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Upcycled Beauty Is Becoming a #Shelfie Staple

Upcycled beauty products are becoming increasingly popular, with brands repurposing ingredients that would otherwise be sent to the landfill.

Written by
Tehrene Firman

The beauty industry is bright, bubbly, and fun—but it's also incredibly wasteful. It's predicted that it's responsible for 120 billion units of packaging every year, which can be nearly impossible to recycle despite having a recycling symbol. But while the packaging desperately needs a makeover, the formulas do, too. That's where upcycled beauty comes in.

The concept of upcycled beauty is simple. Brands incorporate repurposed ingredients—food scraps, coffee grounds, and beyond—into their formulas that would typically be sent to the landfill. The more ingredients we keep out of landfills, the fewer greenhouse gases will be released that contribute to global warming.

Some companies have been incorporating upcycled ingredients into their beauty products for years. UpCircle, for example, fights waste by incorporating a repurposed ingredient into every product—like coffee grounds from London cafes. But its co-founder Anna Brightman says it's really just the beginning of a trend that's bound to reach a new level this year.

"We’ve definitely noticed a big uptick," Brightman says. "The beauty industry has a bad reputation for its environmental impact. We intend to help shake that reputation. If we can provide competitively priced, high-performing products from upcycled ingredients, then we’re demonstrating that the beauty industry be greener."

So far, UpCircle has proven that this circular concept is scalable and is paving the way for other brands hoping to incorporate repurposed ingredients into their own formulas.

"We collect over 100 kilograms of coffee a day and can make 42,000 face scrubs per month with the quantity we're currently collecting," Brightman says. "We're partnered with over 100 independent coffee shops across London that we collect the used coffee from, and we've rescued 400 tonnes of coffee so far."

Three Ships Beauty is another OG in the upcycled beauty space. One all-star ingredient in its formulas is an upcycled tree bark extract that comes from leftover tree bark from the Canadian lumber industry. There's also LOLI Beauty, which works with organic farmers to upcycle ingredients that would go to waste.

Consumers have been ready for this shift for a while, with a 2019 report finding Gen Z and millennials were more likely to purchase upcycled products than any other generation. Now, the time has come for brands—both big and small—to start making moves.

"There's not only consumer demand, but also demand from businesses for creative ways to minimize their waste outputs," says Brightman. "Every day we’re contacted by coffee shops all over the country asking if we can collect their grounds. Over time our collection area will expand, but there’s clearly no shortage."

We're not even halfway through 2022, and there are already plenty of new upcycled beauty products on the market. That includes both sustainable brands... and ones you might not expect to dip their toes into the trend.

Gen Z icon Addison Rae now has a fragrance line that uses upcycled plant ingredients, Bareminerals launched a mascara that uses upcycled orange peel fibers, Everyday Humans' new oil cleanser has upcycled green fig extract on the ingredients list, and Superzero has a new hand balm bar that uses upcycled blueberry seed oil from the juicing industry. This is only the beginning, and we can't wait to see what's next.