Green Beauty Battle: US vs UK


Natural beauty can be a difficult puzzle to solve at the best of times, but when you are travelling abroad it gets a whole lot trickier.  Between potential language barriers, varying regulations, and issues of accessibility, the whole green game changes when you are in a new country.

I grew up in the US, and I spent my whole life in Western New York before moving to England.  You would think that I would know the ins and outs of all natural products here, but to be totally honest, I was pretty clueless until this visit.  Since all my cupboards are always stocked with nontoxic goodies and I have been shopping the the UK for so long now, I know what to look out for, where to go, and how to grab the best deals when it comes to clean beauty and lifestyle necessities.  However, green living was not (and still is not) a priority with most people here in America, so pickings can be pretty slim if you do not know where to look.  And even if you do find a "natural" section in a shop the items included may not actually be what they claim to be.

There are a surprising amount of differences between green products in the UK and in the US that I have picked up on -- some are a little silly, and some are pretty serious, but I wanted to give a rundown of each to all you eco-lovelies so hopefully you can have an easier time of things than I did.

So what's up with natural beauty in the US??

I want to start off by saying that there are many INCREDIBLE American green beauty businesses available.  This post is in no way meant to bash US products, as I have found some genuinely lovely goodies over the last few weeks.  In fact, I want to celebrate those fab brands since they are like hidden gems you find amongst some less than desirable duds.  But I also want to give everyone a heads up that finding these clean products can be tricky and there are a few things to consider when shopping around.

1. Ingredients


The biggest issue I have been facing is greenwashing.  In the UK I generally know what I am getting from a product.  I tend to look out for officially certified labels (NatTrue, COSMOS, Soil Association, EcoCert...), but even if I am buying something blind so to say, I know there are regulations in place that mean most toxic ingredients are not allowed due to EU laws.  I still check the ingredients list just in case the dreaded phenoxyethonal is included (or any other nasties I try to avoid), but I haven't run into too many problems in the last few years while shopping.

I can't say the same for when I shop in America.

Let me set the scene:  I wander through a shop and come across a 'Natural' section in an aisle.  I get super excited because, well, green beauty!  Pick up a great looking face mask or hair serum that has an eco-sounding name or that lists some fab extracts on the front, but lo and behold the ingredients do not reflect the claims on the front of the bottle. A mile long list filled with unpronouncable names and artificial colourings is not exactly what I wanted.

This isn't just a one off I have found.  Mixed in with the genuinely great formulas there are so many brands included in natural sections here in the US that include nasties that can cause irritation or worse.  I end up putting back so many things which is great for my bank balance but less good for my wish to try out new green goodies.

Part of the problem is that like the UK, there is no real regulation over terms like natural, green, or organic.  The bigger problem though is that many ingredients that are banned by the EU are allowed in personal care products in the US.  As of 2009, only 30 ingredients were banned in America as opposed to the over 1,300 in Europe -- these include cancer causing agents such as formaldehyde, known allergens like PPD, and so so so many more.  Shopping the real deal in the US isn't just about keeping appearances or living less artificially, but is truly a matter of health.  Luckily, there are websites in place that can help you check the toxicity if you are unsure.  A long-term favourite of mine is EWG's Skin Deep which tells you not only the safety rating of individual ingredients, but informs you what they are used for, other names they may be listed as, and even full brand overviews.


2. Price

Okay, so this one is sort of dependent on what you are looking for, but generally I have to say American natural beauty brands tend to be more expensive than UK ones.  If I am searching for an organic rose water in England, I know I can pop onto Love Lula and buy one of many budget friendly options.  I can grab a 100ml glass bottle from Balm Balm or Alteya for under a tenner, plus free shipping if I bump my order up to £15.  It is a bit harder here in America.

My mother was searching for a rose water to use as a setting spray, and after visiting several shops including Sephora, Target, plus an online store, she was still turning up empty because everything came in tiny sizes (30-60ml) for at least $25!  It was a totally random score in Marshall's that finally landed her the perfect product (though it was not organic).

