Are Your Beauty Products Hurting the Environment? Pt.1

Arbonne and Burt’s Bees are two of SCHS senior Adriana Rivas’ favorite organic brands.

By: Morgan Creek | Opinion Editor

September 12, 2017

Makeup is a big aspect of my life. While that may seem slightly shallow and materialistic to admit, makeup is honestly more to me than just something I do every morning. To me, makeup and other beauty products are a form of artistic and creative self-expression. In other words, my glittery eyeshadow and pink hair are a pretty accurate representation of both my style and my personality.

But, no matter the reason you wear it, beauty products are an important part of many teens’ lives. Makeup, hair products, cleansers and moisturizers- all of these can be found in high-supply at several high schools, including SCHS. Unfortunately, some of these products are harmful to the environment. Washing off chemically-infused makeup can have a major effect on the environment. While some are contributing to the pollution of Earth’s water sources, others are directly harmful to wildlife and animals. But how do you know which products are hurting the Earth? Here are some things to look out for when buying your next beauty product:

  1. Paraben

Paraben is a chemical preservative used to extend the shelf-life of makeup. While it helps your cosmetics live longer, it can kill bacteria essential to the Earth. When makeup containing paraben is rinsed down the drain and into the ocean, it can harm organisms ranging from microbacteria to large marine mammals. Some scientists believe it contributes to the dying off of coral, and others are more certain that paraben has been bioaccumulating in food chains connected to the ocean, all the way from plankton to bears and dolphins.

  1. Microbeads

Microbeads are found in several body and facial cleansers, and are used for exfoliation. However, many of these beads are made of plastic, one of Earth’s biggest enemies. While plastic can be recycled, these beads are too small to be re-purposed. Instead, they are washed down the drain and because of their micro-size, are often missed in the filtration process at water purification plants. These microbeads then pollute our waterways and sources, adding what adds up to be large amounts of plastic. Female entrepreneur Emily Lyons explains how  “there is actually as much microbead plastic in the gel as there is plastic in the bottle container”, meaning that using these products “can amount to throwing plastic bottles into the ocean”. Researchers estimate that one bottle of micro-bead facial cleanser contains 350,000 beads.

Instead, look for products that include exfoliants that can easily breakdown in the environment, otherwise known as natural exfoliants. St. Ives uses crushed walnut shells and apricot seeds, two items that were made and can decompose naturally in the environment.

  1. Titanium dioxide (TiO2)

TiO2 is found in many skin products, including skin tints, foundations, and facial sunscreens. When it reaches waterways, it harms phytoplankton, the basis of aquatic life. Phytoplankton have the same role in the ocean as plants do on land- they undergo photosynthesis and release oxygen into the ocean as well as our atmosphere. They make up half of global primary production, and are the primary food source for many other types of plankton. A decrease in phytoplankton would lead to less oxygen for both aquatic life and all other forms of life, including humans.

  1. Synthetic Fragrances

It might seem obvious that harsh chemicals in synthetic fragrances could damage the environment, but these likely have a larger impact than one might think. Found in any product whose fragrance is not made from organic materials, the chemicals in synthetic fragrances are often not broken down when they reach wastewater treatment plants. Once they reach our rivers and oceans, they inhibit the immune system of aquatic life. It causes their cell defense mechanism to malfunction, which keeps them from being able to protect themselves from toxic chemicals in the future.

  1. Triclosan

Found in antibacterial products such as cleansers, deodorants, hand-sanitizers, triclosan has a similar effect to that of Titanium dioxide. When it is drained into our water reserves, it acts as an endocrine disruptor, which can cause developmental disorders such as cancerous tumors and birth defects. Scientists have found increasing levels of triclosan in the Great Lakes, which is also deterring the lifespan of aquatic animals. It can even change the biochemistry of fish, amphibians, and aquatic plants.


The list unfortunately doesn’t stop here. Like the majority of the products mentioned above, Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP), BHA and BHT, and Siloxanes can all be harmful to ecosystems should they accumulate in the tissues of aquatic organisms. On top of that, consuming the fish or aquatic plants that have these toxins in their body can cause them to bioaccumulate in humans as well.

Ultimately, the environment can come at the cost of millions of beauty products being sold annually. We must consider how our actions are affecting the Earth that’s providing us with food, water, and various other natural resources, as well as the other organisms that inhabit the planet.

Luckily, there are a few easy steps than can be taken in order to have a more eco-friendly approach to beauty. To start, look out for these chemicals in the labels of the beauty products you are looking to buy. If the labels you’re looking at contain fancy long-lettered ingredients, be careful! Take a quick second to look up what they are and consider whether they could be harmful to the environment OR to you.

Second, try to go for organic products. You can almost always recognize every ingredient listen in the ingredients label. However, beware of products labeled “natural”. The use of this word isn’t heavily regulated, and often times products can brand their products with this word even if they only contain one natural ingredient.

It’s understandable that all makeup gurus aren’t going to immediately discard their vast collection of makeup to go buy only organic products. Going green is a process that can take time and money. But if you take the first few steps to being more eco-friendly with your beauty products, you’ll likely find it’s easier to go organic than you originally thought. There are plenty of organic products out there, and several health and makeup magazines have published their favorite organic products for the public to browse.

Adriana Rivas, a student at SCHS who is doing her part to make the world a little greener, comments on the issue:

“I think that people should try to be environmentally conscious whenever possible when it comes to shopping for beauty products. I know that 100% natural or organic products are not necessarily the cheapest, however, being a little more “green” isn’t as hard as we think. There are little things we can do to be more eco-friendly, such as researching what ingredients and chemicals to avoid in makeup products, and checking if their packaging is recyclable.”

So do a little research and find some exciting new beauty products, because chances are, if they are better for the environment, they are also better for you!




Aragon, Britta. “7 Cosmetic Ingredients That Are Bad for the Environment.” CV Skinlabs. CV Skinabs, 26 May 2016. Web.

Lyons, Emily. “Your Fave Makeup Could Be Harming The Environment.” HuffPost Canada. HuffPost, 30 June 2016. Web.

Wilson, Julee. “17 Organic And Eco-Friendly Beauty Products You Need This Earth Day.” The Huffington Post., 22 Apr. 2014. Web.

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