I've been perusing and buying products from Lush Cosmetics stores since I was 13. Just over a decade of consistent shopping later, I think I'm more than qualified to call myself a certified Lushie. Though my first foray with using Lush products began with the brand's natural face washes and masks, I'd bet that most other Lushies will tell you it was the bath bombs that reined them into their first Lush store.
And who could blame them? Bath bombs are undoubtedly the brand's most beloved and demanded product, probably because they're relaxing, skin soothing, smell nice, and make for some stunningly colorful photos.
Like many of you, I'm sure, I've always been curious to know just how those magnificent swirls of fragrance, color, and sparkle come together — and how much the brand actually sticks to its fresh and environmentally friendly values. So when Lush Cosmetics asked me directly if I'd like to tour one of its Canadian factories with all expenses paid, my immediate response was, "UM, YES PLEASE!"
So, what exactly does the place where bath bombs are made look like? Let me show you.
Welcome to Lush's Toronto factory!
Located a short drive from the heart of Toronto, Ontario, this factory is one of Lush's two factories in North America. It's mostly responsible for production, distribution, and ballistics. Lush's other, primary North American headquarters is located in Vancouver, British Columbia, where manufacturing and distribution take place alongside other operations such as finance, store design, and brand communications.
Toronto's campus has not just one but two factory buildings. The one pictured here includes office space, conference rooms, and a large employee break room in the front. In the back, basically all the products that aren't bath bombs are made. It's where I began my tour before making my way over to the second building.
Demand for Lush's bath bombs has become so high, the company purchased a majority of the building across the street (seen in the reflection of the window above), which is now entirely dedicated to their production.
The very first thing you're asked to do when you enter Lush's doors is put on some ~very slick and stylish~ rubber toe caps.
Though one might imagine that bath bombs and other Lush goodies are made in a tiny, isolated room by a singular handsome, tattooed hipster, that's certainly not the case here. Lush Toronto alone can produce, on average, 100,000 products in a single day, and that requires a large, high-octane campus with around 600 hardworking employees.
In a factory setting such as this one, toes get stepped on and heavy materials and equipment can get dropped. TLDR: mishaps happen. That's why everyone working on the factory floor wears heavy-duty boots while on the job. Safety first!
You're also given one of the company's standard uniform work shirts — which, I won't lie, are actually quite A Look.
When I was handed this plain black button-up with Lush's logo on the front, I knew I was in for a mess — in a good way of course. Prior to flying up to Canada, I was even told to stick to basic, black clothing that I wasn't emotionally attached to. By those hints alone, I could tell I'd be spending the tour getting covered in all sorts of stuff (glitter especially).
Going into this inside look at Lush, one of my biggest points of curiosity was just how fresh and natural the ingredients in the products actually are.
As a skeptical beauty editor, I find that a fair question seeing that Lush's major selling point is that its products are made with natural and fresh ingredients that minimize environmental harm.
When I took my first steps behind the factory's industrial, protective plastic curtains and the first thing I saw was a giant bowl of ripe lemons just waiting to be cut and squeezed by hand, my question was pretty much answered.
With every step inside Lush's multi-room production center, I was confronted with ingredients you'd find at your local farmers' market.
This giant box of aloe, for example, was located inside the factory's freezer room, where I also saw avocados, cold beer kegs (yes, Lush uses real beer in that Stout shampoo), fresh flowers, and plenty of other fruits and vegetables.
I learned in the freezer that Lush buys organic whenever possible! I could tell this was entirely true based on the fact that none of the produce I saw on this particular day was grossly oversize like the stuff you catch in large chain grocers. Of course, product demand and seasonal availability heavily affect which produce is selected and whether or not it's realistic to purchase organic.
Another thing I was pleasantly surprised by: Lush is not horsing around when it says that its products are all produced by hand.
Because this is a factory, after all, I expected to be met with a slew of giant machines and automated pouring processes — I was wrong. Lush does use a lot of large mechanical equipment, but it's mostly used for heavy-duty mixing and high-pressure compacting that isn't possible to achieve by human hands. An overwhelming majority of the grunt work is done by hand, just like Lush's promotional material boasts.
For example, the picture above on the left isn't of an automated machine — that's a Lush employee using a pre-measured pouring tool to squirt Honey Trap Lip Balm ($11, Lush) into dozens of containers at once.
