The ethicist: Going green with cosmestics

If you feel you must use cosmetics, then choose eco-friendly brands, says John Cossham

For tens of thousands of years we’ve altered our appearence with woad, white lead, beauty spots and wigs, but today, it’s a huge business from lipstick to deodorant, hair colour to tanning, tattoos to surgery.

Modern cosmetics use lots of synthetic chemicals, mostly from oil. Some of these are environmentally dubious and potentially unhealthy, such as pthalates, parabens, triclosan, fragrances, surfactants, solvents, nanoparticles and preservatives. These may be implicated in reduced fertility, cancer, allergies, environmental pollution and various other modern maladies.

As well as the products using lots of non- renewable resources, many have too much packaging. I also ask ‘How necessary are they?’ I question most use of make up, hair colour, cosmetic surgery, and see them as ‘wants’ rather than ‘needs’. This distinction is something we can make about many things in life, and if we concentrate on what are really needs and have wants as very occasional extras, we’d be greener, healthier and possibly happier.

Some cosmetic products are perhaps a bit more eco friendly… those made from natural products, organic and fairly traded, and with reduced packaging are on my list of acceptable personal hygiene and beauty products. I’m a recent convert to the PitRok Crystal which is a very effective deoderant, and comes in a small cardboard box, easily compostable. I don’t use any other cosmetics apart from a hair shampoo once a week and a biodegradable soap for garden-covered hands.

The Women’s Environmental Network ( has done some good research on cosmetics. If you purchase these products (and over 90% of women do), I wholeheartedly recommend looking at their ‘Careful Beauty Checklist’, which has links to companies who sell the most ethical products. Still, looking at many of the products available, I ask how central are these to a happy, low carbon and healthy life? I’m a big fan of inner beauty, not appearances. For me, I’m interested in the product, not the packaging!

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