How Green is Your Moisturiser?

Skin care products contain a wide range of ingredients of varying quality and effectiveness, and unfortunately some of these ingredients can include microplastics, preservatives and polluting ingredients that have long-lasting effects beyond the bathroom drain.

All those products we use on our bodies invariably end up being washed down the drain or the loo, and ultimately ending up in the environment, oceans and waterways, with consequences for birds, wildlife and sea animals.

Then full circle, our pollutants end up in the food chain, adding to the amount of potentially harmful substances building up in our bodies and across the planet.

Adding to that confusion, ingredients banned in one country, with good reason, may still be allowed for use in skin care in another country.

With the Australian beauty and personal care industry valued at USD $3.73 billion in 2020, it’s no wonder wading through the thousands of products available on the market can make it difficult to find good quality products that don’t harm you or the environment.

Keep an eye out for some of these common skin and personal care ingredients:


When plastic degrades, it just becomes tinier pieces of plastic, never truly biodegrading. Microplastics are less than 5mm long. They permeate our environment from the pristine rivers of Alaska to the falling rain in the Artic.

Microplastics are a part of our food chain and humans are consuming an average of 5g of microplastic every week. Microplastic has been found in salt, tap and bottled water, beer, fish, literally in every corner of the globe.

Microplastics have toxic effects on the health of marine animals and birds, causing disease, reproductive issues and starvation from blockages.

Some beauty products like facial scrubs, toothpaste, body wash, lipstick, eyeliner, sunscreen, deodorant and nail polish, as well as some cleaning products, include microbeads – just microplastics by another name – used as an exfoliating agent or even as a cheap filler.

But when they wash down the drain they contribute to the of 8 million tonnes of plastic entering the oceans each year.

Many countries have banned microbeads, but in Australia a voluntary industry phase-out has resulted in microbeads still present in many cosmetic products.

Check the packaging for common microbead ingredients such as ​​Polyethylene (PE), Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Nylon (PA), Polypropylene (PP) or Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA).

Still not sure? Check the Beat the Microbead database.

Oxybenzone and Octinoxate

Oxybenzone and Octinoxate are chemicals that contribute to the bleaching of coral reefs, commonly found in sunscreens. An estimated 14,000 tonnes of sunscreen is deposited in the world’s oceans each year.

U.S. Virgin Islands, Aruba, Key West, Hawaii and other jurisdictions have banned these ingredients in sunscreens. But don’t wait for a ban where you live – look out for Reef Safe sunscreens now, which are readily available in Australia. They are usually labelled as such, and use base ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.


Parabens have long been used as preservatives in cosmetics. However, studies have shown that parabens can disrupt hormones in the body (endocrine disrupters), harm fertility and reproductive organs, affect birth outcomes, increase the risk of cancer and cause skin irritation.

Parabens can be absorbed into the body through the skin, offering the potential for repeated lifelong exposure.

Parabens contribute to reef damage and cause reproductive issues in animals. Researchers have found parabens in the tissues of various fish, marine animals and polar bears.

Parabens are banned in the European Union, but not in Australia. However, many products now prominently label themselves as “paraben-free”.


Triclosan (TCS) is commonly used as an antimicrobial agent in personal care products like shampoos, face washes, soaps and toothpastes. It’s also as an ingredient of many plastic products, and has been banned in toys and fabrics in the European Union.  

Triclosan is one of the most detected chemicals in U.S. waterways. It’s been found in soils and vegetables, even in breast milk. However, it has been shown to be an endocrine disrupter and connected with cancer growth in recent studies.

Other studies have flagged the possibility that exposure to triclosan contributes to antibacterial resistance. It’s also been linked to toxicity toward aquatic bacteria and has been deemed harmful to algae and dolphins.

The FDA says triclosan has not been proven safe for daily use over a long period and has banned it for use in a number of products, as has the EU. While no ban exists in Australia, a maximum level of triclosan in cosmetics and personal care products is set to 0.3% and some manufacturers have voluntarily removed triclosan from their products.

Given the huge question marks over its accumulative safety, avoid products with triclosan.

Fragrance or Parfum

Fragrance or parfum are words in your beauty products’ ingredient lists that may hide a myriad of synthetic chemical ingredients that have long-lasting effects past the drain.

Some common fragrance constituents may be derived from petroleum, contain solvents, stabilizers, UV-absorbers, preservatives or dyes. Some are linked to serious health problems such as cancer, reproductive and developmental toxicity, allergies and sensitivities.

These chemicals are increasingly appearing in waterways and cause long-term damage to marine animals.

If you must use skincare products with fragrances, your best choice is natural fragrances like 100% organic essential oils (processed without solvents) – personal allergies notwithstanding.


Sulfates are confusing. SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) make products like toothpaste, shampoo and shower gel produce a lather. Sulfates are also found in laundry detergent, hand soaps, bath bombs, face cleansers and degreasers.

While sulfates have a reputation for being worse than they are in humans, misuse or overuse of sulfates could potentially cause skin, eye and inhalation irritation and is best avoided by those with sensitive skin disorders.

However, past studies have shown sulfates can be moderately toxic to aquatic organisms in large quantities. Sulfates can also be made from palm oil or petroleum oil sources, not known as friends of the environment. 


Phthalates. Also known as a plasticiser, Phthalates are another nasty commonly found in personal care items and cosmetics like perfume, nail polish, hairspray and even sanitary pads, but also in plastics, wallpaper, raincoats, food packaging, pharmaceuticals, lubricating oils and detergents.

Though not studied extensively, the effects of Phthalates include being another endocrine-disrupting chemical (EDC) that causes reproductive, developmental and other health issues.

In the environment, infertility has been found in numerous studies of the effects of Phthalates on animals.

Final Word

It can be devastating to learn a product you love, and have been using for years, actually contains ingredients that are detrimental to our waterways and marine life, let alone our own health. Paying more attention to the ingredients in the products we use is an important part of looking after planet and people.

National Custom Compounding can make up a wide range of skin creams free of the nasties that can wreak havoc on the environment and on your health. For more information on how we can make up your favourite personal care products free of the unwanted extras, contact National Custom Compounding on 1300 731 755 or drop a line to [email protected].

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