Beauty and the Environment

So, unlike milkshakes, this post will probably make all the boys leave the yard (boom TISH!)

Bad jokes aside, I’ve been intending to do a post about the environment and skin care for some time now.  I’m actually quite interested in how the way we treat our skin affects both our health and the environment.

When it comes down to it, I’m a bit of a hippie about what I put on my skin and I avoid petroleum based products as much as possible.  While the evidence that some of the chemicals in cosmetics  can cause cancers and have endocrine-disrupting and neurotoxic properties, isn’t really conclusive at this stage (although some are clearly more dangerous than others), I simply prefer to err on the side of caution.  We are exposed to so many nasty cocktails of chemicals every day anyway (think air fresheners, car exhaust fumes,  office cleaning products etc) that it can’t hurt to reduce exposure where possible.  That said, ‘natural’ doesn’t always equate to ‘safe’ either – certain undiluted essential oils, for example, are not recommended during pregnancy and can cause skin irritations for some people.

With that said though, while the decision to avoid certain chemicals found in cosmetics is largely influenced by health considerations, for me it’s also become heavily influenced by the environmental impacts of using some products.  When you think about it, whenever we wash our hair, our hands, our faces, the products we use eventually end up in the oceans, where they can be toxic to marine animals and the marine environment in general.  Some chemicals, such as triclosan, are particularly notable as they can combine with other chemicals to form dioxins, which bioaccumulate in marine animals.  Pthalates are listed as a Priority and Toxic Pollutant under the US Clean Water Act  (and they are in skin care products!  I imagine the quantities vary wildly, but it’s still a little concerning).  Siloxanes are persistent pollutants and can be toxic to the aquatic environment.  And ‘Environment Canada has categorized several synthetic musks [fragrances] as persistent, bioaccumulative and/or toxic’ (Suzuki 2010).

So, considering all of the above, what do I actually use?  As most of you who know me well in real life would be aware, I’m hardly a beauty guru.  But I do try to take care of myself and I do aim to look, y’know, presentable.  I’m also kind of obsessive about checking which companies conduct animal testing – and then avoiding them like the plague. If anyone is interested, I use the following products.  They’re not all perfect, but are based on price/ availability and so on, as well as their environmental and health cred.

  • Moisturiser: During the winter, Avalon Organics Lavender Moisturiser.  Smells lovely!
  • Cleanser: Recently started using extra virgin coconut oil.  Also smells fantastic and leaves a light moisturising residue.

Gratuitous picture of a coconut from

  • Exfoliant: Sukin Skincare Facial Exfoliant (I also use the identical body scrub sometimes).  Cheap as chips and very good for the price.
  • Lips: MooGoo Cow Lick lip balm.  Love this stuff!
  • Shampoos: My favourite is the Avalon Organics Strengthening Peppermint, but it’s been out of stock in a few places lately.  Sukin is also very good.
  • Soaps: For hand soap, Organic Care.  It’s a bit faux-organic and sold at the supermarket, but it’s not too pricey and it’s also free of triclosan (which is in SO MUCH SOAP), pthalates and synthetic fragrances, as well as being accredited cruelty free.
  • Sunscreen: I don’t win hippie-points for my sunscreen usage.  I’m fluorescently white and can get burnt inside 10 minutes on a warm, sunny day.  I also freckle exactly how you imagine the child of several generations of redheaded people would.  During the summer time, I use SunSense SPF 30+ facial moisturiser every day, and I have Cancer Council Sensitive Sunscreen SPF 30+ for anything more than incidental exposure.  If someone can recommend a good-quality, very protective sunscreen that is largely ‘natural’, it would be appreciated.

 For further reading/ my resource list for this post:

The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database provides a wealth of information.  My only problem is that it’s US based and doesn’t include many of the products we have in Australia.  See:

The US EPA has a great page on Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Products and Pollutants:  They also have comprehensive info on formaldehyde (not just related to that found in cosmetics like nail polishes):

David Suzuki’s list of The Dirty Dozen (2010) is a good, comprehensive starting point for what to avoid:

Environment Canada has a good page on Siloxanes:


3 thoughts on “Beauty and the Environment

  1. Helleh :) this is a topic very close to my hippie heart!
    As for sunscreens, go for something with a high content of (non-nanoparticle) zinc oxide. (My internal jury is still out on titanium dioxide. Some people say it’s fine, some don’t, I personally prefer to minimise my exposure to it, but from what I’ve read it’s mostly just important to not inhale the loose particles.) Generally though, physical/mineral barrier is going to be safer, because more and more research is coming out that when chemical sunscreen ingredients are exposed to UV rays they can cause DNA damage and put you at higher risk of melanoma.
    BUT there is evidence that zinc oxide can be a marine pollutant, so whilst it might be a healthier option for people, not so much for fish. (That said, I couldn’t imagine oxybenzone is much better, in fact I think I’ve read things about it transexualising fish…?)
    Good zinc-y sunscreens? Well, I have done a lot of research, but all the ones that sound good are way out of my budget. (Though I have tried Soleo and it was way too oily for me to handle.) There is the Natural Instincts sunscreen (zinc and titanium from memory) which feels okay, but honestly that company are kind of arseholes. (Investigated and charged by the ACCC for making inaccurate claims and incorrect labelling for their products and they use a formaldehyde producing preservative in their sunscreen which they said they will be changing soon, but I don’t trust them.)
    I have actually ordered zinc oxide powder from ebay and mixed it with moisturiser to make sunscreen, but of course then you need to be very particular to get anything near an accurate SPF rating. Also, zinc makes you look like a ghost, which is crap. Invisible Zinc might be okay, but I haven’t really read up on them tbh.
    I use jojoba oil for moisturiser and sometimes Caroline’s Cream too. I like Avalon Organics range aswell, mmm that peppermint shampoo is yummy! I make my own cleanser (told you I’m a hippie) and use MiEssence deodorant because it actually works.
    Holy crap I’m a nerd. Hehee.

    • Helleh Laura! Thanks for stopping by :)

      Some good suggestions there that I’ll need to look at, especially the MiEssence deodorant. I don’t find many natural ones that hold up too well, especially in the Aus summer. I’m still stuck on Rexona and Nivea at this stage :(

      Re. sunscreen – I tried Invisible Zinc and HATED it. It was chalky to apply and always left my face with this weirdly damp film on it afterwards. Did. Not. Like. Go you, creating your own susncreen though! Nice work :)

  2. You may be surprised to hear that despite my Y chromosome, I read the entire post :)
    I actually taught a small unit on cosmetics and their health impacts to my students (grades 7 to 9) last year. I got them to bring three products from home (make-up, deodorant, shampoo, etc.), list their ingredients and do some research. We used the “Skin Deep” web site you listed above and I got the David Suzuki Foundation to send me copies of the wallet-sized document with the “Dirty Dozen”.

    The students were very surprised at how dangerous some of their products were!

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