How sustainable is H&M's new beauty range?

H&M's 700-product strong beauty range that launched last year.

H&M's 700-product strong beauty range that launched last year. Photo: H&M

The beauty industry racks up nearly $400 billion a year worldwide, and H&M is looking to get a bite of that. The fast-fashion behemoth has just launched a line of eco-friendly hair and body products as part of its Conscious Collection.

The natural and organic collection will feature just fewer than 30 products, including face masks, shampoo, body oil, hand creams and an aluminium-free deodorant. It's an extension of H&M's existing beauty range, which they launched in 2015.

The Conscious Collection is marketed as "eco-friendly", made using organic certified ingredients and free from GMOs, parabens, silicon, synthetic perfumes and other chemical nasties. The collection purports to be kinder to your skin, the environment and your bank balance – costing between $10 and $20.

It's also sustainably produced, packaged in recycled plastics and paper you can pop into the recycle when you're done. (That is, if you don't want to keep and repurpose them. We can't get enough of the chic and minimalist, apothecary-style silver tins with black-and-white labels, much like the packaging used by H&M's sister brand & Other Stories.)

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What's not to love? Just as everyone likes a shiny new dress, everyone wants a bright lippy pick-me-up from time to time. (H&M's just happen to be as prettily wrapped as Tom Ford's and Chanel's, yet at a fraction of the price.)

The company is basically applying its successful fast-fashion philosophy to sustainable beauty, making natural products affordable and available. Yet how ethical are these products? Does Conscious Collection really live up to its feel-good name when we're looking at a business model that is inherently unsustainable?

The Swedish retailer has worked to cultivate a certain consumer assumption with its annual sustainability reports, ethics awards and choice of celebrity spokesmodels, while feeding our insatiable appetite for things we ultimately do not need. They label themselves as "sustainable", while contributing to waste and supporting the questionable labour standards of the global apparel industry supply chain. 25 per cent of H&M's clothing is produced in factories in Bangladesh, where the minimum wage is the lowest in the world. And yet, Forbes recently named the retailer in its 'Top 10 Retail Companies To Work For'.  What's wrong with this picture?

On top of its Conscious Collection, H&M already have a beauty range that's not sustainable and not biodegradable. This consists of 700 products, which is intimidating to even the most seasoned beauty enthusiast, guaranteeing there'll be products you 1) Do not need, and 2) Don't know what to do with.

As Marc Bain of Quartz points out, "[A] landfill overflowing with organic cotton is still an overflowing landfill." The same applies to empty shampoo bottles – especially when, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, packaging makes up one quarter of landfill waste annually.

Now, don't get us wrong. We always encourage swapping damaging goods for less damaging ones, but there are common misconceptions worth highlighting in this regard.  "Sustainably" only lives up to its name if it's embedded in every aspect of the business model. One truly invested in making a difference should probably just buy less.