Plastic and personal hygiene. Something's not right.

Till Hinrichs — — 5 minutes

Either liquid, as gel, as binder or as filler – plastic replaces natural substances in many cosmetics. Firstly, because otherwise they would be more expensive with natural substances and plastic offers favorable alternatives. In addition, substances with new consistencies are being developed again and again which do not exist in nature. The cosmetics industry has discovered microplastics for itself.

If we hear consumers of microplastics in skin care products, we often think of the small grains or pearls in our shower gels, face masks or peelings. But you can find it in all kinds of hair and skin care products, in sun creams, toothpaste, makeup, lipsticks, lotions, and even in baby care products.

Viele Kosmetika enthalten Plastik.
Many cosmetics contain plastics. (Photo: Moose Photos by Pexels)

What is microplastics?

Microplastics are all plastic particles smaller than 5 millimeters. With microplastics, the specialist differentiates between "primary" and "secondary". Secondary microplastics are created when the tyres of cars wear down on the road or when plastic decomposes in nature. The primary microplastic, which is what this is all about, is unfortunately found in many of our care products. The disadvantages of this are much greater. It cannot be filtered in our purification plants and therefore ends up in rivers, in the soil, in lakes and finally in the sea. The marine animals absorb it through their food. When loaded with softeners and hormone-like substances, it can impair their reproduction, disrupt their metabolism and lead to hormonal diseases. Exactly. Of course, all this also applies to us. We are part of the same cycle, it's good to remember that. Every day we take microplasty and apply it to our skin. Because many of our conventional skin care products contain plastics - microfine. If these substances also accumulate in our body, disorders and diseases can also develop.

Even if the cosmetics industry wants to ban microplastics from its products, it is omnipresent.

The crux of the matter: Every company has its own definition of microplastics, because there is no uniform definition of microplastics. This also means that no ban can be imposed. For many companies, microplastics is only what is used in peelings as small grains. They then leave that out and believe that the matter is settled. That suits them well. For us as consumers, it doesn't fit because the list of synthetic substances in care products is long.

What is hidden behind the names and abbreviations is not clear to many people.

Maybe you know at best "polyethylene" (PE), "polypropylene" (PP), "polyamide" (PA) or "polyethylene terephthalate" (PET), the substance from which reusable drinks bottles are made. But then it gets nasty, because there are significantly more synthetic substances. You should pay special attention to these when you go shopping:

acrylate copolymer (AC)
acrylate crosspolymer (ACS)
polyamide (PA, Nylon-6, Nylon-12)
polyacrylates (PA)
polymethylmethacrylates (PMMA)
polyethylene (PE)
polyethylene terephthalates (PET)
polypropylene (PP)
polystyrene (PS)
polyurethane (PUR)

That was not it yet. Then there are the silicones. They also belong to the plastics. You can recognize silicones on packaging by their endings, like "-cone" or "-xane". The most commonly used are "Dimethicone", "Methicone", "Polysiloxane" or "Cyclomethicone".

Tip: The further up the list of ingredients, the higher the concentration of the substances.

Greenpeace has stated in a comprehensive report on microplastics in cosmetics that no silicone used in the cosmetics industry has ever been tested for its effect on the environment. But all of them have been classified as harmless 1

As said before, silicones in cosmetics are not only hazardous to human health. Our environment also has to deal with them. The production of silicone alone already causes a lot of climate-damaging carbon dioxide.

By the way: The cosmetics industry sells 330 tons of cosmetics per year worldwide!

The industry now advertises with "water-soluble silicones". Here, too, the residues from the sewage treatment plants end up as fertilizer in the fields and thus in the groundwater.

How do I recognize plastic-free cosmetics when I go shopping?

Do you now have to memorize all toxic ingredients for your next purchase? No, best you arm yourself with the codecheck app when you go shopping. With the app you can scan the EAN code on the product and Codecheck shows you which substances in the table of contents are plastics and which are not. And which substances are harmful to health. Click here to go to the Codecheck app.

BUND has also published a list of cosmetic products that is updated regularly.

Are there alternatives? Yes! Organic certified cosmetic and care products may not contain petroleum-based or synthetic substances. Products with these seals keep what they promise: BDIH, Demeter, Ecocert or Natrue.



What is really stupid, many packaging of organic cosmetics are made of plastic or composite materials with plastic. The majority of companies argue time and again with the weight during transport or the ease of handling, because the packaging cannot break so quickly. However, it would be better to use organic cosmetics made of glass or porcelain, as there is definitely no possibility of transferring harmful substances from the packaging to the cosmetics and in the end better raw material is left over. Some companies even accept their own packaging for recycling. The best thing of all, of course, is to offer the care products without packaging.

1 – From the sink to the sea; Greenpeace