Welcome to March! This month’s challenge takes place in your bathroom...

This month’s challenge takes place in your bathroom, to reduce your personal care product footprint.

When OSOF Sustainable Me was first launched in 2016, a microbeads ban was being considered in New Zealand so this month’s challenge had a section on microbeads. Since then, regulations to prohibit the sale and manufacture of wash-off products that contain plastic microbeads for the purposes of exfoliation, cleaning, abrasive cleaning or visual appearance of the product has been successfully implemented which is a great start for New Zealand.

But this month’s challenge runs deeper, because unfortunately, microbeads aren’t the only harmful things lurking in our personal care products. A host of other chemicals that are the culprits in numerous health and environmental side effects are also present in our shampoos, conditioners, soaps, toothpastes, deodorants and face washes. The list of harmful chemicals is long but the main offenders include parabens, phthalates and formaldehyde.

Parabens are preservatives found in moisturizers, shaving and haircare products. The chemical mimics estrogen and while the effects of low level exposure is simply unknown at this time, they have been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, such as in this 2013 Journal of Toxicology article. Phthalates are best known as the chemicals that make plastics soft and flexible, but they also commonly appear in shampoos and soaps as a solvent and to ‘fix’ fragrance. These chemicals have been shown to affect the reproductive systems of rats – especially males – and as a result have recently been removed from baby bottles and other plastic infant products. Many of you likely remember the smell of formaldehyde from your high school biology class, and may be surprised to learn that it is also used as a preservative in body washes, liquid hand soaps, shampoos and conditioners. In small doses, such as those found in personal care products, formaldehyde can cause skin irritation, hair loss and asthma.

One other common ingredient to avoid is palm oil, which makes a frequent appearance in shampoos and conditioners, soaps, lotions and even lipstick. While this ingredient may not have health effects, its human and environmental impacts are massive. Palm oil plantations are causing rapid deforestation, threatening already highly vulnerable great ape populations, and are known for forced and child labour, and destroying homes of, and forcibly removing indigenous peoples. You can sign a petition, supported by Auckland Zoo (among many others) to ask the New Zealand Minister for Food Safety David Bennett to require mandatory labeling for palm oil products.

Fortunately, there’s a lot of choice in the beauty market and alternatives exist. But if you’re still not happy about the long list of unpronounceable chemical names on the ingredients list of even ‘natural’ shampoos, you can also do it yourself! Google ‘homemade shampoo’ or ‘homemade body wash’ and you will discover a multitude of recipes, tips and tricks for DIY personal care.

So for the month of March, find a way to reduce your cosmetic footprint.

How to participate:

Choose the level below that works for you, and don’t forget to upload a picture of yourself ditching harmful skin and hair care products! Include the hashtag #OSOFSustainableMe and we could feature you on the Plastic Free New Zealand page!

March Challenge

Beginner: Become an informed consumer. Read the back of your shampoo bottle and other personal care projects. Look for and learn about the chemicals listed above in their various forms. When it’s time to purchase more, choose a brand that is microplastic, paraben, phthalate, formaldehyde and palm oil free. Check out the references below for help.

Step it up: Extend your scrutiny to other bathroom products including ensuring that all your cleaning products are microbead-free. You might also take a look at your choice of toilet paper and choose a 100% recycled brand such as Earthcare or recycled sugarcane fiber Greencane paper.

Want more? Go cosmetics free! There are lots of ways to eliminate commercial personal care products from your life. Try washing hair with baking soda and conditioning with vinegar. Olive or coconut oil can be used as a face wash alternative. Do some research, get creative, and let us know what you find!

How does it help?

Plastics in the ocean cause a myriad of issues – especially when those plastics are in small pieces. Termed microplastics, these small bits are omnipresent in the world’s oceans and are easily ingested by marine life. Likewise, chemicals from personal care products are increasingly being identified in drinking water, streams, rivers and of course the ocean. The effects of many of these chemicals on freshwater and marine species are largely unknown. Much more research into these topics are needed, but precautionary measures should also be put in place when there is reasonable doubt that a chemical is safe.

Resources: (Please note, this is not an endorsement of these organizations, stores or products from OSOF, just a suggestion of how to get started)

For more information:

Plastic microbeads ban – Ministry for the Environment: Government regulations banning plastic microbeads took effect on 7 June 2018.

What’s in your shampoo? Interactive site

Database of 65,000+ products and their environmental impacts

Listen: Chemicals in Personal Care Podcast from the US National Institute of Environmental Health Science

The Guardian: All about palm oil

Microbead and harmful chemcical-free products:

Canterbury-based beauty bars: Ethique

Auckland-based Ecostore

Waikato-based Earthwise

NZ-based Only Good

Contributor: Andrea Greene-Liberatore

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