5 Min Read |

Sustainable living is on everyone’s minds at the moment. And the beauty industry is not exempt from making big shifts in its use of resources. Last year, the global cosmetics industry produced 120 billion units of packaging, and the volume of materials — most worryingly, plastics — used is increased by the use of single-use plastic lids, cellophane, and complex design-focused packaging. With an estimated eight million tonnes of plastic ending up in the oceans every year, the United Nations predicts that we’ll have more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050.

Beauty Has a Role to Play

The plastic problem isn’t just for environmentalists and alternative folk to worry about. It’s serious — and it’s everyone’s problem. The ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies has found that corals are now dying due to disease caused by plastic.

And according to the Environmental Investigation Angency, more than 633 marine species are affected by plastic today. Microplastics, released into the ocean via our waste water, are responsible for high levels of disease, death, and reproductive issues for large sea creatures including whales, dolphins and seals. Researchers have even discovered that plastic chemicals are changing the gender of fish in UK rivers — hugely disrupting aquatic reproductive and ecosystems.

Packaging isn’t the only way that the beauty industry contributes to the global plastic problem. Many products also contain toxic microplastics or chemical ingredients, some of which are active ingredients or form part of the structure of the product itself, and some of which act as preservatives. These plastics and other compounds make their way into our rivers and oceans through the water running out of our sinks and showers. If you use a bath product containing plastics, those plastics go down your drain. They are not water-soluble and they don’t biodegrade, so they stay in the world’s rivers and oceans for up to 450 years.

Not only do these plastics profoundly damage water quality and marine life, but they also make it back into our diets. Fish consume microplastics; and when we eat those fish, we’re eating plastic too.

Cotton buds and wet wipes are among the worst products when it comes to plastic content. In 2017 an investigation by Water UK discovered that wet wipes made up over 90% of the material causing sewer blockages — and those wet wipes often contain a non-biodegrading plastic called polypropylene. Thousands of wet wipes are flushed down toilets rather than being placed in waste bins.

A recent study by GlobalWebIndex found that in the UK, efforts by national TV treasure David Attenborough to raise awareness of the plastic problem has had positive results. They report a 53% drop in purchase of single-use plastics; and 82% of consumers now value sustainable packaging more highly than before.

It’s clear that awareness is key. And the beauty industry can support global efforts to reduce the production and waste of plastic by embracing change. Recycling alone is not enough: we need to change the content of our products to eliminate the possibility that harmful compounds will find their way into the world’s water.

What is Waterless Beauty, and How Could it Help?

Waterless beauty does what it says on the tin — waterless beauty products do not contain any water. Instead they use botanical ingredients and oils which reduces the need for chemical preservatives and filler ingredients.

At the same time, waterless beauty help to reduce global water consumption, and brands that are truly committed to this environmental cause are aiming to reduce water usage in the manufacturing of products, as well as in the products themselves.

L’Oreal, for example, pledged to reduce its water consumption by 60% within a year; and Unilever has committed to cut its environmental impact by 50%, including water usage in manufacturing, by 2030. This is no small task when you realize that water makes up the vast majority of volume in skincare and cosmetic products. The first ingredient listed on most beauty products is ‘aqua’ or ‘eau’ — that is, water.

The high water content of beauty products is, however, not always necessary. Rather than being a valuable and active ingredient, it is a filler — adding volume to a product at very low cost. So creating waterless products is more expensive. Other ingredients have to take the place of that water.

In spite of higher manufacturing costs, many environmentally conscious brands around the world are making the move towards waterless beauty. Bath and shower product brand Ethique offers products that are all plastic free and water free. Instead of gels and lotions, its products are sold in concentrated bar form which lather on their own as a reaction to contact with water in the shower. All the brand’s packaging is compostable; so overall, the brand’s products can leave no trace.

UK brand Lush is known and loved for its socially and environmentally conscious ethics. As well as creating cruelty free, water free, plastic free and vegan cosmetics, it packages everything in ‘naked’ packaging. In store, bars and bath bombs are displayed without packaging and wrapped in paper when sold, and lotions and creams are dispensed into reusable containers. When you take a container back to a Lush store, they’ll give you a discount on your refill or reuse the container themselves.

Kiata, an Australian beauty brand manufactures a skincare range of waterless products. Their exclusion of water allows the products to be absorbed quicker into the skin, with water molecules being 1.5x larger than skin molecules it is hard for skin to absorb the product as deeply, as opposed to other products being either the same or smaller molecule sized, allowing a deeper penetration into the skin.

And another brand, UpCircle, uses eco-friendly manufacturing in an unusual way. It uses recycled Arabica coffee grounds from London cafes — which would otherwise be thrown in the bin — to create coffee body and face scrubs; “giving organic ingredients a new lease of life.”

Waterless beauty, and other environmentally driven beauty trends, will not solve the problem on their own. But they can contribute, bit by bit, to changing the impact that the beauty industry has on our world. Crucially, the beauty brands who embrace and promote sustainable manufacturing processes and sustainable products play an important role in raising awareness of the issues at hand: that every one of us contributes to problem, and every one of us can reduce our impact.

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