Green Makeup

By Kristen Castillo

April 15, 2015 5 min read

Before you apply your favorite eye shadow or swipe your lips with that new gloss, do you know how green the contents of your makeup bag are? We're not talking green-colored shadow, either. That's because while many beauty and makeup products may look pretty, they can be pretty bad for your body and the environment.

According to the Environmental Working Group, people apply an average of 126 ingredients to their skin every day. Imagine all those chemicals and then wonder how they interact in and on your body.

The EWC says one of every eight of the 82,000 ingredients used in beauty products contains harsh materials including pesticides, carcinogens, plastics, degreasers and reproductive toxins.

*Sustainable Companies

Despite these statistics, many companies are conscious about their brand and the environment as well. Every year at the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit, beauty insiders get together to discuss sustainability issues in the beauty industry.

The summit, organized by London-based Organic Monitor, a company that focuses on the global organic and related product industries, honors companies for their sustainable practices.

There isn't a set description of a sustainable company, but there are some hallmarks of a green beauty business.

"We consider a beauty company to be sustainable if it is meeting the needs of the present without comprising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs," says Janina Wolfert, the marketing events assistant for Organic Monitor. "In the beauty industry, most companies are focusing on green formulations, resource usage and packaging when considering sustainability."

The 2014 Sustainable Beauty Awards featured brands from all over the world. Aveda took the top prize for sustainability leadership for its sustainable projects like using raw materials, renewable energy and waste management. Whole Foods Market took the next sustainability leadership honors for "green initiatives and body care standards." Other finalists included Jurlique International and Yves Rocher.

"One thing that really sets us apart in the beauty industry is our standards," said Maren Giuliano, executive global whole body coordinator for Whole Foods, in a press release. "Our shoppers know and trust us because we have baseline standards that prohibit 50 ingredients in the products we sell, along with our top-tier standards, called Premium Body Care."

The company launched its premium standards in 2008 with 400 certified products. Now, Giuliano says, they have more than 4,000 such products.

Other companies honored at the Summit include: Abache Organics; Zk'in by Pure & Green Organics; Erbaviva; Less is More (Lim Cosmetics); Organic Essence and Surya Brasil.

*Striving for Sustainability?

There isn't any one thing that consumers should look for when researching a sustainable beauty company.

"Some companies, like Weleda and Burt's Bees, have green/sustainability built into their corporate ethos. These companies are based on green/sustainable values," says Wolfert. "On the other hand, large companies such as L'Oreal and Unilever can have a greater impact when taking green actions because of the sheer size of their business. For instance, by switching to RSPO (sustainable palm oil), Unilever can make a greater difference to deforestation then all natural and organic cosmetic companies because of the large volumes they buy."

*Be Label-Conscious

With so many different brands and products to choose from, consumers need to do their research before buying beauty products.

The first thing to do: read the label. The David Suzuki Foundation, a Canadian group that works with government, business and individuals on environmental conservation, has a "Dirty Dozen" list on their website advising consumers which ingredients to avoid. For example, sodium laureth sulfate, often used to create foam in shampoos and cleansers, may contain 1,4-dioxane, which may cause cancer.

Other examples include BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), which are synthetic antioxidants used as preservatives in lipsticks and moisturizers. Suzuki says using products with either chemical can cause allergic reactions, as well as other health concerns for the kidneys and thyroid.

Not sure what's in your beauty product? Get EWC's free Skin Deep app so you can scan the product's barcode to check out what it's made of and see what all those ingredients mean.

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