Your knowledge of plastic and its environmental issues is probably reasonably good by now. They hype around plastic pollution has been big, and even people who have never stopped to think about the effects of their consumption on the environment are getting into reusable water bottles and avoiding supermarket carrier bags.
But our plastic problem runs deeper than just those very obvious uses. This month we’re highlighting the issue in our industry: skincare and beauty.
You heard the stories about microbeads and the incredible achievement of having them banned, but skincare and beauty brands are still using plastic in beauty and it’s not just the packaging. A study last year done by the Plastic Soup Foundation that many large multinational brands are still using microplastics in their beauty products. Microplastics are smaller than microbeads so often go undetected, but following this, the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) found that not only are microplastics included, but there are over 50 different types of microplastic in the products!
First up, haircare. You know that divine feeling of super silky, smooth hair after a good wash? How does it feel this way? Most shampoos and conditioners achieve this by including silicone in their formulations. During washing, silicone coats the hair giving it that silky feel, however, it doesn’t fully “wash out” which means the next time you wash, you’re adding more silicone to your hair which builds up and over time will dry out the hair underneath the silicone layer and block your hair follicles causing scalp dryness and dandruff. The silicone that does wash out ends up down your drain which in the first instance can build up in your drainage system causing plumbing issues and will eventually end up in wastewater treatment where it’s likely a percentage will be polluting waterways contributing to the ever-growing water plastic pollution problem.
Next, moisturiser. Glossy, glowy skin? How much of that glow is plastic? The sheen that silicones leave on your skin (again building up like they do on your hair and scalp) make you feel soft and hydrated, but it’s a temporary and often false feeling. Underneath your skin cells are deprived of air and water, both of which they need to remain balanced. Silicones are also as equally hard to wash from skin as they are from hair which means even if you have a thorough cleansing routine at night to remove make up, some silicone molecules are definitely left behind. The best way to get rid of them is to use a rough, physical exfoliant which you shouldn’t be doing every day.
Long, shiny lashes? Yep, silicones are used in eye make-up too, especially those with a more liquid or glutinous texture. Overuse of silicones in things like mascara or liquid eyeliner can cause your lashes to grow at strange angles or to eventually fall out more often than they naturally do.
Lipsticks, balms, butters and scrubs. Part of the campaign to ban microbeads was because of the volume that ended up in the sea, which eventually came full circle via seafood and ended up back with us, in our stomachs. With continual consumption microplastics are endocrine disruptors, meaning that they can interfere with hormones and lead to neurological issues, tumours and development problems and birth defects for pregnant women.
So to summarise, why are these plastic silicone molecules so bad?
For skin: they dry you out, block pores and follicles, fester infection in spots and cause skin shedding.
For the environment: they’re chemically inert and very stable which means it will take them around 400 to 500 years on average to decompose.