The beauty industry is booming and if you’re a consumer of its beloved products, you know why. We are living in a time where there is a serum, cream, mask, or makeup product for every and any mishap that may occur on one’s face.

What’s more, we are surrounded by influencers and targeted by social media ads telling us we must have them! It’s no wonder the beauty industry was estimated to be worth $532 billion last year by Business Insider. But while consumers are inundated with options and presented with cosmetic problems that need fixing, another grave problem continues to worsen that affects our well-being, including our skin!

Growing Popularity and Pollution

The beauty industry may be fast growing, but it also holds the #1 spot in plastic production, creating 120 billion units of packaging each year, making it a great contributor to our growing landfills and pollution. Some regulations and modifications have been made with Earth’s interest in recent years, like the 2015 Micro-Beads Free Water Act however, the beauty industry has a long way to go to reduce its impact on landfills from excessive packaging, as well as the use of harmful dies and chemicals that run off into the ocean.

Sorry, Sheet Masks, You’ve Been Nixed

It seems every year there is a new, forbidden product or beauty routine step that is deemed harmful to the Earth and is suddenly looked down upon. Last year, makeup wipes were given the cold shoulder for their inability to biodegrade, as well as their harshness toward the skin’s barrier (thank you, Hyram!). This year, there is a new frowned upon product that has been gaining popularity in recent years, but has been deemed even worse than makeup wipes. Sheet masks were recently labeled as the ‘new plastic straws’ by Vogue.

The reason is unsurprising, as consumers should know the drill by now. Anything that is wrapped in plastic and disposed of right away is going to be harmful to the Earth. But the composition of sheet masks paired with its packaging pose an increased hazard. The nature of sheet masks, which are wrapped in a combination of plastic and aluminum packaging, and are made up of synthetic materials soaked in serums, makes them a triple threat to the environment. Susan Stevens, CEO of the sustainable brand, Made with Love, dubs them “one of the more wasteful things one can do in 20 minutes or less” in her interview with Vogue. 

What If My Sheet Mask Claims to be Bio-Degradable

It can be hard to say goodbye to a product that has made its way into your weekly routine, especially one that has left your skin relaxed and glowing! And many sheet masks claim to be made from bio-degradable properties, perhaps easing your guilt. But Stevens argues these claims are not completely true, and can still contribute much harm to landfills and oceans. While the physical sheet may claim to be biodegradable, Stevens explains the serums that they are coated in prohibit the full decomposition process. Similar to under-eye masks, makeup wipes, and toner pads, the liquids that remain on these single-use and toxic products end up seeping out into the Earth and often into our oceans.

The Toxic Cycle

The environmental effects of throwing away single-use skincare products are staggering. But the production process of these products is extremely harmful as well. And ironically, the negative contributions these products make to our air and water quality, directly affect the wellbeing of our skin! The increase in demand for single-use products means more production and more shipments, which, over time diminishes the air quality and negatively impacts our skin.

You may have even noticed some companies marketing products toward preventing the negative effects of air pollution. Additionally, it takes thousands of gallons of water to produce just one package containing cotton products, which happens to be the most pesticide-saturated crop. While you’re applying other serums and products with a cotton applicator, there is residue from sprayed pesticides entering your body through your pores.

This is not to say the beauty industry is the only industry using copious amounts of water and diminishing our air quality. However, there is undeniable irony in beauty brands creating clarifying products to rid the skin of toxins found in the air when they are contributing to the problem.

What Can I Do to Limit Pollution?

It can be difficult to determine what products are safe for your skin and for the earth. Especially since cosmetic companies are not required to register with the FDA, which means there are virtually no restrictions on potentially hazardous ingredients that go into products. The best thing you can do for your skin and for the earth is read ingredient lists to ensure you are not applying toxic chemicals and try to cut out single use items from your routine where you can.