Elf is a cosmetics company that I and many others love because it is affordable, cruelty-free, and vegan. I decided to review their HD Powder because it is a popular product and I wanted to see how ethical this company really is. Because they emphasize that they are cruelty-free, I hoped their other policies would be ethical and sustainable; however, I was disappointed. They use some harmful ingredients and do not ensure that they are sourced ethically. Despite this, they do have a successful program aimed at reducing packaging waste. Overall, I wish Elf was more transparent about their supply chain, as it was hard for me to find information about where they source their ingredients. I also wish they would make more of an effort to reduce plastic waste and use environmentally safe ingredients. Still, since more sustainable and ethical brands are often very expensive, I think this is a decent affordable option.
This product only has three ingredients: vinyl dimethicone crosspolymer, sodium dehydroacetate, and silica. Unfortunately, Elf did not provide any information about where these ingredients were sourced, so I could not be sure if these ingredients are sustainably and ethically obtained. However, vinyl dimethicone and sodium dehydroacetate generally do not have any negative environmental impacts. Unfortunately, silica is obtained through mining, which can have harmful effects on the environment and people working in the mines. Silica dust from mining can harm workers’ lungs and can lead to lung cancer among other illnesses. Because Elf does not specify how they source their silica, we cannot be sure if it was mined in a safe manner. Additionally, while Elf has made efforts to cut down plastic in its packaging, the HD Powder itself is in a plastic container. The container is also non-recyclable and was not made from recycled plastics. However, Elf is a certified cruelty-free and vegan brand, meaning that none of their ingredients are derived from animals. They also do not use animal testing. I gave Elf a 1.5 in this category for their cruelty-free and vegan policy, as this is a big step in the right direction.
Elf did not provide much information about how their products are made. However, on their supply chain transparency page, they say that their Supplier Policy Statement prohibits suppliers from using “involuntary or forced labor, human trafficking, child labor, human rights violations, animal testing, and harassment and abuse.” It also requires suppliers to comply with local laws regarding human trafficking and slavery. This is good because many other brands don’t have policies regarding ethical labor. However, they do not require suppliers to certify that they are complying with these laws in other countries they’re doing business in. Because Elf has said that many of their products are manufactured in China, a country that has many people working in modern slavery-like conditions according to the Global Slavery Index, we cannot be sure that those suppliers are complying with American human trafficking and slavery laws. Additionally, Elf only has physical stores in the U.S., E.U., Germany, U.K., and Australia. Because they mainly manufacture in China, it means they have to ship their products to all physical stores, increasing transportation and packaging costs. I’d also like to note that their Supplier Policy Statement couldn’t be found from the home page—I found it through a separate link on Google.
Elf is based in Oakland, California and sells their products worldwide either in physical stores or by shipping. They do not sell in countries where animal testing is required by law. In February 2019, Elf launched “Project Unicorn,” an effort to decrease excess packaging and reduce waste. They have been very successful, with 650,000 pounds of excess packaging eliminated by November 2020. If this continues, Elf has the potential to greatly reduce plastic and other packaging waste. Unfortunately, Elf did not provide any information about the recyclability of the plastic they use, so I had to assume all of their packaging is non-recyclable and not made out of recycled materials. I also could not find any updates on Project Unicorn past November 2020. Additionally, Elf’s working conditions are decent. On Glassdoor, employees report being satisfied with the job; however, it was very demanding. Elf also claims to support women, having donated $10,000 to Black Girls Code. However, compared to their 2020 annual revenue of $283 million, this does not seem like much. Overall, I think Elf is making efforts to be more sustainable in terms of packaging, but I don’t see them doing anything else in terms of recycling or going plastic-free.