The process of bioaccumulation goes beyond the simple accumulation of carbon in our atmosphere – the human body is also susceptible to this dangerous process. The personal care products we use every day – skin care, shower gels, hair care – can contribute to this process and trigger harmful effects for our bodies and the environment.
So what is bioaccumulation in beauty products? How do your products contribute to this process? The effects of bioaccumulation are often difficult to reverse unless we stop polluting ourselves and the planet. Don’t stress just yet – we’ll break it all down for you!
What does bioaccumulation look like?
In general, what is bioaccumulation? According Direct sciencesbioaccumulation “occurs when an organism absorbs a toxic substance at a greater rate than the rate at which the substance is eliminated”.
Essentially, this means that a harmful chemical gradually accumulates in a living thing (like animals or humans) or in the environment. The living being or the environment is unable to get rid of this chemical as quickly as it accumulates, leading to a dangerous accumulation of these compounds.
Animals, humans, plants, and natural habitats usually have some sort of filter for toxic ingredients. For us, it’s our kidneys, liver, and lungs that filter and absorb the good stuff, while releasing waste from what we eat, drink, or breathe.
However, some “persistent” ingredients may resist degradation and are more difficult for our body to expel. In addition, the effects of these can multiply if we continuously expose ourselves to the same harmful substances.
So how does bioaccumulation occur in the body or in the environment? A prime example occurs when we pollute the ocean with persistent compounds like plastics and pesticides. The chemicals in these materials can flow into the ocean, making marine animals and plants particularly vulnerable to constant exposure and bioaccumulation. As a result, the foods we consume from the sea can, in turn, contribute to bioaccumulation in our bodies.
Industrial dumping is another culprit for the pollution of our precious marine ecosystems – and is one of the main causes of mercury bioaccumulation in fish. Certain types of fish are prone to mercury bioaccumulation and are regularly consumed by humans. When we are exposed to mercury, it is difficult to eliminate from the body and can affect our central nervous system.
The CDC has published several studies on our exposure to environmental chemicals. Ocean Conservation Organization sailors for the sea cites a 2003 study by the Centers for Disease Control, which analyzed samples from 2,500 participants. These samples showed traces of “mercury, lead, uranium, dioxins, PCBs, pesticides, herbicides, phytoestrogens and cotinine (a by-product of nicotine)”.
PRO TIP: Curious about what environmental chemicals you are exposed to? The CDC regularly publishes national reports listing each of the most commonly bioaccumulative compounds.
Typically, one of the most persistent forms of environmental bioaccumulation we observe is in the form of carbon emissions. Since we produce carbon at a higher rate than plants and other organisms can consume, the carbon persists. It accumulates, trapping heat in the atmosphere and contributing to the staggering effects of climate change.
What is bioaccumulation for personal care products?
How does bioaccumulation specifically affect the beauty industry? When we use skin, body or hair care products, we are exposing our body to good or bad chemicals. Our skin can absorb these chemicals – especially if we wear them for an extended period of time – so we need to make sure we’re using the right ones.
While some of these “bad” chemicals may be fine in low doses, the truth is that we are not exposed to just one dose. We continually expose our bodies to these products with long-term, repeated, and regular use. The effects are compounded when we use multiple products with the same disruptive chemical. So what does this bioaccumulation do to our bodies?
We must actively avoid these ingredients because they accumulate easily, disrupt our endocrine system, prove to be carcinogenic and prove toxic to our organ systems. These include talc, coal tar, parabens and phthalates.
[For a more in-depth read on what toxic ingredients to avoid, check out A Beginner’s Guide to Non Toxic Makeup.]
Some of the ingredients that bioaccumulate don’t always mess with our bodies; sometimes we affect the environment with the personal care products we use.
So what is environmental bioaccumulation and how does it work?
When we rinse the products in the sink or in the shower, they reach large bodies of water. While many ingredients break down due to sunlight or bacteria, not all of them break down naturally — or quickly. Despite complex water filtering systems, the most persistent ingredients can still bioaccumulate in oceanic environments. Some examples are silicones, microplastics and triclosan.
Does that mean we have to throw away all of our skincare and cosmetic products or go natural for the rest of our lives for fear of bioaccumulating harmful ingredients in our bodies or our environment?
While it’s perfectly normal to have general concerns, the more you learn about common products that contain toxic chemicals that can bioaccumulate, the more informed decision you can make about what to use or avoid. The good news is that there are plenty of alternative products to cut your guesswork.
What are common toxic products that can bioaccumulate and their alternatives?
It doesn’t take long to think to conclude that many conventional skin and hair products, cosmetics – even common household items – contain a host of toxic chemicals and ingredients that can bioaccumulate and potentially harm you and cheers.
