The next big thing in sustainability.
There’s a revolution coming to beauty, and it’s not exactly the buzzwords that have been slapped onto product labels for the past several years like “clean” or “green.” Meet upcycled beauty, (sometimes called by-product beauty), which is a method of making new products by using ingredients left over from other processes both inside and outside of the beauty industry. This operation primarily takes food that would be otherwise thrown away and left in a landfill and gives it another life as a product ingredient within skin care and more. Sure it may sound... unpleasant, but upcycled beauty actually has real potential for substantial positive environmental impact. This isn’t just a wacky marketing trend but a creative response to a real climate problem.
And while many people might focus on sustainability issues like packaging, there is real potential for upcycling to be the next major green wave in the beauty industry. “1.2 billion cosmetic packages are produced globally each year. The vast majority of the 1.2 billion cosmetic packages that are produced globally each year end up in in landfills,” says CEO and co-founder of PYT Beauty Mary Schulman, which is why much of the focus within “green” beauty has been aimed at initiatives like plastic-free packaging, but food waste has a comparable negative effect on the environment and should not be ignored.
“Eight percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions come from food loss and waste, which is why reducing food waste is considered the single greatest solution to climate change according to Project Drawdown," says sustainability advisor and United Nations consultant Thania Peck.
Reducing food waste by upcycling it into a beauty product has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And it’s not just food scraps — upcycled ingredients can be anything from leftover pulp from making juice to byproducts from gin distillation. The best part is that these ingredients are not any less effective, nor any less safe for the consumer.
How Does Upcycled Beauty Work?
Brands can source their ingredients from companies like UpCycle Beauty, which sells plant-based byproduct ingredients that are ideal for upcycling into new products. The brand sees the process as “an opportunity to create new products using minimal energy, whilst reducing our footprint,” according to UpCycle Beauty’s mission statement. Other brands maintain relationships with regional businesses and source from them, like UpCircle Beauty, which partners with local coffee shops to source coffee grounds.
“We intercept ingredients from other industries when they have already been ‘used’ for whatever purpose by that industry,” says CEO and co-founder of UpCircle Beauty Anna Brightman. “The ingredients we upcycle, [like] brewed coffee grounds still have fantastic skin care benefits after their initial ‘use,’ so we step in and give them new life as UpCircle products.” For brands that want to use coffee in their products, using new coffee beans and the resources that the process takes — solar energy, harvesting, roasting, and transporting the beans (and possible carbon emissions) — upcycling minimizes the resources used while offering a final product that is still high quality.
As with anything new in beauty there are some pioneering brands worth following and trying. Though some upcycled brands may choose to charge a luxury premium, others have prices comparable to non-upcycled ones.
Curious to try out an upcycled beauty product for yourself? Ahead, six leading upcycled brands to know and shop.
We at TZR only include products that have been independently selected by our editors. We may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.
This brand champions upcycled coffee in many of its skin care products, from oil for face products to grounds that are great for exfoliation. To source coffee grounds, for example, the United Kingdom-based brand partners with local coffee shops to use leftover ingredients.
UpCircle’s Eye Cream with Hyaluronic Acid & Coffee is a lightweight formula that uses coffee oil and maple bark extract to soothe the skin, refresh it, and minimize the appearance of fine lines. Its bestselling Face Moisturizer with Vitamin E, on the other hand, uses upcycled argan shell powder, a by-product of the argan oil industry, and cocoa butter for a nutrient-rich and skin-protecting formula.
This Amsterdam-based brand was founded by Kim van Haaster in 2019, who found inspiration after moving across the Atlantic with her partner — who’s a fourth generation royal tulip farmer. At the time, she was a curious beauty executive who wanted to know more about tulips. After discovering their magic, royal tulips inspired her skin care line.
Using flowers from the family farm, Bloomeffects products harness the magic of the only flower that can still grow after being cut. Tulip cells are specially responsive to auxin, a plant hormone that's crucial to cellular growth and regeneration. The brand has amassed awards for a handful of products, like the Royal Tulip Cleansing Jelly that breezily dissolves oils and makeup from skin without stripping moisture and the Royal Tulip Moisturizing Nectar, a skin barrier-protecting hydrator with a honey-like consistency.
Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine.” Loli, which stands for Living Organic Loving Ingredients, lets upcycled food be the core of thy beauty product ingredients. “When you blend food to make beauty, you make more of yourself,” Loli founder Tina Hedges writes on the Loli website. “It’s powerful alchemy.”
Loli products are quickly becoming cult-favorites, but perhaps none compare to the Plum Elixir, which uses plum kernel oil, pomegranate, and tea seed oil to hydrate dry skin, hair, and lips. Made with upcycled food-grade oils, this product is great for sealing in moisture day and night. Loli’s Aloe Blueberry Jelly is another must-have to help douse the skin with powerful antioxidant protection and deeply hydrate. It’s perfect for those that don't like heavy creams, and is basically a soothing juice for skin to drink.
David Chung, Founder and CEO of Farmacy, always had the intention to create a purposeful skin care business, one that made customers feel good while contributing to communities through partnerships. The skin care brand, for example, partners with Feeding America to make donations for every product purchased. Farmacy continues to make announcements regarding its commitment to sustainability, including using nearly 1,500 pounds of upcycled food in 2021 that would have otherwise ended up in landfills.
Farmacy’s Waterless Vitamin C Serum is a silky, lightweight serum that uses upcycled tangerine peel and sugar beet. It easily absorbs into the skin while brightening and smoothing the skin’s texture. Harnessing its antioxidant-procured powers, the Niacinamide Night Mask uses blueberry seed oil for a thoroughly hydrating evening moisturizer.
Upcycled beauty doesn’t have to be limited to skin care. Fragrance ingredients can be upcycled, too. Australian brand St. Rose makes luxurious, gender-neutral fragrances formulated with the intention to "inspire a deeper connection with mind, body, soul and Earth," according to its About page.
A couple of St. Rose’s fine fragrances use upcycled ingredients, like Grand Larceny. This rich scent captures the signature essence of a fresh rose by using upcycled concentrate layered with Egyptian geranium and sandalwood notes. Vigilante, on the other hand, is a bold and sensual scent that uses upcycled cedarwood atlas and upcycled rose concentrate.
BYBI is a U.K. brand that describes itself as pro-planet beauty. All products are vegan, and many of them use upcycled ingredients leftover from the juicing industry. The Glowcurrant Booster, for example, uses white willow bark from a farm in Herefordshire, United Kingdom that was originally planted to encourage biodiversity and support insect populations. Now, it's in their brightening serum, which promotes more hydrated skin and a smoother complexion. BYBI’s Blueberry Booster uses leftover blueberry seeds from leftover juicing to create an antioxidant-rich facial oil that boosts skin health and moisture levels.
Available at Target, Sephora, and Ulta Beauty, Everyday Humans is a sun and body care brand that puts skin and planet health at the forefront. Its products, which are all formulated keeping sensitive skin in mind, harness the power of plant-based ingredients from squalane to yucca root extract.
Some of the brand’s bestselling products feature upcycled ingredients including the Rose From Above SPF 30 Sunscreen Base and Watery PHA Oil Cleanser. The SPF, one of the earliest sunscreens to incorporate upcycled ingredients, uses upcycled rose oil that comes from petals that would otherwise be discarded. The oil cleanser, on the other hand, uses upcycled green fig extract that’s rich with vitamins to nourish the skin and leave you with an otherworldly glow.