- The skin is our largest organ with an area of about two square meters. Its ability to absorb various substances is more effective than we might think. Several studies show that about 10% of the skin cream we use is absorbed by the skin and carried further into the body with effects that have not yet been sufficiently researched.
- Cosmetic products can contain many different substances, including water, fats and oils, vitamins, surfactants, stabilizers, perfumes, UV filters, preservatives and dyes.
- Some of these substances are harmful for humans and the environment because of proven allergenic and / or hormone disrupting effects. This includes preservatives and fragrances. Read more about some of the worst here.
- Some cosmetics and hygiene products also contain microplastics, which are small plastic particles smaller than 5 mm in size. When we wash, microplastics end up in wastewater and are rarely caught in sewage treatment plants. Then they end up in streams and lakes, where they negatively affect wildlife. Read more about microplastics here.
- Cleansing products such as soap, shampoo and bath foam contain surfactants. Surfactants dissolve dirt particles so that they can be rinsed off, but the disadvantage is that they dry out the skin.
Cosmetics Regulation and animal testing
- According to the EU Cosmetics Regulation and the Swedish cosmetics legislation, there are no requirements that all substances included must be approved. However, there is a ban list that contains, for example, heavy metals as well as carcinogenic, mutagenic and reproductive substances (so-called CMR substances). In practice, this means that certain substances can be allowed until they end up on the ban list.
- Chemicals in skin care products do not have E-numbers such as food additives, which makes it difficult to identify raw materials and manufacturing methods. However, all consumer cosmetic products in the EU must be declared for content according to the INCI system (The International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients). This enables us to identify the substances included in the product.
- According to this system, the ingredients are listed in English (chemical substances) and Latin (plant-derived ingredients) and presented in order of quantity: if the first ingredient is water, the product mainly contains water.
- Since 2004, it has been forbidden to test cosmetics on animals in the EU. In cosmetic products, however, there may be substances used in other products such as medicines, food and cleaning products. Some of these substances may still be subject to animal testing meeting the requirements of the current legislation.
- “Not tested on animals” or “Against animal testing” need not be a guarantee that the products have not been tested on animals. It can often be the case that one company is owned by another corporation and so the product is not tested on the animals within that company but can be tested within another part of the group.
- Most ordinary and mass-produced cosmetics and skincare products contain mineral oil, as it is cheap and color- and odor-free. It is used to expand the volume and reduce the price of the products.
- Mineral oil is extracted from crude oil. The process involves various environmentally damaging processing stages to become harmless to humans. The extraction of crude oil has a large environmental and climate footprint.
- It is believed that mineral oil helps to soften, reduce water loss from the skin and keep it moist. But instead, the mineral oil can disrupt the skin’s own fat production and clog the pores.
- It can be written on the package as: mineral oil, paraffinum liquidum, petroleum jelly, paraffin, white mineral oil, oleum petrol, oleum vaseline, paraffin oil, liquid paraffin.
Cosmetics on the internet
- In Sweden and in the EU, there are laws and strict rules regarding the manufacturing and advertising of cosmetic products.
- Products purchased online and / or coming from outside the EU do not comply with EU laws and regulations. This means that they may contain hazardous substances that are not permitted in the EU and may have been tested on animals.
Tips for a conscious consumption of skincare and cosmetics
- Choose eco-labeled products: the Nordic Ecolabel, Good environmental choice, EcoCert and Natrue. Look for current labels on our labeling guide.
- Buy shower creams that have the same pH value as the skin so as not to dry it out, i.e. about pH 5.5.
- Choose a product with fewer ingredients: this way you avoid unnecessary additives.
- Avoid products with:
- Unnecessary packaging.
- Mineral oil
- Big amount of preservatives. Avoid products that have a lot of water in them, because then it is necessary to add a lot of preservatives. If the products feel oily, you can rub them on the skin together with a few drops of freshwater.
- Choose products that contain jojoba oil, shea butter, aloe vera, avocado oil, lavender oil, olive oil and/or patchouli. Bacteria do not grow very well in these substances, so there is no need to add synthetic and bactericidal chemicals.
- Read and check out the ingredients regardless of price: even expensive cosmetic products can contain questionable chemical substances.
- Buy cosmetics from well-known internet sites when shopping online and be source critical of online shopping outside Europe.
- Use your consumer power: go to stores with knowledgeable personnel and ask for decent alternatives.
- Make your own cosmetic products: tips can be found here and here, for example.
