredients.

Drunk Elephant, according to Forbes, started out as 12 products and in the span of two years has grown to include 20 and has expanded to Asia. While the formulations have remained the same and relatively clean, what is the carbon footprint of this expansion? The brand does not use post-consumer plastic in their packaging, so it would seem that Drunk Elephant, along with many other brands, are merely contributing to more waste.

Bottom Line

  • Owner: Tiffany Masterson
  • Charitable Contributions: International Elephant Fund (though last available data was in 2016 and they donated between $1000-5000 to the cause)
  • EWG Rating: Moderate Hazard
  • The Money: $1 billion

Seed Phytonutrient

Taken from Seed Phytonutrient’s Website

Well, hold onto your bronzer guys and gals, because I am just going to hit you in the face with this….Seed Phytonutrients is owned by L’Oreal! I completely thought this was owned by a coop of farmers, which is what I feel their Instagram lead me to believe. In actuality it’s founder is Shane Wolf a former L’Oreal executive, and now farmer, and according to PSFK, he realized there was a wave of sustainable changes coming to the market…aka he saw dollar signs…and Seed Phytonutrients was born.

This farm-to-beauty brand has received a lot of press for it’s innovative packaging. It’s outer shell is 100% compostable or recyclable, and inside is an 80% post-consumer plastic bottle. Inside the bottle is where the product is actually housed. Once you take off the compostable, outer shell, the consumer will find a packet of seeds to plant. I definitely applaud their packaging, though there are mixed reviews about how well it holds up in the shower, but it does make me frustrated. If L’Oreal is willing to invest in this type of sustainable packaging, why aren’t they doing this across their brands?

Seed does a lot of things right, though, in terms of paying organic farmers 100% upfront for their crop, working with only organic farms, and going the extra step to offer upcycling of their pumps via TerraCycle. As can be said about any of these companies, I would feel better if these were B Corps, participated in 1% for the planet, and weren’t tied to large corporations that otherwise litter the planet and make you feel like you need to consume in order to be beautiful.

Bottom Line

  • Owner: L’Oreal, founded by Shane Wolf
  • Charitable Contributions: Women 4 Climate (L’Oreal)
  • EWG Rating: not listed
  • The Money: $32 billion

So who are the good guys? It seems like Biossance and Amyris, the owners of Biossance, are making good-faith efforts to bring plant-based solutions to the market while also contributing to sound charitable organizations. I also applaud Farmacy’s work with farmers and their transparencies regarding man-made ingredients. I would like more information from all companies on how they are protecting biodiversity, ensuring that western interests aren’t depleting resources for indigenous people (e.g., Fresh’s lotus use), and what factories they use and the treatment of those workers.

In next Friday’s post, I will share my favorite skincare and makeup made locally or purchased locally. Chances are there are women-owned companies in your own backyard!

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