Acala: UK's First Zero-Waste Cosmetics Retailer Changing the Face of the Beauty Industry

Acala is the UK’s first truly waste-free beauty retailer, inspired by founder Hanna Pumfrey’s personal ‘wake-up call’ witnessing the excess of the beauty industry’s waste. Taking steps to make eco-conscious beauty as accessible as possible, Acala was founded to inspire a movement towards reducing plastic and water waste still prevalent in the industry. Everything you need to keep up with your regular beauty routine — an extensive range of natural, organic and vegan health and beauty products — can be found on the unique platform, all responsibly packaged. Encouraging consumers to make their own cosmetics and opt for using natural raw ingredients in bulk, Acala’s mission today is to empower consumers with the true know-how of sustainable alternatives. As well as make them part of a movement for a better, waste-free future.

Words: Hanna-Amanda Pant

Image: Acala Eco-Friendly Health & Beauty

Image: Acala Eco-Friendly Health & Beauty

What led you to creating Acala, the UK's first truly green health and beauty retailer?

I was a ‘wild country child’ when growing up. My childhood was largely spent running around half naked in fields in the Norfolk countryside, climbing trees, helping my Mum in the vegetable patch and carrying whichever poor chicken I’d decided was my best friend for the day around me. Fun fact for you: I did once name a chicken ‘Golden Nugget’. That was clearly before I moved to a plant-based lifestyle! As a child, we ate food straight from the garden and learnt how to combat nettle stings and insect bites with natural remedies. So, I believe natural personal care from products easily found in my environment is something that has been ingrained in me from an early age. Thus, Acala is my passion project that I grow in my spare time with the help of wonderful people.

You mention that witnessing the enormous amounts of plastics we throw away daily also contributed to the birth of Acala, the first beauty platform that encourages us to go entirely waste-free in our beauty choices. When did you experience your own personal ‘wake-up call’?

Indeed, that moment hit me hard one day. After a few years working in the city as a marketing manager, having been initially enticed by the glamour of the high flying city life, I had a wake-up call one day. I was sat at a desk in the office next to a bin. When I arrived at 8am, it was empty. By 10.30am, it had already been emptied twice by a facilities manager, as it was overflowing from people’s take-out breakfast waste. Then, the same again at lunch time. Paper bags, plastic salad boxes, countless plastic knives and forks. And that was just one day. I decided to make a change in my own life. I decided that I didn’t want to be part of that disposable life any more. That was the start of my zero-waste journey. Within a year or so, I was able to make some significant changes in terms of grocery shopping, my on-the-go routine, as well as in the kitchen. The area I was really struggling with though was the bathroom.

I was using natural and organic products that are good for me, but they all came in single-use plastics which just didn’t sit right with me. It was actually a bit of an AHA moment one day when I was emptying out the rubbish, and I realised that all of our plastic waste was from the bathroom. I started to research alternatives and I felt like there was no one place I could go to get everything I needed. So, essentially, Acala is the result of my own research, and wanting to make it easier for other people to be able to make more environmentally friendly choices.

What does beauty mean to you?

Beauty to me means being happy in your own skin. Being comfortable with who you are, what you are and where you are. We should all use beauty products as an add-on to our lives: as something fun that makes us feel good, but not as something that we feel we ‘need’ and that make us who we are.

“Our mission is to make buying your toiletries, cosmetics and other personal care products in a low impact way, as easy and as accessible to all as popping into a high-street store.”

Image: Acala Eco-Friendly Health & Beauty

Image: Acala Eco-Friendly Health & Beauty

What are the solutions Acala offers to help us navigate the waste-free cosmetics choices?

We’ve been open 6 months now and growing each month which is wonderful. We have also just launched our first own brand collection of base oils and raw ingredients to help people try DIY beauty and generally minimise what they use. A DIY beauty regime hugely cuts waste.

What are some of the ways you're helping to reduce the use of packaging so common around the beauty products we use nowadays?

We have just launched a reusable packaging service for our customers to help make deliveries zero-waste. You can read more about it here and here. This is the first step for us towards establishing a closed loop service where customers will be able to send back (free of charge) their empty jars and bottles to us for sanitisation, reuse and refill.

What are some of your own favourite sustainable beauty rituals and tips?

Jojoba oil is my go to product. I use it for everything, from cleansing to hair conditioner. A very small amount goes a long way, so a bottle lasts a long time. There are a lot of myths around using oils on your skin, as many people think it clogs pores and makes your skin oily. The properties of plant-based oils are very similar to our body’s natural oils, meaning they absorb easily into the skin, protecting the skin’s lipid barrier and preventing moisture from evaporating out of the skin.

You describe your beauty platform as ‘plastic free and waste free health and beauty store’. What type of beauty products are currently on offer on the Acala platform?

On Acala, you can find everything you need for your personal care routine — from the basics, like natural deodorant and toothpaste in biodegradable card, to refillable mascara-s, foundations and lipsticks. All the products we stock are single-use plastics free and responsibly packaged. The majority of our products are packaged in reusable, compostable or widely recyclable materials, such as aluminium or glass. We will also be shortly launching a refill service.

“We should all use beauty products as an add-on to our lives: as something fun that makes us feel good, but not as something that we feel we ‘need’ and that make us who we are.”

Image: Acala Eco-Friendly Health & Beauty

Image: Acala Eco-Friendly Health & Beauty

How do you contribute to educating people about the benefits of natural cosmetics?

