Anything but natural: plastics in cosmetics
An incredible 3000 plastics are on the market as raw materials for cosmetics. According to studies, the plastic content often accounts for 10% of the product weight . The particles are often so tiny that there are several thousand microbeads for every gram of weight. (Lassen et al, 2015.) Some products even contain as much plastic as their packaging! (Leslie, HA, 2015.) Natural looks different. And also has a different effect, on your body and on the environment.
Microplastic, what is that actually?
Microplastics are small plastic parts that are less than five millimeters in size and that are often not visible to the naked eye. Plastics are either already produced in this shape and size or they are leftovers from larger plastic waste. It is uncertain whether plastic will ever completely degrade. Researchers suspect that it simply breaks down into smaller and smaller particles. (Federal Environment Agency, 2017.) In the end, micropollutants are also produced from the plastic bag that has been blown away by the wind.
A lot of plastic is already getting into the sea in micro-size, often from everyday things that we would hardly think of. Cosmetic plastic from rinse-off products finds its way down the drain, textile fibers dissolve in the washing machine, and abrasion from tires and shoe soles ends up in water through the air.
In these and other ways, an incredible 9.5 million tons of plastic end up in the sea every year. (Boucher, Julien and Damien Friot, 2017.) 2% of this is cosmetic ingredients , plus packaging and what's lost in production and recycling. This is how plastic gets into the water cycle and marine animals ingest it through food. Ultimately, some of it ends up on our table.
When you stand in front of the shelf in the drugstore and think about what to take, in this case it's not just about your skin health. The purchase decision pulls a whole rat's tail behind it.
Why avoid liquid and microplastics?
In make-up, skin and hair care products, liquid plastics usually serve the purpose of smoothing, imparting shine and consistency, or they serve as a carrier for other ingredients.
Plastic, in any form, is extremely difficult to degrade. But over time, water-insoluble silicone can also cause a creepy layer of plastic to build up on your scalp and hair. Instead of great shine, you'll eventually end up with limp hair. See also: Squalane - the alternative to silicones in hair care .
In addition, numerous plastics are suspected of being carcinogenic. However , long - term studies are often still lacking . That's why many manufacturers see no reason to ban plastic altogether.
Waiver declarations should be treated with caution
A few years ago, the little plastic balls in toothpaste, shower gels and scrubs fell into disrepute - the ones that scrub and sand so nicely. Because this was not well received by customers, most of the major cosmetics manufacturers subsequently committed themselves to banning microplastics from their lists of ingredients. A step in the right direction, but unfortunately anything but consistently implemented.
Since there is still a long way to go for an official, universally applicable definition of microplastics, each company simply defines what is included. Their standards usually only include solid and water-insoluble plastic particles - only those that have already received so much bad press. But as is well known, pretty much any consistency can be obtained from petroleum, including liquid polymers, also known as liquid plastic. And they slip through the grid.
You can still find them en masse in conventional cosmetic products. Why don't you check the products in your mirror cabinet: Is there PEG somewhere? Bingo, hit! The reason for using it is often said to be that there are no alternatives. However, natural cosmetics prove that it is very possible to do without plastic.
Identify cosmetics without plastic
Rely on real natural cosmetics , because plastics have no place there. Or take a look at the ingredients list. Because in the EU and Switzerland, every ingredient must be listed there. You can usually find the so-called INCI list on the back of the packaging. Since it usually contains the Latin or botanical names, it is not so easy to see what exactly is behind the names. Here is a little help on how to recognize plastics:
- Pretty much anything with a poly in the name or abbreviations like PET, PP, PEG etc.
- The notorious dimethicones (silicones)
- Substances with the endings -oxane/-oxane (silicones)
- Polyquaternium (a silicone substitute that forms long-term deposits on skin and hair and is based on the potentially carcinogenic acrylamide)
- Nylon (popular in makeup)
Don't worry, you don't have to remember it: Greenpeace gives you a detailed checklist for your wallet to download .
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Plastic beauty, no thanks!
It will probably be a while before conventional manufacturers rethink and do without plastic in any form as an ingredient. Even if the public pressure increases, they simply need time to adapt.
In any case, the bottom line is: plastics – regardless of whether they are solid or liquid – are hardly or not at all degradable and therefore have no place in soil and water. They also have no long-term benefit for skin and hair.
While plastic packaging can be recycled, liquid polymers go straight to waste water and thus escape the cycle. In large parts of the world there are no sewage treatment plants that cool down liquid plastic. They pollute meadows, soil and water and ultimately end up on our plates.
- Lassen et al., "Microplastics: Occurrence, effects and sources of releases to the environment in Denmark", The Danish Environmental Protection Agency, 2015
- Leslie, HA: "Plastic in Cosmetics: are we polluting the environment through our personal care?", UNEP, 2015, p. 33 ff.
- Federal Environment Agency: “ Does plastic not rot at all or only very slowly? “, 08.09.2017;
- Boucher, Julien and Damien Friot: “ Primary Microplastics in the Oceans: a Global Evaluation of Sources ”, IUCN, 2017;