The concept of circular beauty – making beauty products from ingredients and materials that would otherwise have gone to waste – is still a new one, but it’s full of promise.
Nearly five million tonnes of edible food goes to waste every year, according to the charity campaign Love Food Hate Waste. That’s enough to fill the Royal Albert Hall 90 times over!
Thanks to the sustainable lifestyle movement picking up pace, beauty brands have started to clock onto the need for greater environmental responsibility.
From body scrubs made with used coffee grounds to lip balms made with fruit juice pulp, beauty startups and mainstream brands alike are getting inventive with “rubbish”.
Most of our listed brands are not yet fully circular, but they are busy experimenting with byproducts and adding more circular beauty products to their lines all the time.
You’ll find some of the best below, all tried and tested by IndyBest to assure you that their quality matches their ethos.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
Indie natural beauty brand UpCircle has made a name for itself as a pioneer of the circular/byproduct trend. Each new skincare range is based around a different “upcycled” ingredient.
First up was body scrubs made from used coffee grounds and soaps scented with repurposed chai tea spices. The brand’s cleansing balm (our go-to daily cleanser that smells divinely spa-like), moisturisers and face masks are made from powdered discarded fruit stones soon followed. The UpCircle team is currently busy reusing flower petals left over from florists and making magic from fruit waters saved from the juicing industry, with more to be revealed later this year.
Packaging-wise, the brand is 99 per cent plastic-free, with plastic-free refill options available for the 1 per cent. Everything is made from recycled and recyclable materials. We love too much of UpCircle’s range to pick a single hero product and recommend trying one of its bundle offers, from the “acne attacker” to the “full house”.
Shop now, prices start at £6.99
In the early Nineties, Caudalie’s founder was on a tour of the Caudalie vineyard in Bordeaux with a laboratory professor, who let slip that grapevine and grape seeds contain resveratrol and polyphenols – the most powerful antioxidants he’d ever come across.
He told her that by throwing these seeds away, she was “throwing away treasures”. They’ve been working together ever since, turning these byproducts of the French winemaking industry into award-winning skincare.
Caudalie’s hero products include the radiance serum, which also contains the brand’s patented natural ingredient, Viniferine. Extracted from grape sap, this effective anti-dark spot treatment is over 60 times more effective than Vitamin C at brightening even sensitive skin.
Other products made with “viniferine” include the rich day cream and the eye cream. They’re all expensive (think £40-90), but they feel cooling and luxurious to apply, with noticeable anti-ageing effects, so splash that cash if you can.
Shop now, prices start at £4.50
Fruu was born in 2016 with the aim of making affordable sustainable cosmetics out of food processing and juicing industry waste. Its founders noticed that, while natural and organic beauty products are biodegradable and renewable, they are often made from virgin plant materials that are land, water and carbon intensive.
Every Fruu product contains between 30 and 60 per cent byproduct ingredients. That’s pretty impressive, and it’s done with the lofty goal of growing the circular economy in mind.
So far, Fruu has focused on lip care with a range of 10 “fruitalicious” lip balms and eight tinted colour balms that all contain fruit leftovers. To name just one example, its oh-so-moisturising avocado lip balm is made with the oil of wonky or overly ripe avocados that were deemed “unfit” for supermarkets.
The juicy watermelon lip balm and strawberry creme colour balm deserve a mention too – they’re both so yummy we can’t stop licking our lips!
Shop now, prices start at £3
Rabot 1745 is the beauty arm from one of our favourite British chocolatiers, Hotel Chocolat. Much of its skincare contains chocolate industry byproducts.
Our top pick is the liquid chocolate body mask made from chocolate discarded by the Rabot estate in St Lucia (we don’t know why anybody would discard chocolate, either). It’s as messy to apply as you’re imagining but so much fun. Just try to resist scoffing the lot…
Unconvinced? Try the coffee body scrub – it’s made with ground coffee beans unused by Hotel Chocolat and housed in a cool reusable coffee cup that you can wash out and keep using.
We also love the three shell scrub, which is based on a trio of exfoliating granules – coconut, cacao and almond shells – that are all leftover from the chocolate production runs. The shells have been ground extremely finely, so they’re suitable for sensitive skin too.
Shop now, prices start at £7
Sustainable beauty brand BYBI is the cool kid in town, founded by two beauty bloggers turned formulators and entrepreneurs. Though not fully circular, it uses byproduct ingredients in four of its bestselling cosmetics, including a face mask made from discarded pumpkin flesh and two face oils made purely from strawberry and blueberry seeds that would otherwise have gone to waste.
Our favourite circular gem, however, is the luxuriously soft “night nutrition” overnight cream. It contains more than 70 per cent upcycled ingredients, including clementine water that’s a byproduct of the juicing industry. Even its bamboo spatula is made from sustainably-grown, naturally biodegradable bamboo.
Every BYBI product is packaged in an Instagrammable glass jar or a bioplastic tube made from sugarcane. Orders arrive in boxes made from grass paper, which uses up to 80 per cent less energy than wood pulp.
Shop now, prices start at £5.50
The Body Shop
Famously against animal testing before cruelty-free was a mainstream ethic, The Body Shop is now making waves with circular beauty initiatives. The high street stalwart recently launched its fruity vegan bath blends, made with thrown-out “ugly” bananas and pears, plus strawberry and mango seed oil from the juicing and jam-making industries. Bubbly and skin-softening, they’re a real treat after a stressful day.
Grab a carrot cream nature-rich daily moisturiser, too. Deliciously thick with long-lasting hydrating benefits, it’s enriched with pollution-fighting organic carrots that are simply too beautifully wonky to sell to supermarkets. There’s also the carrot wash energising face cleanser if you’re after an eco warrior duo.
Whenever you see almond milk in The Body Shop’s products, that’s circular too. It comes from a sustainable Spanish farm that uses broken nuts that can’t be sold for food and turns almond husks into compost to help minimise waste.
Shop now, prices start at £2
Currently, the only circular product in Monta Monta’s limited range is the sage and coffee body scrub. However, this up and coming East London skincare brand focuses on locally-sourced ingredients and is circular with its packaging, so we have high hopes for their sustainable future.
Britain drinks 95 million cups of coffee a day, according to the British Coffee Association. The UK produces 500,000 tonnes of used coffee grounds a year and 90 per cent of that is landfilled or incinerated – at an annual cost of £78m!
Monta Monta works with local cafes to repurpose their used coffee grounds into an exfoliating scrub that is just as effective as one that uses virgin coffee grounds. This scrub still contains high levels of energising caffeine, backed up by sea salt, sweet almond oil, coconut oil and sage leaf extract. It sloughed all the rubbish off our dry lockdown skin, leaving it feeling smooth and fresh. It’s packaged in recyclable amber glass, which lasts forever.
Shop now, £17
We love it when a huge brand like M&S wakes up to grassroots sustainable movements. The retail giant has started upcycling leftover grape pulp from its wine supplier, English Chapel Down. The potent, radiance-boosting ingredient resveratrol (as seen in Caudalie’s products) is extracted from this “waste” and used throughout M&S’s vegan “pure natural radiance” skincare range.
Resveratrol is blended with peptides and echinacea to create a free-radical fighting face mask that’ll refresh tired skin. Try the rich, anti-ageing face oil or the day cream with added SPF15 to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.
Shop now, prices start at £14
The verdict: Circular beauty brands and products
UpCircle leads the way, with a fully circular range of skincare products that are a joy to use as part of your daily routine. We’re excited to see where this ambitious brand takes its sustainability mission next. Fruu’s lip balms are lip-smackingly good too – we’re working our way through the lot.
IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.