The Problem with Plastics in Cosmetics - Beyond the Bottle

Synthetic polymers are human-made polymers—chemicals made of a large number of similar units bonded together—often derived from petroleum oil, commonly known as plastics

Plastics have been entering the marine environment in quantities paralleling their level of production over the last half-century. However, in the last two decades of the 20th Century, the deposition rate accelerated past the rate of production, and plastics are now one of the most common and persistent pollutants in ocean waters and beaches worldwide.

Around 4% of world oil production is used as a feedstock to make plastics and a similar amount is used as energy in the process. Yet over a third of current production is used to make items of packaging, which are then rapidly discarded. Given our declining reserves of fossil fuels, and finite capacity for disposal of waste to landfill, this linear use of hydrocarbons, via packaging and other short-lived applications of plastic, is simply not sustainable. 

Many personal care cosmetics include plastics (synthetic polymers) which pollute the environment, may contain potentially harmful contaminants during the manufacturing process, are manufactured from non-sustainable sources and are not biodegradable because they do not degrade effectively in landfills. Little is known about the timescale, extent or consequences of their degradation in natural environments. 

Synthetic & Natural Polymers

Synthetic polymers, as the name suggests are made by Scientists in a chemistry lab, these types of polymers are not biodegradable, and can last for hundreds of years in the environment - some examples are:

  • Epoxy
  • Nylon
  • Polyethylene
  • Polyester
  • Teflon

Natural polymers occur in nature and are often water-based and are naturally biodegradable - some examples include:

  • Silk
  • Wool
  • Cellulose
  • Pectin
  • Proteins

Why are synthetic polymers used in Cosmetics? 

Degradable polymers have been advocated as an alternative to conventional oil-based plastics and their production has increased considerably in recent decades. Materials with functionality comparable to conventional plastics can now be produced on an industrial scale; however, they are more expensive than conventional polymers and only account for less than 1% of plastics production.

CONDITIONING POLYMERS // These deposits, adhere or absorb into the proteins of the skin and hair. They improve skin feel and hair manageability, and make the skin and hair softer and smoother.
LOOK FOR // Polyquaternium-6, polyquaternium-7, and polyquaternium-11.

FIXATIVE POLYMERS // Are incorporated into sprays, lotions, gels, and foams to help to fix hair in place.  
LOOK FOR // Polyimide-1, polyquaternium-11, and PVP/VA copolymers.

THICKENING & GELLING POLYMERS // These are used to increase thickness in products like shampoos, conditioners, creams, and lotions. 
LOOK FOR // Polyethylene glycols (PEGs) and carbomers.

SILICONES // These are polymers that contain silicon atoms or silicates. Their function is to protect, condition, pearlise, moisturise, thicken, and emulsify. They are also incorporated into cleaning products to reduce the irritation of surfactants.

Sustainability - Environmental Concerns synthetic o=polymers

Global plastic production has quadrupled over the past four decades, a separate new study found. This 2019 Study published April in the Journal Nature Climate Change, found that if the trend continues, the making of plastics will comprise 15% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050; by comparison, all of the world's forms of transportation now account for 15% of emissions.


    Plastic pollution can now be found on every beach in the world, Scientists have recently discovered microplastics embedded deep in the Arctic ice.

    • In 1950, the world’s population of 2.5 billion produced 1.5 million tons of plastic; in 2016, a global population of more than 7 billion people produced over 320 million tons of plastic. This is set to double by 2034.
    • Every day approximately 8 million pieces of plastic pollution find their way into our oceans.
    • There may now be around 5.25 trillion macro and microplastic pieces floating in the open ocean. Weighing up to 269,000 tonnes.
    • Plastics consistently make up 60 to 90% of all marine debris studied.
    • Recent studies have revealed marine plastic pollution in 100% of marine turtles, 59% of whales, 36% of seals and 40% of seabird species examined.
    • 100,000 marine mammals and turtles and 1 million sea birds are killed by marine plastic pollution annually. 

    Sustainability is at The Core of Our Social Ethics, we have to be sure everything from sourcing, formulating, manufacturing, packaging, and retailing is making the smallest possible environmental impact. Our products are both sustainable and biodegradable and do not contain any synthetic ingredients nor plastics.

    Until next time

    be human be kind be you














    Synthetic polymers in the marine environment: a rapidly increasing, long-term threat. Moore CJ, “Environ Res. 2008 Oct;108(2):131-9,

    Polymers in Personal Care, Cosmetics & Toiletries, June 28, 2010, Eric Abrutyn.

    Safety assessment of modified terephthalate polymers as used in cosmetics. Becker LC, Bergfeld WF, Belsito DV, Hill RA, Klaassen CD, Liebler DC, Marks JG Jr, Shank RC, Slaga TJ, Snyder PW, Andersen FA.

    Plastics, the environment, and human health: current consensus and future trends Richard C. Thompson, Charles J. Moore, Frederick S. vom Saal, and Shanna H. Swan.

    Journal Nature Climate Change

    Surfers Against Sewage

    Science Advances

    Center For Climate and Energy Solutions

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