Beauty ingredients invigorate fair trade

Launched in 2008, Fair Trade USA’s personal care category is quickly growing, with existing fair trade ingredients like olive oil and coffee and new, exotic launches, including shea butter and baobab oil. Here are 12 of the most beautiful ingredients to hit fair trade lotions, lip balms, massage oils, and more.   


Consumers can taste the fruits of socially responsible sourcing in the form of coffee, tea, and chocolate; now thanks to Fair Trade USA’s 2008 launch of the personal care category—which has quickly become one of the industry’s most dynamic—the fair trade experience doesn’t stop there.   

Cosmetics have not only encouraged the growth of existing fair trade options like sugar, tea, coffee, and olive oil, but also introduced luscious offerings like shea butter and baobab oil to the growing fair trade industry, says Maya Spaull, director of new category innovation at Fair Trade USA. Over the past year, sales of fair trade aromatherapy and body oils increased 19 percent, while skin care increased by 32 percent. “It’s interesting for us to go into a new category like cosmetics, because before it producers of ingredients like shea butter, who are some of the most wonderful cooperatives of women throughout Africa, didn’t have a way to sell fair trade,” says Spaull. “Now we can get these producers involved and really bring them into the fold.”

Lotion, chapstick, shampoo, and other cosmetics are part of Fair Trade USA’s “composite program” that certifies consumer packaged goods containing multiple ingredients (in addition to personal care, this includes foods like granola bars and ice cream, apparel, and soon to come gold and platinum), not all of which are eligible for fair trade certification. “Consumer packaged goods have been some of our most exciting new categories," says Spaull. "At the end of the day, even if a manufacturer is buying fair trade shea butter and putting it into a product with other ingredients, that is changing a life.” 

Often reflecting their traditional uses, fair trade beauty ingredients are lending personal care products a wide range of benefits, from moisturizing to exfoliating, plus providing global social and economic premiums. And they still reach shelves at reasonable prices, comparable to those of organic personal care, says Spaull. “We tell our partners that by creating products that are for your body and affordable, they are actually going to sell more, which is going to be better for the farmers and for their brands.” These 12 ingredients are standouts in the personal care department. 


Shea butter, cocoa butter, carrier oils, essential oils


Shea butter, cocoa butter

A recent fair trade introduction, vitamin A- and E-rich shea butter has already had a tremendous social impact on women in Ghana and Burkina Faso, a West African country that is one of the poorest countries in the world, says Spaull. The Union of Shea Butter Producers is a collective that ensures women get fair prices for producing shea butter, which, along with cocoa butter sourced from South and Central America and Africa, is touted for its ultramoisturizing properties that continue to offer a rich, creamy texture to fair trade body and hand lotions.

Try: Badger Company Cocoa Butter Lip Balm; Eco Lips One World Lip BalmBella Organics African Shea Butter; Blends for Life Organics Shea for Men

Carrier oils, essential oils 

“The carrier oils probably have the greatest impacts on their communities because that’s where the biggest volume is used,” says Spaull. Palestinian olive oil, already existing in the food category, has been hit hard by Middle Eastern conflict, but has new life thanks to its recent use in personal care. Used for its replenishing omega-3 fatty acids, the ingredient appears in soaps and lotions.

Many other exotic oils are new to the market, says Tim Blakley, Aura Cacia aromatherapy educator. “Up until now, consumers have had only limited exposure to oils not in the top five: jojoba, almond, apricot, grapeseed, and sesame." New carrier oils will include baobab, coconut, tamanu, argan, rosehip seed, macadamia, and others. Additionally, consumers should look for new options in the essential oil category, says Blakley: lemon myrtle, blue cypress, and segundha kuala.

Try: Canaan Olive Oil Soap 


Coffee, tea, sugar, honey


Coffee, tea

Coffee has a long history in fair trade, not only as Fair Trade USA’s flagship fair trade category, but also as the first fair trade ingredient to appear in a beauty product—by accident. “Literally the first person to put Fair Trade-certified ingredients in personal care was a coffee importer who had coffee grounds and was like, ‘I’m going to make a Fair Trade-certified body scrub,’” says Spaull. Coffee and tea, both rich in free-radical fighting antioxidants, are still key ingredients in scrubs, along with other products like lotions, chapsticks, and facial washes.

Try: Planet Botanicals Fair Trade Certified Ethiopian Coffee Body Scrub 
with Peppermint and Chamomile; Acure Organics Mandarin Orange + Mango Lotion (with fair trade certified rooibos tea)

Honey, sugar 

Honey’s wide range of aesthetic and health benefits include antimicrobial properties that help fight skin irritation, as well as moisturizing properties useful in both skin and hair products. Fair trade honey hails South and Central America, with Mexico and Nicaragua leading the way in organic honey production. Find it in everything from soaps and lotions to facial washes.

Removing dead skin cells and promoting circulation are two prime benefits of sugar, which is sourced from South and Central America, the Philippines, and Africa. Exfoliants using this ingredient also can incorporate other fair trade elements like plant oils or extracts for their fragrances or skin-soothing properties. 

Try: Aura Cacia Lavender Nourishing Body Polish; Dirty Beauty Cocoa Cane Sugar Preserve Body Scrub

Herbs, spices, fruits, flowers


Herbs, spices

Globally sourced herbs and spices serve a variety of beauty functions, including acting as preservatives, offering natural fragrance, fighting bacteria, and promoting circulation. Vanilla, ginger, turmeric, peppermint are leading the way, with vanilla generating 121,616 in premium dollars. 

Try: Acure Organics Dark Chocolate and Mint Lip Balm

Fruits, flowers

Fruit and flower extracts can provide skin with nourishing, restorative nutrients, plus give cosmetics natural fragrance and color. “We are now seeing if we can help producers of fruits and flowers make essential oils, which is an added value,” says Spaull. Some to look for: mango, orange, and blueberries.  

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