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10 upcycled skin care products to try in 2021

Carrots, coffee, bananas: Meet the foods turned into skin care.
Illustration of a Woman squeezing a bottle of The Body Shop Carrot Cream Moisturizer in her hand and a Woman applying a coffee rub on her face
TODAY Illustration / PeopleImages / Getty Images

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Sustainability has found its way to the forefront of many conversations — in fashion, construction, energy — you name it. One of the industries that has revolutionized the term, however, is beauty. From “clean” beauty formulas to recyclable packaging, the beauty industry is taking profound steps to reduce its impact on the environment.

So, what’s the next big thing in sustainable beauty? In March, Whole Foods, which has a trendy skin care section inside its grocery stores, released its 2021 Clean Beauty Trends forecast and something special caught our eye — upcycled beauty.

What is upcycled beauty?

"Upcycled products, made from ingredients that would have otherwise been waste, help to maximize the energy used to produce, transport and prepare that ingredient," Amy Jargo, Global Beauty Buyer at Whole Foods Market, told Shop TODAY. "We’re seeing more and more beauty products adapt this trend from [the] food industry."

With all of the buzzwords in beauty however, it can be hard to know where to look for the products that are actually keeping true to their claims. The result? The birth of a new trend.

"To create our trends lists each year our Whole Foods Market trends council scours the globe for the newest ingredients and trends in food, beauty, and wellness," Jargo said. "We leverage consumer insights, the expertise of the brands we carry, trade shows and more to identify the hottest new trends and ingredients."

Anna Brightman, co-Founder of UpCircle Beauty, one of the brands pioneering the upcycled beauty movement explains it starts by re-evaluating how we view waste.

"The by-product beauty movement is still in its infancy but growing fast. It is such an exciting space to be operating in," Brightman told Shop TODAY. "Think: ‘it is only waste, once it is wasted.' Once we stop seeing things as waste but rather as resources, the status quo will change quickly."

That way of thinking was how Brightman started her brand five years ago, by collecting wasted coffee grounds from coffee shops and turning them into useful skin care products.

"So, it all started with coffee, but why stop there? Our palm oil-free soaps are made with residual chai tea spices left over after making chai syrups," Brightman said. "The UK produced 23,000 tonnes of fruit stone waste in 2012 alone, so we knew something had to be done there, too."

Do upcycled beauty products work?

Brightman says that for UpCircle, the efficacy of the products means everything. "No amount of pretty packaging or clever marketing can make up for a product that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do!"

According to experts, it makes sense that naturally sourced ingredients — including the ones we consume — would be good for our skin.

"Certainly products that we can eat can work wonders on the face," Dr. Angela Lamb, associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, told us. Materials such as coffee and apricot stones are just two beneficial ingredients, Lamb says.

"Coffee, if it is finely ground, has caffeine that can help with circulation and the fine grounds can be great for exfoliation," Lamb said. "Same with apricot stones, as you know sugar and [pulp] are also used in scrubs for the face and scalp."

Upcycled skin care products to try

UpCircle Herbal Blend Coffee Face Scrub

All of UpCircle's products, which are made in the UK, feature ingredients that would have gone to waste from other industries — mainly the food and beverage industry.

This coffee scrub is made from coffee grounds from artisan coffee shops and combined with essential oils, thyme and rosemary to help exfoliate and protect the skin from breakouts. Other skin-loving ingredients include shea butter and coconut oil, which hydrate the skin after the dead skin cells have been sloughed away.

UpCircle Cleansing Face Balm With Apricot Powder

The apricot oil industry produces a lot of waste; this cleansing balm takes wasted apricot pits and turns them into powder. It's suitable for all skin types and can be used to remove makeup or to just cleanse the skin. Key ingredients include blue tansy, blackcurrant seed oil and sea buckthorn, which work together to soothe and calm the skin.

