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Your breakfast routine and your skincare regimen have more in common than you might think. While upcycled beauty has been around for years, today it’s one of the buzziest sustainability trends. For the uninitiated, the concept centers around transforming otherwise unusable food ingredients into high-quality cosmetics and skincare products. And that spells a win-win for the environment and your complexion. 

Food once destined for the trash can — think used coffee grounds, discarded plum kernels, unsellable bananas and the like — is getting a snazzy new lease on life. That’s thanks to beauty industry innovators who saw an opportunity to introduce more eco-conscious brands into the marketplace while simultaneously helping address America’s food waste problem. It’s a worthwhile endeavor considering that about 40% of the nation’s food supply is thrown away each year, per the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Artful Living | How Upcycled Beauty is Helping America’s Food Waste Problem

Photography by Carmen Palma

Now, these ingredients are being repurposed into skincare products worthy of your top shelf. Coffee grounds become decadent exfoliants, plum kernels get cold-pressed into luxurious oils, and antioxidant-rich banana actives fuel everything from lip balm to face cream. And as these lines arrive at top retailers, the movement is finally getting its well-deserved time in the spotlight.

A slew of indie brands are leading the crusade, including UpCircle, LOLI, BYBI, Kadalys and Le Prunier. They work directly with community partners to upcycle ingredients from places like cafes, farms and even manufacturing facilities. The bottom line: They’re pioneering the future of sustainable beauty for big-name companies to follow suit — and proving that the sourcing process is all about fostering meaningful relationships.

“A chance encounter with a barista in a local coffee shop led us to the idea of salvaging coffee grounds,” explains UpCircle cofounder Anna Brightman. When she and her brother learned that literally a billion pounds were being sent to landfills each year, they got to work. The sibling duo teamed up with artisan coffee shops to repurpose unused grounds for refreshing face and body exfoliators. UpCircle now offers a full lineup of products with nearly perfect five-star reviews across the board.

Photography provided by LOLI

For beauty industry veteran Tina Hedges, the idea to start LOLI came from a personal revelation. She recalls her turning point: “I realized I’d been part of this dirty business of beauty that is polluting with plastic, wasting water, and harming people with synthetics.” So she set out to impact the industry in the most extraordinary way possible: by launching her own sustainable beauty brand in 2018.

Today, it’s clear that upcycled beauty isn’t just a passing fad but a growing movement backed by popular demand. To wit: In the past two years, both LOLI and UpCircle have hit shelves at mega retailer Ulta. And they’re not alone in their seemingly inevitable beauty-aisle takeover. British-born BYBI, which leverages discarded fruits from industrial juicing, joined Target’s clean beauty lineup in 2021.

So what does the future of upcycled beauty look like? We know this much: Sustainability is the new normal, and it’s revolutionizing how we care for ourselves and our world. Sure, reinventing our self-care regimen with new lotions and potions won’t reverse the nation’s food waste crisis on its own — but it is definitely making us think twice about what we discard. After all, as Brightman explains, “it’s only waste once it’s wasted.” 

Read this article as it appears in the magazine.

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