Episode 35: Sustainable Beauty and Personal Care Products with Danielle Azoulay (L'Oreal USA)

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While we know our listeners are beautiful inside and out, we all have our go-to beauty and personal care products that help us feel fresh and clean. Dating would be a huge challenge without 'em. However, some of these products harm our health and the environment more than others due to their ingredients, packaging, and manufacturing processes. We'll talk about the sustainability of beauty and personal care products generally and then explore how the world's largest beauty products company embraces sustainability as we chat with Danielle Azoulay, L'Oreal America's Head of CSR and Sustainability. Recorded live from the Sustainable Brands '18 conference in Vancouver.

Learn more about environmental awareness here!

Episode Intro Notes


What We'll Cover:

  • Footprint of beauty and personal care products (BPC for short) industry
  • BPC ingredients
  • New sustainable beauty initiatives and trends
  • What listeners should keep in mind when buying beauty and personal care products
  • Danielle Azoulay and L’Oreal’s Sustainability Commitments


Footprint of the beauty and personal care products industry

When we say beauty and personal care products, we’re talking about all the lotions and potions we use to make us smell, look, and feel awesome. Think skincare, haircare, oral care, fragrance and other similar products. The typical consumer in the U.S. spends about $37 per month on beauty and personal care products. Looking globally, the personal care product market is huge; it is expected to reach about $650 billion by 2024.

Selling this much product, means a big footprint. Consider packaging, water, and air pollution.

First, packaging. An estimated 120 billion units of packaging are produced every year by the global cosmetics industry, most of which is not recyclable. A unit is whatever is actually holding the product (e.g., can, bottle, box). That’s like 16 units of cosmetics packaging per person every year. Just like most of the things we buy and use, these products and packages require energy, water, and materials throughout their lifecycle.

Ok, so now water. Water is used in the formulation of virtually every type of cosmetic and personal care product. Shampoo, creams, deodorant. You name it, water is a top ingredient. Up to 80 percent of your typical shampoo is water. Water is primarily used as a solvent in BPC products. By solvent, we mean that water dissolves many of the ingredients that impart skin benefits (i.e., the valuable/expensive stuff). Water also forms emulsions in which the oil and water components of the product are combined to form creams and lotions. So how much water does this industry use?

In 2015, the BPC industry consumed globally eight million tons of water. That equals about 1 billion (newer) toilet flushes.

Air pollution is not one that readily comes to mind with BPC products but all those perfumes, hairsprays, and spray deodorants add up. One study focused on Los Angeles found the effect on air pollution of personal care products is equivalent to that of car emissions. The chemical vapors from these BPC products interact with particles in the air to produce pollutants such as ozone and PM2.5, which are super tiny particles that can cause us respiratory and cardiovascular problems.


BPC Ingredients

First, let’s talk about BPC ingredients and their impact on our environment.

  • Palm oil. Its derivatives are found in 70 percent of cosmetics products. Palm oil is used in BPC products because it helps increase the viscosity of the product or acts as an occlusive agent, helping skin to retain its moisture. Its use is widespread because it is cheap compared to alternatives like animal fats and other plants. The problem with palm oil is that the demand is causing people to convert forests into palm oil production, leading to deforestation and further endangerment and extinction of species. One recent analysis by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), found that rainforest destruction caused by palm oil plantations damages more than 190 threatened species on the IUCN’s red list. Palm oil is a major topic and honestly, we should probably do an entire show on it.
  • Triclosan. It’s used in most antibacterial products like hand cleansers and sanitizers, deodorants, and laundry detergent. When washed down the drain, it can change the biochemistry of amphibians, fish, and aquatic plants.
  • Oxybenzone, a product that is commonly used in sunscreens as a UV absorber and in lip balm. Hawaii recently passed legislation that banned companies from selling sunscreen on the island that included oxybenzone. While this chemical has been linked to causing the growth of breast cancer cells, the state passed this ban due to the linkage of this chemical to harmful effects on its marine environment and coral reefs.

Now let’s talk about the safety of these ingredients.

The David Suzuki Foundation notes on its “dirty dozen” website that one in eight of the 82,000 ingredients used in personal care products are industrial chemicals, including carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, and hormone disruptors. The Dirty Dozen is a list the Foundation has compiled of the most toxic ingredients found in personal care products.

While BPC products are known to have these harmful ingredients, there is a lack of testing BPC products for safety. According to the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, 89 percent of the 10,500 ingredients used in personal care products have not been evaluated for safety by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, the Food and Drug Administration, nor any other publicly accountable institution.