And it isn't just the 'cheaper' options that are more expensive.  Something strange I have noticed is that there does not seem to be any rhyme or reason to pricing with artisan businesses.  I am all for paying more for quality, but $80 for a body butter that contains pretty standard ingredients is pretty steep!  My jaw dropped when I saw the prices for some of the brands I had been keen to try out, especially once I discovered that oftentimes similar formulas in the UK went for less than half the price.  It is disappointing as this may be part of the reason why natural cosmetics and skincare has not picked up as much in the US -- the majority of people just cannot afford to give these brands a chance!


3. Access

Green brands have been popping up all over the place in the UK -- from dedicated online retailers like Love Lula and Rare Beauty to clearly signposted sections in high street shops and supermarkets, the desire for clean beauty is pretty well realized and easy to come by.  The US is a whole other can of worms.

While some massive chains like Target have implemented a "natural" section, these stores are not accessible to everyone.  For example, the shop nearest to my parent's is over 50 miles away.  That is a seriously long way to travel just to pick up a shampoo that is not going to damage your hair or threaten your health!  And forget about a home delivery unless you live in select cities (i.e. NYC, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, or DC) and are willing to pay $7 for shipping.

If you are desperate to check out the offerings in chain shops, keep an eye out for Target, Walgreens, Walmart, Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Whole Foods -- although the aisle may be small and you still have to do ingredient checks, you may find a great bargain at these superstores.

Keep in mind though, unless you live in a large city, the likelihood of you having a green-friendly store nearby is pretty slim.  You could find yourself faced with a 45 minute drive or even longer just to pop into a place that might not even have a full range of clean beauty.  So what is the best way to find natural beauty products in the US?

Well, I suggest either purchasing direct from the company you are interested in like I did with Earth Harbor Naturals and       Herbivore Botanicals, or better yet, looking local.  There are loads of cute boutiques in small town America, and most will carry a few handmade green beauty brands.  My mother and I ended up buying a handful of plastic free lotion bars each along with tons of other potions.  You can find everything from bug spray to lip gloss off the beaten path.  I even found two indie health and wellness shops nearby and they both were jam packed with fantastic brands both big and small!  This is such a good way to support the community you are visiting as well as those independent creators trying to represent the quality of synthetic-free in more rural areas.

And if you are searching for something further afield, take a bit to hunt online as there are some pretty great digital retailers you can use.  Some of my new favourites are The Green Jungle Beauty Shop, The Detox Market, and Aurora Beauty.  You can also always check on Etsy as well for indie brands -- this is how I fell in love with The Best Kind!  And don't forget that Love Lula delivers worldwide so you can always order from them if you need your tried and true staples!



4. Sizes

I know I have mentioned this already, but sizes tend to run smaller in the US than in the UK.  The typical full size bottle in England is around 100ml for liquids and 30-50ml for creams, whereas the standard here in America seems to be 60ml for sprays and 15-30ml for products like moisturizers and serums.  For a country obsessed with giving XL Big Gulp drinks and supersized meals, I sure was shocked at the itty bitty minis I was finding.

That being said, it is also a LOT easier to find the huge bottles of slightly less clean but still green body washes and haircare.  There were plenty of 500+ ml containers in both the superstores and the boutique shops, so if you need shampoo for a family of five then you should not have any problem sorting out your needs without overspending.




I am sure there are other differences between shopping green in the US and the UK (let me know your personal observations in the comments - I would love to compare notes!!), but for me these were the biggest obstacles I faced on this trip in particular.  I usually bring a large makeup bag full of everything I need, but this time I wanted to pack light and take the time to test out what was on the market.  From my physical shop visits I ended up picking out treats from SheaMoisture, Acure, Tisserand (which you all know I already love!), PlantLife, Rosense, Provence Beauty, Dandelion and Dreams, Promise Organic, My Magic Mud, and Rose and Mags Country Mile -- so many lovely new names to try out!

