We are living in 2019, and the impending environmental crisis has transformed from mildly worded warnings in school textbooks to a literal ominous haze of smoke and debris looming over the burning Amazon rainforest. After factoring in the knowledge that the Amazon supplies 25 per cent of the plants utilised in modern skincare, the need for sustainable practices at every step of the daily consumption cycle has become a necessity, rather than a cautionary caveat. Beyond recycling your tubes and pots, it pays to extend the vigilance to the chemicals occupying real estate in your vanity case. From reef-damaging microbeads to bio-accumulating silicones, these chemicals come together to whip up a synthetic cocktail that is draining the life out of our fragile ecosystems. Here are the ones you’ll want to keep out of your skincare shelf, and the marine ecosystem.
There’s nothing quite like an invigorating scrub to kick out the grime lurking in your pores after a long day. However, the microbeads commonly found in your go-to exfoliant may not have the environment’s best interests at heart. By virtue of being insoluble in water, these beads are rendered non-degradable. When washed down the drain, they can potentially find their way into rivers and lakes, and exert a consequent toll on marine life. Also found in toothpastes, sunscreens, shower gels and deodorants, the miniature size of these beads—usually no bigger than five millimetres—means that they escape the clutches of traditional waste water treatment systems. Once microplastics find their way to the ocean, they become virtually impossible to remove and are often absorbed or ingested by the resident marine animals.
What you could use instead: Microbeads were developed by the skincare industry as a gentler exfoliant that didn’t cause micro-abrasions in the skin, like products containing walnut or apricot shells did. With growing awareness about the microplastics found in rinse-off products, a host of natural alternatives are taking centre stage. Whole oats, jojoba beads, ground coffee and sea salt scrubs offer an eco-friendly solution to your exfoliating needs—look to the St Ives Nourish and Smooth Oatmeal Scrub or the Herbivore Coco Rose Body Polish Scrub to show dead skin cells the door.
Climate change isn’t the only threat to fragile coral reefs. Marine ecosystems all over the world have found a noteworthy nemesis in the chemicals present in everyday sunscreen—oxybenzone and octinoxate. Commonly found in chemical sunscreens, as well as soaps and body fragrances, these compounds are directly introduced to waterbodies when swimmers enter them, or from sewage pipes. The implications for the coral reefs are concerning—from impairing the growth of green algae to causing deformities in baby coral and reducing fertility in fish, these are harmful in every way.
What you could use instead: After thoroughly scanning the ingredient list of all the tubes in your sunscreen drawer, make the switch to mineral-based alternatives. These numbers form a physical barrier on the skin and deflect the sun, instead of relying on chemical reactions to neutralise the harmful effects of UV rays. Choose from mineral-based sunscreens like the Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Physical Daily Defense SPF 30 or the Supergoop! Smooth + Poreless Mineral Matte SPF 40, which include zinc oxide as the active ingredient.
This common antifungal agent in skincare creams is killing more than just bacteria—studies have proven that the accumulation of triclosan in waterbodies could prove lethal to algae, crustaceans and other fish. Originally used in hospital cleansers, the growing popularity of this antibacterial agent meant that it was since deployed in toothpastes, deodorants, facial cleansers and shampoos. When washed away in the shower, these agents find their way to water supplies, where they bode serious consequences for marine life.
What you could use instead: The irony of introducing more bacteria to the environment by antimicrobial ingredients isn’t lost on anyone, but the pay-off for making the switch to natural ingredients comes with lesser harmful accumulation in the water supply. Swap your body lotion with DIY options like shea butter, cocoa or honey to do your bit towards offering the environment some respite.
Also known as siloxane, this synthetic chemical comes with a host of benefits for the skin such as a silky smooth visage and sweat-resistant hydration. The good news, however, doesn’t extend to the environment. The potential of bioaccumulation in aquatic organisms is further compounded when these smaller life forms are consumed by other marine animals. Beyond the dangers of ingestion by marine life, this chemical can also prove fatal for plants that are exposed to contaminated water.
What you could use instead: The ubiquitous nature of silicones in your everyday beauty routine—think moisturisers, serums, facial oils, foundations and sunscreens—can make rooting it out a task. The next time you’re shopping, opt for silicone-free alternatives, like the Too Faced Hangover Replenishing Face Primer and Milk Makeup Blur Liquid Matte Foundation.
The no-paraben movement has taken the skincare industry by storm, but beyond serving as the marketing buzzword du jour, the boycott acknowledges the harmful effects of the parabens sitting innocuously in everyday skincare products. Originally developed in the 1920s, parabens are artificial preservatives that dissuade the growth of bacteria and thereby, increase the shelf life of products. However, recent studies have shed light on its potential to interfere with the human body. Beyond disrupting hormonal functions in women, studies have proven that parabens have taken up residence in the bodies of marine mammals, where they can harm fertility and reproduction.
What you could use instead: Often wrapped up in scientific jargon and complicated names, trying to rid your vanity case of parabens isn’t quite as easy as scanning the label for clues. Specific tags that say ‘paraben-free’ on the product packaging are a step in the right direction, but many organic products often contain other harmful ingredients instead. It helps to read the fine print closely and ensure that the products you’re picking are devoid of any synthetic colours, scents and preservatives as well.