Stimulated by new generations aware of the need for more reasoned consumption, the beauty sector is reinventing itself with sustainable models focused on packaging’s environmental impact and “clean” formulas. See below the example of five brands which emerged over the past few months on the initiative of young entrepreneurs determined to help consumers reduce the footprint of their beauty routines.

Concrete makes its debut in beauty packaging

Launched thanks to an Ulule crowdfunding campaign, La Crème Libre advocates refillable skincare with a concept focused on the choice of container and content. The idea is simple: an attractive jar made of natural concrete based on sand, cement, and water which can be refilled over and over with skincare capsules. “Our bathrooms have become real supermarket departments, with a large quantity of visually polluting products. We aimed to transform cosmetic jars into decorative objects with several lives,” explains Veronica Susman, co-founder of the brand, her first entrepreneurial experience.

Consumers choose their own jar(s) among the eight colours available, and then the refill among the ten references of cleansers, exfoliators, makeup removers, and skincare products. Free from any controversial ingredient, the 100% natural products from France are designed for the whole family. The jars follow the same principles and are handmade by a craftsman in northern France. They are differentiating in that they are biodegradable, highly resistant, and completely based on natural materials, including pigments. The refill capsules made of biosourced plastic are available in different sizes: 50 ml for skincare products, 150 ml for cleansers.

The choice is mainly based on the texture. Every product is available in at least two textures. The cleanser can be a powder or paste, the makeup remover a cream or balm, which turns into oil, and then milk in contact with water. The exfoliator can contain grains – almond shell – or be upgraded as a mask based on fruit acids to reveal radiant skin. The moisturizing/antioxidant cream offers the lightest to the richest textures with the same cocktail of actives.

There is only one refill price - EUR 29.90 - whatever the capacity. Available for free during the launch period, the jars will cost EUR 19.90 for 50 ml, and EUR 29.90 for 100 ml.

For now, the brand is only available online at but is considering joining selective distribution networks this year.

The bulk option

A reference in skincare refills, Cozie (for Cosmétique Objectif Zéro Impact Environnemental in French), has defended a bulk model for three years in the face care segment. Consumers can take their bottles back to their stores to replace them with new products immediately refilled in a fountain, thanks to a patented technology. “The ultimate solution consists in not generating any waste, so consumers should be able to refill their packaging,” explains Arnaud Lancelot, one of the founders. The ‘Dozeuse’ (dispenser) installed at points of sale is fitted with several fountains containing different skincare and hygiene products with clean formulas. Every time a product is refilled, a specific label is printed with the batch number, the ‘best before’ date, and the volume chosen by the user. Each glass bottle is deposited and sent to an industrial cleaning facility to be made available again.

Similarly to this startup, several other players have embraced the bulk model to better meet consumer expectations in all distribution channels: L’Occitane en Provence in their stores, L’Oréal Professionnel, with the Source Essentielle concept in hair salons, Mustela in pharmacies, Léa Nature in supermarkets… and the concept is becoming commonplace in perfume stores.

To further spread this practice, CoZie offers their technology to all brands and distributors interested.

Combining refills and anhydrous formulas

In spring 2020, the brand founded by two thirty-year-old entrepreneurs also emerged on the market thanks to a new ‘made in France’ idea: containers to be kept and refilled with solid formulas. The brand developed three hygiene products: a shower gel in the form of a ball, toothpaste pastilles to crunch, and a stick deodorant. “Let’s take the example of a shower gel. We throw away our empty bottles to purchase exactly the same ones, only full. It is an absurd system,” explains Aymeric Grange, co-founder of the brand. The non-logotyped bottles with a minimal design are half based on recycled plastic and recyclable, while made to last. The choice of partly recycled plastic is based on sustainable values: resistance over time, reuse of the virgin material, energy-efficient manufacturing, and a lighter weight, compared to glass and aluminium, for enhanced transport. Developed and made in France, the solid formulas contain 95% ingredients of natural origin and the specifications are focused on sensoriality and efficacy. With this concept, the entrepreneurs aim to reach what they call “imperfect eco-warriors”: consumers who prefer clean solutions without changing comfort-related expectations – this consumer category is gaining importance. The range should soon be broadened to all bathroom essentials.

The glass solution

With a range of about forty references, including hygiene, skincare and cleaning products, new brand What Matters created by Charlotte Catton and Franck Ladouce also banks on the easy-refill trend, without compromising on sensoriality. The bottles are made of glass secured with an exclusive industrial technology developed by glassmaker Verescence to make both beautiful and resistant everyday objects. The ecorefill pouches can be recycled and reduce plastic consumption by 80%.

All products are made in France with at least 99% ingredients of natural origin certified organic, vegan, and clean by Cosmos and Ecocert.

Refill orders are placed on the brand’s website, in just a few clicks, so the basket is adapted to the whole family’s needs, habits, and profiles. Once the right questions have been answered, the brand can give advice about the quantities needed and the date when the products will need to be refilled. This way, the delivery frequency is reduced, which is also more responsible. A mere text message reminds you of validating the restocking order, which can be modified until four days before the delivery.

Being part of the circular economy

Apart from the boldest concepts, brands and suppliers are also focused on transforming the environmental profile of their packaging, without trying to revolutionize consumption habits too fast. This approach is less spectacular, but it can be adopted on a large scale. That is how several oral care giants chose Albéa’s Greenleaf Generation 2 recyclable tubes, so the packs of billions of toothpaste tubes used every year can be recycled at last.

Following the example of the hygiene sector, the skincare segment has embraced this trend. In the US, the five founders of Ace of Air, who have launched a crowdfunding campaign, have devised a concept combining skincare and food supplements in containers which can be returned, re-refilled, recycled, and composted.

For more information on innovations and trends in beauty packaging: download our special issue: Beauty Packaging Innovation - February 2021.