The Most Popular Drugstore Beauty Brands, Ranked From Most to Least Eco-Friendly

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"Wondering which drugstore beauty brands are the most eco-friendly? We ranked popular options to help you shop more sustainably."

You can find just about everything you need at the drugstore, from a shimmery new eye shadow palette to a bottle of shampoo. But when you pay closer attention to the packaging and ingredients, you’ll notice these items are typically the opposite of eco-friendly.

That’s why we’re ranking the most popular drugstore beauty brands, giving conscious consumers the information they need in order to make more eco-friendly decisions while shopping at chain stores, coffee shops, overstock stores, and beyond. Now it’s time to tackle the beauty industry.

drugstore makeup and beauty brand sustainability

The Beauty Industry Needs an Eco Makeover

It’s no secret that the beauty industry is wasteful, relying heavily on plastic. In fact, in 2018, nearly 7.9 billion units of rigid plastic were created solely for beauty and personal care products in the United States. Recycling that plastic is easier said than done, too.

Even if something has a recycling symbol on it—as many beauty products do—it’s not always recyclable. Only 32% of recyclable materials are actually recycled in the United States, and things like makeup and personal products oftentimes require special care in order to not wind up in landfills.

But plastic waste is only one way the beauty industry impacts the environment. Every time you wash makeup and skincare products off your face and body, those ingredients go down the drain, flow through your community sanitary sewer system, and end up at the wastewater treatment plant closest to you.

These wastewater treatment plants don’t remove all cosmetic chemicals, and after leaving the planet, that water is released into local bodies of water where it can be detrimental to the ecosystem. That includes common cosmetic ingredients you’ll find in many drugstore brands, including parabens, fragrance, and sulfates.

The good news is being a conscious consumer at the drugstore is getting easier. Many of the world’s top brands are starting to make moves toward a more sustainable future through better product packaging, incorporating more planet-friendly ingredients, launching eco-friendly products, reducing waste, and making plans to use renewable energy and cut carbon emissions.

Our Conscious Consumer Methodology

The Brightly team compared six popular drugstore beauty brands on how eco-friendly they are from a consumer perspective. That includes researching everything from a brand’s packaging (Is it recyclable? Is anything being done to make it less wasteful?) to its sustainability initiatives (and if any progress has been made on these goals).

Brands We Ranked:

  • L’Oréal Paris
  • Neutrogena
  • Covergirl
  • Maybelline
  • Wet n Wild
  • e.l.f Cosmetics

We scored each brand on five factors: product packaging, planet-friendly ingredients, if the brand has launched any eco-friendly products, commitments to reduce waste, and commitments to a more sustainable future. Each factor is scored from 1 to 5, with 1 meaning a lot of work is still needed and 5 meaning the chain is making great strides.

The planet-friendly ingredients ranking factor specifically looked into the brand’s use of naturally derived ingredients (ingredients derived from plants), as well as its animal policies (including being cruelty-free and/or vegan/plant-based). Plant-based makeup not only benefits the animals, but it also tends to be more sustainable.

Animal by-products used in makeup, much like animal products in the food industry, require more resources to produce than plant-based ingredients. In addition, using naturally derived ingredients (as opposed to common cosmetic chemicals) keeps harmful toxins out of the environment.

1. Neutrogena

drugstore makeup and beauty brand sustainability

Total Score: 18/25

  • Product Packaging: 3/5
  • Planet-Friendly Ingredients: 3/5
  • Eco-Friendly Product Launches: 3/5
  • Commitments to Reduce Waste: 5/5
  • Commitments to a Sustainable Future: 4/5

Neutrogena may be best known for its dermatologist-approved skincare products, but it has a comprehensive makeup line as well. While its sustainability plan might not be as in-depth as other brands on this list, it stands out for already making progress in certain areas—particularly, its release of more eco-friendly products in recent years and commitment to reducing waste.

Neutrogena says it will be eliminating unnecessary cartons and plastic windows by 2023, and achieving 100% recyclability for all plastic packaging by 2025. Right now, the brand says 75% of its products are recyclable. (Though, as with many makeup and beauty products, they aren’t always readily accepted at recycling facilities.) In order to help consumers properly recycle products and packaging, the brand has been putting a How2Recycle label on products.

In 2020, Neutrogena launched recyclable packaging for its Skin Balancing Collection bottles made from 30% post-consumer recycling (PCR) plastic. As part of that line, the brand also launched its first 100% plant-based fiber, home-compostable cleansing wipe. Traditionally, most makeup wipes are made of synthetic fibers like polyester, which aren’t compostable or biodegradable.

