In honor of Earth Day, let's talk honestly about the impact the skincare & beauty industry has on the planet. Because it's a big one. And while there are solutions out there, we have a long way to go before this industry truly minimizes its impact on Earth. Let's go through some key ways the industry impacts our beautiful planet and I'll also share the things I'm doing at Bright Day Bath & Body to help do my part as a part of the industry.
If you didn't know, the beauty/skincare industry generates 120 billion tons of plastic packaging annually. Plus, equally additional tons of cardboard, cellophane and paper waste due to the prevalence of packaging items within beautiful but often unnecessary display boxes.
Additionally, some estimate that between 20-40% of the actual products go unused completely and end up as waste according to this Vogue article from last year.
What I'm Doing:
- In 2021, I switched to glass jars for my Body Scrubs, Body Butters and Bath Salts. This greatly reduced my reliance on single-use plastic jars. There are some cons to using glass, but the pros outweighed them for my business like the ability to infinitely recycle glass into new products, or the fact that I can easily sanitize and reuse jars that customers return to me. Glass is also much more likely to be repurposed in a home instead of thrown away.
- In 2021, I also switched my lip balms to paper tubes instead of plastic jars.
- I keep my packaging to a minimum for customers to easily reuse or recycle, such as non-branded shipping boxes and paper shreds as a box stuffer.
- As far as throwing away unused products, I am strategic about making batches that are only large enough to meet my business levels. If a product goes unsold for too long, I simply pull it from inventory and use it myself! The only products I've truly thrown away have been a few failed batches over the last few years.
What I Can Improve:
- My glycerin soaps are still wrapped in plastic, which is necessary. However, it is my plan to purchase a wrapping system that allows me to use Biolefin, a 100% biodegradable plastic wrap.
- My waterproof labels are not recyclable. I will continue to monitor the market for a glossy, waterproof option that is recyclable.
- My ingredients often come in plastic bags due to the smaller quantities I order. As my business grows, I will be able to order ingredients in quantities large enough to come in buckets, which can be easily reused.
2) Sustainably Challenged Ingredients
Palm Oil is so in demand that it is causing rapid deforestation of precious forest lands in over 20 countries.
Skincare & beauty products have long featured nature-based ingredients for their various benefits. But the rise in demand for products to be 'synthetic-free', 'all natural', 'unprocessed', etc, means that companies are putting even more pressure on the environment to supply us with the ingredients consumers desire. Here are some of the most popular nature-based ingredients that can be resource-heavy, or unrenewable:
- Essential Oils: Some essential oils require astronomical amounts of plant matter to make even a single pound of essential oil. Supposedly, it takes 10,000 pounds of rose petals to make rose essential oil, 250 pounds of lavender to make lavender essential oil, and 1,500 pounds of lemons to make lemon essential oil. Some crops, like Sandalwood, are being overharvested due to demand and take so long to mature that demand far surpasses available materials. It also takes a lot of land, water and human labor to grow crops at that size, which are resources that could be used towards things like actual food crops instead. Synthetic fragrance and flavor oils can create any fragrance possible without having to use resources to grow crops. (yay!) However, both essential oils and synthetic fragrance oils have been shown to accumulate in our aquatic ecosystems after being washed down the drain.
Rose essential oil supposedly takes up to 10,000lbs of rose petals to make 1lb of rose essential oil
- Oils & Butters: Many oils and butters are produced in small regions where the tree/plant/fruit/nut used in production is native, often in countries throughout Africa and the East. When the Western world 'discovers' one of these regional wonders and popularizes it through mainstream commerce, it creates a huge spike in demand that can be hard to sustainably and responsibly satisfy. Palm Oil, Cocoa Butter, Shea Butter and Argan Oil are examples of oils and butters that can have sustainability and human rights issues associated with their crop production, with Palm Oil being the most well known due to rampant deforestation in over 20 countries.
Even common oils like Coconut and Olive oil have their own sustainability issues, though at a smaller scale. Most horrifying to me as a major bird lover, Olives are often harvested at night by machine and millions (gasp! millions!) of songbirds get caught in the machines annually and die.😭😭😭
- Micas & Glitters The sparkly, shimmery pigments of eye shadows, lip glosses and soaps are often micas. Natural micas are mined minerals, and as with anything mined, there is a limited resource in the ground, it is not a 'renewable' resource in our lifetimes. The act of mining has it's own set of negative environmental consequences, and in addition, instances of human rights issues like child labor and illegal mining have been associated with mica extraction in countries like India. Glitters are often made with microplastics, and aluminum, two things that don't biodegrade in our environment, particularly in waterways.
- Exciting Developments: Some glitter companies now claim their glitter is truly 100% biodegradable (let's hope this is true!). Also, micas can be synthesized in a lab! We don't need to mine for them, and the synthesized versions are often more vibrant than the natural ones.
What I'm Doing:
- When I launched my Bright Naturals soap collection, I decided to go Palm-Free, instead focusing on a blend of more common oils that don't carry the same impact as Palm.
- I stopped using glitter on my products. I do still use mica (see below)
- I will use nature-identical compounds in my business when possible, in fragrance oils, extracts and more. Nature-identical means it is synthesized in a lab but is identical in structure to the chemical of the actual nature-based element. This can reduce the amount of actual nature-material that needs to be grown/harvested/etc, saving our resources.
What I Can Improve:
- My glycerin soaps still include palm oil. I'd like to move away from this, but there is not currently an appropriate soap base to move to. The provider of my soap base claims they source from RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainably Sourced Palm Oil) vendors, but their final product is not specifically certified in any way.
- Mica is the main source of colors for my products, except the natural colorants I use in the Bright Naturals Collection. As my micas run out, I can be more intentional about sourcing them from companies that specify their commitment to ethical sourcing. I can also do my best to source synthetic mica when possible, to avoid contributing to mining activity.
The Struggle is Real
As you can see, the challenge of making beauty sustainable is not easy. As a consumer, we don't want to give up the beautiful products we've come to love as a part of our daily life, but we also don't like knowing that our choices may be severely impacting our planet.
As a business, it's a similar struggle: to make a product that meets today's market demands for an effective product that feels so 'natural' but that's also sustainable, and that's also affordable to produce.
My business is not perfect and it is not without it's impacts on the environment. But as a business owner, I pledge to do my best to weigh the environmental impact of every decision I make in the course of business so that I can always be improving the relationship Bright Day has with our beautiful Mother Earth.
If you'd like to read more on this subject, here are a few articles I used in my research:
Note: I recognize that there are a lot of companies out there working to solve the challenges I talked about in this article with product innovations, sustainable options and more. For the sake of keeping this article at a short length, I chose to only bring awareness to the challenges themselves.
If there's a specific area of sustainability you'd like to see a post about in the future, or if you have questions on sustainability in beauty/skincare, please leave a comment!