Shaving and hair removal products—a market worth $3.2 billion in 2004 in the US alone—create a substantial amount of waste and toxic substances, but there are ways you can go green and remain well-groomed. When greening your shaving routine, consider the following eco-impact areas:
Water and energy use
Wet-shaving can be a water-intensive habit. In fact, turning off the tap while shaving can save 4 gallons of water a minute. Alternatively, dry shaving with an electric razor does not require hot water, saving both water and energy.
However, electric razors do require that they be charged before use, which uses electricity. While the amount of energy used is relatively minimal—reports vary between 4 and 15 watts—an electric razor powered by renewable energy, such as a solar-powered razor, reduces your reliance on fossil fuel-intensive energy.
Although they may seem an innocuous staple of personal grooming, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) projects that an estimated 2 billion disposable razors enter US landfills each year—approximately 9 razors for each US resident over 19 years old. The typical American shaver—male and female—spends an average of $100 annually on blade cartridges alone, not including razor handles and shaving accessories such as creams, gels, and aftershaves.
Although it may increase energy consumption in your home, dry shaving with an electric razor will reign in the amount of waste you contribute to landfills. There are also traditional, non-electric razors available that are reusable and/or recycled for wet shavers minding the amount of waste that they generate in the bathroom.
Common chemicals in shaving cream and aftershave
The FDA requires that ingredients in food, drugs, and cosmetics be listed in descending order of quantity, but ingredient lists can be hard to decipher. Below is a list of the most common—and most toxic—chemicals found in body care products, including shaving cream and aftersahve:
Studies have shown that the common antibacterial agent triclosan contributes to the creation of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. In the greater environment, antibacterial shaving creams also cause problems for septic systems, where they kill some of the beneficial bacteria needed to break down wastes. Triclosan has been found in 55 percent of streams examined in 2002 at levels high enough to disrupt the natural life cycle of frogs.
What to look for: If a shaving cream is labeled as antibacterial, inspect the ingredients to see if triclosan is among them.
Phthalates are used as plasticizers—they give plastics more flexibility and make them less brittle—and in creams, gels, and beauty products to make them smooth. They're also used to "fix" fragrances and make them last longer and to help products penetrate the skin better. A 2002 test of 72 name-brand beauty products found almost three-quarters contained phthalates.
Phthalates are linked to endocrine disruption; neurotoxicity and neurodevelopmental disorders; toxicity of the brain, kidneys, liver, and lungs; and birth defects in the male reproductive system. Research from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) shows a probable link between phthalates and asthma, as well as allergies. Phthalates are just one of the chemicals that the EWG found polluting the San Francisco Bay. Check out EWG's phthalates cheat sheet for more info.
What to look for on the label: Phthalates don't have to be called out on the label: any shaving cream or aftershave that lists "fragrance" in its ingredients can contain phthalates. Choose products with fragrances made from plants and essential oils, and those that spell out what's in their fragrance. Avoid products listing Diethyl phthalate (DEP), a known carcinogen, as an ingredient.
Parabens—preservatives that prevent the growth of bacteria—are found in about 75 to 90 percent of cosmetic and personal care products. After washing off a shaving cream containing parabens, these chemicals are discharged through wastewater systems and end up in waterways, where they appear to have estrogenic effects on fish. In humans, parabens can affect the endocrine system, which produces hormones. Acting like estrogen in the body, they increase the risk of breast cancer, with recent studies finding parabens in breast tumors. Skin exposure is more of a risk than parabens in food, since the digestive system breaks them down. Parabens have been found in breast milk, blood, and body tissues, and can enter a developing fetus. Parabens can also cause contact dermatitis (skin rashes).
What to look for on the label: Look for a shaving cream that says "paraben free" on the label. Avoid products that list methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, or butylparaben as ingredients.
Also avoid alcohol-based aftershaves, as well as products containing triethanolamine (TEA), which is also used in nitrogen mustard gas. Swap these dangerous petroleum-based chemicals for plant-based ingredients for a sooting and safe shave.
Waxing and depilatories
Waxes used for hair removal contain many of the same chemicals found in shaving creams, including petro-based mineral oils. Hair removal products made from natural, plant-based ingredients are available as a green alternative. Body sugaring, for example, has emerged (although the technique can be traced back to ancient Egypt) as an effective, chemical-free alternative to waxing, shaving, and depilatories. Sugaring kits can either be purchased, made at home using simple household ingredients such as sugar and lemon juice, and are increasingly available at spas and salons.