The brand also says it’s “committed to increasing the percentage of PCR used in our packaging over the next few years.” This year, it’s also transitioning its entire Makeup Remover Wipes portfolio to a 100% plant-based fabric, as well as exploring opportunities for fully recyclable packaging. In addition, Neutrogena is working on refills and single-dose products in order to reduce unnecessary plastic waste and carbon emissions.

Information isn’t readily available about how eco-friendly its current ingredients are, or plans for sourcing more sustainable ingredients in the future, other than it’s “advancing our standards for ingredients, packaging, sourcing, and social responsibility” and strives to “prioritize ingredients that are not only safe for your skin, but also safe for the planet.”

Right now, the brand’s most promising line is its Naturals line, which uses mostly plant-derived ingredients (94%) and is free of “harsh chemical sulfates, parabens, petrolatum, dyes, and phthalates.” In addition, the bottles use up to 50% PCR content, and the folding cartons are made from 100% recycled paper with up to 60% PCR content. The line is also partnered with The Nature Conservancy “to protect natural sources of clean water for people, plants, and animals.”

Neutrogena isn’t a cruelty-free brand. Like most brands on this list, it permits animal testing in markets in which it’s required by law. Some products also contain animal-derived ingredients like gelatin and beeswax.

Johnson & Johnson’s Progress and Goals as a Company

As for Neutrogena’s parent company, Johnson & Johnson (J&J), it’s investing $800 million through 2030 to deliver on goals that will better the planet. That includes making all plastic packaging 100% recyclable, reusable, or compostable; using 100% certified or post-consumer (PCR) paper and pulp-based packaging; and achieving 100% RSPO certification for its palm oil derivatives.

As part of J&J’s Health for Humanity 2025 Goals, it also says it will source 100% of its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2025 and achieve carbon neutrality for its operations by 2030. Some plans are in place to get there, like sourcing renewable electricity. Right now, over 50% of its electricity is sourced from renewable technologies. Currently, the company is also “developing renewable heating systems and investigating low/zero-carbon fuel opportunities.”

Progress on these goals can be found in J&J’s yearly sustainability report, called the Health for Humanity Report. This also goes over achievements with Earthwards—its four-part process that was launched in 2009 to help make its products more sustainable. It primarily involves reviewing lifestyle impacts and identifying and implementing sustainability improvements.

In 2020, its 68 Earthwards-recognized products resulted in 19,255 million tons of materials reduced, 368,507 liters of water saved, and 125 million tons of waste reduced. In the same year, J&J also received the EPA SmartWay Excellence Award for “outstanding environmental performance and climate-efficient transportation.”

2. L’Oréal Paris

Total Score: 15/25

  • Product Packaging: 2/5
  • Planet-Friendly Ingredients: 2/5
  • Eco-Friendly Product Launches: 1/5
  • Commitments to Reduce Waste: 5/5
  • Commitments to a Sustainable Future: 5/5

L’Oréal Paris, the world’s leading cosmetics brand, is known for making luxury beauty available to the masses at drugstore prices. It also has numerous plans for a more sustainable future.

This April, L’Oréal Paris announced its sustainability program, L’Oréal For the Future, Because Our Planet Is Worth It. In it, it shared its goal of reducing its carbon footprint by 50% per finished product by 2030. By 2030, it also pledges 100% of the plastic it uses will be recycled and recyclable. L’Oréal, its parent company, says almost 60% of its brands’ packaging is still virgin plastic.

By 2030, L’Oréal Paris also pledges 100% of its glass jars will be lightened using recycled glass, 100% of its cardboard boxes will be sourced from sustainable forests, and 100% of its factories will be carbon neutral.

L’Oréal Paris is already making progress on its promises. Between 2005 and 2020, its factories and distribution centers have reduced CO2 emissions by 82%, water consumption by 44%, and waste generation by 35%. Currently, its products are made in 26 factories around the globe—11 of which are already carbon neutral, using 100% renewable energy without offsetting. The plan is for the remainder of the factories to reach carbon neutral status by 2025.

The brand has also reduced the weight of its Revitalift jar by reducing the use of glass by 11 grams per jar, saving 343 tons of glass annually. In addition, it has reduced the weight of boxes and instructions for its hair color ranges, saving paper. The brand is also working on improving the biodegradability of its formulas, as well as the water footprint during consumer use. For example, it has been developing haircare formulas that need less water to rinse.

