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14 Aug

The Problems with Biodegradable Beauty

Our new favourite beauty products might not be so environmentally friendly after all?


In 2019 we all know that there is no hiding from the climate crisis. Many of us have taken note of this and are either trying out a new vegan diet (the number of vegans in Britain has increased by over 360% in the last decade), saying no to plastic straws or switching up our beauty products.

The beauty industry can be a tricky place to navigate with various environmentally friendly claims being thrown at us from all directions. It is difficult to know which is the best option for our planet and for ourselves. However it seems that beauty products packaged in biodegradable plastic are not as ground breaking or as useful as they appear.

Scientifically, being biodegradable is defined as ‘an object capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms.’ You may have guessed that this is not the case for regular plastic and it is also not the case for biodegradable plastics either.

Biodegradable plastics are created by using corn-based products. During production specific chemicals are added to cause the plastic to breakdown at a faster rate when exposed to sunlight. Although there needs to be other specific conditions for this to work as well. One of these conditions is that the biodegradable plastic needs to be subjected to temperatures over 50 degrees. Even during a hot summer temperatures, thankfully, do not reach that level. Therefore it seems that biodegradable plastics will not magically breakdown when we throw them away with the rest of our rubbish.

Biodegradable plastics need to be broken down in specific industrial facilities which are currently few and far between. This means that our new ‘environmentally friendly’ beauty products are most likely still buried, intact, in the earth or making their way into the ocean. There is approximately 5 trillion pieces of plastic in our ocean right now and it is estimated that 17.6 billion pounds of plastic enters our ocean every year. These figures are heartbreaking.

But fear not, the beauty industry is still making some progress by banning face wipes and plastic cotton buds. Both of which can end up harming marine life. Some brands have now created biodegradable face wipes which can be recycled or composted in your garden. However the same rules apply as they did to regular face wipes: do NOT flush them down your toilet! Plus it is still more sustainable to use a re-usable face cloth. Therefore it may be a good idea to forget about face wipes altogether.

The best advice you can follow is to avoid single use plastics, and even single use cotton, in your beauty regime and beyond. Look for brands which offer a re-fillable service. To protect our planet try and support initiatives where they encourage you to return packaging. This can ensure that your used products are recycled correctly and given a new lease of life.

It can all seem a bit overwhelming at times but remember that small, positive acts carried out by millions of people can change the world.

And in the meantime here are some sustainable alternatives which might just become your new favourite part to your beauty regime:


Herbivore’s Pink Clay Cleanser (£10)

This soap bar is a great alternative to any jelly cleanser. It’s also gentle on sensitive skin! The bar features French pink clay and blood-orange oil which helps to draw out any impurities in the skin but without leaving it feeling dried out. As well as being sustainable Herbivore’s bar is certified cruelty-free and vegan.


Lush Slap Stick Foundation (£17)

Lush sell many great ‘naked’ products from shampoo, body scrubs and shower gels. However they have now come up with a packaging-free solution to regular foundations. This foundation is completely plastic free but is dipped in peel-able wax to ease application. No brushes necessary. It is also available in 40 shades and promises a medium coverage. And like most Lush products it is completely vegan. Not all products at Lush are able to be package free so Lush also offer a service where you can return your plastic pots in order for them to be recycled or refilled.


Face Halo make-up remover pads (£18, pack of 3)

With these reusable pads you can forget about stocking up on masses of cotton pads in your cupboard and those pesky non-recylcable plastic bags they come in. You can even forget about buying endless amounts of cleanser bottles because using Face Halo means that you only need their fluffy white pad and some water to take off your makeup. Yes, even mascara. The pads can be cleaned up to 200 times in the washing machine and then when you’re finished with them you can send them back to Face Halo to be recycled.


Butter Me Up Organics Facial Serum (£22.32)

This completely natural serum tackles anti-aging, wrinkles, under eye circles and puffiness. It contains oils of Rosehip, Sea Buckthorn, Avocado, Argan Oil, Kukui Nut, Almond, Coconut, Vitamin E, Jojoba, Lavender, Chamomile, Carrot Seed and Frankincense. All ingredients are certified organic and cruelty free. Butter Me Up sell a range of hand made, non-synthetic, plant powered products all of which are packaged in sustainable glass, tin or recycled paper. If only more mainstream brands would follow in their footsteps.

Ellen Prizeman

I have just graduated from the University of Leeds with a degree in Fashion Marketing. I am particularly interested in sustainability, green design and veganism- anything to make the world a better place. Frequently described as 'a bit of a hippie.'

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