There are hundreds of companies and suppliers, large and small, that manufacture and sell toiletries and cosmetics that they claim are "green", better for the user and better for the environment. Most take great advantage of the use of natural ingredients, although this is not defined, and avoid what they consider to be harmful chemicals, in particular parabens (used as preservatives), SLS and SLES (detergents) and DEA, TEA and MEA. The concern is generally with human health risks or the possibility of skin irritation, but strong chemicals can also harm the environment, either when they are removed (e.g. by washing the skin), in manufacturing, or in accident case.
Other problems are the use of petrochemicals, synthetic colors and perfumes, animal products, organic ingredients, if the product and its ingredients are cruelty-free, that is, they have not been tested on animals, complete and accurate labeling, and minimizing packaging. .
These issues are explored below, but there is a wealth of information and it is impossible for Green Choices to make a fair assessment of which products are environmentally friendly. One approach might be to minimize exposure to potentially harmful chemicals, choose plant-based products when appropriate, and choose organic products, as organic production encourages caring for the environment. Few toiletries or cosmetics need to be tested on animals and minimizing packaging is sensible, whatever one buys.
Many companies make much of their ingredients 'natural' and plant derived, reinforcing this impression with plant packaging, but there is no definition of 'natural' and a close inspection of the ingredient list can reveal that ingredients Herbal ingredients are only a small percentage.
Many companies also claim to use organic ingredients, although the proportion of organic ingredients varies. While organic food sold in the UK must, by law, display a certification symbol or number ensuring that the product meets minimum government standards and meets European and international standards, the same is not true for beauty products. But the Soil Association organic symbol can be applied to beauty products that meet Soil Association standards. These include the use of organic ingredients where available and not the use of synthetic fragrances or colorants or certain chemicals such as sodium lauryl sulfate or parabens. The Soil Association's website section on health and beauty contains much more information.
If you want to buy products that do not contain animal products (such as gelatin, buttermilk or honey), the Vegan Society publishes Animal Free Shopper and their Vegan logo is a registered trademark, a symbol of their standards and appears on animal free products that have been registered with The Vegan Society. The Women's Environmental Network Women's Survey lists companies that, at a minimum, indicate that their products are free of parabens and synthetic fragrances.
What you can do
As with cleaning the house, the first thing is to reduce the amount of cosmetics. Do you need so many cleansers, conditioners, moisturizers, shampoos, toners, etc.?
Stick to simple products - Soap and water, or even plain water, can be very effective. Instead of bath and wash gel, try soap. It's great - saves money and a lot of packaging.
Many common kitchen ingredients can be used as the base for homemade toiletries and cosmetics. Herbs can be used to perfume bath water, rosemary is traditionally used as a conditioner for dark hair, chamomile for blonde hair, and teeth can be cleaned with a mixture of salt and baking soda.
Essential oils are used in aromatherapy for their therapeutic properties, as well as for their fragrance, but care must be taken as some are quite powerful and others should not be used by pregnant women. There are many providers and aromatherapists and information available.
Women’s Environment Network has produced a document, Granny’s Recipes, that contains tips on how to make your own beauty products from common kitchen ingredients, and there are many books with recipes for homemade beauty products.
What you can do when you buy
Read the labels and if you are concerned about an ingredient, find out more! There is a lot of information on the internet - many manufacturers provide information about ingredients on their websites or an online encyclopedia like Wikipedia could be a good starting point. The Women's Environmental Network campaign “Ending the Cosmetics Cover-up” has a wealth of information on the issues, with fact sheets, checklists, ideas for action and links to reports.
Look for products that do not contain the products you are concerned about. Many manufacturers now claim to produce paraben, SLES, SLS, EDTA, DEA, or TEA free toiletries.
If you want cruelty-free products that have not been tested on animals, the BUAV symbol confirms that the products comply with the BUAV Human Cosmetics Standard.