Lano Golden Dry Skin Salve

Lano's products feature lanolin in their ingredient list — a naturally moisturizing oil that is a by-product of wool washing. In addition to its upcycled ingredients, the brand is Leaping Bunny certified, meaning it is cruelty-free, and is committed to sustainable and recyclable packaging.

The brand's dry skin salve is a universal formula for skin that needs replenishing and intense moisture. As the weather gets warmer, it can also be used to stop chafing caused by summer shorts.

Loli Beauty Plum Elixir Organic Revitalizing Face Oil

Loli Beauty is committed to clean products, which is why all of its products are made with food-grade ingredients and crafted to produce zero waste. Its jars can be recycled and its packaging — labels, bags and boxes — is compostable.

Its bestselling plum elixir is made with plum seeds that are sourced in France, which are then turned into oil. The serum is safe for sensitive skin and can be used both day and night on lips, skin and hair, and can even be used under makeup to brighten, moisturize and restore skin.

The Body Shop Carrot Cream Moisturizer

The Body Shop has always made a commitment to clean formulas and sustainable packaging. All of its formulas are vegetarian and phthalate-free, and according to Amazon, the item is "Climate Pledge Friendly," as the efficient shape and design helps reduce the overall carbon footprint from manufacturing to shipping.

The Carrot Cream Moisturizer is made with "wonky" carrots that were deemed not pretty enough to be sold on the market. The vegan formula can be used as a daily moisturizer and quenches thirsty skin for up to 72 hours. To enhance the hydrating benefits, the cream is also enriched with fair trade organic aloe vera from Mexico.

UpCircle Clarifying Face Mask With Olive Powder

This clarifying mask is made with the discarded pits of olives, a by-product of the olive oil industry. With detoxifying and anti-inflammatory properties, it can help reduce the appearance of pores as well as protect against signs of aging. Other noteworthy ingredients include white kaolin clay, coconut milk powder and baobab oil. It's suitable for all skin types to use multiple times per week and only needs 10 minutes to get to work.

Frank Body Original Coffee Scrub

Frank body's original scrub is a bestselling, cult-favorite. The vegan formula features used coffee grounds as a means of exfoliation and is also combined with ingredients such as almond oil and vitamin E that soften and smooth the skin. It can be used on all skin types and boasts a scent described by the brand as "orange frappuccino," that you can lather on every two to three days.

Kadalys Banana Lip Balm

Bananas have been identified as the main culprit in the food waste problem — particularly bananas that aren't "pretty" enough to be sold on grocery store shelves by the time they make it to their destination. Kadalys, a US-based brand, is aiming to give the unused bananas a home in its beauty products by transforming them into "bio-actives." Its cruelty-free and vegan products are made with plant-based and renewable raw materials and its packaging is 100 percent recyclable.

The brand's nourishing lip balm combines banana bio-actives with other nourishing ingredients such as castor oil, jojoba vegetable wax and mimosa plant wax — the brand also defines the job of every product in the formula on its product page too. It can be used to repair dry lips or other areas of the body that could use some extra nourishment.

Cocokind Scrubbing Clay

BIPOC-owned and women-founded company Cocokind is putting sustainability at the front of its efforts — and its packaging. With a breakdown of the ingredients as well as the breakdown of the product's carbon footprint, the brand isn't hiding any of the details.

Cocokind's Scrubbing Clay is made with repurposed coffee grounds sourced in California — grounds that would have been thrown away and not given a second life. While the grounds help exfoliate the skin, the clay also features ingredients such as prebiotic chicory root and red clay that remove impurities and balance your skin's microbiome. It can be used up to three times a week for firmer, glowing skin.

Green People Coconut Charcoal Purifying Face Mask

Another UK-based brand, Green People, puts its focus on naturally- and ethically-sourced ingredients. The mom-owned brand was founded in 1997 and is cruelty-free certified as well as certified-organic.

This purifying mask is produced using coconut shells that are a by-product of other coconut products and features other natural ingredients such as oat lipid and Alpine willow. Though it's suitable for all skin types, it can be used on oily skin to help keep skin matte and clean.

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