How Cosmetics and Skin Care are Harming the Environment

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How Cosmetics and Skin Care are Harming the Environment



Most of us have a regimen of beauty products we reach for daily that keep our skin dewy, our hair shiny, our teeth white, and give us an overall healthy glow. It’s easy to care about the products we put into and on our body, but how often do we stop and think about the effect it has on our surroundings? The reality is that most personal care products on the market have some sort of harmful effect on the environment. In the end it all comes back around to us, so if you truly want to benefit your health and beauty, taking care of the planet is even more important than the products you use. So keep reading to find out more about what can be done to help the earth without necessarily having to give up your hair, skin, and personal care.

Common Cosmetic Ingredients that Harm the Environment

When we use personal care products we don’t tend to acknowledge how they will end up in the environment. When your shampoo washes down the drain, when you swim in the ocean with sunscreen on, or when you throw out a bottle with a little bit of product left, it all will likely end up in rivers, oceans, and lakes. This harms animal and plant life in marine ecosystems and continues through the food chain. It goes even further when water evaporates and accumulates in clouds, later becoming rain, thus introducing chemical pollutants into soil and land based plants and animals.

Some of the most common and toxic ingredients found in cosmetic products are:

  1. BHA and BHT - Commonly used as preservatives or antioxidants in cosmetics and skin care, BHA and BHT have detrimental effects on marine ecosystems and have been known to kill fish and aquatic mammals.

  2. Triclosan - Found in many antiperspirant deodorants ,toothpastes, and hand soaps, triclosan is used for it’s bacteria killing properties. Triclosan has been found to be highly toxic towards algae, which is a crucial factor in our environment as it’s a first-step producer. When exposed to water and broken down by the sun, it can create carcinogenic dioxins, and if exposed to chlorine, can result in chloroform. Not exactly what we, or aquatic life, want in our water sources.

  3. P-phenylenediamine - This ingredient is used in dyes and lipsticks because of it’s darkening effect when oxidizing. If it ends up in water sources it has been shown to poison and kill many aquatic lifeforms.

  4. Dibutyl phthalate, or DBP - Found in many nail polishes, dibutyl phthalate has also been found to kill aquatic life, mainly plankton, which are towards the bottom of the food chain, making them crucial for marine life as a whole.

  5. Oxybenzone and octinoxate - Common in chemical based sunscreens, these ingredients protect skin from UV rays, but are detrimental to coral reefs.

  6. Microbeads - Those little bursting beads in face washes and toothpaste are made from plastic, and due to their tiny size they are near impossible to remove from water once they wash down the drain, and fish and other aquatic life end up consuming them. The US and UK have banned microbeads from all products, but if they aren’t banned in your country, stay far away from them.
It’s also important to look at where beauty brands source their ingredients. Even if they claim to use “natural” ingredients, a lot of larger companies will outsource ingredients from other countries to cut costs and increase profits. These cheaper ingredients could mean more pesticides used, more ecosystems destroyed for mining and harvesting of ingredients, and more carbon emissions due to excess transportation. So “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean better.


More than 120 billion units of packaging are produced by the cosmetics industry every year, and a good deal of it isn’t recyclable. Brands pack their products in excessive plastic packaging that isn’t necessary and takes hundreds of years to break down, all while emitting harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Some brands seek packaging alternatives like aluminum and glass, but these take more energy to produce so it’s not necessarily an adequate solution.

At the end of the day the only way to package products in a way that’s completely sustainable for the environment is no packaging at all which obviously isn’t a viable option for a lot of products. It would be pretty difficult to buy a liquid face toner without the bottle. Still, even if a product is package free it still falls back to those chemical ingredients that seep into the environment. It seems impossible to live a sustainable life while consuming beauty products, but there are some things that can be done to limit your effect on the environment as much as possible that don’t involve giving up your beauty routine entirely.

How to Change Your Beauty Routine to help the Environment

  1. Limit your Consumption

  2. We are a culture of product overload. Lots of us buy way more than we need for the sake of diversity and multiple options, but most of this ends up going to waste. Think about how often you actually use up the entirety of one of your makeup products. If you want to limit the environmental harm of your beauty routine, the first and most effective thing you can do is limit the amount of products that you consume. Try sticking with only the necessities, and find products you love that you can use up and replace when necessary, because let’s face it, nobody needs eight different moisturizers. You’ll be contributing less waste, and you’ll be getting your money’s worth.

  3. Recycle

  4. When the time comes to dispose of your packaging, don’t just throw it out into the regular trash, put it in the recycling bin. Unfortunately not all packaging can be placed in the recycling bin. Before purchasing beauty products, do some research on which ones are recyclable, and do your best to to stray away from those that cannot be. It’s also in your best interest to generally avoid bulky, unnecessary packaging that is wasteful and purely for appearance.

    Here’s more information on the types of plastics you can recycle and how.

  5. Reuse Packaging

  6. If you cannot recycle your packaging try finding ways to repurpose it within your household. Fill your old hair mist bottle with water and use it to water your plants, peel the label off your day cream jar, throw on some colorful paint, and make it into a storage container for small jewelry, cut your shampoo bottles in half and use them to hold kitchen utensils or flowers. There’s a use for everything if you’re creative.

  7. Avoid harsh chemical ingredients

  8. Pay more attention to the ingredients before purchasing a new product. If you see any of the aforementioned toxic chemicals, then it’s best to avoid it. Think about it, if it’s creating that much harm on the environment, then do you really want to be using it on your body anyway?

    Instead of a chemical based sunscreen with Oxybenzone and octinoxate, use a reef safe mineral sunscreen, use a face wash and toothpaste without microbeads, find a deodorant without triclosan. There is a wealth of beauty products on the market that don’t contain adverse chemical ingredients. All it takes is a little bit of searching and close attention to labels.

  9. Invest in Products from Small Businesses

  10. Small companies that use locally sourced ingredients operate on much shorter supply chains. This means less fuel emissions made by delivery trucks, less energy and carbon emissions involved in production, and less likelihood that the ingredients aid in deforestation or destructive mining practices.

At Cleure, we source all of our ingredients locally in southern California to ensure they are the best possible quality, and don’t contribute to any type of deforestation or illegal mining. We don’t use any of the common pollutants listed above, only what’s clean and natural, and we package a majority of our products in recyclable plastics. We want you to feel good about what you’re putting on your body and into the environment, so we stray away from harmful practices.

We all play a part in our environment, and whatever we put into it comes right back to us. There’s only one Earth, and it’s our duty to play our part in reducing harm. Reduce, reuse, and recycle can be applied to our beauty routines, and if enough people are more attentive with their product habits, the environment, plants, and animals will thrive, and as a result, so will we.