Not all of L’Oréal Paris’ products contain naturally derived ingredients, but it has some options that do, including a scrub that uses real coffee grounds and pure clays in some face masks. Its Ever collection features sulfate-free haircare, and it has a handful of paraben-free skincare products, like its hyaluronic acid serum and manuka honey night balm.

As a company, L’Oréal says 68% of the renewable raw materials used in its brands’ products “are derived from sources certified as sustainable.” By 2030, 95% of its brands’ ingredients “will be bio-based, derived from abundant minerals, or from circular processes.”

Like its parent company, the brand isn’t cruelty-free. While L’Oréal says it “completely ceased testing its products on animals” in 1989, it goes on to say some animal testing is still required in China. To try and change that, L’Oréal has contributed resources to the research and development of non-animal test methods to replace methods currently still in use, but there’s still progress to be made.

L’Oréal Paris is also investing 10 million Euros (nearly $12 million) into environmental projects—all of which will be driven by women and will directly benefit female communities, as the brand says “vulnerable women are often the first victims of climate change.”

L’Oréal’s Progress and Goals as a Company

L’Oréal—which, aside from owning L’Oréal Paris, also owns brands like Maybelline and Garnier—is making sustainable moves as a company, too. It conducted research that found a product’s packaging represents 50% of its environmental footprint. Beginning in 2007, the company began taking steps to make the packaging more eco-friendly, including reducing the weight and size of packaging (or removing it) and using PCR materials. 

In 2019, 85% of L’Oréal’s new or renovated products had an “improved social or environmental profile,” and by rethinking the packaging, the company avoided the consumption of 13,204 tons of virgin materials that year. But this is for L’Oréal’s group of brands, not just L’Oréal Paris. The company doesn’t share which products that involved. As a whole, the company reduced its waste (including raw material packaging, product packaging, and facility waste) by 35% over the span of 13 years, despite increasing production by the same amount.

In its sustainability plan—L’Oréal For the Future—the company outlined its sustainability commitments for 2030: “To define and refine L’Oréal’s next steps in sustainability, seven internal expert panels have been working since April 2019, coordinating independent studies and working with outside partners and civil society,” it reads. “The outcome is a strategy with measurable, time-bound impact reduction targets that will guide our internal transformation, that of our stakeholders and our contribution to urgent social and environmental needs.”

This plan includes numerous commitments by 2030, including 100% of the water used in its industrial processes will be recycled and reused in a loop, and 100% of the waste generated in its sites will be recycled or reused. And, by 2025, 100% of its plastic packaging will be refillable, reusable, recyclable, or compostable.

L’Oréal launched its first sustainable development program in 2013, and has received many accolades for its commitment to sustainability. This year, it was named as one of the world’s most ethical companies for the 12th time for its business practices. Also this year—and for the fifth year in a row—its supply chain was recognized for its performance in sustainability. It ranked ninth worldwide, climbing 11 spots since 2016. While there’s still a lot of work to be done, the company has repeatedly shown its commitment to improving its practices.

Something else that sets L’Oréal apart is its transparency in reaching these goals. Instead of just setting them, it’s committed to sharing progress with consumers along the way via yearly reports—a step further than many beauty brands and companies go.

“We are committed to reporting regularly on our progress against each goal, with clear and transparent indicators,” its report reads. “We will not wait to be perfect to share our efforts and progress, internally and externally.”

3. Covergirl

drugstore makeup and beauty brand sustainability

Total Score: 13/25

  • Product Packaging: 2/5
  • Planet-Friendly Ingredients: 3/5
  • Eco-Friendly Product Launches: 2/5
  • Commitments to Reduce Waste: 3/5
  • Commitments to a Sustainable Future: 3/5

Covergirl has received a lot of press this year for its recent step toward sustainability. This June, the brand announced a redesign for its Clean Pressed Powder Collection—the number one pressed powder in the industry—that will use 35% less plastic.

With that being said, the use of virgin plastic packaging is still the norm for many of its other products. Because of that, they aren’t easily recycled. Like other brands, these items require special care in order to not wind up in landfills.

Covergirl also stands out for its animal-friendly practices. It’s one of the few drugstore beauty brands that are 100% cruelty-free and is certified through Cruelty Free International’s Leaping Bunny certification. Covergirl is also the biggest makeup brand to receive the Leaping Bunny certification.

Right now, only the Clean Fresh Collection is 100% vegan. Covergirl also recently launched its Lash Blast Clean Mascara, which is vegan and FSC Certified, with packaging made from 80% recycled paper from well-managed forests. It’s also produced without formaldehyde, phthalates, parabens, sulfates, and talc. Unfortunately, the brand doesn’t guarantee any of its other products hold up to these standards.