The sun’s UV radiation consists of two different types of radiation:
- UVA – low-energy radiation that penetrates into the deeper layers of the skin. It darkens the pigment in the skin, causes skin cancer and causes the skin to age prematurely.
- UVB – energy-rich radiation with short wavelengths that causes sunburn. In turn, sunburn damages the skin and skin cells. Sunscreen protects our skin from sunburn.
To protect us from the sun’s UV solar radiation, sunscreens contain various chemical substances. These substances are not always good for either the environment or our health. Some are difficult to degrade and bioaccumulative, allergenic and/or hormone disrupting.
- When we bathe, a quarter of the sunscreen that we applied ends up in the water. There, our sunscreens damage wildlife, including bleaching corals (a disease that leads to its death) and also give birds and fish reproductive difficulties.
- The Norwegian Consumer Council tested 45 different sunscreens that can be bought at pharmacies, health food stores and grocery stores in 2017. It turned out that 37 sunscreens contain substances that could be harmful for the environment, allergenic or endocrine disrupting, while only 8 were approved. Among those who received approval were Coop’s Änglamark and Apoteket’s ACO.
Two types of sunscreen
There are two types of UV filters:
- Chemical filters: these sunscreens are effective 20-30 minutes after application. They consist of UV filters that capture the energy in the UV radiation and convert it into heat radiation. The substances get absorbed by the skin and can be allergenic and hormone disrupting and are proven to be damaging for the environment.
- Mineral filters: these sunscreens consist of mineral particles that stay on the surface of the skin and reflect the sun’s rays. They are effective at once. The most common minerals in sunscreens are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. As the white draft can be seen on the skin and is considered unattractive, the substances are usually added in nano form. A nano-sized substance can have altered properties and nano-form titanium dioxide that is inhaled can lead to pneumonia and cancer.
- According to Katarina Johansson who wrote the book Bath foam: the poisons that make you clean, fresh and good-looking (2012), there is no good sunscreen, only less bad ones. The best sun protection is, therefore, shade, clothes and a sun hat.
Some questionable UV filters that may be present in your sunscreen
- 4-Methylbenzylidenecamphor (4-MBC) – hormone disrupting, difficult to degrade and bioaccumulative.
- Benzophenone-1-2-3 (Oxybenzone) – hormone disruptor and allergen and suspected carcinogen. Toxic to aquatic organisms and especially coral.
- Octrocrylene – suspected allergen and bioaccumulative. Linked to aquatic toxicity (the ability of a substance to harm an organism, a measure of its degree of toxicity, in this case in water and aquatic environments).
- Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate / Octyl Methoxycinnamate (Octinoxate) – is hormone disrupting and bioaccumulative. Toxic to algae and aquatic animals and contributes to coral bleaching. It enters the body during use and has been found in breast milk, urine and blood.
- Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane (Avobenzone) – allergenic, suspected hormone disruptor and toxic to aquatic organisms.
- 3-Benzylidene Camphor (3-BC) – suspected bioaccumulative and hormone disrupting.
- Padimate O (Od-Paba) – suspected hormone disruptor, allergen and suspected of damaging DNA. It is also suspected of being an environmental toxin.
- Homosalate (Eusolex / HMS) – suspected hormone disruptor. Degradable and suspected environmental toxin.
Tips for a conscious consumption of sunscreen
- The app “Min soltid” by the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority shows how strong the sun is day by day and how long you can stay in the sun without getting burned. Keep in mind that children are more sensitive, so use the time indication as a guideline.
- Avoid sunscreen in spray form, as most of it comes out into the air, can be inhaled and cause damage to lung tissues.
- Avoid sunscreen with nanoparticles. The bottle can say, for example, Titanium Dioxide (nano).
- Choose eco-labeled sun protection: Good Environmental Choice, the Nordic Ecolabel, Ecocert or EU Ecolabel.
- Avoid being exposed to the sun when it is at its strongest. Sit in the shade, wear light clothing, sun hat and sunglasses. Use environmentally friendly sunscreen as a compliment.
- Djurens Rätt The list of companies that avoid animal testing
- EWG’s skin deep Database of Environmental Working Group collects information about cosmetic products, such as their contents and their potential hazards to health and the environment.
- Naturligt Snygg Blog with information about natural cosmetics and skincare without unnecessary additives.
- Chemicals in our life Campaign by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) on chemicals found in products we use in everyday life.