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Beauty’s big clean up

The beauty industry is currently going through a big clean up.
Danielle Fox says it hasn’t come a moment too soon.

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Photo credits: Sarah Gray

How ethical is your beauty regime? It’s a simple enough question but often has no easy answer. Never before has ‘going green’ been more newsworthy; from the recent lows (the disheartening news from the US of their withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement) to the fist-pump highs (the now global ban on microbeads and New York’s recent proposal to ban animal testing on cosmetics).

But whilst me might we endeavour to recycle our everyday waste and contribute to animal welfare charities, when it comes to our skincare and make-up must-haves, our choices may have more profound consequences than we realise. Many major beauty companies are unclear about testing on animals or where their ingredients are sourced. And, when did you last stop to think about the amount of packaging and waste produced each year that is currently floating in a Texas-sized mass in the middle of the Pacific? (Don’t Google ‘The Great Garbage Patch of the Pacific’; it will depress you).

However, the good news is that there are steps that we can take to ensure our beauty habits become more ethical, less wasteful and better for the planet. Here’s how…

Get clued up on cruelty-free

The testing of cosmetics and their ingredients on animals was banned in Europe in March 2013, (following a ban in Britain in 1998) making it illegal to sell animal-tested cosmetics, even if the testing was conducted outside the continent. But the issue of cruelty-free becomes more complicated when brands enter other foreign markets. Animal testing remains legal in the USA and Australia, although most major brands there have long since chosen not to do it. The biggest concern, though, is China, where animal testing is required by law for all cosmetics sold on Chinese soil.

Thankfully, transparency of both policy and ingredients is improving. If a brand does not test on animals at any point during a product’s creation, then that brand is considered cruelty-free. “You can also check to see if the PETA’s Beauty Without Bunnies and also the Cruelty-Free, Vegan and Leaping Bunny logo is printed on the product’s packaging,” says Elisa Allen, Director of PETA. “This guarantees a company’s no-animal-testing policy and ethical credentials are watertight”.

Brands may say they’re against animal testing but if their products don’t have one of these logos there’s no guarantee that their ingredients adhere to these principles. “As it currently stands, when businesses choose to sell their products in mainline China, they are fully aware that the country’s government will require them to pay to test on animals,” explains Allen. However, a loophole that many brands have taken to avoid the CFDA (China Food and Drug Administration) is selling online, directly to the consumer. According to PETA, if a customer in China orders products through a brand’s website, then those products do not have to be registered in China and, therefore, are not required to be tested on animals.

As for brands that still have bricks and mortar stores in China itself, PETA are working to beat this big beauty battleground; “We’re working to help the Chinese government end its requirement for animal testing for cosmetics by setting up laboratories in the country to train scientists in the use of non-animal test methods,” Allen says. “This has become one of our main priorities and one we are making important victories in.”

Choose packaging wisely

Knowing what packaging to avoid, reuse, repurpose and recycle can greatly reduce your personal waste. It may sound obvious but your first step is to avoid plastic packaging which isn’t biodegradable and to look for products with minimal or eco-friendly packaging, such as cardboard or glass (non-biodegradable products are items that cannot decay or be broken down by living organisms. For example, water bottles, tin cans, tyres and computers are all items that cannot decay in a land fill).

Photo credits: Maria Carlos

New research by Exeter University in the UK focused on the chemical Bisphernol A or BPA, which happens to be one of the most widely used ingredients in plastic packaging. The study tested the urine of students aged between 17-19 years old who handle plastic on a day-to-day basis. The results showed worryingly high levels of BPA (which is also a hormone disruptor) and scientists concluded that BPA is so toxic that it leaks into the product it surrounds, such as the liquid in a BPA bottle. Furthermore, the same testers were then asked not to handle any plastic containers for a week and results showed that this did nothing to reduce the levels of BPA in their bodies.

Worryingly, a recent study published in the journal Science found that household products, such as shampoo and deodorant, are on a par with cars when it comes to pollution emitions. Scientists in LA discovered that the most commonly found particles in air pollution can be found in our everyday beauty products. So, how do we keep these atmospheric nasties to a minimum? Pick unscented versions where possible and use the minimum amount to help reduce the impact on air quality.

Something as simple as the shape of a product can make it more environmentally friendly too. Kevin Murphy, founder of his eponymous Australian cruelty-free and sustainable haircare brand explains; “Something as simple as using a square shape has a huge environmental benefit. Tight-packed, boxy bottles use up to 40% less resin than standard round packaging and takes up less shipping space and packing materials”.

Olivia Thorpe, founder of cult beauty oil Vanderohe, also makes her packaging her priority. “I care deeply about our beautiful planet and the future it holds for my children and their children. The damage we’re causing and have caused already is too obvious to ever want – or be able – to turn a blind eye to it. At Vanderohe we follow a strict recycling programme and use only FSC certified paper stocks and, where possible, cotton instead of paper. I avoid plastic labels, opting instead for paper (not easy when selling an oil) and I use glass containers and biodegradable packaging”.
And, initiatives launched by the major beauty players also signal that sustainability doesn’t solely apply to the smaller eco brands. L’Oreal’s Garnier, L’Oreal Paris and Maybelline are setting their sights on reducing our bathroom waste and have teamed up with global recycling firm TerraCycle to allow you to drop off bathroom rubbish at its depots (or post it for free) in exchange for points that can be turned into a donation to a non-profit group; the initial soft launch has already saved 33 million items from landfill.

Be label savvy

Just because a brand is advertised as “natural” doesn’t mean it necessarily is. “Unfortunately you can’t trust labels, since there are no regulations,” explains Jayn Sterland, MD of organic beauty brand Weleda.  “Any product can be labelled as ‘natural’ or ‘eco-friendly’ and a lot of cosmetics are now not designed to think about the planet or people but instead created to fuel a growing industry, so it’s super important to flip over the packaging and read the ingredients”. As a rule, the gentler the ingredients, the gentler the product is on the environment. “If you see a long ingredients list with a lot of chemicals,” says Sterland, “it’s probably not a green product.” Sterland also recommends avoiding all products containing palm oil, which is associated with mass deforestation.

So, where do you begin? The American non-profit Environmental Working Group is a great starting point. Using the EWG’s in-depth cosmetic database you can search up to 80,000 ingredients across make-up, skincare, hair care, fragrance and baby products. Or download the Think Dirty Shop Clean or the Skin Ninja apps, which scan a product barcode to give you easy-to-understand information on any potential nasty ingredients.

Photo credits: Nicole King

Words: Danielle Fox

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