Depilatory creams—such as Nair and Veet—offering a more short-term, often less painful hair removal remedy than waxing contain chemicals like sodium calcium, titanium dioxide, and calcium thioglycolate that actually melt unwanted hair away from your skin by dissolving the protein structure of hair. Some depilatory creams contain chemicals that are thought to be carcinogenic; these chemicals can easily be absorbed into the body with the aid of absorption enhancers also found in depilatory creams. Depilatories, if used incorrectly, can cause irritation or even second- or third-degree chemical burns.
In addition to the wax itself, waxers generate additional waste due to the applicators and strips used to apply and remove the wax to and from the target areas. Reusable applicators decrease the amount of waste created by your at-home hair removal routine.
Making sense of green claims on product labels
As if the ingredient lists weren't murky enough, a lack of regulation allows personal care product companies to tout their products' green attributes with claims that at times can be confusing and misleading, and without any third party certification that the claims are true. To help you determine whether your new body cleaner will provide a green wash, or it's just a product of greenwashing, learn more about product testing, labeling, and reputable certifications:
Lack of testing for safety of body cleansers
Despite the fact that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is charged with ensuring the safety of cosmetic and personal care products, neither the actual products nor ingredients are reviewed or approved by the FDA before they're sold to the public. It's up to the manufacturer to ensure that a product is safe, and to theoretically attach a warning label if it isn't. Clear safety guidelines are lacking, and no independent third-party safety testing is required. Submitting product formulations is voluntary, and according to the FDA, only about 35 percent of cosmetic companies do so. While the European Union (EU) approved a cosmetic ingredient listing of over 1,000 prohibited substances, the FDA list only prohibits eight.
One murky area is the term “organic.” While the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) maintains clearcut standards for organic food, the same can’t be said for body care products. The personal care industry is in turmoil trying to agree upon a set of standards. Some companies use the USDA certified organic food standard, which requires 95 percent of the ingredients to be organic. Others use the less stringent California state standard for organic cosmetic products, which requires at least 70 percent organically produced ingredients. And still others label their products organic without meeting any external criterion.
In the meantime, a nonprofit standard-setting group called NSF International has released a draft set of rules for organic personal care products and a group of 30 cosmetic companies recently devised their own set of specifications called Organic and Sustainable Industry Standards (OASIS). How it all washes out remains to be seen.
On May 1, 2008, the Natural Products Association announced the Natural Seal for Personal Care Products, a new certification program that defines "natural" and includes an easily-identified seal. Advisers to the association include Aubrey Organics, Burt’s Bees, Badger Balm, California Baby, Farmaesthetics, Trilogy Fragrances, and Weleda.
While you're contemplating green attributes, you may also wish to join the cruelty-free movement. Just keep in mind: a company may claim that they don’t employ animal testing for their products, but without third-party verification, it’s hard to know whether these statements are in fact completely true. So stick to those products certified as cruelty-free by looking for products with the Leaping Bunny Logo or the Certified Vegan Logo. You can rest assured that no bunnies (or monkeys or cats for that matter) were harmed in the making of these non-animal-tested products.
- Mindful Mama - Eco-Shave
- Righteous (re)Style - Eco-neurosis: Shaving or Waxing?
- Eco-chick - Beards Are the New Hotness
- Restroom Critic - Cancer in Your Bathroom?
- Grist - Ask Umbra: Stubble Trouble
- ChicagoTribune.com - Extending life of razor blades leaves users dry
- Shaving Stuff A shave-centric weblog for men and women
- Environmental Working Group - Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database Before you lather up, check out where your favorite cream ranks on the hazard scale.
- Packaged Facts - Market Trends: Shaving/Hair Removal Products
- Gainesville Regional Utilities - Be Water Efficient Year 'Round
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Products to eliminate wastefulness in bathroom
- Squidoo - How to Extend the Life of Your Razor Blades
- TreeHugger - There's a Frog Disrupter in my Soap
- Ashton, Karen and Green, Elizabeth Salter (2008) The Toxic Consumer: Living Healthy in a Hazardous World. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.: 40-81
- Winter, Ruth (2005) A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients. New York: Three Rivers Press: 41-555
- The Green Guide - Lip and Eye Makeup