As the world becomes increasingly conscientious of climate change and environmental issues, the beauty industry has had to reckon with its reliance on single-use plastics, synthetic chemicals, and environmentally-taxing ingredients. That’s why this year’s Most Innovative Beauty companies highlight work from behemoths like Unilever and Target, both of which are enacting top-down efforts to clean up their beauty and personal care lines, as well as ethical beauty advocate Beautycounter. Meanwhile, newcomer Bravo Sierra brought the clean beauty mindset to a totally new constituency: The U.S. military.
For pushing its mission of transparency beyond nontoxic ingredients, into mitigating the human toll of the supply chain, starting with mica
While developing beauty products that are free of 1,500 questionable chemicals and advocating for better government regulations on personal care products, Beautycounter has also been working to make its clean ingredients more ethical. In 2019, the company released a documentary about mica, an ingredient that makes beauty products shimmer, and partnered with companies and organizations to ensure its mining for the ingredient was free of child labor and totally traceable.
For cleaning up nearly 4,000 products in the personal-care aisle
The big box chain took an aggressive approach to clean beauty in 2020, with now nearly 4,000 products that qualify for “Target Clean” in the beauty and personal care aisles. It’s also heavily investing in natural, sustainable, or otherwise eco-friendly skincare and makeup brands, as well as launching body positivity campaigns.
For investing in inclusion, from Made for All by Maybelline to a nail polish collab with Jonathan Van Ness
In 2020, the French conglomerate further invested in its accelerator program (focused on digital beauty startups). It added far more diversity and inclusion across brands, including the newly launched sub-brand Made For All by Maybelline (which is tested on 50 different skin tones) and the Essie Pride activation that saw Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness front a nail campaign (the first time a man represented a nail brand). It furthered its strategic positioning with acquisitions such as Modiface, a virtual try-on experience for makeup. L’Oréal also launched Color&Co, a direct-to-consumer brand for at-home hair coloring.
For testing chewable toothpaste tablets, packageless shampoo bars, and refillable cosmetics
In an industry notorious for its throwaway packaging and applicators, Unilever is overhauling its bath and beauty products to be more green. In 2019 it launched pilots including chewable toothpaste tablets, package-less shampoo bars, and refillable cosmetics, and offering staples like shampoo and deodorant through Loop.
5. Vital Proteins
For making collagen intake a lifestyle
By marketing collagen as a way of life, this company revolutionized supplements for a new generation. It single-handedly launched the ingestible beauty boom, and its savvy social media campaigns and new product expansions continue to draw new demographics.
For embracing experiences
The beauty behemoth is moving toward more experiential beauty offerings, as evidenced by Sephoria, it’s take on the beauty festival genre, which saw 4,500 attendees. The retailer also hosted more in-store events, launched its own clean skincare line, and devoted an entire section to CBD.
For rebranding female body grooming
In the battle of the women’s shaving companies, Flamingo out-innovated competitors this year by reversing its direct-to-consumer roots and forming a partnership with Target. Consumers can now (often impulse) purchase products in-store, then transition to at-home delivery once they’re hooked on the products (or vice versa).
For perfecting spa and salon appointments
In 2019 Mindbody acquired Bowtie, an artificially intelligent receptionist already used by hundreds of salons (and apps like ClassPass). With a digital receptionist, companies never need to worry about missing a call for an appointment; for phone call-averse millennials, it also enables appointment request by text.
For flipping the hair dryer on its head
This novel “reverse” hair dryer ($400) looks like a shop vac, and indeed it sucks water out of hair. It also straightens it—all in about 15 minutes, without exposing the hair to prolonged heat, which can damage it.
10. Bravo Sierra
For taking basics to boot camp with this line developed and tested by the military
The very first military-native performance wellness company, Bravo Sierra sells an entire line of”military tough” cleansers, moisturizers, lip balm, deodorant—all crafted with clean ingredients. It was developed with the military and then further tested on thousands of active military members in the Navy SEALs, Army, and Marines. The DTC brand is available for purchase online and on 144 military bases.
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