Covergirl also claims its mica (the shiny mineral in products like eyeshadow) is ethically sourced without child labor, which isn’t particularly common—or at least advertised—among beauty brands.

Concerning Covergirl’s continued commitment to reducing waste and creating a more sustainable future, there isn’t a lot of information provided. The website states over time it will be “pursuing green energy and energy efficiency initiatives at our manufacturing sites,” but there’s no additional information or exact timelines in place.

Coty’s Progress and Goals as a Company

While Covergirl doesn’t have its own sustainability goals or report, its parent company does. Coty—which also owns Adidas, Rimmel London, Burberry, Gucci, and other brands—keeps track of its progress toward a more sustainable future in yearly sustainability reports, called Beauty That Lasts.

It has the goal to reduce its CO2 emissions across its entire value chain by 30% by 2030, as well as reduce its energy consumption by 25% and switch to 100% renewable energy by 2030. Last year, Coty reduced the energy consumption in its factories, distribution centers, and offices by 14% compared to 2019.

Coty also has the goal to send zero waste to landfill and recycle 80% of the waste generated by its factories and distribution centers by 2030. Progress is being made, with less than 1% of the waste generated by its manufacturing and distribution sites being sent to landfill in the last year. The average recycling rate has also increased from 65% to 68% of waste recycled through “better monitoring and separation of different waste streams.”

As for its products in particular: As of 2020, Coty says it will include sustainability criteria in the conception of all new products. It also says 100% of the packaging for any new product will be recyclable, reusable, or compostable, or include recycled material, by 2025.

4. e.l.f. Cosmetics

drugstore makeup and beauty brand sustainability

Total Score: 12/25

  • Product Packaging: 2/5
  • Planet-Friendly Ingredients: 4/5
  • Eco-Friendly Product Launches: 1/5
  • Commitments to Reduce Waste: 3/5
  • Commitments to a Sustainable Future: 2/5

E.l.f. has made strides in recent years to reduce its packaging waste. In 2019, the company launched Project Unicorn, which significantly cut down on packaging.

As of November 2020, the company had eliminated over 650,000 pounds of packaging waste from its product lines. This was done by “removing secondary cartons, vacuum formed trays and paper insert cards, slimming down secondary packaging, and designing a patented approach to display products.”

Unfortunately, like many drugstore beauty products, all items are packaged in virgin plastic. Unlike other brands on this list, there are no sustainability goals available that share any plans of changing that. In its product listings, a handful of product options claim to be recyclable, but the majority are not. Even plastic beauty products that are labeled as being recyclable typically require special care in order to not wind up in landfills.

As for its ingredients, e.l.f.’s products are free from phthalates, parabens, nonylphenol ethoxylates, triclosan, triclocarban, sulfates, and hydroquinone—a rarity in the drugstore beauty world. E.l.f. is also one of the few drugstore cosmetics companies that’s 100% cruelty-free. But it takes things a step further, because it’s also 100% vegan.

While this is a great start, e.l.f. says it’s committed to “advancing our sustainability initiatives and continuing to find ways to minimize our environmental impact” but hasn’t laid out a plan that goes into detail on how it will make that happen.

E.l.f.’s parent company, TPG Growth II Management, LLC, also doesn’t seem to be making sustainability a priority. The last Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) report listed on its website is from 2019, and it doesn’t have any clear goals included for the beauty brand.

5. Maybelline

drugstore makeup and beauty brand sustainability

Total Score: 11/25

  • Product Packaging: 2/5
  • Planet-Friendly Ingredients: 2/5
  • Eco-Friendly Product Launches: 1/5
  • Commitments to Reduce Waste: 3/5
  • Commitments to a Sustainable Future: 3/5

Maybelline is so popular that you’re able to purchase its products in more than 120 countries. It has also been named the number one makeup brand among Gen-Z. But how eco-friendly is it?

Maybelline is making waves in the UK. Its recycling program with TerraCycle put makeup recycling bins in 1,000 stores, which has diverted 93 tonnes of virgin plastic from landfills since 2016. Unfortunately, the brand hasn’t launched anything similar in the U.S. and gives no information on how to recycle its products on its U.S. website. Maybelline also hasn’t seemed to make any sustainable product upgrades like other brands on this list.

As for how sustainable Maybelline’s ingredients are, its website doesn’t provide any information. Some products also contain animal-derived ingredients, like carmine, beeswax, and lanolin. Its parent company, L’Oréal, says, 68% of the renewable raw materials used in its brands’ products “are derived from sources certified as sustainable.” But there’s no word on how that involves Maybelline.

