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10 Worst Cosmetic Ingredients for the Environment: The Dirty 10


cosmetic ingredients that pollute the environment

Many everyday products we use to stay clean and healthy are actually harming the environment, animal life and ultimately us (surprise, surprise.) These are the 10 worst cosmetic ingredients for the environment. We call them the Dirty 10.

Our fellow #Minimalists are beautiful women (and men) who want to minimize their footprints on our planet. So it makes sense that none of us wants to destroy our world’s natural beauty by choosing the wrong cleanser, sunscreen, or perfume that contains ingredients that outright pollute the environment.

So what do we do?

Well, here at MINIMAL we do not accept products containing any of the Dirty 10, so you can shop with us guilt-free.

Check through the list below and see if your cleanser is really clean :)

The Worst Environmental Pollutants in Your Beauty Products

Dirty 1: Petroleum

Ingredient Names: petroleum jelly, petrolatum, mineral oil, paraffin wax

Petrolatum, or petroleum jelly, is formed as part of the oil drilling process. While mineral oil is a by-product of the process that petroleum goes through as it is made into gasoline.

They are very common ingredients in many beauty products such as lip balm, lotions, ointments and baby oil.

One of the most common brands being Vaseline – hands up if you grew up with Vaseline being your diaper (and um… thermometer) lub, and turned into a woman with a Vaseline pocket size lip balm in your handbag? Been there, done that.

Now a lot of people choose not to support petroleum-based products because of the depletion of oil reserves and the non-renewable state of that resource. People switching to Tesla probably should swap their lip balm first. Baby steps. Just saying.

Dirty 2: Palm Oil

Ingredient Names: Just to warn you, there are many! No kidding!

Vegetable Oil, Vegetable Fat, Palm Kernel, Palm Kernel Oil, Palm Fruit Oil, Palmate, Palmitate, Palmolein, Glyceryl, Stearate, Stearic Acid, Elaeis Guineensis, Palmitic Acid, Palm Stearine, Palmitoyl Oxostearamide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Kernelate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate, Hyrated Palm Glycerides, Etyl Palmitate, Octyl Palmitate, Palmityl Alcohol…

There is nothing dirty about palm oil itself – it is how the soaring demand for it has driven the palm oil industry into a very dirty one.

It is estimated that about half of all packaged products sold in the supermarket contain palm oil. It is the most widely consumed vegetable oil because it is extremely versatile and cheap to grow.

However, palm oil grows in the same area as tropical rainforests, and the uncontrolled clearing of land for palm plantations has led to widespread loss of these irreplaceable forests. The cultivation of palm oil has been linked to deforestation and the burning of peat lands in Indonesia and Malaysia, and blamed for the smoke haze that recently choked Singapore.

 Palm oil plantations have also been connected to the destruction of habitat of endangered species such as orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers as well as the displacement of indigenous peoples who have lost their land and livelihoods.

Most of us have seen heartbreaking photos and footages of violence against orangutan mother and child to drive them out of the forest, dying orangutan hanging onto the one tree left in what was once home… there is nothing beautiful about the situation.

As consumers we can drive change in the palm oil industry in two ways:

  1. choose brands that buy 100% certified (by CSPO or RSPO) sustainable palm oil to grow the sustainable palm oil industry or
  2. choose brands that do not use palm oil to drive up the demand for palm oil alternatives

We welcome both 100% certified sustainable palm oil products and 100% no-palm-oil products on our platform.

Dirty 3: Triclosan

Triclosan is an antibacterial agent used in many cleansers, deodorants, cosmetics and household products. It has recently been banned as an active ingredient by the FDA.

It is linked to an increase in antibiotic resistant organisms, which have increased the risk that infections can be deadly.

When triclosan is washed down the sink, it can change the biochemistry of amphibians, fish, and aquatic plants.

The European Union classifies this ingredient as having the potential to cause long-term adverse effects in the aquatic environment. It does not degrade quickly, tends to accumulate in the environment, and reacts with other chemicals in waterways to form toxic dioxins.

Dirty 4: Synthetic Musk

Synthetic musk is a class of synthetic aromachemicals.

Commonly added to perfumes, scented soaps, cleansers, creams, moisturizers, sunscreens, hair products and more.

Wastewater treatment plants do not break them down, which means they slip into the rivers and oceans via sewage discharge. These chemicals persist in the environment, and accumulate in the tissues of fish and other invertebrates therefore harmful to the marine environment.

We are by no means advocating the use of deer musk. On average, 160 musk deer have to be killed for 1 kg of musk (WHAT?) There are many options other than animal musk and synthetic musk.

Dirty 5: DEA

DEA or Cocamide DEA is a chemically modified form of coconut oil used as a foaming agent.

Commonly found in soaps, cleansers and shampoos.

Yet another substance categorized as causing acute toxicity to aquatic organisms and accumulate in the environment.

Dirty 6: BHA and BHT

BHA and BHT are both synthetic antioxidants, commonly used as preservatives in cosmetics and moisturizers.

In addition to being suspected hormone disruptors, they are both linked to potential environmental harm. BHA is listed as a chemical of potential concern by the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, because of its tendency to bioaccumulate and because it’s toxic to aquatic organisms. Studies have found that it causes genetic mutations in amphibians. BHT also has a moderate to high potential for bioaccumulation in aquatic species.

Dirty 7: Microbeads

Ingredient Names: microbeads, microabrasives, polypropylene, polyethylene.

Many of today’s exfoliating face and body washes use polyethylene—a plastic substance—to create scrubbing beads. They can also make products feel creamy and help fill in wrinkles.

Unfortunately, unlike natural and organic products that use sea salts and other natural ingredients to exfoliate, these products give you the illusion of natural exfoliation while polluting our rivers and lakes.

The tiny bits of plastic found in cosmetic products are gathering in lakes and natural waters and are considered one of the newest and most concerning environmental dangers. Estimates are that one facial cleanser tube contains 350,000 beads.

Not only do microbeads pollute our waterways, they are also being eaten by fish and other wildlife—harming the animals and ultimately those of us (who are not vegans, wink wink).

Dirty 8: Oxybenzone

Most people already know this – chemical sunscreens like oxybenzone are toxic to coral and are contributing to the decline of reefs around the world.

High concentrations of the chemical was found around coral reefs in Hawaii and the Caribbean, where it alters coral DNA and acts as an endocrine disruptor, causing baby coral “to encase itself in its own skeleton and die,” according to an article in The Guardian about the study.

The damage occurred even at low levels—equivalent to one drop of water in six-and-a-half Olympic-sized swimming pools—yet between 6,000 and 14,000 metric tons of sunscreen lotions end up in coral reef areas each year.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) guide to sunscreen, among the worst brands for sun protection is the number one culprit for toxicity and false advertising, Neutrogena.

“Neutrogena’s advertising hype is further from reality than any other major brand we studied. It claims to be the “#1 dermatologist recommended suncare brand, yet all four products highlighted on Neutrogena’s suncare web page rate 7, in the red – worst – zone in our database,” says EWG.

Dirty 9: Synthetic Dye (p-phenylenediamine)

An organic compound used in permanent hair dyes that rely on chemical reactions (oxidation) to fix colour. Toxic to the environment.

Dirty 10: Phthalates

Ingredient Names: DEP, DBP

Found in cosmetics and nail products. Toxic to the environment.


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