The Impact of Chemicals in Cosmetics on Us and Our Climate
Chemicals in cosmetics and packaging hugely impact climate change, pollution, and habitat destruction. Recent research by Beyond Plastic shows that by 2030 plastics will release more greenhouse gas emissions than coal plants in the U.S.
Common words to describe product ingredients, like natural and organic, have yet to be concrete, recognized definitions in the beauty industry, and regulating those practices could revolutionize sustainability in the cosmetics sector. According to Women’s Voices for the Earth, “The federal agencies that oversee the sale and advertising of cosmetics, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), still have not formally defined this term as it applies to cosmetic products.”
Unregulated product descriptions allow companies to spread a false narrative about their commodities and could mislead consumers to buy beauty care items that they believe to be sustainable when it isn’t at all. Many customers like to know what ingredients they put on their bodies and skin. According to McKinsey & Company, “In a survey of roughly 7,500 consumers in six countries, 79% of the respondents said they believe that wellness is important, and 42% consider it a top priority.” While shopping, it's always important to remember that key common personal care ingredients aren’t always good for humans or the environment.
Ingredients to Stay Conscious of When Buying Beauty Products
Palm oil is a great example of a product known to be natural and healthy for consumers to use but causes harm to the environment. Mentioned in Women’s Voices for Earth, this widely used vegetable oil is present in over half of all packaged products in the U.S. and 70% of cosmetics, including your favorite shampoo and conditioners, makeup, skin care products, toothpaste, and sunscreen. In addition, many companies use palm oil as an ingredient in their products because of its vitamin E content, texture-boosting fatty acids, and natural alcohol.
Despite the benefits of palm oil for corporate companies, the high demand for the ingredient drives deforestation and destroys habitats in rainforests and other tropical regions. Practices like forest fires release carbon trees sequester into the atmosphere worsening climate change.
Liquid plastics, also known as microplastics, enhance the sensory experience of cosmetics through their thickening formula. Biotech Engineer and Chemist Greg Altman, Ph.D., says,“These are ingredients that are very much polymers but have flow properties which make them liquid plastics.” Currently, most governing bodies don’t consider plastic particles smaller than 0.1 micrometer, biodegradable polymers, and water-soluble or liquid polymers as microplastics, so there is little to no regulation for companies trying to include these ingredients in their products.
Consumers must be aware of harmful liquid plastics in their everyday cosmetics products and packaging. When looking at ingredient lists, ingredients that end with -cone or -siloxane can negatively affect your body, with illnesses like cholera and leaving microplastics in your bloodstream and the environment. Common examples include Dimethicone, Cyclomethicone, and Cyclopentasiloxane.
Other ingredients, like polyethylene glycols (PEGs), polymers (like acrylates copolymer), butylene, carbomers, and petroleum, are classified as liquid plastics. But it’s also important to note that these plastics can be difficult to identify because they may go by different, unrecognizable names
A great way for a consumer to support a more sustainable future is to back brands that go the extra mile to minimize liquid plastic use.
Chemicals in Cosmetic Packaging
As sustainability efforts are becoming the forefront of most cosmetic brands, many companies have taken steps to create plastic-free packaging. Despite these efforts, about 70% of the beauty industry’s waste continues to come from packaging. According to Zero Waste, beauty packaging amounts to 120 billion units annually. This includes plastic, paper, glass, and metals left in our landfills.
Our personal health, beauty, and the planet are significantly impacted by ingredients used in products and chemicals put into packaging. Chemicals, like methane, in plastics are released into the air and cause greenhouse gases to increase as heat is trapped in our atmosphere. According to Mongabay, methane also contaminates the Earth’s surface, groundwater, and could even trigger earthquakes. Researchers still don’t know the long-term health effects of plastic, but according to The Plastic Health Coalition, the chemical additives in plastic are associated with serious health problems such as hormone-related cancers, infertility, and neurodevelopment disorders.
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