Like its parent company, Maybelline isn’t cruelty-free. As previously mentioned, L’Oréal says it “completely ceased testing its products on animals” in 1989 and “no longer tolerates any exception to this rule,” but it goes on to say some animal testing is still required in China.

Maybelline shared the plant that produces the formula for its Fit Me Tinted Moisturizer obtains 59% of its power from renewable energy and has decreased its water consumption by 55% since 2005. However, there are no other sustainability goals available from the brand.

L’Oréal’s Progress and Goals as a Company

While Maybelline hasn’t made many sustainable changes of its own in its U.S. market, its parent company, L’Oréal, has. Right now, 60% of its brands’ packaging is virgin plastic, which can be difficult to recycle. But it says 100% of its plastic packaging “will be refillable, reusable, recyclable, or compostable” by 2025.

As part of L’Oréal’s sustainability plan, the company says 95% of its ingredients will be biobased by 2030, and 100% of those biobased ingredients will be traceable, come from sustainable sources, and won’t be linked to deforestation.

As previously mentioned, in 2019, 85% of L’Oréal’s new or renovated products had an “improved social or environmental profile.” Through those changes, the company avoided the consumption of 13,204 tons of virgin materials that year. There is no information available about how much or little of that was related to Maybelline’s products in particular.

As a company, L’Oréal also has other sustainability goals to hit by 2030, including 100% of the water used in its industrial processes will be recycled and reused in a loop, and 100% of the waste generated in its sites will be recycled or reused. It also says it will achieve carbon neutrality in all of its sites by 2025 by using 100% renewable energy.

L’Oréal has also received a lot of recognition over the years for its commitment to sustainability. This year, for the fifth year in a row, its supply chain was recognized for its performance in sustainability.

6. Wet n Wild

drugstore makeup and beauty brand sustainability

Total Score: 6/25

  • Product Packaging: 1/5
  • Planet-Friendly Ingredients: 2/5
  • Eco-Friendly Product Launches: 1/5
  • Commitments to Reduce Waste: 1/5
  • Commitments to a Sustainable Future: 1/5

Wet n Wild has been around since 1979. Unfortunately, it comes in last on this ranking because—despite having more than 40 years to make changes toward a more sustainable future—there still isn’t a plan in place.

Like many other beauty brands on this list, Wet n Wild’s products come in plastic that is difficult to recycle. It hasn’t shared plans to use recycled plastic instead of virgin materials, or make its products more recyclable, like other brands on this list. It also doesn’t seem to have made any changes to cut down on waste.

Wet n Wild is a PETA-certified, cruelty-free brand and says it never tests on animals. While an impressive amount of its products are vegan, it says it’s “striving toward making them all vegan-friendly.” The brand also has some paraben-free and fragrance-free products.

The only sustainability initiative from Wet n Wild seems to be a partnership with the Appalachian Wildlife Refuge, a nonprofit that coordinates the needs of wildlife rehabilitation. According to the brand’s website, every purchase of any Wet n Wild mascara comes with a prepaid return label. After collecting your used mascara wands, you can use the label to send them back to the brand. They will then be donated to Wands for Wildlife, a recycling program that uses wands to help remove fly eggs and tiny insects from animals.

Wet n Wild may be “the number one value brand in America,” but it isn’t forthcoming with information about its sustainability policies. Its parent company, Markwins Beauty, states, “we are committed to reducing waste, remaining cruelty-free, and rewarding eco-conscious actions.” It also says it makes “responsible choices for a more sustainable future.” But neither Markwins nor Wet n Wild has provided any information about what that means.

The Top Takeaway for Conscious Consumers

The TL;DR? Things are improving, but we still have a long way to go. While the drugstore beauty industry is making strides toward a more sustainable future, none of the brands in our ranking received a perfect score for good reason.

Not even the first-ranked brand is the gold standard of sustainability, nor does it mean that you’re less of an environmentalist if you choose to buy products from some of the low-ranking brands. At Brightly, we believe imperfect environmentalism is key to truly advancing sustainability and environmental well-being. Collectively, the small-scale efforts we all make every day have great cumulative potential, and it often starts with where your dollars go.

Remember some of these findings on your next shopping trip. Making an effort to choose items that use less plastic and more planet-friendly ingredients is a great place to start in making your beauty routine more eco-friendly.

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Wondering which drugstore beauty brands are the most eco-friendly? We ranked popular options to help you shop more sustainably.

This post may contain affiliate links. Brightly will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links.

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