The glittery, golden goo pictured on the right is a hand-mixed formula that employees hand-painted into small molds to create the adorable pinwheel design on a batch of Magnificent Bath Oils ($6, Lush).
Even simple processes that other cosmetics companies might cut corners by automating — like the squeezing and straining of ingredients — are done by hand.
No, this is not a human organ sacrifice — it's a Lush compounder straining cranberries, the juices from which can be used for a number of products. Even the leftover, juiceless berries will likely be entirely used — Sultana Of Soap ($7, Lush), anyone?
Lush employees called compounders, by the way, are the ones who actually put the products together by hand. Ever seen someone's face sticker on the bottom of a Lush product? That's a compounder, and being one is kind of a big freaking deal within the company.
In order to become a Lush compounder, a person has to make every single product perfectly at least three times. As you can imagine, given Lush's never-ending catalog, that takes a very, very long time. Potential compounders must also be tested in — gasp — MATH.
Lush's dedication to helping the environment is also prevalent throughout every room of its primary Toronto factory.
As you already know, Lush is pretty much leading the pack when it comes to recyclable packaging. Over the past few years, it's relaunched countless products that no longer have any packaging.
The way that Lush produces and transports those products is just as environmentally friendly. Even the containers it uses to move large batches of ingredients — such as the plastic tubs seen above, plus industrial-size buckets I saw in the next room over — are washed and reused over and over again.
Dedication to animals and the Earth must always be at the forefront of a factory worker's mind, seeing as cruelty-free and environmentally friendly values are plastered all over the place.
Heck, even the glitter Lush puts in an overwhelming amount of its products is made with Mother Earth in mind.
Whereas the glitter you're used to seeing in cosmetics (and in party supplies, etc.) is made out of teeny tiny bits of plastic that end up in the ocean and totally screw with the ecosystems there, Lush uses its own signature kind of glitter called Luster.
Luster is made of synthetic mica and a slew of naturally occurring minerals that sparkle just as much as plastic glitter but, unlike the standard version, actually dissolves in water so it doesn't harm wildlife or cause pollution when it slithers down your drain and into the world.
Lush's Luster is mostly kept in massive plastic containers inside one small storage area — and yes, this part of the tour was every bit as magical as you'd hope. Just opening and photographing this stuff left me with a slightly sparkly sheen.
Speaking of glitter, let's get to the part you all came here to see: THE BATH BOMBS.
Like I mentioned before, the production of bath bombs is so intense, it needs its entire own building — and what you're seeing in the photo above is just a tiny fraction of it. Beyond the drying bath bombs pictured here is a Luster-spraying station (we'll get to that later), and behind are endless pressing tables and mixing areas.
So I could really grasp how they're made at every step, Lush let me help make a few Goddess bath bombs. I cannot stress enough just how involved and difficult a process it actually is.
What you're witnessing in the above gif is compounder Sammie preparing the correct dose of sodium bicarbonate, the fizzy base for all bath bombs. This is the first step of many in creating the Goddess Bath Bomb ($9, Lush).
You know how every bath bomb unfurls into a swirl of many different colors? Each of the colors you find in a singular bomb is its own massive mix of colored pigments, fragrances, Luster, and sodium bicarbonate. At the Lush factory, I helped to make just one of the four colorful mixes that goes into Goddess before we skipped to pressing and spraying.
While measuring out the very precise portions of powdered pigment, Luster, fragrance, and sodium bicarbonate for just the purple part of the Goddess bomb, I learned just how much math and science actually go into creating these things.
The reason compounders have to be tested in math before they become qualified is because on any given day, Lush's availability of ingredients can change. If, for example, there's less of a certain ingredient available than expected, a compounder will have to calculate the proportion of other bath bomb ingredients needed to achieve the recipe's exact ratio.
In the clip above, you'll see me very carefully measuring silver Luster (Goddess contains three different kinds), the amount of which Sammie determined using math for this small-batch version of the bomb-making process.
Below is just one of four completed "color mixes," as I'll call them, that are required to fill the Goddess mold.
