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Ulta Beauty Launches ‘Conscious Beauty’ Program

The plan is to identify products that are clean, cruelty-free and vegan, as well as those that have sustainable packaging or positive impacts.

Ulta Beauty is aiming for increased transparency with its latest initiative, Conscious Beauty at Ulta Beauty

The program aims for “holistic” transparency, according to Ulta president Dave Kimbell, and is meant to help guide shoppers toward the things that are important to them. While several retailers, including Ulta competitor Sephora and new partner Credo, have created ingredient no-no lists, Ulta is the first major beauty retailer to break down product lines beyond ingredients, sorting for things like positive impact or packaging. 

The five “pillars” Ulta will use to guide shoppers are: Clean Ingredients, Cruelty-Free, Vegan, Sustainable Packaging and Positive Impact. 

“Conscious Beauty is designed to take a look at whatever our guests find important to help them navigate on their individual journeys,” Kimbell said in an interview.

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“Conscious Beauty at Ulta Beauty really is a holistic initiative that we think will educate and simplify the landscape and help [guide] our guests through the products that are available to them. We will provide greater choices, greater transparency by certifying brands across all five of these pillars, which we know are important to our guests, and are part of their overall decision making. By taking a more comprehensive approach we feel like we’re elevating the engagement our guests can have and more broadly meeting their needs.”

The idea for the program was in place pre-pandemic, Kimbell said.

“This launch is the next big step on our journey around clean and conscious beauty,” he said. “We’ve been working on this for quite a while. Having said that, the trends that were in the market before around clean and conscious, and transparency and sustainability, were important before the pandemic and if anything, they’re more important now and in the future.”

As part of the sustainability initiative, Ulta has committed that by 2025, 50 percent of all packaging sold will be made from recycled or bio-sourced materials, or will be recyclable or refillable. Ulta is also the first major beauty retailer to partner with TerraCycle’s Loop program, which will allow shoppers access to Loop’s refillable product options. “It’ll be online only at first, but then we’ll look to continue to expand and partner together with the Loop team to find more ways to drive change in the industry,” Kimbell said.

As part of its move toward clean, Ulta has crafted a Made Without List — parabens and pthalates are both on it — with the help of outside experts. The eight brands launching from Credo will be included under the Clean Ingredients pillar of the Conscious Beauty program. A spokeswoman for the retailer declined to share the full Made Without List, and said “more details will be made available in the fall.”

Ulta’s cruelty pillar will incorporate certification from third-party organizations including Peta, Leaping Bunny and Choose Cruelty-Free; The vegan designation will be for brands that are free from animal products, by-products and derivatives; The positive impact label will go to brands that have “giving back at their core,” according to a company statement.

Customers will be able to identify brands in different pillars online as well as in-store, Kimbell said, noting that in-store merchandising would likely consist of rotating products and highlighting different categories.

Ulta has also established an advisory board for the program that includes Annie Jackson, cofounder of Credo, and Tom Szaky, chief executive officer and cofounder of Loop, to drive the Conscious Beauty initiatives forward.

Ulta plans to reach out to brand partners this week to explain the process of becoming certified under the pillars, but Kimbell described it as relatively simple, and said it would be done through ClearForMe, an outside business that claims to have the most comprehensive ingredient database on the market.

“It is designed in a way to be simple, easy and not prohibit any of our brand partners from participating,” Kimbell said. He declined to say if brands had to pay to participate.

Asked if a “pillar” would be established for Black-owned beauty brands, or if Ulta was going to sign the 15 Percent Pledge, which would commit it to stocking 15 percent of shelves with Black-owned brands, Kimbell said that Black-owned brands are “absolutely a focus for us.”

“We’re certainly well aware of [the 15 Percent Pledge], we applaud it. We are focusing on expanding our assortment and we’re monitoring that and think[ing] it through. But regardless of a specific pledge, we’ve added many Black-owned brands,” Kimbell said, ticking off Juvia’s Place and Pattern by Tracee Ellis Ross as examples. “We’re looking to expand that portfolio.”

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