Environmental Impact of Cosmetic Ingredients

Environmental Impact of Cosmetic Ingredients

Sep 15, 2023

Cosmetics are complex.

With an average ingredient count of 20.57 per product, it may seem sometimes like formulators are just tossing stuff in there to keep ingredient labels long…

Yet each ingredient serves a purpose, otherwise it wouldn't find its way into your product. The role of each ingredient is defined by the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients, or INCI for short.

INCI has outlined 74 distinct functions that cosmetic product ingredients can fulfill. These functions encompass a wide spectrum, from combating excess sebum (Anti-Seborrheic) to providing protection against UV radiation (UV filtering agents).

So, what exactly do these functions entail?

Let's illustrate with an example.

These are the ingredient functions would you find in a simple Facial Cleanser.

  1. SOLVENT: Solvents are substances used in facial cleansers to dissolve and disperse various ingredients, ensuring they are evenly distributed and blended within the formulation. Solvents help in the effective delivery of active ingredients to the skin.

  2. SURFACTANT: Surfactants are essential in facial cleansers as they help remove dirt, oil, and impurities from the skin's surface by emulsifying them in water. They create the lathering or foaming action that aids in cleansing.

  3. SKIN CONDITIONING: A broad functional category of chemicals that help maintain or improve the skin's texture and moisture balance.

  4. HUMECTANT: Humectants are used in facial cleansers to attract and retain moisture, preventing the skin from becoming overly dry after cleansing.

  5. pH ADJUSTERS: Facial cleansers often include pH adjusters to ensure that the product's pH is compatible with the skin's natural pH.

  6. PRESERVATIVE: Preservatives are necessary in facial cleansers to prevent microbial contamination and ensure product safety and shelf life.

  7. FRAGRANCE: Some facial cleansers contain fragrance to provide a pleasant scent.

Every facial cleanser on the market has some combination of ingredients that serve these functions.

How are the impacts spread among these ingredient functions?

It turns out there are HUGE differences between the least polluting and most polluting ingredients in each function.

Take a look at these tables describing the impact of different ingredient functions:

Fairglow measures 16 impact categories in total. Climate change, Land use, and Water use are the most commonly requested.

Not every ingredient is made equally. The variation among ingredient impact is extremely high within each functional group.

The interdecile range, the difference between the 5% and 95% percentiles, is on average an impact difference of 50 times!

In the case of fragrances and land use per kilogram of ingredient, the difference is nearly 12,000 times! What’s wild is that most formulators and consumers have no idea about how huge a difference there can be among each ingredient in their formula.

The next obvious question to consider when assessing the overall impact of your product's formulation is: 'What are the quantities of these ingredients in a standard product?'”

Which we will answer next week, when we dive into Facial Cleansers even deeper.

Feel free to reach out to ask any cosmetic and sustainability questions and

Stay Tuned!

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