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This month’s challenge takes place in your bathroom.

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 endless but the main offenders include parabens, phthalates and formaldehyde.

Parabens are preservatives found in moisturisers, shaving and hair care 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 and as a result have 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.
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 #OurSeasOurFuture, and we will feature you on our Instagram feed and Facebook Page/s.


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.

Intermediate: Extend your scrutiny to other bathroom products including ensuring that all your cleaning products are eco-friendly. Lemon, baking soda and vinegar are great as cleaning products – both good for the environment and your wallet! You might also look at your choice of toilet paper and choose a 100% recycled brand such as Earthcare or recycled sugarcane fiber Greencane paper.

Advanced: Go cosmetics free! There are lots of ways to eliminate commercial personal care products from your life. Try washing your hair with baking soda and conditioning with vinegar. 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. You can reduce the impact of these harmful chemicals on the environment by reducing your consumption of these products.


Plastic microbeads ban – Ministry for the Environment: Government regulations banning plastic microbeads took effect on 7 June 2018.
What’s in your shampoo?
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 chemical-free products:
Auckland based – White Cloud Skincare

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