“Choiceful Presents” is our newly created, monthly series. Every month, we will present you with articles, interviews, and tips on a chosen aspect of a sustainable lifestyle. Food waste, community gardens, natural cosmetics, vintage shops – the list is infinite, just like the changes you can make to lead a greener and a more fulfilled life!
Care for your skin is care for the planet
Natural skincare is crucial for a healthy body yet natural ingredients often have employee abuse in their supply chain. How to find products that are synthetic- and abuse-free?
Do you know which of your organs is the biggest, the most protective, and the most absorbent? Not brain, nor lungs or kidneys (although your first response might be an interesting ground for psychoanalysis): it is your skin.
Taking care of your skin naturally and healthily is no easy task. Many problems stretch from personal health through plastic packaging to slavery in the supply chain. Finding products that do good for your skin without hurting anybody in the process is a meticulous task, mostly due to the extremely loose regulations in the cosmetics industry. The regulations make understanding the ingredients list of your skincare products really hard, which in turn facilitates greenwashing.
We know how hard it is to buy skin care cosmetics that are truly natural and sustainable in both environmental and social terms. In this issue of “Choiceful Presents”, we will explain the health benefits of replacing synthetic substances with natural ones, outline the main problems within the supply chain, and share our homemade recipes and favourite, tested brands.
Real costs of cheap products
You will soon find out that the cosmetic brands we support are more expensive than most of the products you can buy in a regular drugstore. Yet it is important to highlight that these products are no luxury ones. They usually last longer – for example, a shampoo bar lasts a few months because it, in contrast to “regular” shampoos, does not contain water (in regular shampoos water is up to 80% of overall volume). Besides, the true cost of “cheap” products is enormous.
Regular skincare products owe their cheap price to low or no regulations. Such legislation allows corporations to skip the costs of environmental clean-up, the costs of decent wages or healthcare benefits for workers, or the long-term health costs of putting synthetic chemicals into their products. These “sunk costs” are minimal for truly natural products.
We pay the price for cheap products with our planet and our health. By paying more for truly sustainable skincare cosmetics, we reduce future negative consequences for ourselves but also – although not directly and not immediately – for children that work in mines, for low-wage labourers, for rainforests, soils, and oceans.
We have voting power as consumers. By buying better quality products, we vote for protection and compassion.
For you: love your skin
The biggest organ with multiple functions, the skin protects the body and regulates its temperature. Because of the skin’s great absorptive abilities, every substance that touches it affects the whole body. The impact is often minuscule, which makes it easy to overlook. It may be hard to attribute disrupted metabolism, sleep cycle, sexual functions, or even mood, to your skincare but the widely used synthetic chemicals are often the culprits.
The cosmetic industry uses synthetic chemicals widely because they are often cheaper and more efficient than natural chemicals, but synthetic substitutes have far-reaching health consequences. Many of them disrupt the body’s hormonal balance. The cells that make up our bodies are not familiar with the artificial substances which end up being stored in fatty tissues, including the brain tissue. Long-term storage of synthetic particles in tissues damages cells. The bigger the cell damage, the higher the chance for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or cancer. The damaging process takes place over years – which is why the damage only shows after years of exposure.
Besides the impact of synthetic chemicals on individuals’ health, the synthetic substances also affect the environment. Everything in nature is interconnected, so the chemicals that penetrate the soil will make their way to plants and further to animals that eat it, spreading toxic effects across biospheres. Synthetic by-products often often end up discharged to water straight from a chemical plant which contaminates communal water sources.
The sooner you switch to natural cosmetics, the better for your overall health. In future articles, we will take you on a label-lurking adventure to explain which substances to avoid and how to recognize greenwashing. We will also share tips and recipes on homemade skin care treatments you can apply in your house.
Remember that, as with everything we advocate for, the most sustainable product is the one you already have! You should not be throwing your supplies away just because you realized they contain unhealthy substances. Long-term usage is the most detrimental so it will not make much harm to use up what you already opened. Try asking your friends whether they would like to adopt your cosmetics. If you have the chance, donate unopened products. By simply throwing products away you are producing more unnecessary waste.
For others: work safely, live with dignity
In a world where profit is the most important aspect of business-making, negative disruption always follows positive change. The biggest cosmetic corporations make unimaginable revenues on reducing production costs in one way or another. This sad reality did not spare the freshly booming market of cosmetics made of natural ingredients.
Imagine you lived in a remote area in, for example, India. Your views would be beautiful – imagine you were living in a protected forest – yet you would be experiencing acute poverty to the point of hunger due to severe unemployment in the region. Then somebody would come to you and tell you that you and your children could come and work in a mica mine. Would you say no?
Mica is a natural element that gives sparkles to bronzers, blushes, foundations, or lipsticks. Around 10% of the world’s retracted mica goes to the cosmetics industry – other uses include car paints. India is one of the world’s biggest producers of the mineral. The problem of child and unsafe labour in Indian “ghost” mica mines is enormous and difficult to tackle. The mines are often located in protected forests so their very existence is illegal – they are not registered, there is nobody to control the working conditions, so it is up to the employers to ensure safety.
