Skincare, hair care, makeup, gel or acrylic nails, nail polish, bleach, hair dye, spa days, threading, waxing, shaving… How many of these things do you purchase and/or use on a regular basis? Do you know where these products come from and what they’re made of? You should, because it matters, and we can’t afford to be blind about our impact globally.
It’s not unusual, especially in developed countries, to spend exorbitantly on products and procedures supposed to make us more appealing and attractive. While it’s not wrong to highlight features that one likes, or to present oneself in a certain way and have fun with appearance, it’s wrong to do so at the expense of other people and of the Planet. The world is becoming increasingly ‘disposable’. When purchasing products, pretty packaging and promising claims take precedence over the products origin, or the circumstances in which the ingredients were obtained and the items produced. Once the products come home, they are applied to the body and eventually washed down the drain without any thought as to what happens while on the skin, or downstream in the ecosystem.
These behaviours are toxic – environmentally, socially, ethically and physically. The harms of the beauty industry are often overlooked – in fact, there is a great effort to ignore and paint over serious industry concerns, even though the use of these products has been ingrained in societies for millennia. Ancient Egyptians used kohl as eyeliner, and both Queen Elizabeth I of England and Geishas in Japan used lead based products for a creamy white skin tone. Today, women and men are bombarded with societal pressure to look a certain way, to the point that it’s a requirement at some jobs or at the very least a strong expectation. While this obviously bodes poorly for self-esteem and confidence, the extent of the damage caused by the beauty industry reaches much farther than many of the most fanatic users are aware of.
- Plastic Pollution: One of the more obvious effects of the beauty industry is plastic pollution in all forms. The beautiful packaging holding eye shadow palettes together, and to contain various products are rarely ever recyclable, and in the rare case that they are, are often thrown away anyways. This packaging doesn’t biodegrade or decompose and will remain, polluting the planet long after the user has left the earth. ‘Microbeads’ found in many cleansers and exfoliating products are made of tiny pieces of plastic that are not only applied to the skin, but are washed down the drains and enter water ways as most cities do not have adequate facilities to remove these microplastics from waste water. The glitter found in may products is also made of tiny plastic pieces, which once again pollute any environment downstream. The solution here is simple: don’t buy products in plastic packaging or products containing microbeads or glitter. Learn to make your own beauty products and store them in reusable container. If you must buy products, try to buy products in glass or metal packaging and once empty clean and remove labels, then recycle.
- Human Trafficking: Plastic waste is not the only concern with getting nails done. Human trafficking is a problem, with people forced to work, rarely with pay, in salons in order to fill the demand for cheap manicures and pedicures. That manicure may be cute, and you may have had it done for a bargain, but a good deal for you should never come at the expense of another person.
- Child Labour: A hidden truth that makeup companies don’t want you to know. Many makeup products contain materials mined by children in unfair and unsafe working conditions. Mica, a common ingredient in many powdered makeup products, is one of these materials. Companies don’t have to disclose where all the raw materials for products are sourced, so consumers have no way to know if their favourite products contain ingredients mined by children, or others in unfair conditions. In order to not contribute to the use of child labour, it is critical to avoid ALL products containing mica, and look into ‘ethical’ companies and do your own research to ensure that the company operates by their claim.
- Exploiting Poverty: Synthetic hair extensions contribute to plastic pollution as hair sheds into the environment during daily activities, so one might think that the better alternative would be natural hair extensions. The issue with this assumption is that it assumes that the people donating their hair are getting a fair price for what they are selling, this unfortunately, is rarely the case. The hair used for extensions is frequently purchased from women in developing countries, and companies often under pay the women for their hair, and then charge high prices. Hair extensions are not necessary, and if you feel you must, conduct thorough research to find a company that pays fairly for hair and spend the extra money to ensure that a wig or extensions are not contributing to a cycle of poverty for the sake of ‘beauty’.
- Down the Drain: All the products applied to the body end up in the drain at some point. Many products available in stores contain a multitude of harsh, synthetic chemicals that are often washed down the drain without thought. Municipal waste water treatment plants are unable to filter out the chemicals that are flushed away*, and thus these substances enter the aquatic ecosystem where they pollute the environment and in many cases cause damage. In a large city there may be millions of people washing away a variety of substances including bleach, dye, cleansers and makeup and medicated creams. If you would hesitate putting even small quantities of products in a fish tank or your pet’s water, it should not go down the drain.
There’s clearly nothing pretty about about exploitation of people and the Planet. Although the beauty industry has made us all feel as though we need this or that to be beautiful, it’s all a lie. The trait that is almost universally considered most beautiful isn’t red lips, even and clear skin, or shiny hair – it’s confidence, and these industries aren’t helping. The goal of these companies is to make you feel inadequate, so that they can tell you that the solution is a cream to fix your fine lines, or a mascara to make your eyes look bigger. You ARE beautiful, period, and it’s not because of the products. It can be intimidating to stop, but buy relying products to feel beautiful you are a slave to the companies that provide them, and contribute the their practices. The less you use, the less you contribute to environmental destruction and the better you feel as you realize that you are inherently beautiful and what’s ugly is the industry telling you otherwise. Whatever you perceive as flaws are the things that make you human and the things that make you beautiful. Let that hair grow naturally, grow your nails out, let your skin breathe and show the industries that have been making you feel inadequate that you are more than beautiful enough.
*The town that I live in is often hailed by those living within it for having excellent waste water treatment, so good that many say, “the water that leaves the town is cleaner than the water that enters.” While Canadian regulations and regular inspections ensure that this is true, the town still advises against flushing medication and other substances stating that these will eventually end up in the rivers and streams. This advisory against flushing medication likely extends to other substances that people often wash away without thought.