How Does Your Makeup Affect the Environment?
These days, it seems that every little thing we do has an effect on the environment. The cars we drive, the fashion we wear, the food we eat.
So it might be with a heavy heart that you learn that makeup, too, can have pretty big impacts on the planet. “But how much harm can my eyeshadow really cause?” you might be asking. The truth is: potentially a lot.
But the growing awareness of the impacts of our lifestyle choices continues to push companies and consumers to do better. You can become a part of this important ethical trend by understanding exactly how your makeup affects the environment and learning how and where to purchase makeup that is kinder to the Earth (Kinder Beauty can certainly help with this!).
Animal ingredients in makeup
If it comes as a surprise to you that there are animal ingredients in makeup, well, we've got some bad news for you: there are even more animal ingredients in cosmetics than we list below. Beyond being obviously cruel to the animals themselves, animal-derived ingredients in makeup wind up causing a lot of environmental harm.
While most of the animal ingredients below are byproducts from industrial farming—meaning these ingredients are essentially leftover from the creation of other products, such as clothing or food—companies that purchase byproducts wind up supporting the industries that create them. And in the case of animal agriculture, this is bad news for the environment: animal agriculture emits huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, pollutes the air, water, and land, drives deforestation, and causes a lot of human health impacts as well.
Let’s look at the environmental impacts of some common animal ingredients in makeup.
Lanolin is a type of grease secreted from sheep’s skin that is designed to protect their wool from damage. This grease is collected as a byproduct during the cleaning and processing of wool before it is turned into fabric. Lanolin is widely used in cosmetics since it helps to moisturize skin.
The thought of putting sheep grease onto your skin is gross enough, right? But wait, it gets grosser! Like other ruminants (meaning grass-eating mammals), sheep produce a whole lotta methane when they poop. This greenhouse gas is even more potent than carbon dioxide, and both are responsible for driving global warming. A single sheep can produce around 30 liters of methane every single day, so you can just imagine how much methane is associated with the entire wool industry.
Wool production is also very resource-intensive, requiring tons of fresh water for sheep to drink, land for them to roam (even though they don’t get to roam very far compared with wild, free-living sheep), and loads of toxic chemicals used to process wool as it is turned into clothing.
Creating different colors for cosmetics is clearly a huge part of makeup, with black pigment being especially popular. The classic cat-eye, winged eyeliner, striking lashes—each of these looks would be nothing without black. But black pigment can come at a big cost to the environment when it is derived from burnt animal bones—known as bone char.
There is a big market for burnt animal bones. Bone char is usually made with the bones of cattle and pigs who have endured the horrors of factory farming, and who have been turned into bacon, steak, and other foods that remain popular (despite the fact that there are so many yummy vegan alternatives to try out!).
Beyond cruelty to animals and the pollution generated in their rearing, the process of making bone char is also damaging to the environment. The bones must be heated to very high temperatures, something that requires an enormous amount of energy and produces tons of planet-threatening emissions.
Though non-animal sources of squalene are becoming increasingly popular, animal-derived versions of the compound are damaging to the environment.
Squalene was originally obtained from the livers of marine animals—notably certain species of deep-sea shark species including the gulper shark (Centrophorus granulosus). These animals have been intentionally targeted by the industrial fishing industry to supply the burgeoning demand for squalene, largely for use in cosmetics.
Industrial fishing practices are damaging to the environment, requiring large amounts of fuel for ships and causing habitat degradation due to unsustainable fishing practices. At one point, these sharks were fished so intensively that in certain areas their populations became depleted, affecting the biodiversity of their ecosystems.
It is difficult, and often impossible, to tell whether your cosmetics contain animal-derived squalene—unless, of course, you’re using vegan products! All of the products in our boxes and marketplace are 100% vegan.
Hyaluronic acid, the oh-so-popular hydrating ingredient found in so many makeup and skincare products, has a sordid past and present. Originally derived from rooster combs—the red floppy bit on top of a chicken’s head—this compound is sourced as a byproduct of the chicken industry. And even though (thankfully) vegan alternatives are being developed and used, some animal-derived hyaluronic acid is still circulating in supply chains.
What’s so wrong with the chicken industry, you ask? Besides being extremely cruel to the chickens themselves, with thousands of birds forced to live in highly unnatural and uncomfortable conditions, the chicken industry is responsible for a good amount of environmental damage.
From farms generating air and water pollution to the environmental cost of growing and shipping chicken feed to factory farms the world over, this industry is one that desperately needs to clean up its act. The best way you can help is to nom on Beyond Meat chicken nuggets instead of those from real birds, and always purchase vegan products.
Environmental impact of animal testing
Every single year, between 115.3 million to 126.9 million animals are estimated to be raised around the world in order to become research subjects for biomedical laboratories, food, drug, and cosmetic testing, and other industrial uses. The US has the dubious honor of experimenting on the most research animals out of any country in the world.
