Episode 8: Cosmetics and climate change

Episodes / Tuesday, May 28th, 2019

This week I take a step back from DIY deodorant to look at the climate impacts of cosmetics in general. Take a listen:

The last two weeks, I shared an interview with my friend Josh Huffman. This week I want to take a step back and talk more generally about the effects of cosmetics on the climate. I’ve been making my own deodorant for six months now, but I don’t really know what that means for my climate diet.

What I found out is that I don’t know this stuff, because no one does. Work is starting to be done to find out what toxic chemicals are in cosmetics — here you can check out Think Dirty and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which has reports on key toxins and a great searchable database that lists toxic ingredients by concern, product, or population. In short, here are some key types of chemicals you should care about:

  • Carcinogens: linked to cancer
  • Development, reproductive toxins: interfere with development, reproductive health, hormone balance
  • Allergens and immunotoxins: can trigger asthma and allergic reactions
  • Petrochemicals, ingredients linked to deforestation: e.g. palm oil; have higher carbon balance

So what does all this mean? First, it’s incredibly depressing to see how little information is out there. It seems that cosmetics companies are down on the job of figuring out what’s in their products, regulators are asleep at the switch testing the effects of and interactions between ingredients, and even scientists haven’t started looking comprehensively into the climate impacts of an industry projected to reach $400 billion in revenue next year. This is a big problem on a lot of fronts.

Which makes it even more clear to me to be careful about what cosmetics I buy and use. Making my own deodorant has been fun, cheap, and effective. So I want to try more recipes and, when I use up other beauty products, replace them with homemade versions.

In terms of the climate, though, this change has only made a small impact. I’ve never been particularly vain about my appearance, so I use few beauty products, many of which I’m gifted or pick up from friends or relatives. So I’ll need to look to other areas to make bigger reductions.

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