The desire to be more environmentally-conscious has touched every aspect of daily life, from transportation, to food, to personal care products. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to pick out the most Eco-friendly options available. Labeling distinctions like "environmentally friendly" and "natural" aren't well-regulated, ingredient lists aren't always easy to read, and some advertisers deliberately try to make purchasing green and vegan products more difficult. How can consumers find personal care products that are actually environmentally safe?
Beware of "Greenwashing"
"Greenwashing" is a huge problem when it comes to consumer goods. Ever since consumers began seeking out environmentally-friendly alternatives to conventionally-made products, advertisers have known that being green is a selling point. Sometimes, they'll use this to their advantage regardless of whether a product is Eco-friendly or not. Some well-known tricks include using green, beige, or craft paper packaging, adding pictures of plants, or including obfuscating language like "made with organic ingredients," or "natural." They may also try to appear to be more environmentally conscious by using a tiny proportion of recycled material in their packaging, or labeling a product that has historically never contained animal by-products as "vegan." Packaging can be extremely misleading, so always read ingredient lists to see the real picture.
Know How Ingredients Are Sourced
It's easy to peg synthetics and complicated chemical names as undesirable in a green product, but a lot of natural ingredients aren't all they're cracked up to be either. Sugar cane juice, a natural source of skin-improving glycolic acid, frequently results in over-exploitation of local water sources due to irrigation. Bananas and palm oil are generally grown in unsustainable conditions that result in deforestation, reductions in native biodiversity, overuse of pesticides and herbicides, and worker exploitation. Just because something is natural doesn't necessarily make it harmless or Eco-friendly or vegan, so it's good to have an accurate idea of the kind of journey ingredients take to get from the earth to the bottle.
Reuse and Recycle
Too often, half-empty bottles of hair product and facial cream are thrown out in favor of new products. Not only does this contribute to the growth of landfills, it introduces the unnatural ingredients found in many cosmetics to environments where they could be harmful to native plants and wildlife. Instead of wasting these, consider ways to reuse the products they contain. The last few drops of hairspray, for instance, can be spritzed on a comb to tame flyaway strands of hair. Bottles of lotion can be emptied and combined so that nothing goes to waste!
Sometimes, disposing of personal care products is necessary. A dental specialist who performs teeth whitening in Salt Lake City reports that toothbrushes should be changed out every two to three months to ensure their effectiveness at reducing bacteria. While there isn't much of a way around this, you can switch to using recyclable toothbrushes so your old ones don't contribute to landfill volume.
Skip Unnecessary Ingredients
This is especially true for some toothpastes and oral care products. Certain commercial toothpastes became notorious for containing tiny polyethylene beads, which are spat out, rinsed down the drain, and end up in waterways where they can enter the food chain via zooplankton. Commercial toothpastes also often contain fluoride, which can be a concern to people with a high fluoride intake from tap water or dietary sources. In general, it's usually greener to purchase products that leave unnecessary ingredients out. If you can find concentrated products, even better--concentrated products help reduce packaging waste and save money.
Research is ongoing when it comes to the risks and benefits associated with the products we use, and what is considered safe and Eco-friendly today might be found to be the opposite tomorrow. The best way to find green personal care products is to avoid becoming complacent-- keep an eye on new studies, and experiment to find which green products work the best for you. If you disagree with a company's ingredient philosophy, write to them to voice your opinion. If you'd like to see an Eco-friendly, vegan product on your local store's shelves, request it. Every dollar you spend can either help or hurt the environment, so be sure to support businesses whose practices you agree with.
Using Eco-friendly personal care products is a delicate balance between choosing what works the best and what does the least amount of harm. Things like "greenwashing" and hard-to-understand ingredient lists make making the right choice even more difficult. By following these tips, you'll be able to make the best choices for yourself, your family, and the environment around you.