Not only is this excessively cruel to the animals who are forced to endure these largely unnecessary experiments, but the environmental impacts of the animal research industry are nothing short of staggering.
Much like the industrial farming sector, which raises huge numbers of animals in tight confines, the laboratory animal industry too breeds millions upon millions of animals every year, each of whom requires food, water, shelter, medicines, and other resources in order to survive until the point that they are euthanized by people or perish due to the conditions or experiments they’re exposed to.
What distinguishes factory farming from laboratory farming is the fact that the bodies of dead and killed animals are not consumed by people—instead, these bodies are simply disposed of, and are often considered toxic waste due to the volume of chemicals or other poisonous elements the animals were exposed to.
At Kinder Beauty, we go to great pains to ensure that every brand we work with has adopted a stringent cruelty-free policy, meaning that all of the vegan products you will find in our marketplace and in our monthly boxes are cruelty-free and do not support the horrific and environmentally-degrading practice of animal testing.
Toxic ingredients in makeup
Kinder Beauty is not only vegan and cruelty-free, but we also prioritize clean beauty, since we know how much damage chemicals commonly found in cosmetics can do to your body.
But these “dirty” ingredients also cause their fair share of damage to the environment in ways you might find surprising.
Sodium laureth sulfate can be used in cosmetics that foam up, such as cleansers and shampoos. This chemical can often be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, both of which are possible causes of health issues in humans including cancer and problems with nervous system development.
1,4-dioxane is also a persistent chemical, meaning it doesn’t easily break down; so when these compounds are washed down the drain, they remain in the environment and continue to harm humans and other animals.
Microplastics are tiny particles of plastic that are created in a number of ways, for example when plastic pollution breaks down in the oceans. Sometimes, however, microplastics can be intentionally created and added to cosmetic products, such as face and body wash, for their ability to exfoliate skin. These are known as microbeads.
Even though they’re small, microbeads can have a big impact on the environment. By one estimate, around 10,000 microbeads of plastic can be released during a single shower. And because they go down the drain, they wind up entering the ocean.
Like all plastics, microbeads are not biodegradable—meaning they will hang around in the environment for generations to come. What’s worse is that marine animals, like fish and crustaceans, wind up mistaking microbeads for food, which can then clog their digestive systems and cause long, painful deaths.
Fortunately, the US and the UK have banned using microbeads in cosmetics—which makes sense especially considering how many all-natural and highly effective physical exfoliant alternatives there are these days, like this walnut scrub by Ole Henriksen.
Triclosan might be great when it comes to combatting bacteria in makeup products, but it is no good at all when it comes to human or environmental health.
This pesticide is found in a wide range of cosmetics, from soaps, shampoos, lotions, deodorants, and much more. Triclosan gets washed down the drain and enters the environment because—unfortunately—municipal water treatment plants cannot remove it from waste water.
Studies have found triclosan contaminating the bodies of people young and old, as well as streams, lakes, and waterways across the country. Over time, this persistent chemical breaks down into cancer-causing compounds that can affect all living things.
Besides causing hormone disruption and fertility issues in humans, parabens have also been linked to ecological harm. Studies have shown that certain types of parabens can kill coral and can accumulate in the bodies of fish.
Our world is filled with gorgeous, naturally-occurring scents, from a blossoming hibiscus flower to an earthy vanilla pod. But all too often, the products we know and love are manufactured to smell good using harmful chemicals that damage human and environmental health.
Artificial fragrances can be made out of toxins that can cause allergic reactions, hormone disruption, and can hang around in the body to potentially cause trouble later on. Making matters worse is the fact that these chemicals are dangerous to manufacture, generating pollution that can contaminate the air, water, and land.
Fortunately, there are tons of products to chose from that come with natural fragrances or that are totally fragrance-free.
Protecting your skin from the sun is super important, especially when you’re getting ready for a fun day on the beach since we all know too much sun exposure can result in premature aging and other, more serious problems.
But it’s crucial to select a sunscreen that is going to protect you and the environment.
Oxybenzone is an ingredient commonly found in sunscreens that can cause serious damage to the marine environment you’ll be swimming in to cool off from all that sunbathing. This chemical has been shown to contribute to coral bleaching, causing the death of coral reefs and all the marine life that depends upon corals for survival.
We know this might feel like a ton of bad news. But here’s the silver lining: you can make a serious difference by being a mindful consumer and carefully selecting products that are good for you, the animals, and the environment.
Luckily, Kinder Beauty takes care of this for you. By signing up for our monthly boxes, you’ll discover a huge range of products that are clean, vegan, and cruelty-free, and you’ll get to know the brands that are putting in the work to make the world a better place.
Please note: A product appearing in our blog is not an official Kinder Beauty endorsement. While every product we feature in an article is cruelty-free and vegan, these products do not necessarily meet all of our strict brand standards for curation in one of our boxes.