Plastics in make-up and make-up packaging
Microplastics have been added to cosmetics since the 1960s, and you may have heard of polyethylene microbeads used in skincare products for exfoliating, smoothing, or polishing the skin. However, microplastic particles and other poorly biodegradable synthetic polymers remain for years in our ecosystem, in the air, water and soil.
On a global average, a human being absorbs up to five grams of plastic per week, and the consequences are unknown.
Thankfully the Beat the Microbead campaign has had many wins in recent years, with 15 countries taking steps to ban microbeads. In 2018, the UK government banned the use of microbeads in toothpastes, shower gels and facial scrubs.
However, some products classified as ‘leave on’ were not subject to the ban, including lotions, sun cream and make-up, as well as abrasive cleaning products. This ban also did not extend to non-biodegradable liquid polymers.
Did you know that polyethylene can be found in a non-solid form, in eyeliners, mascara, eye shadows, eyebrow pencils, lipsticks, face powders and foundations? It can be used to hold together ingredients, increase thickness, or form a coating on the skin.
Acrylates Copolymer (also known as acrylics or polyacrylates) may also be used to add waterproof properties to mascaras and lipsticks. These are two of the most commonly used of these polymers in cosmetics, but new research has found there are over 500 more.
None of the make-up companies we rated had yet got a clear public policy on all microplastics and non-biodegradable liquid polymers, however, Green People contacted us to say they had never used these ingredients.
We did not mark down Dr Hauschka or Lavera either, as both were certified by NATRUE, which had a fact sheet on microplastics, explicitly stating that “all microplastics are prohibited”, and neither had any of the most common liquid polymers in their ingredients lists.
Sign the petition by the Plastic Soup Foundation to tell the EU to ban microplastics in cosmetics.
You can find examples online of make-up in refillable, recycled, compostable or biodegradable packaging, but those brands are not generally available in the UK.
For the dedicated out there, one way to avoid packaging is to make your own make-up, but if you want to buy charcoal to try and make your own mascara, you might want to check the label closely, as it can be made from many things including coal, peat, or bone.
Each of the companies at the top of the table discussed packaging on their websites, from experimenting with plastic made from sugar cane, to using recyclable materials. Lush was the only company we found that actually sold packaging-free make-up, including concealer, foundation and lipstick refills cupped in biodegradable wax, which go into a partially recycled aluminium and brass case.
They are also working on biodegradable tagua nut packaging for eyeshadow.
According to the recycling company TerraCycle, the global cosmetics industry produces 120 billion units of packaging every year, and few (other than glass jars and plastic bottles) are accepted by kerbside recycling programmes. Partly due to the resulting confusion, far fewer people are in the habit of recycling packaging generated in the bathroom, compared to the kitchen.
But you can add bottles from your bathroom to your household recycling with a few extra steps. Pumps are not recyclable so removing these is essential, as well as trigger heads or flip top lids from bottles, which are usually made from a different material. You should also empty any liquids out, and wash and dry the bottles.
If you have make-up packaging you want to recycle, including tubes, compacts, lipsticks and mascaras, there may be a TerraCycle drop-off point near you, or you can even start one.