The concern for caring for the environment and the sustainability of the products we consume daily today encompasses cosmetics. Not in vain, 54% of cosmetic consumers consider sustainability as a key factor when buying beauty and personal care products [1].

To make sustainable products, all phases of the process must be considered.

How the cosmetics industry is going greener

In the production of cosmetics, the first element to consider regarding sustainability is the use of ingredients whose production does not harm the environment. Thus, we can talk about natural ingredients, from green chemistry or the circular economy.

Natural ingredients

In a recent post, we detailed how a natural ingredient is not synonymous with organic or chemical-free. Natural ingredients come from sources such as vegetables, animals, or minerals, but to talk about natural and sustainable ingredients, we must go further.

A problem for sustainability that natural ingredients can present, whether in cosmetics or food, is monocultures. These are extensive areas that have been cleared of their native flora to produce soy, palm, sugar cane, or wheat, among other examples.

Therefore, to be sure that a natural ingredient is sustainable, it is convenient to check if it comes from organic farming by observing the different seals that the product presents. You can check which seals the cosmetics carry in this previous post.

Green chemistry

The chemical industry has always had a reputation for being unsustainable, which is why it became necessary to improve its processes to protect the environment. This is how green chemistry was born, which consists of designing ingredients and chemical processes that reduce or eliminate the generation of hazardous substances.

Green Chemistry is based on 12 principles developed by Paul Anastas and John Warner in the 1990s.

To these principles must be added those that come from the effects of climate change, such as energy-saving and the search for renewable energy sources. All these are to reduce the impact of the chemical industry on the environment.

Upcycling and circular economy

The circular economy is based on what is called the 9Rs: Rethink, Redesign, Repair, Remanufacture, Redistribute, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recover energy.

With the idea of ​​reducing waste, a new class of cosmetic ingredients called upcycled or circular economy has recently appeared. These ingredients seek to give a second life to already used raw materials, to create higher quality ingredients. An example of this is the use of fermentation to enhance the properties of certain ingredients, as we saw in the previous post.

Other examples of upcycled ingredients arise from the collaboration between the food and cosmetic industries, such as the use of tomato skin discarded in the food industry and used as a source of lycopene for cosmetics.

Image by erkan budak from Pexels

Cosmetics without microplastics

Microplastics are one of the largest polluting elements in our seas and oceans, they are plastics less than 5 millimeters. These can come from cosmetics, detergents and soaps, drug capsules, or from the breakage of larger plastics.

Their small size means that they enter the food chain and are consumed by humans through food or even breathing:

  • A study from the University of Hull in England has shown how microplastics can remain in the air and be inhaled. The study found 39 microplastics in 11 of 13 lung tissue samples tested [2].
  • In another study published in March 2022, microplastics were found in 77% of blood samples from healthy adults in the Netherlands [3].
  • Finally, one study looked at the presence of microplastics in healthy pregnant women and found a dozen microplastics in placentas, both on the fetal and maternal sides of the placenta and in the membrane within which the fetus develops [4].

Image from alfo medeiros from Pexels

Therefore, it is essential that the cosmetic industry get rid of these microplastics, which are usually present in products such as toothpaste, scrubs, and hand soaps. To this end, the European Commission has proposed modifying the list of substances subject to restrictions in the REACH regulation, which is the regulation on the registration, evaluation, authorization, and restriction of chemical substances and preparations, and will be voted on between 2022 and 2023.

Can cosmetics be recycled?

56% of consumers consider it is important to buy cosmetic products whose packaging is recyclable [1]. Cosmetic containers, like plastic containers used in food, can be recycled in the corresponding container. Cosmetics can also be taken to your favorite cosmetics store since many of them apply discounts for the delivery of containers.

Another alternative is to use solid cosmetics since they do not need containers. Thus, we find shampoos and solid soaps to use in the bathroom and be more easily transported when we go on a trip.

Image from Zena Demir from Pixabay

Finally, filler containers and cosmetics can also be used. Instead of using single-use containers, many brands are betting on “refill” containers, you just must buy the container the first time you buy the product and, when it runs out, return to the store for refilling.

There are more and more alternatives to reduce, recycle and reuse our cosmetic products and both the industry and consumers must act to reduce damage to the environment.


  1. Cosmetic Business
  2. Jenner, L. C., Rotchell, J. M., Bennett, R. T., Cowen, M., Tentzeris, V., & Sadofsky, L. R. (2022). Detection of microplastics in human lung tissue using μFTIR spectroscopy. The Science of the total environment, 831, 154907.3.
  3. Leslie, H. A., van Velzen, M., Brandsma, S. H., Vethaak, A. D., Garcia-Vallejo, J. J., & Lamoree, M. H. (2022). Discovery and quantification of plastic particle pollution in human blood. Environment international, 163, 107199.4.
  4. Ragusa, A., Svelato, A., Santacroce, C., Catalano, P., Notarstefano, V., Carnevali, O., Papa, F., Rongioletti, M., Baiocco, F., Draghi, S., D’Amore, E., Rinaldo, D., Matta, M., & Giorgini, E. (2021). Plasticenta: First evidence of microplastics in human placenta. Environment international, 146, 106274.

Cover image by Monfocus from Pixabay