Upcycled Beauty: Sustainable Beauty Practices

Upcycled cosmetic ingredients, sometimes called byproduct beauty, is an emerging hair care trend that is part of the clean beauty movement. Upcycling is the use of waste material repurposed into functional cosmetic ingredients. Although anything can be repurposed, food waste and plant-based byproducts are primarily used for upcycled beauty products and cosmetics.

For instance, byproducts from gin distillation, hummus production, and barley can have hair care benefits after their initial use. These ingredients are used and known specifically to condition the hair due to their polypeptide and amino acid concentrations. This is not to say you can dig through your trash to create a DIY hair conditioner. Ingredients that have been cast off by other industries are collected and processed with minimal energy and given a new life in this sustainable beauty practice.

The benefits of upcycling are many, and proponents of this trend argue the two biggest advantages include lowering the beauty industry's impact on the environment and putting the surplus of waste from other industries to good use.  

However, upcycled cosmetics come with its limitations though. Ingredients can't be upcycled if they have "been altered by overheating, high pressure, or chemical degradation in the initial processing.”1 Further, there are limitations on the ingredients currently available that have been upcycled. The good news, with consumer demand, more and more upcycled cosmetic ingredients and products are coming to market. 

The beauty industry has been a target of criticism for years over the purchase of petrochemicals, waste, and pollution produced on a global scale. In 2018, in the US alone, 7.9 billion units of plastic were created just for beauty care products.2 But it’s not just environmental impact and waste that is a concern. Ingredients used in beauty products have largely been unregulated.  

The sustainable beauty trend has also fueled new bills in congress. The Safer Beauty Bill Package introduced four bills into Congress 2021–2022 to make beauty and personal care products safer for everyone by removing toxic chemicals, reducing unsafe chemical exposure, and making ingredient transparency the industry standard.3 On December 29, 2022, President Joe Biden signed into law the Omnibus Reform package, which included the Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act of 2022 (MoCRA). This reform brings more regulations to the cosmetics industry.  


1. Popsugar, “’Upcycled’ Beauty Is Giving Would-Be Food Waste a New Life,” accessed March 2023, www.popsugar.com/beauty/upcycled-beauty-products-48214984. 

2. Plastic Pollution Coalition, “The Ugly Side of Beauty: The Cosmetics Industry’s Plastic Packaging Problem,” accessed March 2023, www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/blog/2022/1/25/the-ugly-side-of-beauty...

3. Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, “Safer Beauty Bill Package,” accessed March 2023, www.bcpp.org/resource/safer-beauty-bill-package-2021/. 


The Zoe Report. “Why Your New Favorite Face Cream Might Use Food Scraps to Formulate.” May 18, 2022. www.thezoereport.com/beauty/upcycled-beauty. 

Glossy. “From Apples to Olive Leaves: ‘Upcycled’ Food Ingredients Gain Traction Among Beauty Brands.” May 7, 2021. www.glossy.co/beauty/upcycled-ingredients-gain-traction-as-beauty-brands...

Live Kindly, “Upcycled Beauty Isn’t a Trend, It’s a Movement.” www.livekindly.com/upcycled-beauty-movement/. 

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