The good news is that we’re here to help you identify and avoid some of the most common culprits while providing natural and safe alternatives so you can still safely enjoy your favorite products every day!
Talc is widely used in many cosmetics for its ability to improve a product’s texture and absorb moisture. So it’s a seemingly perfect mineral addition to powder formulas – everything from foundation to blush to eye shadow is often made with talc.
But talc has its dark underbelly. Talc is a material composed of magnesium, silicon and oxygen and may also contain asbestos fibres. It’s the asbestos fibers that are the scary part, which can pose health risks such as respiratory toxicity as well as cancer.
Naturally, we ditched the use of talc in our natural makeup powder formulas and opted for rice powder, which has an ultra-soft texture and effective absorbency. We use it in our Fruit Pigmented® powder foundation collection, which is cult for its poreless finish. Rice powder is also the main component of our powder blushes and eyeshadows, making them beautifully pigmented and ultra-blendable.
#2: Coal Tar Royalties
This pigment gives beauty products, from mascara and lipsticks to hair dye, an inky black tint and is a byproduct of coal combustion. This petroleum-derived culprit can be found as p-Phenylenediamine, “CI”+number, “FD&C”+number, or “D&C”+number.
Regardless of the number, coal tar is widely recognized as a carcinogen. It causes severe allergic reactions and is linked to cancer. It is also contaminated with heavy metals which are toxic to the brain and cause skin irritations and rashes. Coal tar is also toxic to fish and wildlife.
We definitely want to avoid getting coal tar dyes near our mouths or eyes! That’s why we avoid it in our natural mascaras and length conditioners, which nourish with organic green tea and vitamin E.
We’re picky about what we put in our mouths, especially considering how much lipstick we inadvertently eat. That’s why we stick to natural lipsticks, free of questionable ingredients like coal tar.
You’ve probably heard of those sneaky little preservatives called parabens. The purpose of parabens is to prevent the formation of bacteria in products. Any personal care product whose ingredient ends in -paraben should be on your list of things to avoid.
Parabens can be absorbed through the skin: shampoo, conditioner, lotion, hair care, deodorant and skin care. Studies show that parabens can cause endocrine disruption, developmental and reproductive toxicity, and various cancers, including breast cancer.
The good news about parabens is that they can easily be avoided and replaced with safer alternatives. We have plenty of paraben-free options for shampoos and conditioners for every hair type, texture, color, and length on our list. You can enjoy the same benefits and safety with our body washes and gels to make your shower experience relaxing and luxurious.
Phthalates are a group of chemicals most commonly used to make plastic more flexible and harder to break. They also act as a binder or solvent. You can find these chemical culprits under DEP, DBP, DEHP and fragrance.
Phthalates are commonly found in nail polishes, perfumes and hair sprays. They can be endocrine disruptors, altering hormonal balance and potentially causing reproductive, developmental and other health problems.
By sticking to our natural and clean mantra for our skincare and makeup products, our nail polish formulas are no exception. Our 20-free nail polishes are free from the top 20 toxic ingredients found in many nail polishes. One more? They are also cruelty-free.
Avoid Harmful Ingredients
One of the best ways to avoid harmful ingredients is to read your labels. Beware of harmful preservatives, artificial fragrances, talc, mineral oil, phthalates, silicones and triclosan. Physical scrubs with microplastics are another big culprit – opt for a finely ground sugar or salt scrub instead!
However, reading a list of ingredients can be tiring and time-consuming – not to mention that harmful ingredients can hide under pseudonyms. Mineral oil, for example, can be called paraffin, petroleum, or petroleum jelly. Learning every name and alias under the sun can be time consuming.
One way to simplify this process is to buy from brands that are committed to choosing safe, all-natural alternatives to traditional cosmetic ingredients. Find a brand whose values align with yours, so you can be sure you’re using safe, quality ingredients.
An alternative is to copy and paste the ingredient list into a parser like this one from SkinCarisma. You can get a breakdown of ingredient health ratings and identify ingredients to avoid (like parabens).
Another way to avoid harmful ingredients is to choose products that are USDA Organic. This makes it less likely that synthetic contaminants will affect your health and the health of the environment. Artificial colors in makeup, for example, can contain contaminants like lead.
Look specifically for the USDA logo. This means that a mark is Actually certified organic and not just by making vague claims on their packaging.
Now that we’ve answered the bioaccumulation question, we hope you’ll take the time to go through your cosmetic, skin, and hair routine. Identify any products that contain bioaccumulative ingredients and replace them with natural, plant-based alternatives. Be sure to read and analyze the ingredient list – it’s the surest way to get the safest product possible!