The Ocean + The Beauty Industry

The Ocean is inextricably linked to the world of beauty - and we need to protect it more so now than ever. Learn about the interconnectivity we have with the Oceans, and find out more about three brands that are part of the sea-change in the beauty industry, in honour of World Ocean Day 2021.


Image: David Ralph. Makeup: Khandiz, Hair: Mirka Mysicka for Untainted Magazine.

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June 8 is the United Nations annual World Ocean Day. Oceans Day was first declared on 8 June 1992 in Rio de Janeiro at the Global Forum. Still, it wasn’t until 2008 that the UN officially declared the date, which was then first observed the following year under the theme of ‘Our Oceans, Our Responsibility’.

2021’s theme is ‘The Ocean: Life & Livelihoods’. The Ocean is central to maintaining life on Earth. It has never been more important to protect it. For our own selfish needs – and more importantly, the communities worldwide that rely on it for sustenance and livelihoods. In fact, the oceans contribute $1.5 trillion to the global economy annually.

So what does World Ocean Day have to do with beauty? Far more than we might realise. As with all ecosystems, we in the beauty industry are heavily reliant on the Ocean. Be it a source of inspiration, for ingredients, a backdrop for a beauty campaign,  or as a natural solution to the climate crisis (in the form of a carbon sink; an area that absorbs or holds more carbon than it gives off for an extended period of time). After all, the impacts of climate change are very much connected with our abilities and opportunities to do the work we love and earn the money we need to live in today’s society.

Let’s explore some of the wonders the Ocean brings to beauty every day, knowing just 20% of what its depths have to offer. 

Fun fact: Despite Oceans covering 70% of Earth (which is why it’s known as the ‘Blue Planet’), 80% remains unexplored. We know more about the Moon, Venus and Mars than we do about the Ocean.


Collagen is the most abundant protein found in our bodies and is responsible for much more than just youthful-looking skin. It’s a beauty buzzword and ingredient that is going nowhere! It’s in everything from supplements to sunscreen. 

One of the primary sources of vegan-friendly alternatives comes from, you guessed it, the Ocean. Blue-Green Algae (also known as spirulina), while not collagen itself, increases our skins’ ability to produce collagen and works as a powerful antioxidant to protect skin from degenerative free radicals. Not to mention it’s a fantastic source of topical niacinamide, also known as Vit B3 is another trending beauty favourite.

One other ingredient becoming a firm favourite of brands and beauty editors alike, is seaweed. One company that stands out for its considerate use of this marine plant is Margate-based Haekles. Their mission is to ‘Manufacture the most effective natural products from sustainable resources, use brand to inspire, implement solutions to aid our planets ocean crisis’, and their approach is simply ‘From the Ocean, for the Ocean’. Ways of working that we are big supporters of here at CBU.

Their coastal license allows them to harvest ocean vegetables directly from their local cretaceous chalk reef, enabling them to create truly innovative products (which are always packaged in the most sustainable packaging).

One such product is their game-changing Bio Restore Membrane – brimming with soothing, plumping and brightening natural ingredients. The key one being agar, which they extract in-house from local seaweed. These ingenious, effective sheet eye masks are literally grown-to-order and are 100% degradable (as is the container they come in, I might add) in the compost heap. 

When I purchased these last summer, the impact of climate change on our beauty really hit home. My hand-extracted, individually-grown bio-membranes, which usually take a week to grow, were delayed by over a month because it was unseasonably hot. A stark reminder that these systems cannot be separated and can indeed impact our work. 

Haekles Bio Restore Membrane

Not-so-Fantastic Plastic

Believe it or not, here at CBU, we aren’t anti-plastic per se. We are, however, definitely against irresponsible and single-use plastic (really, single-use anything)! 

While we are all aware of the perils of plastic pollution on the Oceans, sea life, and food chain, ensuring that we continue to reuse what plastic is already in existence is imperative. Existing plastic needs to become ‘valuable’ and far more cost-effective than virgin plastics (be that from crude oil or plant-based alternatives…which really is still just plastic) for significant change to happen in the industry – certainly as short term solution. That…and a new narrative around plastic needs to be communicated and more effective taxation at the right end of the supply chain.

One brand that has been leading the way is REN Skincare. Together with a company called SABIC, they have pioneered using a new certified recycled plastic and have embraced the slight discolouration of recycled plastic for their Ocean-friendly packaging. The first REN product to sport this new packaging was their Clean Body Wash. This innovative packaging not only uses 20% reclaimed ocean plastic but 80% of land-based plastic, which would have likely ended up in the sea anyway. Further to this, they have partnered with Terracycle to reduce their packaging, becoming ‘sea food’ once more. 

Perhaps the most exciting thing for me is that REN has spearheaded the Zero Waste Pledge. A pledge that sees competitor brands coming together, using the hashtag #WeAreAllies to share a commitment to only produce planet-friendly packaging by 2025. That means packaging designed to be fully recyclable, containing recycled materials or to be reusable. This is very much in the spirit of Conscious Beauty Union’s philosophy and shines a light on the undeniable benefits of collaboration for any genuinely sustainable solution.

REN Ocean Plastic Bottle Inforgraphic

Risks + Opportunities

With the Ocean’s potential for being a ripe commodity for the beauty industry, particularly as demand for ‘clean’, natural and organic products grows,  there is a real risk of exploitation, impacting Ocean communities livelihoods and biodiversity and climate change. With 7 million species (that we know of) inhabiting the seas, compared to just 1 million that roam the lands, you can see how human nature and capitalism could see the oceans as lucrative opportunities.

Sunscreen – an essential beauty companion for all land-dwelling humans – is one of beauty’s most significant contentious topics because of the potential impact of certain UV filters on coral health. Another unregulated term like “Reef Safe” is used to market products that appease consumer eco-concerns, but all too often without proof. Coral reefs are vital ecosystems in protecting our Oceans and the climate, but the truth is there simply isn’t enough evidence to support either argument around certain natural or synthetic UV filters and their actual impact on these incredible creatures.

Did you know that coral is actually considered an animal? This is because, unlike plants, including marine plants, they cannot manufacture their own food.

At CBU, we tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to environmental issues that are this important, which is why we love Aethic’s offering. 

Aethic Sôvée Triple Filter Eco-Compatible Sunscreen is proven 100% reef and marine safe and relies on three synthetic filters. Each one has been individually tested and also tested in combination to provide broad-spectrum protection to the skin while not harming marine ecosystems in any way. They come in three sun protection factors: 25, 40 and 50.

A bit like REN, they have gone above and beyond the marketing claims and are genuinely invested in protecting the Ocean through their Marine Positive certification. Aethic is also calling on other brands to prove their “reef safe” claims with their #ProveIt campaign. They use profits from selling their products to invest in research and marine protection through their Go Blue Too Foundation – a registered UK charity.

Aethid Sovee SPF Bottle and Box


Remember, conscious beauty (indeed our definition of it) puts the power back in your hands to make more informed, conscientious choices about the brands you’re willing to invest your hard-earned money in. 


We must consider the entire lifecycle of the beauty products we use. Not just what they come packaged in or how they potentially affect human health, but also how they interact with the wider environment when they have washed off our bodies and down the drain, eventually lands up back in those awe-inspiring ocean’s support life and livelihoods.

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