How good natural beauty products to the environment
You love “natural”, “green”, “sustainable”, “clean”, and “eco-friendly” beauty products if truly they are. They sound and are believed to be less polluting and better for the skin. In fact, more than half of women check if ingredients are natural or not when shopping for beauty products. But natural ingredients are not always better or safer. Also, the demands for natural ingredients create issues around environment and sustainability.
Are natural cosmetic products safe for the environment?
As a consumer, what you should care about beauty products is how to use and how to dispose of them including packaging. The product should be designed and produced in a way that make you easy to use without being worried about environmental impact. In reality, there are so much more than just non-toxic ingredients and recyclable packaging.
All cosmetic ingredients including synthetic ones are tested and regulated to ensure your safeties. Some ingredients such as Paraben and Formaldehyde can be toxic, but the concentration of those ingredients in cosmetic products is well-regulated. However, when it comes to their impact in the environment, it is a totally different story. The amount of research done so far is very limited and we don’t know exactly how safe they are when they get into the natural environment and accumulate over the years. However, there are some guidance.
Surfactants including natural soaps can be harmful to the environment, particularly aquatic ecosystems. Surfactants are versatile ingredients used in almost all beauty products from cleanser to lipsticks. They become safe to go into natural environment after being processed in water filtration systems. When you are using them outdoor, choose 100% biodegradable products and use them at least 200 meters away from natural water sources.
We use sunscreens on the beach and sunscreens will directly get into the ocean. Some common ingredients in sunscreen products such as Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, and Avobenzone are found to be harmful to marine life. Within the limited data, sunscreen products based on Non-nano Titanium Dioxide or Non-nano Zinc Oxide are the safe bet.
Production of natural cosmetic ingredients
You know that natural ingredients are made from plants and other living things. We need to grow them. Sourcing ingredients from delicate ecosystems where indigenous flora is already under thereat is especially problematic. We have witnessed the case with palm oil, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and displacement of indigenous communities. It is a recurring issue for communities to experience the stress when a new natural ingredient become popular in the beauty industry.
Here’re some examples
- Rosewood used for the popular essential oil is now an endangered species on IUCN Red List
- Argan fruit used for the precious oil is now a vulnerable species. Argan trees take over 50 years to produce sufficient fruit for sourcing
- Psoralea Corylifolia to make bakuchiol, natural Retinol, is not measured to protect. The ingredients’ origins are questionable with some companies.
- The surge in marine ingredients such as Algae and Seaweed has been disrupting life in the ocean
- Production of Mica, natural shiny colourant, and crystals is associated with unsafe labour conditions
Cosmetic product packaging
Packaging plays a big role in beauty industry, no matter what the product is. Fancy packaging can make the product appear to be more luxurious and it is often more important than the product inside. For the environment, different materials and design can make a significant difference as 120 billion units of packaging from beauty products are sent to landfill each year. Most packaging is not recycled because most packaging is made with mixed materials and contaminated with the product.
Individual efforts such as recycling plastic waste collected from ocean, using other materials other than plastics, making refill pouches are all important. But the impact these actions can make is very tiny. For example, even if we collected all plastics floating in the ocean, that is only 0.5% of the total amount. Glass containers are heavy and generate more carbon emissions from shipping and recycling processes. Reusable bottles + refill pouches are only good if people reuse the bottle long enough.
“How can we make beauty products truly sustainable and eco friendly?”
What is sustainable beauty?
Here’re some information you can check when you are shopping.
No microplastic – Liquid microplastics are found in various cosmetics such as eyeliners, mascara, lipsticks, and powder products.
Cruelty free – Both finished product and ingredients should be included
Vegan – This means the product does not contain any animal products
Packaging material – Reusable, recyclable, or home compostable. Some plastics such as PET and PP can be recycled, but it is still better to avoid as only 10% is actually recycled
Collection service – If the product is refillable, is there collection service for the refill pouch or bottle?
Carbon footprint – How much carbon footprint the product generated from sourcing ingredients to shipping to you?
Transparency – Is there enough information about the ingredients, the impact the brand has on people and the planet, and plans for the future?
What can you do?
There are many concerns around beauty product such as plastic pollution, unsustainable resource consumption, ocean chemical pollution, air pollution, deforestation, child labour, etc. While brands are taking actions to be more ethical and sustainable, you can do a few things to help
Reduce consumption – It is tempting to try new products and hero ingredients. But try to finish the products you already have. The statistic shows the average women purchase about 50 beauty products a year and half of the products are unfinished when being sent to landfills
Educate yourself – Be interested in what your beauty products have inside, how the ingredients are produced, and what it means to you and the environment
Support system – Read and understand the label and dispose of the product and packaging correctly. Reuse, recycle, or compost wherever possible
You may not need many beauty products to look and live healthy, but you do need safe environment to live healthy.
Natural and organic cosmetics in the U.S. – Statistics & Facts - https://www.statista.com/topics/4501/natural-and-organic-cosmetics-in-the-us/#topicHeader__wrapper
Down the drain: Do surfactants harm the environment? - https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141003135742.htm
Are your personal care products putting your health at risk? - https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/toxic-beauty#:~:text=The%20average%20woman%20uses%2012,makeup%2C%20to%20name%20a%20few.