Exploring the Environmental Impact of Facial Cleansers

Exploring the Environmental Impact of Facial Cleansers

Sep 22, 2023

Facial Cleansers are a staple product in one’s skincare arsenal.

They work to clean one’s face prior to applying other treatments with ingredients in the functional groups discussed in a previous article.

But how do facial cleanser formulas look from an environmental perspective?

Two main kinds of cleansers

There are two main types of facial cleanser formulations: water based and oil based. The way to determine which is which is easy. Just check if water takes the top spot in the ingredients list.

How do these two types of cleansers differ?

For starters, the number of ingredients in the two cleansers differs quite drastically.

But there’s an even more drastic difference between the carbon footprint’s of water vs oil-based formulations.

**All data was derived from Fairglow’s Cosmetic Product Database, which contains over 50,000 cosmetic products

Water based formulations have a lower carbon footprint because they are primarily composed of water, simple as that. The type of water used in the formulation matters though. Most formulators use deionized or distilled water, as opposed to tap water, but in either case the impact is extremely low from a carbon perspective. (For the curious, deionized water has a lower carbon footprint than distilled water).

Oil based formulations have significantly higher carbon footprints than their water based counterparts, simply because they contain less water. Oils found in cleansers can be of hydrocarbon origin, or from a natural fat source, such as coconuts or palm. A word of caution, however. Just because an ingredient is of natural origin does not mean it has a lower carbon footprint! Mineral Oils, derived from fossil fuels have an average emission factor of 0.739kg per kg, while Capric Triglyceride, a common palm-oil derived ingredient, has an average emission factor of 2.28kg, a nearly 3 fold increase.

So oil based cleansers have higher carbon footprints?

Not necessarily.

The above data show the carbon footprint per kilogram of formulation. To know the entire footprint of a cosmetic product, you must also account for the packaging, manufacturing, efficacy and other phases of the product’s lifecycle.

It turns out that oil-based cleansers tend come in smaller packages than their water based counterparts:

Oil based cleansers anecdotally tend to be more efficacious as well in removing makeup and dirt, and while we could not find a study corroborating this, but we’ve been assured by many cleanser connoisseurs that it was the case. This would suggest the smaller application size per use could swing the overall impact in favor of oil based cleansers.

In Conclusion… the cleanser conversation continues…

We still need to analyse facial cleanser’s dimensions of packaging, manufacturing, distribution, use, and more to determine which products have the overall lower carbon footprint.

Come back next time, and don’t hesitate to reach out to fairglow.fr to learn more about your cosmetic product’s environmental impact!

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