Dirty Secrets About the Environmental Impacts of the Cosmetics and Skincare Industries

Dirty Secrets About the Environmental Impacts of the Cosmetics and Skincare Industries

All my thanks to GO GREEN for writing this very informative post for the Mademoiselle Organic readers!

Dirty Secrets About the Environmental Impacts of the Cosmetics and Skincare Industries - guest post by GO GREEN

The cosmetics and skincare industry is rushing to come up with green formulations, as well as more eco-friendly packaging to help reduce environmental impacts. One thing these industries are under fire for is their heavy use of plastics in their packaging. There isn’t a major brand on the market today that has not completely eliminated the use of plastics.

This is just horrible for the environment as they get stuck in landfills, or worse, in the stomachs of innocent and wild animals. Yet, several life-cycle analysis studies convey that the largest environmental impact of the cosmetic and skincare industry is at the consumer level. Take a look at the average grooming ritual, which includes:

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Soap
  • Deodorant
  • Lip balm
  • Shaving products
  • Sunscreen
  • Body lotion

Many people use cosmetics and personal care items without a second thought, believing harmful chemicals will be regulated and discarded. Not so fast. 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).

Not to mention, according to a 2010 NIEHS study, the hormone systems of wildlife are agitated by personal care products that rinse down drains and into rivers. The question is, why do we need all of these chemicals in the first place?

Bad ingredients

Many cosmetics and skincare items are manufactured with over 10,500 unique chemical ingredients. Some are known carcinogens and either toxic to the reproductive system or known to disrupt the endocrine system. It’s almost as if we’re being openly sterilized.

The problem is no premarket safety testing is required in order to put industrial chemicals into skincare and cosmetics. 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.”

Yet, according to the European Commission in 2012, the EU has banned hundreds of chemicals in cosmetics. Another impact to the environment, is cosmetic ingredients that were designed to penetrate. Scientists have found common cosmetic ingredients in human and wildlife tissues such as parabens in breast tumor tissue and phthalates in urine.

Surprising facts about breast cancer awareness marketing

Every October you’ll see people wearing a pink ribbon, and many cosmetic and skincare companies coming up with pink-colored promotions in order to donate to breast cancer research and awareness.

Still, many cosmetic companies, including  Estée Lauder, Revlon, and Avon still create products with hormone-disrupting chemicals and carcinogens–two chemicals that can contribute to breast cancer. It’s a bit ironic that they are contributing to the fight against breast cancer when they contribute to the cause.

More research

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 these products are found in our homes such as detergents, PVC, shampoos, soaps and herbicides. Researchers wrote:

“The public health impacts of reducing exposures would be profound even if the true relative risks are modest. If even a small percentage is due to preventable environmental factors, modifying these factors would spare thousands of women.”

In 1997, during the Senate Hearings on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Reform Bill, the late U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy stated, “The cosmetics industry has borrowed a page from the playbook of the tobacco industry by putting profits ahead of public health.”

Yet, here is the key difference: tobacco products are labeled with explicit warnings on cancer risks. Yet, you don’t see these types of labels on cosmetics and skincare products. This is despite the fact that some of their ingredients pose unrecognized and lifelong dangers to the entire U.S. population, as well as the environment and wildlife. Here are the FDA regulations:

Each ingredient used in a cosmetic product and each finished cosmetic product shall be adequately substantiated for safety prior to marketing. Any such ingredient or product whose safety is not adequately substantiated prior to marketing is misbranded unless it contains the following conspicuous statement on the principal display panel: ‘Warning: The safety of this product has not been determined’

Unfortunately, the FDA has rarely exercised its authority over the past few decades. The only exceptions to products containing toxic ingredients are those with the certified organic label distributed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Poisoning our planet

Here is a list of ingredients that negatively impact our environment.

  1. Cosmetics preservatives BHA and BHT have been known to kill fish and shellfish, as well as cause genetic mutations in amphibians.
  2. P-phenylenediamine, found in dark hair coloring and lipsticks, has killed many aquatic species.
  3. Dibutyl phthalate, or DBP, found in many nail polishes has been linked to aquatic life death, as well as killing off plant plankton.
  4. Triclocan, used in skin cleansers and deodorant, can change the biochemistry of fish, aquatic plants and amphibians.
  5. Diethanolamine, or DEA, can be found in almost all cosmetics and skincare products. When it accumulates in the environment, it reacts with nitrates to form highly carcinogenic nitrosamines. And nitrosamines are fatally toxic to animal plankton, flatworms, fish, crustaceans, amphibians and more. All life on earth is dependent on the water cycle. Chemicals transferred to our water system can vaporize into the clouds and come back down as rain. Hence, every living being is affected.

What can be done?

Due to consumer outrage and demand, an increasing number of companies are attempting to offer certified organic lines. It’s also up to us to do our research and to stop spending money on cosmetics and skincare lines that contain fatal chemicals. Not to mention, cosmetic and skincare companies have the option of registering their products with the Environmental Protection Agency–although, this is completely voluntary.

We all want to look our best, but let’s do so without harming the environment. How are you planning to change your cosmetic and skincare routine?


About Go Green

go green logoGo Green is a website that enables readers to follow the news and learn about important environmental issues to take action towards a more sustainable living.

For more information on Go Green, check out their website.



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