Sustainability in High-End Cosmetics: Innovations in Packaging

More and more brands are embracing eco-friendly cosmetics packaging, and consumers are welcoming these changes. But sustainable packaging remains a challenge in luxury personal care brands, where the packaging is often as iconic and distinctive as the product itself. Today, high-end beauty brands and the companies that supply them are taking a new look at packaging.

Challenges in Sustainable Luxury cosmetics Packaging

Luxury cosmetics brands face a wide range of challenges when it comes to updating their packaging to more sustainable alternatives. Here are a few of the obstacles they face:

  • Distinctive, custom, iconic designs. Many luxury personal care brands are known for their iconic custom cosmetics packaging designs. The shape of the Chanel bottle, Tom Ford lipstick, and YSL foundation bottles were all created by the world’s best designers, meant to create product packaging that is distinctive, luxurious, and memorable. When a company is so invested in and strongly associated with specific packaging designs, it can be difficult to change.   
  • Limitations in sustainable materials and colors. While packaging companies are innovating new and sustainable alternatives every day, luxury brands can still struggle with the limitations of available materials, colors, textures, and finishes. These are companies (and customers) who aren’t used to compromising what they want. 
  • Consumer perception. Consumers associate high-end beauty with specific packaging expectations. They want sustainability, but also expect expensive products to have a certain weight, texture, and appearance in their packaging. 
  • Product quality, preservation, and ease of use. Whatever type of packaging companies use, it cannot compromise the user’s experience with the product. Packaging must always protect and preserve the product, creating the exact same user experience every single time. 
  • Speed to market. Today’s beauty trends are constantly accelerating, and speed to market is an increasingly important factor. Brands that choose ready-made stock packaging are retail-ready much faster. Luxury brands, accustomed to creating designer custom packaging, can’t move as quickly. 

Options in Sustainable Beauty Packaging

Despite these challenges, there are more and more alternative materials available to make beauty packaging that is just as high-end, but more sustainable. Some of the options are:

  • Mono-materials. Mono-materials are a simple option toward greater sustainability. These types of packaging use only a single type of plastic, reducing the need for manual separation and making plastic easier to recycle. By using only PET, PVC, or PS in a single product’s packaging, the container instantly becomes recyclable (in locations where plastics are recycled).
  • Post-consumer resin. As you might expect, post-consumer resin is simply packaging made from recovered and recycled plastics. PCR is safe and durable, and increasing use of post-consumer plastics in product packaging may increase plastic recycling. 
  • Metal, including aluminium and tin. Metal is a time-honored sustainable material, easy to recycle and use again and again. Many luxury beauty brands are experimenting with metal packaging, since it offers so many custom options in shape, texture, color, and embossing. 
  • Glass. Glass is a classic beauty packaging solution, and it is more popular now than ever. Not only is glass easily recyclable and reusable, but it allows the consumer to actually see the product. It communicates transparency, literally, and helps people shopping for color cosmetics to be confident about their choices. 
  • Plant-fiber plastics. Fiber-based packaging, including wood, bamboo, sugarcane, paper, and other fibers, is biodegradable and environmentally friendly. So far, these products are strongly associated with single-use applications in the food and beverage industry. However, there is continuous emergence of new options and new technologies in fiber-based packaging, like the Finnish biochemists who invented Sulapac: a plant-fiber-based injection molding process that offers the versatility of plastic packaging, while being sustainable and compostable.  

Trends in Luxury Beauty Packaging

While many high-end beauty brands are still struggling with the best way to re-invent their iconic branding in eco-friendly materials, there are still a number of ways to become more sustainable. Many luxury brands are reaching for solutions that are easier to implement, like:

  • Packaging reduction. Packaging reduction is, quite frankly, a no-brainer. It reduces post-consumer waste, improves sustainability, and saves time and money during production. Simple steps to reduce packaging include:
    • Reducing the amount of material used in product containers. In many cases, companies can simply make a plastic tube or bottle with thinner walls, using less material without impacting the customer experience. 
    • Reducing packaging layers. Many luxury beauty products come in a bottle, that is then placed in a box, that is then wrapped in cellophane. Rethinking how many layers are absolutely necessary for product preservation can reduce waste and packaging processes at the same time. 
    • Downsizing boxes and cartons. Some luxury beauty products are packaged in boxes that are larger than necessary for their container. In some cases, this can also require additional material inside the box to position and hold the product in place. Scaling exterior boxes or cartons down to the size of the product reduces materials and waste.  
  • Refillable products. More and more beauty brands are offering refillable products. This is an especially good choice for luxury brands that tend to build life-long customer relationships. Brands like La Prairie, Susanne Kaufmann, and Kjaer Weis are using refillable packaging to build customer loyalty and improve retention. 
  • Digital features. Sometimes great customer experience isn’t in the package at all. Roar cosmetics launched a makeup product with a microchip in the lid. When opened, customers can use the companion app to countdown the product lifecycle, as well as get beauty tips and tutorials. 

Luxury Beauty Innovators

Hermés, famous for their luxury fashion accessories, recently launched their first beauty products. True to the brand, their lipstick shades are inspired by the company’s collection of leather and silk materials. The luxury lipsticks are also more sustainable, made of the same metal used on Hermés accessories, and refillable. It’s a great example of maintaining the brand’s reputation for style and quality, incorporating the same style and ethos from Hermés fashion into Hermés beauty, and making sustainable packaging luxurious.

Values-driven high-end beauty company Thrive Causemetics actively collaborates with customers throughout their product development process. Their new Liquid Balm Lip Treatment is packaged in glass in direct response to customer requests for less plastic in their packaging.

French icon L’Occitane is deeply committed to preserving the environment. Along with a wide range of sustainability and biodiversity initiatives, the company has reduced its overall carbon footprint, reduced the weight of their packaging, updating product packaging to recyclable materials (more than 73% of their product line so far is in recyclable packaging), and has partnered with Terracycle to explore more options for recycling, refilling, and reducing packaging waste. 

While it may be easier for drugstore and indie cosmetics brands to choose or change to sustainable packaging, luxury beauty brands are actively taking steps to improve their environmental impact while continuing to provide the highest quality of products. Grapefrute recognizes the scientists, technicians, and innovators who are developing new methods and materials that make packaging better for the earth, finding more ways to meet these high standards and deliver the best.