Employee safety increases costs without contributing to revenue. There will always be more people to replace those that had an accident. Brutal? Very much so.
Children and adults are dying from “ghost” mica mines crumbling and collapsing every month. The deaths usually go unreported, with minimal compensation offered to the families. Nobody speaks up about the situation because people depend on the mines to survive, so they will not denounce even the worst working conditions.
Boycotting mica is not the way – it will only add to the poverty of the workers. Informed consumers need to press the corporations to protect the employees through working regulations. The mica buyers must be aware of where the mineral comes from but will not act upon it until a backlash arises. It is the role of the consumers to make the corporations care.
Acute poverty pushes people to accept work no matter how terrible the conditions – the statement holds not only for the retraction of mica. Cocoa, shea butter, vanilla, copper, silk, carnauba and carnellia wax, all these “sustainable”, “healthy” products may involve violations of workers’ rights. Their primary countries of origin: Ghana, Ivory Coast, Brazil, or Mexico, have a large population of the extremely poor. Women and children work on the plantations underpaid and abused, yet not having this job would cast a shadow of hunger on their existence.
“Buycotting” these ingredients is not an option. Us consumers need to constantly press for fair employment for the world’s vulnerable. The first step is to stay informed and to choose brands that can be trusted in protecting their employees. The change is hard to achieve given that some of the mines or plantations are off the record, yet it is possible.
For the planet: reduce deforestation and plastic packaging
Many of the non-synthetic ingredients are grown on deforested land with the use of pesticides. The crop deemed particularly devilish for these practices is palm oil which makes it a great case study. In reality, the devil is not palm oil but our overdependence on a single product.
Forest is being cut down for [insert anything] crops. Synthetic pollutants – fertilizers and pesticides – are used to enhance [insert anything] crops. And yes, workers’ rights are abused on [insert anything] plantations.
Palm trees have high yields so the crops are highly effective. Their oil is hypoallergenic so anybody can use it, which leads to overusing. Palm oil is everywhere: chocolate bars, beauty products, even biofuel. The truth is, if we grow too dependent on any product, it becomes harmful.
The solution to the problem of deforestation and pesticides is to diversify the crops. To achieve this, we need to reduce demand for omnipresent products, such as palm oil, in the first place. If consumers require less of a product and the remaining stock is further reduced by switching partly to other products (domestic oils, in case of palm oil), the need to deforest and pollute drops. Buying organic matters, too, yet it remains a challenge due to the massive greenwashing of the “organic” labels. We will touch upon the “organic” trademark in the future articles.
Plastic packaging revolutionised the cosmetic industry. Today, almost any mainstream product is packed in single-use plastic, adding enormously to the global plastic waste. Some companies try to reduce their environmental impact by switching to reusable, refillable, or compostable packaging. The change is slow and more and more small cosmetic enterprises come up with solutions to avoid plastic, such as soaps and shampoos in bars or metal containers.
It often happens that companies that do not use plastic packaging also promote natural ingredients and fair employment. We generally support smaller companies, although it is best to do an extensive research with every brand before sticking to it. Yet, most of the time, we can say that small enterprises do their awareness homework – and many aspects of fighting for fairer skin care are interconnected.
The rule of thumb in buying non-synthetic products is the fewer ingredients, the better. You need to trust our word for now – we will explain this rule in the future. Apart from health benefits, fewer ingredients allow for researching the origin and screening for the potential employee or environment abuses.
Social enterprises – companies where values are equally important to profit-making – usually keep their business integrity in check, meaning that their actions correspond to their values. The enterprises can control their supply chain better so it is easier to know where their products come from and ensure decent wages for the employees and no harm for the environment.
A more Choiceful world
It takes time and effort to understand the mechanisms behind the cosmetic industry. The reward is a conscious contribution to a planet where people and nature enjoy being respected. Each of us started a green skincare transition some time ago. Our discoveries vary because our skin types do, too – we hope that thanks to this variety our Issue 2 will be comprehensive and complete.
Join us on the journey to disentangle etiquettes, harvest some fresh aloe vera, and support those that, just like us, opt for a fairer, more empathetic world.
Sources & additional resources
Dr Joy Reese and Sophie Jaffe prepared a great course on the importance of natural cosmetics on our health: https://www.onecommune.com/clean-beauty-with-dr-joy-reese-and-sophie-jaffe
You can learn more about workers’ conditions from Reuters, the Guardian, and Racked: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-india-mica-children/blood-mica-deaths-of-child-workers-in-indias-mica-ghost-mines-covered-up-to-keep-industry-alive-idUSKCN10D2NA
A German online magazine Utopia helps to understand the complexities of organic palm oil: https://utopia.de/ratgeber/bio-palmoel/
National Geographic praised the coming change in plastic packaging: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/04/beauty-personal-care-industry-plastic/
The remarks on social enterprises come from Choiceful ladies’ long history of researching the best cosmetics that are fair and natural.
Ethical Consumer Magazine, as the name suggests, has it all: https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/ethical-consumer-magazine