Is Makeup Bad For The Environment?

You just bought a new lipstick and you're so excited to use it. It's part of a huge, mainstream beauty company you totally trust, too. After weeks of using the lipstick down to the very last bit, there's nothing left. What do you do with the lipstick container? Dump it in the trash of course. 

This scenario is all too common, and is only one way humans contribute to the global waste problem. If this sounds like you, I implore you: Please stop and think about your actions. What happens to that lipstick container? It doesn't just go away or disappear. It's sent to a landfill, where it will leach toxins into the earth and take hundreds of years to break down. And what exactly is in that conventional lipstick a mainstream beauty brand has marketed to you? Nothing good: It's loaded with chemicals that won't break down and will seep into ecosystems. Don't believe me? Take this to heart: The USA has only banned 10 cosmetic ingredients while there are 1,372 banned in Europe. Yeah, not exactly ideal. 

While makeup is great, and can really boost a person's confidence, it's important to acknowledge the dark side of makeup. We are hurting our planet (and ultimately ourselves) by not being more conscious of makeup ingredients and cosmetic waste.  

Why (most) makeup packaging is wasteful 

The average woman in the US uses 12 products daily, and considering most makeup is packaged in plastic, that's a lot of waste. Plastic waste, to be exact.  

But makeup packaging can be recycled like anything else, can't it? Well, maybe. It depends on where you live and what material it's made from. You see, every state has different recycling policies: Something recyclable in New York City, may not be recyclable in Texas, or vice versa. And let's be realistic, how many people actually recycle old makeup containers versus dumping them in the trash?  

Even if you do recycle makeup containers, there is a chance they will not be accepted by your local recycling facility. That's because many makeup containers are made from less common recyclable plastics and often aren't labeled with a resin number. A resin number is usually located at the bottom of a plastic product to determine what kind of plastic it is. For example, plastics #1 and #2 are considered easy to recycle, but plastics #3, #6, and #7 are all hard to recycle. Just check the bottom of your makeup container and see if it has one of these numbers: If it's easy to recycle—great! But if it's not, be warned: It will probably be rejected and just head to a landfill anyway. 

How to reduce makeup packaging waste 

So how do you overcome this? I suggest a few things: One option is to try making your own lipstickeyeshadowblush, and foundation (just store them in a container you can keep refilling). You could also try to buy makeup that's in easier to recycle packaging, such as glass, metal, cardboard, or paper. There are even some makeup brands out there that offer refills: Instead of being single use only, you can refill these goodies until your heart is content.  Yet another option is to find a local drop-off center that will recycle the makeup containers for you. I know Origins accepts nearly any brand containers, so try to find an Origins store near you. There's also the Back to MAC program, but they only accept their own brand's containers. If you cannot find a drop-off location near you, see if the brand you like to use has a mail-in program where you can mail the cosmetics container back to them. If for some reason you're stuck with a container and cannot practice any of the tips above, clean out the container and find another use for it. You might be able to make your own makeup and put it in there, or use it to store small items, like jewelry, pills, etc. Get creative! 

Why makeup ingredients matter (for both you and the environment) 

The other problem with makeup is what it's made from: The actual ingredients. If the ingredients aren't natural and organic, they can harm your health (and the environment). As mentioned before, the USA has only banned 10 cosmetic ingredients, while Europe has banned 1,372. How can the FDA look the other way like that? Here's how: Nothing is regulated. Just because a product has made it to store shelves, does not mean it's safe to use. The FDA does not require a product to undergo any kind of thorough inspection, so retailers can put almost any ingredient inside!  

This is certainly bad for your health (lead in your lipstick, anyone?), but how is this bad for the environment? Well, two words: Toxic pollution. Disposal of cosmetics is now the primary cause for contamination of fresh and ocean waters in industrialized nations. Of course, cosmetics aren't the only ones to blame (things like medicines and personal care products are too), but we'll keep the topic on makeup. Water treatment plants are unable to break down the majority of toxins that we put into them. Isn't that a scary thought? It kind of makes you ask, "What exactly is in my makeup?" doesn't it?  

Well, one deadly example of 'what's in your makeup' is a chemical called P-phenylenediamine. Try pronouncing that twice (I can't even do it once). It's a dangerous, coal-tar derived chemical most often found in lipsticks (but also in dark hair coloring, FYI!). This chemical has a long-term effect on aquatic ecosystems and diminishes the animal plankton population. It can also alter fish behavior and even cause death to many aquatic species. So remember: When you purchase an item with this chemical in it, you are contributing to its creation and, ultimately, its pollution. And of course, that's just one of many chemicals that can be found lurking in your cosmetics. 

How to reduce makeup ingredient pollution 

This is probably going to sound easier said than done but: Buy natural, organic cosmetics. I'm sure there's a specific conventional brand you absolutely love, but look into what they use. Try to see what ingredients are in their products by reading the labels. I can guarantee you won't be able to pronounce half of them, and that is not a good sign. If you want to play it on the safe side, stick to brands that make cosmetics using natural ingredients. Better yet, find green beauty brands that also offer refills on products so there's less waste altogether (no packaging waste or chemical pollution). Here are four of my favorite brands that are both all-natural and offer refills. In general, try to purchase from brands that don't use too much plastic packaging, but are crafted naturally. Etsy has a lot of great, all-natural, plastic-free brands to choose from. If you do happen to find a green beauty brand you love that's not entirely plastic-free, look for a way to recycle or reuse the packaging. I provided some ways to do this in the first section of this article. You can also try making your own cosmetics: That makes you the boss, and you'll know exactly what's going into your makeup.  

Whatever you choose to do, please be aware that your actions really do matter. The earth needs your help, and any effort you put towards helping it matters!