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Real Cost of Cosmetics: Environmental Impact

When weighing up the cost of makeup, what if the real cost isn’t actually the price tag? Perhaps we should also be paying closer attention to the environmental impact of the beauty brands we choose.

  • Cosmetic packaging can take hundreds of years to break down in landfill.
  • Toxic chemicals in cosmetics washed down drains ends up in oceans damaging the eco system and causing death to aquatic species.
  • Livestock affected by toxins that end up in soil can suffer reproductive, genetic, and developmental changes as well as many types of cancer.
  • Brands adding one or two natural ingredients masking other toxic ingredients are rapidly depleting natural resources.
  • Cosmetics with Palm Oil are contributing to rapid deforestation and climate change.


At the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit in 2016, Amarjit Sahota, president of Organic Monitor, weighed in on cosmetics and sustainability:

“The solutions are not black and white, it’s more like a balancing act and trade offs.”

So where does this leave you as an ethical consumer wanting to make more sustainable choices?

As individuals it’s impossible to live a completely ethical and sustainable lifestyle.

It’s about being at peace with doing the best we can to make ethical purchasing decisions. Then reuse and recycle to reduce and offset our environmental impact.

Naturally, when choosing cosmetics we can look for brands doing their best by implementing initiatives where they can to protect our beautiful planet.

Below we explore the ways that cosmetics are impacting the environment, and offer sustainable options for you to consider for your own personal ethos.


Beauty brands jumping on the natural bandwagon by just adding a few natural ingredients to cosmetics that contain a myriad of other toxic ingredients, are not only duping customers but are also damaging the environment with the eradication of natural resources and unsustainable farming practices.

With the increase of these companies seeking out natural ingredients to fool customers into thinking they are buying natural cosmetics, the demand for natural ingredients has increased.

Big beauty brands without an eco conscious want these natural ingredients in large quantities- and they also want it cheap and quickly regardless of the impact to the environment.

This results in more pesticides in soil and also depletes non-renewable natural resources with unsustainable farming practices.


  • Consider choosing cosmetics made from 100% natural ingredients from beauty brands with a true eco conscious.
  • Look for cosmetics that have certifications to back their natural beauty claims. In Australia, Safe Cosmetics Australia has certified over 50 brands as toxic free. Adorn Cosmetics is proudly Certified Allergan and Toxin Free.
  • Choose beauty brands that have sustainability initiatives in place such as eco-refill programs, minimal packaging and biodegradable wrapping. Learn more here.
  • Look for beauty brands using sustainability sourced cosmetics ingredients. For example, Kakadu Plum is sustainably sourced from socially responsible crops in Australia’s heartlands, creating a horticultural industry for isolated indigenous communities.


Did you know toxins in cosmetics damage the environment after they are washed down our sinks?

The chemicals in many cosmetics don’t break down and build up in our ecosystems. These toxins can then end up in our oceans, lakes, streams, rivers, and water supply.

However, it’s not just our sea life that suffers.

When water evaporates into the atmosphere, it re-accumulates into clouds, then re-liquefies and returns to the earth as rain- contaminating our soils with toxic chemicals.

Next time you wash cosmetics with chemical ingredients down the drain, consider the effects the toxins can cause to the environment and eco systems:

  • Reduction in animal plankton population.
  • Change of behaviour and death of aquatic species.
  • BHA and BHT cause death of fish and shellfish.
  • BHA and BHT cause genetic mutations in amphibians.
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate alters fish behaviour and increases mortality.
  • Dioxane causes death to insects.
  • Diethanolamine (DEA) builds up in the environment and reacts with nitrates to form nitrosamines, which are highly carcinogenic to human and animal life.
  • DEA is fatally toxic to amphibians, crustaceans, fish, nematodes, flatworms, and animal plankton.
  • Livestock exposed to chemicals in soil can suffer from reproductive issues and cancer.


  • Choose 100% natural cosmetics so that toxic ingredients don’t end up in our eco systems harming sea life and other life on Earth.
  • Look for cosmetic brands that have certifications to back their natural beauty claims so that you are genuinely using natural beauty products.


Not only do 70% of cosmetics end up in landfill unfinished, many discarded plastics are ending up in our oceans.

Not only can this cause death and harm to sea life, but micro bacteria attach to plastic and create their own eco systems.

The plastic then travels with this bacteria and can end up on the other side of the world, contaminating other countries with disease.


Whilst we can’t completely eliminate plastics completely, we can recycle and reuse to reduce the impact to the environment.

Reuse your empty cosmetic containers for other purposes, or to ensure they don’t end up our oceans recycle them according to your local council’s guidelines.

  • Don’t put your empty cosmetic containers or packaging in a plastic bag. Place them into the recycling bins loose as some sorting machines can’t always sort them and they will end up in landfill.
  • There’s no need to waste water washing your containers. Just give them a good scrape clean or use your left over washing-up water.
  • Some councils will accept your cosmetic containers with lids whilst others won’t. It depends on what equipment and processes are in place by the Material Recovery Facility. Contact your local council to find out what is right for your area.

(Adorn Cosmetics featured in Slow Magazine’s Clean and Green feature as a Palm Oil Free product.)


"In case you need convincing how important it is to stop using palm oil, it’s chilling to realise that the equivalent of up to 300 football fields an hour are being cleared to make room for palm plantations.

Apart from anything else, clearing a hectare of forest can release around 6000 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.” - excerpt from Slow Magazine

  • Clearing for palm oil plantations in the tropics has destroyed vast areas of rainforest.
  • Felling of trees has contributed to climate change and global warming.
  • Depletion of forests in Indonesia is particularly concerning because these forests store more carbon per hectare than any other ecosystem in the world.
  • Air, soil, and water pollution.
  • Soil erosion.
  • Robbing indigenous people of Malaysia and Indonesia of their land and livelihoods.


  • Look for beauty brands that have been certified Vegan if you want to completely avoid the use of Palm Oil in your cosmetics.
  • The WWF encourages individuals to raise awareness of the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).


Adorn Cosmetics Sustainability Initiatives

Safe Cosmetics Australia Certified Toxic Free

Sustainable Cosmetics Summit

Slow Magazine


RSPO (Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil)

Get it Right on Bin Night Victoria Recycle Right Western Australia

Recycling City of Sydney

Recycle for Good City of Darwin

Rethink Waste Tasmania

How do I Recycle? South Australia