We have also just launched the DIY beauty section on the store, alongside a free e-book with simple 3 ingredient recipes, to encourage people to simplify their whole routine and give making stuff at home a go. Find our Zero Waste Beauty Guide e-book here. We are working on DIY tutorial videos and many other materials to help people make better choices. Stay tuned for that!

On top of waste-free cosmetics, Acala also encourages and supports waste-free living. Tell us more about the wellness events you’re currently organising.

We create content and run events to educate people on low-waste living, as well as encouraging people to try making their own products, as this significantly reduces packaging (see: our e-book), as well as the amount used. We partner and collaborate with other organisations and brands to provide educational events and sessions. We will also be running skincare making workshops to help people learn about ingredients and simplifying their routine.

When it comes to natural cosmetics, ingredients are everything. What are your favourite ingredients in green beauty products that could be beneficial for every skin type? 

  • Bentonite clay

  • Jojoba oil

Image: Acala Eco-Friendly Health & Beauty

Image: Acala Eco-Friendly Health & Beauty

You’ve also launched a DIY section on your web store, where people can purchase raw ingredients and make their own cosmetics from scratch. What are the benefits of that option, actually making our own cosmetics with the help of recipe books?

Essentially, DIY is a great way to reduce waste, as you can make just the amount you need, use a lot fewer ingredients and keep reusing the same jars, bottles etc. It also helps a great deal that you can buy ingredients in bulk.

Londoners are especially famous for leading busy lives that also contributes to us making wrong choices in terms of how we consume, because we're too much in a hurry to think through our options. Share some personal tips by Acala, how we can incorporate some environmentally-friendly habits into our busy everyday lives?

The biggest and easiest change for people to make is to go water free with their beauty products, as the beauty industry is one of the biggest contributors to water waste.

When I say water waste in your beauty regime, I am not only referring to the amount of time spent in shower etc., although that is something to consider. I am talking about products formulated with zero or very little water and can be use without or with less/very little water. I’m sure you’ve all looked at the back of conventional beauty product to see that a large percentage of the ingredients is ‘Aqua’ – the fancy word for water.

In 2017, Mintel actually named ‘waterless beauty’ one of their key trends. The concept of waterless beauty originally came from Korea - the Asian market, as always, is a good few years ahead of the West. Interestingly Korean manufacturers started creating waterless products not only for the environmental impact, but because water-free products have been shown to be better for the skin.

Water is often used in formulations as a cheap base, but once you remove that water, botanicals and oils are used instead, which results in a much more potent offering. Essentially, you're getting more for your money as conventional products are often watered down to increase profits for big brands. Additionally, while water is synonymous with hydration, topical application dries the skin. Excessive washing or use of water-based products can strip the skin of oils and weaken its natural barrier. However, the skin has its own self-cleaning system of sebum and natural microbes that repel and neutralise environmental pathogens. Washing away this protective shield exposes skin leading to an increase in diseases such as eczema. Which by the way there has been a huge reported increase in over the last few years, particularly in areas of high pollution, such as cities like London.

There are also some really exciting new products out there like tooth tabs, rather than toothpaste. And mouthwash tablets rather than mouthwash liquid. As well as shampoo cubes that give exactly the same experience but minus the water. And to bring it all full circle, waterless products can of course be packaged in much more minimal and environmentally friendly packaging. You could for example bulk buy mouthwash and tooth tablets in a cotton bag from a bulk store. They can also be easily packaged in card or other compostable packaging that leaves no waste.

Image: Acala Eco-Friendly Health & Beauty

Image: Acala Eco-Friendly Health & Beauty

Currently, many other retailers are working hard on their marketing strategies to help make natural cosmetics more visible. How does Acala aim to stand out? 

By making it easy for people. When you shop with Acala, you don’t need to think and wonder if the item you are buying is plastic free, natural, ethically sourced, has a sustainable supply chain or if it will arrive with you plastic/waste free, as we’ve already done that hard work for you. Customers can come to Acala, safe in the knowledge that all the products fit these criteria and will arrive with them in zero waste packaging. We aim to stand out by being a trusted source that can provide you the same experience from your personal care products as conventional options, but without the added environmental price tag.

How can we consumers avoid the greenwashing trap, and make sure we're actually getting the formula of pure ingredients promised on the packaging? 

More and more of us are choosing a conscious lifestyle, one that is good for both people and planet. Being mindful about what we’re putting on our skin is just one of the areas more of us are focussing on. ‘Organic’, ‘Natural’, ‘Free from’, ‘’Vegan’ are all becoming frequently used buzzwords, with ‘Organic’ being the biggest beauty buzzword of the moment. We understand it can be hard to know what is greenwashing and what is worth investing in, so we put together a useful guide to buying organic beauty.   

Autumn is speedily approaching and we're saying farewell to another beautiful summer. Which of the products found on Acala are lifesavers during this season, here to help our skin to cope with milder temperatures? 

As we approach winter, it’s all about keeping skin hydrated. If you want to go minimal, give joboba, rosehip or almond oil a go from our DIY section.

If you’re looking for ready-made products, try the amazing lavender and rose geranium hair conditioner with organic broccoli oil to keep hair nourished and shiny during the colder season.

Keep skin nourished with soothing organic shea butter moisturisers from Happy Holistics.

And keep you skin fresh and buffed using this simple salt scrub from Kitenest.

Shop here.