While I am super happy with all the nontoxic goodies I scored, I did struggle a bit to find things in the more obvious locations like Walmart and Target.  And when I did pop into Sephora the offerings were sadly limited and really pricey (though very high quality).  I have to say this whole experience has made me incredibly thankful for the strides natural beauty and green living has made in the UK -- I never have a problem getting what I need in my local shops, and quick and cheap/free shipping for online orders is seriously something I did not appreciate enough before.

I still have tons of American brands on my wishlist that I have not had a chance to try yet, like Earthwise Beauty, 100% Pure, and Lovinah, but for this trip I think I did a pretty good job of sampling some of the more accessible brands as well as the locally made businesses.  Are there any you would recommend I test out on my next visit??  What would you say are a MUST when it comes to American clean beauty??  Let me know, and I will add them to my list!

And if you want to hear more about any of the products I listed above, please let me know and I may just be able to squeeze in a full length review so you can discover even more!

19 comments

  1. Great post! I am totally shocked at the lack of natural brands and the prices you mentioned because I actually thought it was huge business over there. Clearly not. I like to pick up US brands from TK Maxx such as Alba Botanica, Millcreek Botanicals, Zatik, Plantlife and Boo Bamboo (Canadian). I wish they stocked all these brands online in the UK.

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    1. it's definitely up and coming more now, but the real deal seems to mainly only be available online unfortunately, and prices can be pretty crazy! I love places like TK/TJ Maxx and similar as you can find such good products for a fraction of the cost. I do wonder if the brand themselves makes money from those sales though-- hopefully!! x

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  2. I wish the UK had more natural and green products. Great post!

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    1. the UK has tons - check Love Lula, Rare Beauty, Naturismo, or one of the other lovely online retailers if you're searching :)

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  3. This is a great post! The UK really needs to up it's game. I feel like we're getting there slowly but surely. x

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  4. It's time we had better labelling for products so we can make an informed decision on purchases

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  5. There are quiet a number of natural beauty brands in the UK which is great. I do use a mix to be honest but am working on using as many natural, organic etc products as possible.

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    1. that's fantastic - every new switch counts :) x

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  6. Angela Ricardo Bethea22 August 2018 at 21:00

    I have never tried using green products that made in UK. I think I need to try some of these natural and organic products.

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  7. A really interesting post. I like Aveeno, do you know about their green credentials? They say they are naturally active so I've always thought of them as a green company

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    1. unfortunately Aveeno are another case of greenwashing- they contain minimal naturally derived ingredients and some of their products contain some real nasties like paraffin :(

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  8. This is a really informative post. I try and be as green as possible in terms of diet and using eco products when I can, but I have to admit, I haven't yet extended this to my beauty regime yet. I think it's time to now though after reading this post! x

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    1. so happy to hear you've been inspired to try switching some more products! let me know if you ever would like any advice xx

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  9. I would have thought America would have had a better selection of green beauty products and am really surprised they don't

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    1. there are loads of independent brands in the US but not so many in the bigger stores yet. hopefully that can change! x

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  10. Interesting. I think the UK is slowly getting there when it comes to skin products, and if in doubt I head to a health food shop as you can't really go wrong. I have just spend almost 6 years living in Germany, and some of there products are great, especially for kids!

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  11. Wow found this really interesting as I love Green People products in the UK and they are organic and have the official logos on them - didn't know they don't have the same regulations in the US

    Laura x

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    1. all organic certification bodies have their own rules to abide by - you can check out my post that explains it if you wish! :) https://www.theecological.co.uk/2018/05/the-truth-about-organic.html

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  12. You maybe aren't aware but you can buy Herbivore in SpaceNK stores! https://www.spacenk.com/uk/en_GB/brands/h/herbivore/?cm_re=MM-Brands-_-Brand-link-_-Herbivore

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