A midsize mixer was used to combine this portion of powdered purple pigment, liquid red pigment, the pre-mixed Goddess fragrance, sodium bicarbonate, and multiple types of Luster. Keep in mind that this portion of mix is much, much smaller than usual, solely for the sake of keeping it small enough for me to photograph.
For Goddess, this process must be repeated to create green, silver, and lilac shades, which are then transported to the table for the fun part — pressing.
Once a bath bomb's colored mixes are all prepared, they're laid out separately on one of the building's many metal pressing tables and covered in citric acid. This is where things get equally fun and stressful.
The citric acid — that's the white powder on top of all the colored mixes that were just made — is what makes everything dry up and stick together. That's why it's left on top of each color and mixed in bit by bit. Once a compounder mixes the citric acid into each small portion of colored powder, they only have a few short minutes to press it correctly into a mold before it's too dry to use.
When I was present at the factory, each table was working on a different bath bomb and had at least two compounders working at it.
From there, compounders have just a few minutes to make up to dozens of bombs before they mix more citric acid in and start the pressing process all over.
Each bomb has its own specific order in which compounders must load their colored mixes into a mold. For Goddess, the compounders coaching me laid out the top and bottom molds for three or four bombs at once, then had me load each with a small amount of green, then large amounts of purple, medium amounts of silver and lilac, and another large helping of green.
The order these colors are placed into the molds are the exact reason bombs melt in a specific pattern once you toss them in the water. Other bombs I watched get pressed at other tables included even bells and whistles such as melts, flower petals, and even messages written on tiny flaps of paper, which all get stuffed into the middle of molds.
As you can tell by how stuffed those molds look above, both halves of a bomb's mold have to be extremely full so that when they get squished together, the powder becomes tightly compacted enough to stick to itself.
Making just four bath bombs at once doesn't sound like a difficult or serious task, but when you're presented a small window of time and the risk of wasting product, you definitely start to sweat.
Can you tell I'm extremely stressed in this photo? Thought so.
You can see by the war zone beneath my hands that things tend to get pretty messy at the pressing tables. The good news is that when colors accidentally get mixed together, compounders just mush it all together and place it in the very middle of a bath bomb — that way none of the powder is wasted, but it also doesn't affect the way the bomb melts.
This process does get easier with time and practice, that's for sure. One of the expert compounders who taught me how to press said she can press more than 1,000 bath bombs in a single sitting. Whereas I, a newbie, struggled to make just four at once, a seasoned compounder can lay out a dozen or so at a time. Needless to say, they work fast in this portion of the Lush factory.
Once an entire batch is pressed, bombs are left to solidify and dry overnight. When ready, certain bombs — Goddess included — are taken to their last stop: the spraying station.
If you've ever looked at a bath bomb and noticed its glittery outer coating, that means it's been sprayed with a hand-mixed Luster solution by a Lush employee wearing an oversize plastic hazmat suit and a gas mask.
In certain cases, the Luster spray coating is mostly responsible for a bomb's final design. The gold coloring on Ginger Ninja ($6, Lush), for instance, is entirely sprayed on.
And then they're done! Had these bombs been made by a qualified compounder and not a novice beauty editor, they would've sat to dry before getting towed off to Lush's nearby distribution building.
There, they would've been transported to any one of Lush's countless North American store locations — maybe even the one closest to you. Lush does not have any factories or headquarters in the US, so if you're using a Lush product in America, it was made in either Toronto or Vancouver. Yes, your bath bombs are immigrants.
And to think all that work goes into creating these little balls of sparkle we sometimes throw into our baths without a second thought.
Now that I've seen how these iconic products (and Lush's other offerings) are made with my very own eyes, I have more desire to use them than ever. I'll never use a bath bomb again without thinking of the arduous process it took to carefully measure and mix each melting color, and the compounders who busted their butts to press it together before it dried out.
And I'll bathe peacefully knowing that, just as promised, the ingredients used to make it were ethically sourced and won't harm the environment.
At the end of my very brief period as an honorary Lush employee, I left absolutely coated in Luster, physically drained, yet emotionally fulfilled.
It's an amazing experience to discover that one of your favorite beauty brands truly lives up to all the brand values plastered across its advertising and storefronts. And that's exactly what Lush did by showing me its wide pool of wholesome ingredients, passionate employees, and environmentally savvy work ethics.
So, um... Lush, are you hiring?