The use of cosmetics is a universal practice. However, cosmetics have a long history of damaging both the environment and health. Women use approximately 12 beauty products daily that contain 168 different ingredients; and some of these ingredients may be linked to cancer, hormonal disruption, or reproductive toxicity. Researchers in the U.S have identified 10,500 industrial chemicals that are used as ingredients in cosmetic products. Those ingredients include pesticides, reproductive toxins, plasticizers, surfactants, degreasers, carcinogens, and endocrine disruptors, which are compounds that interfere or mimic the function of hormones in the body. Endocrine disruptors can cause reproductive and neurological damage and can lower immunity to diseases.
In animal studies, chemicals used in cosmetics have been linked to altered pregnancy outcomes and birth defects. A prolonged use of products derived from coal-tar can increase the risk of folliculitis, and prenatal exposure to chemicals like diethanolamine may have harmful effects on brain development. There are 12 chemicals in particular, called the “dirty dozen” which have been linked to environmental and health concerns. These chemicals include parabens and phthalates, which are known endocrine disruptors, cancer causing chemicals like petrolatum, and reproductive toxicants like siloxanes. Loopholes in cosmetic labelling requirements lead to incomplete ingredient lists for many products, and manufacturers do not need to disclose fragrance ingredients on their product labels.
Cosmetics also have harmful effects on the environment. Chemical ingredients that are found in cosmetics, like BHA and BHT, triclosan, and siloxanes can be harmful to fish and other types of wildlife. Plasticizers like dibutyl phthalate affect reproduction in animals, harm development in amphibians and crustaceans, and induce genetic abnormalities. Plasticizers interfere with the functions of hormone systems, and have shown to bioaccumulate in organisms. The chemical components that are found in many cosmetic products do not break down, but instead accumulate. Phthalates in particular have shown to accumulate in fish, and can change enzyme expression and activity in mammals. Microbeads found in products like toothpaste and face scrubs are small enough to not be caught by sewage treatment plants and often end up in rivers and canals where they can cause water pollution. Microbeads are able to stay in the environment for up to 50 years, and threaten oceans and marine diversity.
Chemicals used in cosmetics are washed into rivers, lakes, and streams. Cosmetic chemicals that have been introduced into the aquatic system are transferred to other regions through rain and have been found in oceans, rivers, streams, and agricultural soil. Coal-tar derived chemicals causes harm to aquatic species and diminishes animal plankton populations, and chemicals like triclocan have been linked to genetic mutations in plant and animal plankton and amphibians. Diethanolamine is used in almost every cosmetic product; however it creates nitrosamines when it reacts to nitrate, which is carcinogenic and has been linked to reproductive and behavioural changes in plant and animal plankton. As the demand for natural products increases, companies need natural ingredients cheap, quickly, and in large quantities. This demand increases the amount of farming and mining needed, which leads to the use of more pesticides and problematic labour practices. Lastly, unsustainable methods of requiring non- renewable natural resources can also deplete and disrupt ecosystems.