Mother Earth hates the beauty industry, and she has good reason to. Brands are hastily formulating green concoctions and eco-friendly packaging yet the numbers are increasing at an alarming rate and still, no single major brand has entirely shunned plastic packaging. Nature’s problem in a nutshell: in less than 40 years, the ratio of plastics to fish in the ocean will increase from 1:5 to 1:1.
Stuck in landfills or the bodies of animals, plastic relentlessly destroys the planet. Take a second to consider your personal primping routine (skin, mane, and body included). How many plastic containers does it involve? If you’re an avid flat lay or shelfie photo taker, we already have an idea. If you thought plastic packaging was Mother Earth’s only concern, think again. Your favorite microbead exfoliant? Full of plastic. According to a Go Green article, microbeads are small plastics made from the chemical polyethylene. Scientists have proven that in a generic shower gel, there is an equivalent amount of combined plastic in the gel itself as there is plastic in the bottle that holds it. Whoah.
As beatthemicrobead.org reports, in June 2016, the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC), which represents the cosmetics industry worldwide, released a press release stating that they take their responsibility seriously and are doing their utmost to tackle plastic pollution in the oceans, pointing to the voluntary phasing out of plastic microbeads in scrub products. But then they completely ruined any chance of us trusting them by protesting against the United Nations Clea Seas Campaign which is urging the cosmetics industry to stop adding microplastics to their products.
The beauty industry’s disruption to the planet doesn’t stop at plastic. Impossible-to-pronounce ingredients have proven to be planet predators too. According to the Office of Cosmetics and Colors at the federal Food and Drug Administration, “a cosmetic manufacturer may use almost any raw material as a cosmetic ingredient and market the product without an approval from FDA.” Unlike tobacco and cigarette products that are labeled with forthright warning messages, the cosmetic industry fails to clearly advertise the effects that its packaging and formula have on the planet and our health. That’s a startling thought considering just in August 2005, scientists from the University of Rochester reported that prenatal exposure to phthalates, chemicals found in personal care products and other consumer products, could cause the reproductive organs of male infants to develop abnormally (Swan 2005). Additionally, according to a 2010 NIEHS study, personal care products that rinse down drains and into rivers agitate the hormone systems of wildlife. What’s worse, some ingredients are known carcinogens that are toxic to the reproductive system or disrupt the endocrine system and contribute to breast cancer.
Out of sight, out of mind, the beauty industry’s carelessness continuously harms animals’ well being too. And the problem looms in the products we use daily. In 2007, the Silent Spring Institute and Susan B. Komen for the Cure released a scientific review identifying 216 chemicals that cause breast cancer in animals, many of which can be found in our everyday household supplies like shampoos, detergents, and soaps. For example, P-phenylenediamine, found in dark hair coloring and lipsticks, has been known to kill many aquatic species; while cosmetics preservatives BHA and BHT have been known to kill fish and shellfish, as well as cause genetic mutations in amphibians. Triclocan, used in skin cleansers and deodorant, can change the biochemistry of fish, aquatic plants and amphibians.
As Go Green states, titanium dioxide, used in mineral makeup and sunscreens, is another commonly used chemical ingredient that has been observed to harm snail DNA and reduce the growth of phytoplankton. Herculean issue. Why? Phytoplankton provides more than half of our planet’s oxygen and is a major food source for large amounts of aquatic animals. Much of the entire aquatic food chain depends upon the survival of phytoplankton. Losing this marine species means decreases in oxygen levels on land and in water and doomed aquatic life.
You probably already suspected that your makeup and SPF pose problems for the planet, but what about your shampoo? A Science Mag study found that the products used to make strands softer are major contributors to air pollution because many of these products contain siloxane, short for decamethylcyclopentasiloxane. Siloxane is a volatile organic compound (VOC). The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 75% of VOCs come from fuel while 25% come from chemical products. But the Science Mag study published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology revealed that the divide between fuel emissions and chemical emissions is closer to 50-50. In other words, humans who use personal care products are walking sources of harmful emissions. VOCs evaporate quickly and become particularly damaging when released into the air.
The negative impacts of synthetic chemicals have been proven to disrupt estrogen production, weaken the immune system, and cause premature aging in skin, according to Go Green. So why the lack of reform? Thankfully, consumers are becoming more informed about the beauty industry’s irresponsible practices, igniting a growth in the natural and organic haircare and makeup lines launched by companies. What we can do is stop feeding the single-use plastic industry, urge our beloved hair and makeup companies to start making packaging out of recyclable, biodegradable materials and incorporate green or all-natural ingredients as much as possible wherever they can. Mother Earth and her babies depend on it.