Also known as the Amazonian White Clay Mask, Kiehl’s Rare Earth Deep Pore Minimizing Cleansing Clay Mask is among the most popular cleaning masks in the cosmetics industry. This signature product of Kiehl’s is sold at $38 per jar (4.2 fl.oz.), generating millions of revenue for the company each year. Ever since my first purchase a few years ago, I have fallen in love with this product because it does a good job minimizing pores and refining skin texture, while rarely irritates my skin. After research, I found that the product itself is generally safe for skin but acquiring and processing raw materials would cause detriments to soil and water. As a cosmetic giant, Kiehl’s has demonstrated considerable efforts to be sustainable, including reducing carbon emission, promoting ethical sourcing, and expanding environmental awareness to all customers. However, lots of details of their actions remain undisclosed, and I believe further information transparency must be implemented to enhance consumer trust.
Kiehl’s official website seems to fulfill their promised information transparency by providing a detailed list of all ingredients contained in the mask. The key ingredients of this product are Amazonian white clay (known as Kaolin clay), Bentonite clay, and aloe vera. The white clay and bentonite clay help remove bacteria, toxins, excess oil, and dead cells that can clog skin and enlarge pores while making skin soft and supple, and aloe vera acts as a skin soother and moisturizer to prevent skin irritation and dryness. In addition, this product is paraben-free, fragrance-free, mineral oil-free, and silicone-free. Although Kaolin and Bentonite clay are fairly gentle and beneficial for normal to oily skin types, dermatologists have warned people to be aware since both clays can be excessively drying, and therefore irritating, for already dry or sensitive skin. However, it seems disappointing that the FAQ session on Kiehl’s official website fails to mention these cautions, but simply recommends customers of all skin types to use. As for the packaging, the jar is made of reusable but non-degradable plastic, and the company makes up by strongly encouraging customers to bring back old jars to the store in exchange for a discount. According to their Future Made Better sustainability report page, the Recycle & Be Rewarded program has recycled over 13 million empty jars and bottles since 2009, decomposing and using them in the manufacturing process of new products.
While Kiehl’s does a decent job of ensuring information transparency and ethical sourcing, there are hidden facts they deliberately choose not to mention. For example, Kiehl’s emphasizes that the white clay they use is “collected from the mouth of the Amazon River in Brazil by local communities”, as part of their long-term effort to provide economic support to local communities. However, no supportive information is displayed except these words, and we have no idea what specific actions they have done to reach the promised goal or to ensure labor equality along the process. In addition, Kiehl’s uses the word “collect” to avoid the fact that their clay is mined by open-pit methods using draglines, power shovels, and other equipment. Moreover, some kaolin clay is extracted by hydraulic mining which uses high-pressure jets of water to dislodge the rock. Either method leads to soil erosion, water contamination, and potential destruction of natural habitats, thus making the extraction of clay extremely unsustainable. Similarly, their aloe is claimed to be “sustainably sourced in semi-rural areas of Mexico by small-holder farmers to generate new income and strengthen the role of women in participating households”. Again, no links or pictures are attached to validate their statements, which makes me doubt the brand’s sincerity. As for the actual manufacturing, the product displays “Made in the USA” with no further information regarding their code of conduct or labor issues disclosed. In addition, Kiehl’s is never a cruelty-free brand according to PETA. They are willing to conduct animal testing to ensure their products can be sold in other countries that require such tests, such as China and Russia.
Kiehl's LLC is an American cosmetics brand owned by the L'Oréal Group that specializes in skin, hair, and body care products. Kiehl’s founding father, Aaron Morse, once said that “a worthwhile firm must have a purpose for its existence” and “to improve in some way the quality of the community to which it is committed.” Thus, the corporate responsibility of the environment has always been recognized by Kiehl's. Launched in 2018, the Future Made Better platform celebrates their ongoing commitments to sustainability and demonstrates what they have done. Since 2009, Kiehl’s has recycled over 11.2 million products globally. Till 2021, 98% of their formulas are made with at least 3 renewable ingredients and they have reduced water waste by 78%. They have also saved 85 tons of paper by no longer offering single-use paper bags in store. In addition, Since 2015, the company has given $17.5M to organizations supporting the LGTBQ+, children’s wellbeing, and more. Stepping up from their current achievements, Kiehl's promises to use more sustainable materials and renewable energy in the entire production process and work towards 100% recyclable material by 2025. Their parent company L'Oréal also seems to treat sustainability seriously, as they have reduced the CO2 emissions of its plants and distribution centers by 81% in absolute terms by 2020, exceeding their initial target of 60%. However, while L’Oréal had been advertising its achievements in helping over 100,000 people from disadvantaged communities to find employment through its solidarity purchasing and inclusion programs, one controversy emerged as the company was accused of labor abuse, slavery, and child labor in the palm oil industry in 2020. This shows that there still exists the need for improvement and L’Oréal is not as ethical as they appear to be.