Whether or not you subscribe to the idea of “carbon foot printing”, it is a good visual when assessing the impact of our purchasing and product usage decisions.  This week at Eric Scheid of Henkel spoke to Industry publication Cosmetic Design Europe  about the environmental impact of cosmetics.  He gave some examples of how Henkel  are working to make products better using life cycle analysis; these involve making waterless hand cleaners and better dispending bottles for liquid products.

Scheid claims that most of the  environmental impact of a cosmetic product comes in the use phase. The water that we use, the energy used to heat the water in the first place, the rinsing of the product and the discarding of the packaging.  In fact, the Henkel Company worked out that for their brand of shampoo (Schaumer 7 herbs)  around 90% of the carbon footprint is in the products usage.

Well, I would add a few more things to that list such as the ingredients in the product (where they are sourced, the impact of manufacturing them and the transport of them),  the manufacturing of the product and the excess packaging used to make it look pretty. The transport of the product to distributors and then out to shops and the energy that goes into advertising it!

Anyway,  if  we agree for a moment that it is us as consumers that have the greatest environmental impact, what can we do?

List A – very short!


1) Don’t use any product at all.

Hmmm, not sure that that will fly!

List B – A Bit Longer!


1) Spend less time in the shower – Get one of those little shower timers to help you!

2) Turn down the water temperature – just a few degrees will save some of the black stuff (carbon!)

3) Share your shower with the family or some friends (well, this may just work sometimes) – it will save you water.

3) Buy products that can be used without water – you can get some powdered shampoos, waterless hand cleaners and Cleansing creams (to wipe of make-up).

Now, I am still not happy that it is us, the consumers making the entire problem. Let’s assume for a minute that a products carbon footprint is indeed shared between its ingredients, packaging, transport, marketing AND use. What can we do then?

List C – The Whole Story.


1 – 3) The points above still stick – if we can use less water, we do everyone a favor!

4) Buy Local – OK, this is not always practical and there is nothing wrong with loving the products made in France if you live in the USA. BUT I am sure that you can find a few everyday products that have been lovingly made much closer to home. Think soaps, candles and massage oils.  A trip to your local market will quickly open your eyes to who does what and where.  Mix some of these in with the overseas brands for a lighter footprint (and some community building!)

5) Make your own – Some products are easy to make up on your own so give it a go (recipes are available on this blog and at other forums!) You don’t need to make everything but it is a fun way to reduce your impact.

6) Buy in bulk if possible – Think of packaging and try to only buy what makes sense. You can always decant the family pack of sunscreen down into some little re-usable pots once at home.

7) Consolidate – Do you really need 6 types of shampoo and 4 different deodorants?  Think of how your whole family can share the same product (they can possibly personalise by using essential oils).

8) Avoid excess packaging – Search for brands that don’t use packaging in an excessive and wasteful way. Look for the packs that can be recycled or that have been recycled.

9) Look for brands that give something back – Large and small brands can fall into this category so be open minded and research your purchases. Find out what they do to give back to the environment and support those that are doing good.

10) Think before you use. Most of what we use ends up down the drain so be careful with what you choose, how you use and how you dispose of your products.

So, is there a way for us to be eco friendly and enjoy cosmetics and personal care products? Of course there is, but the time has come for us to be conscious consumers.  That way, we can have it all!