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The cosmetics industry is big business: in the UK alone we spend £5 billion a year on cosmetics and toiletries. Women, men and even children are under increasing pressure to look good, smell right, and defy the ageing process. With the use of industrially produced synthetic chemicals being linked to worrying side-effects, it seems that a healthy diet, plenty of sleep and lots of water will do more for your complexion than foundation.

Keyword-ResearchLook out for our new sector-specific Ethical Accreditation certification marks which now cover over 15 different consumer product sectors. These are additional to our original Ethical Company mark that features on the packaging of over 100 million consumer products every year.

Animal testing

Since 2013, cosmetics tested on animals can no longer be sold in Europe – even if the testing was done outside Europe. However, that doesn’t mean that companies selling their products in Europe do not continue to test cosmetics on animals outside Europe and continue to sell them in other markets. This means that companies can still profit from cruelty to animals, just not in Europe.

The only way to be completely sure you aren’t indirectly supporting animal tests is to purchase products from companies that don’t do any animal testing – look for Cruelty-Free International’s Leaping Bunny symbol, which guarantees that the company in question does not test on animals anywhere in the world – you can also search their Cruelty Free database. PETA also has a searchable database of companies that do and do not test their products on animals.

A sensitive issue

Almost all cosmetics can cause allergic reactions in certain individuals. There is no list of ingredients that can be guaranteed not to cause a reaction, so people who are prone to allergies should pay careful attention to what they use on their skin.

Companies can use terms such as ‘hypoallergenic’ or ‘natural’ on cosmetics labels to mean almost anything. Most of the terms have considerable value in promoting cosmetic products to people, but dermatologists say they have very little medical meaning. ‘Hypoallergenic’ implies that products are less likely to cause allergic reactions, but no prescribed scientific studies are required to substantiate this claim.

Likewise, the terms ‘dermatologist-tested’, ‘sensitivity tested’, ‘allergy tested’, or ‘nonirritating’ carry no guarantee that the product won’t cause skin reactions.


Some cosmetics now use nanoparticulate materials to give improved or additional functionality. There are concerns that nanoparticles of zinc, titanium and iron oxides might penetrate the protective layers of the skin and cause reactions with UV light that could result in damage to cell DNA.

Widespread use of nanoparticles in products that are washed off will present a diffuse source of nanoparticles to the environment, for example through the sewage system. Whether this presents a risk to the environment will depend on the quantities that are discharged and the toxicity of nanoparticles to organisms, about which almost nothing is known.

At present, products containing nanoparticles do not have to be labelled as such. To be sure of avoiding these and other synthetic chemicals choose organic. Spiezia Organics is one of the few cosmetics companies accredited by the Soil Association. Honesty Cosmetics are certified by the Ethical Company Organisation, and make products suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

Ethical Comparison – Make-Up Rankings Detailed Table

N.B companies that do not conduct or commission animal testing receive a middle rating (only companies with CFI’s Leaping Bunny certification receive a top rating)

Buy our detailed Ethical Research Reports. See the findings behind companies’ ethical ratings, as featured in The Good Shopping Guide. Several different product sectors available covering hundreds of consumer brands.

We have created ethical comparison rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Green people, Oy!, L’ Occitane, Odylique, Beauty Without, Cruelty, Dr. Hauschka, Lavera, Neal’s Yard, Nvey ECO, Urban Decay, Bourjois, Elizabeth Arden, Clarins, Clinique, Estee Lauder, No. 7, Chanel, Lancome, L’Oreal, Maybelline, Rimmel, The Body Shop, Dior, Max Factor, Revlon.

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