Why the lack of testing? Well in the US, there is a heavy burden of proof before the government takes action to keep chemicals out of a product. The Toxic Substances Control Act in the US maintains an inventory of 85,000 chemicals, but has only required about 250 of them to be tested, and has banned or restricted only nine.

The European Union, on the other hand, uses a hazard-based, precautionary approach. It has a law called the Cosmetics Directive that currently bans 1,328 of these known toxic chemicals from cosmetic products.

Aside from consumers not being able to make informed choices due to the lack of testing, it also allows companies to get away with unsubstantiated claims (aka greenwashing).


New sustainable beauty initiatives and trends

A new science-based scorecard for the personal care industry has the backing of, wait for it, Target and Walmart. So yeah, this scorecard has the industry’s attention. The scorecard is made up of 32 key performance indicators that are clustered into four areas. The human health impacts of ingredients is the area that has the most points associated with it at 130 out of 400.

The hope is that this scorecard creates a race to the top for safer, more sustainable products.

One trend is “fast beauty.” These are companies moving much faster from conception to launch of products so they can better capitalize on demand trends. Companies following this model include Winky Lux and Kylie Cosmetics. These companies argue they are actually more environmentally friendly since they are inventory-light, and thus avoid waste of products that had huge initial runs and are now being taken off shelves.

Another new initiative is SPICE: the Sustainable Packaging Initiative for CosmEtics. The 11 member companies including L’Oreal and Avon Products are working with the sustainable consulting firm Quantis to collectively shape the future of sustainable packaging. SPICE’s efforts fall into three buckets:

  1. Guiding sustainable packaging policy development
  2. Driving packaging innovation based on objective eco-design criteria
  3. Providing more clarity to consumers on the environmental performance of products


What (spooked) listeners should keep in mind when buying beauty and personal care products

Try to go with packaging-free products or with products that have reusable, recyclable, or compostable packaging. Consider the perfume maker Le Labo. It has a refillable service in its stores, and it gives customers 20% off when they refill it. Lush Cosmetics has reduced its packaging with its Lush Naked products, which are solid, anhydrous (i.e., no water) versions of shower gels, body lotions, and more. They are the same ingredients as the liquid versions but without any packaging to throw away.

Check out packagefreestartup.com for a collection of package-free (or with minimal or recyclable packaging where necessary) beauty products.

Another thing to look out for is water-less products. We mentioned earlier how water often makes up 70-80 percent of skincare products. Instead of water, these products often use extracts and oils such as aloe, bamboo sap, and green tea extract as a base. This means a less-diluted product. Waterless also often means less preservatives because preservatives need to be put into water-heavy products to prevent microbial growth. These preservatives can cause skin irritation.

So let’s talk examples. The aforementioned, anhydrous Lush products are one example. There’s also LOLI Beauty’s products. The founder of LOLI Beauty contrasts its products with “big beauty” which she claims sells products made up mainly of plastic, water, and chemicals. LOLI’s products are water-less with upcycled, organic, and superfood ingredients, and it packages them in reusable food-grade containers and compostable plastic.

Look at the ingredients. Try to avoid products with the ones we talked about earlier. To learn about the safety of a product or its constituent chemicals (well, the ones the company has to list), check out the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. The database currently contains over 73,000 products from over 2,000 brands. Each chemical and product is given a hazard score from 1, the lowest hazard, to 10, the highest hazard. Each also gets a data score based on the amount and strength of data available. You can find everything from Axe deodorant to baby shampoo to toothpaste. (Scott looked up his Axe deodorant stick and found it has a hazard score of 4 and low on data available).

Labels to look for regarding the sourcing of a product’s ingredients are the leaping bunny logo which signifies no animal tests were conducted in developing the products, and also the rainforest alliance and Fair Trade logos that signify the ingredients were sustainably sourced.


About Danielle Azoulay and L'oreal's sustainability commitments

L’Oreal is the world’s largest cosmetics and beauty company, and it also takes sustainability seriously. For one, it is a co-founder of the new sustainable packaging initiative SPICE that we talked about. L’Oreal also has an ambitious sustainability program called Sharing Beauty with All. This program has a series of 2020 commitments, and it puts out yearly progress reports that state clearly its progress toward each commitment. You’ll hear more about L’Oreal’s sustainability work in our upcoming interview with Danielle Azoulay.

Danielle Azoulay is the Head of CSR and Sustainability at L’Oreal. She started her career in marketing in the music biz. She later pivoted to sustainability, established the environmental sustainability program at Marc Jacobs International, and now is the lead for sustainability at L’Oreal.