Not with envy or sickness. Rather, through my excessive free time and chilly temperatures, I’ve been doing lots of research. Not on papers I need to write (note to self), but on an area I’m surprised I didn’t think about earlier: green beauty.
I mentioned in an earlier post that I wanted to only buy cruelty-free cosmetic products just because animals should not subject their lives to how I look. But in that decision, I neglected to focus on what these products actually are.
When we see raving reviews of makeup and skincare online, we walk into Sephora and its aisles of products, we swatch out different colors and shades, we don’t necessarily go to an ingredients list. I honestly forgot beauty products had those. And boy, once you realize what those ingredients are, you might step back.
Within seconds of putting something on our skin, the largest organ in the human body, the skin absorbs over 60% of that product, whatever it may be. Cosmetics fall under FDA guidelines, but the FDA is very flexible and too liberal with its regulations. The standards established for cosmetics hasn’t been updated in over 70 years. These standards restrict off about a handful of substances. Compared to Europe’s standards that ban THOUSANDS of materials, I might think twice about what I’m using every day.
Now you might remind me that hey, lots of brands are becoming more natural! They specifically say they do not contain those parabens and carcinogens! The first two big names I think of are Tarte and Josie Maran, two brands I’ve personally gravitated to for these very same reasons. When you put products in bamboo packaging and call it vegan and natural and cruelty-free, I’m sold.
In lies the term “green washing.” Brands see that more people are interested in buying “natural” products (Tarte has seen one of the biggest growths in a very short amount of time for this reason), and switch up their formulas a little bit, stick a green label and add a leaf to the packaging, and bam, natural. Again, regulations are loose when it comes to how brands choose to market their products and label it “natural.” This is, after all, a capitalist society. What sells, people produce, as quickly and as many as possible.
You might be surprised to find out Tarte products are very similar to any other brand. They are no better for the environment or your skin. They still contain filler ingredients and chemicals that don’t offer many benefits. In fact, their cheek tints (one of which I myself own) contain carmine. What is carmine, you ask? It’s a dye created from boiling beetles and taking the resulting pigment. That’s a hard pass from me.
Another note on brands like Tarte: they are increasingly being bought up by bigger companies looking to expand their profits. These bigger companies are virtually never completely cruelty-free, especially if they want a market in China, where animal testing is a requirement. So if you’re antsy enough to think of buying a product knowing at least some portion of that sale goes to a bigger industry exploiting animals, I would suggest a change.
From a sustainability aspect, conventional beauty products are still no dice. If you’re not a fan of synthetic materials and chemicals, neither is the environment. Rarely do we actually use up products completely until we are tired of them or they expire. Where do the leftovers go? Landfills. Water supplies. The soil. The number of places we find chemicals from cosmetics is alarming. Especially if these chemicals ever touch water, whatever wildlife nearby who live and drink it are at risk for severe health problems. And, of course, unless the packaging is conscious of recycling, products come in plastic, so they’ll be around for a long time.
Now if bigger brands decide to actually use more natural products, that means things are better, right? Not necessarily. Depending on how they source ingredients, brands might use unethical means of obtaining their materials, whether that be deforestation, pesticides, soil depletion, and whatever methods can get the job done quickly. Again, I can criticize capitalism for such a mentality.
Okay, so where do we go from here? We go to smaller, independent companies who are TRULY natural, vegan and cruelty-free. The products aren’t on drugstore shelves, but they make products in small batches to ensure the process is done well and ethically. Buying from smaller businesses even helps the economy when profits go directly back to the people.
Obviously, if you have a full makeup bag of products (and realize this process should also be taken with haircare, skincare, toothpaste, deodorant, cleaning products, perfumes, any soap, perfumes, the whole lot), don’t go throw everything out at once and buy everything at once. That certainly isn’t helping anybody. But make the changes gradually. Once you use something up, consciously choose better options. Learn how to read ingredient labels, just like nutrition facts, to know what to avoid. These products might not be ingested directly, but they absorbed by your skin, linger in the air, and are exposed to the surrounding environment.
Being conscious and sustainable isn’t just about the straightforward, easy changes in life like turning off the lights and taking shorter showers. It means we have to look at every single aspect of our lives and realizing its implications. And while the process might be slow, it’s one I hope you take with me.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie