GREENING YOUR BEAUTY ROUTINE:
WHAT DOES IT REALLY MEAN?
1. Inputs: Who, What, Where, Why and How?
For personal care and beauty products, the key is always in the ingredients first. Where are the ingredients or raw materials sourced from and how are they made? Are the processes for extracting them fundamentally safe for the environment? Is the manufacturing process moderately clean, very clean, somewhat dirty or very dirty? Are there by-products that are toxic or can pollute the environment? How energy-intensive are the various processes used to make the finished product? Where is it made relative to where it’s sold? And how far does it have to travel before it reaches you, the end-user? These are some of the ways to determine the carbon footprint for a product as well as any potential adverse effects it may have on you.
2. The Health Impact of Products During Their Lifecycle
In the hierarchy of available options, plant-based products are clearly safer than their synthetic and petroleum-based counterparts. As creatures of nature it follows that our bodies can comprehend and better utilize ingredients that exist in nature (whether ingested as food or absorbed into the skin through topical use). Since synthetics and ingredients from petroleum by-products are “manufactured” as opposed to existing in nature, it makes sense that our bodies can and often do have a hard time dealing with them.
While the primary impact on your health and safety is paramount, you should also consider the secondary impact of washing these ingredients off your skin and down the drain. What happens when toxic chemicals and petroleum ingredients wind up in our rivers and streams?
There are an alarming number of chemical and petroleum ingredients that go into making personal care and beauty products --not to mention some scary by-products from the manufacturing process.
For example, 1,4-Dioxane – the by-product of a commonly used process called “Ethoxylation”—has been found in some of the leading “natural” and “organic” personal care products.This highly toxic ingredient has been identified as a leading groundwater contaminant by the California EPA, and is a good example of the hidden dangers that can lurk in products we blithely assume are safe.
A good general rule of thumb: if they’re not safe for you, they’re not safe for the environment either. Whenever possible chose certified organic products or products made with certified organic ingredients that don’t also have synthetic or petroleum ingredients.
3. What Happens At the End of the Line?
When all is said and done, the final impact of a personal care product on the environment is determined by its packaging. There are certain types of plastic like PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride), which is not recyclable and whose production is very “dirty.” Plastic can leach chemicals all throughout its lifecycle, release toxins into surrounding communities during its manufacture, and can pose health risks from exposure to fumes when incinerated on the back-end.
Again, there is a hierarchy of preference when it comes to packaging starting with glass as the safest and most environmentally friendly option, followed by re-usable materials like aluminum or stainless steel (aluminum containers should have an FDA-approved Epoxy phenolic internal coating to prevent reactivity with its contents), and “friendlier,” recyclable plastics such as PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) and HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene).
To truly "green" your personal care routine choose products that are designed with “environmental intelligence” from start to finish; don’t pose any known or suspected safety risks to your health; and if possible, are made entirely in the USA.
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