A Green Makeover for Your Cosmetics

A guide to water-conscious, animal-friendly, healthy beauty
An excerpt from The Green Blue Book

Every year, Americans spend more on beauty products than they do on education. Just shy of $100 billion is spent annually on skin care ($24 billion), makeup ($18 billion), hair ($38 billion) and perfume ($15 billion) products. But while the newest age-defying moisturizer may erase fine lines as if by magic, more than just wrinkles is vanishing in the act — clean and abundant water is disappearing, too. If every American woman over the age of 15 owned just one lipstick, all those tubes would be holding more than 2.4 million gallons of water. And that's a very conservative estimate; most fashionable females have more than one shade in which they purse their pouty lips.

But the water wasted isn't just inside the tubes. Water goes into making the tubes, too. Because it's unlikely that we'll be seeing super-size bottles of mascara any time soon — most cosmetic products come in their own individual cases or plastic containers — there's a ton (actually, tons!) of extra packaging that burns fossil fuels, creates waste and costs water. How much water? Well, about 3.4 million gallons to supply half the women between the ages of 20 and 64 in the United States with one small blush container. That isn't pretty.

And what happens when that blush brush starts scraping bottom? Discarded cosmetics are burned, buried or flushed. Whichever way, chemicals can be released into the air, earth or groundwater, depending on the incinerator, landfill or water-treatment facilities. When that happens, that freshwater ceases to be fresh; it's polluted.

How do we know this? Personal care products flushed or rinsed down the drain have been linked to decreased fertility and skewed sexual development in everything from frogs to fish. If that's true, then you can bet the water isn't so healthy for us, either. Turns out that it ain't just the demand for his legs that has Kermit worried, it's an extreme makeover. And we may want to be concerned about that, too. Remember when it was discovered that pharmaceuticals flushed down the toilet end up in our drinking water supplies? Well, the same thing goes for cosmetics. Indeed, it's an ugly fact.

But we don't have to compromise our health or that of the planet to look good. Here's how to apply a water-conscious, animal-friendly, healthy beauty regimen that's pleasing to any eye.


220 gallons of water per 2.4-ounce stick 

It's better for your water footprint, and possibly your health, to choose a roll-on with a water base. Antiperspirants act by clogging your pores to prevent sweating, and the chemicals used in these products may be associated with everything from Alzheimer's disease to cancer. Look for natural deodorants and cut back on water and your stink by swapping out some red meat for veggies. Fruits and vegetables create less body odor than burgers. Stick with roll-ons over sprays because they last longer and don't carry a risk of bursting into flames when applied.


Amount of water involved varies by product

Many eye shadows, mascaras and blushes contain waxes, oils and pigments, so there's little water. However, many of the oils have high water footprints (such as castor oil, at 2,516 gallons per pound). Look for all-natural, mineral-based products and those with minimal packaging. Many major cosmetic companies will recycle old containers (and some even give you a freebie when you turn in your empties!). Recycling products is also a good idea. Leftover lipstick can be melted and remolded. If every woman reused just one lipstick, it could save more than 2.4 million gallons of water in the United States alone. Put 'em together and blow.


3.6 fluid ounces of water per 6 fluid ounces, plus the amount in the packaging

To save on water and get the most out of your moisturizer, lube up right after showering, allowing the moisturizer to trap in the water on your damp skin. Moisturizers come in two types: water-based and oil-based. Oil-based products will keep your skin moist longer, but some oils have heavy water footprints. Go for coconut oils over cocoa butter because it makes a big difference: 762 versus 6,808 gallons per pound! For sunburned and sensitive skin, look for aloe vera. This desert plant dishes out a lot of benefits without demanding much water.


1 ounce of water per 5 ounces of eau de toilette, 0.5 ounce per 5 ounces of cologne, and almost none for pure perfume

However, those figures belie the fact that huge quantities of water are used to make the hundreds of ingredients in a single fragrance. For example, you may have heard that fragrances made with essential oils are preferable to synthetic ones. But considering that it takes 300 pounds of rose petals to produce 1 ounce of essential rose oil, there's an entire bathtub full of water in that single drop of fragrance that you rub on your wrist. The ingredient hyraceum likely has the lowest water content of the perfume fragrances, but there's a catch: This smelly substance is actually the petrified urine of the rodentlike rock hyrax. Citrus scent, anyone?


About 17 ounces per 22-ounce bottle

Shampoos are 70 to 80 percent water, with some detergents, preservatives, fragrances and moisturizers added. Try to avoid shampoos with jojoba, which takes 1,479.1 gallons of water per pound to produce. You can also save on water by shampooing only a few times a week — more than that strips your hair of its natural oils anyhow. For even greater water conservation, try one of the two-in-one shampoo-plus-conditioner products. And don't forget to turn off the tap while you lather up!


180.4 gallons per 3.1-ounce bar

Look for castilebased (olive oil) soaps to reduce the high water footprint associated with soaps derived from beef tallow (who wants to wash with animal fat, anyway?). Tallow is listed as "sodium tallowate" on ingredient lists. Bar soaps will last longer than body washes and are often cheaper, by the way. Body washes are convenient, but they contain lots of water (and lots of chemicals to keep the goo gooey). They also have all that plastic packaging, which has its own water footprint, remember. Go for the bar and keep it in a covered dish so it doesn't dissolve away during showers and baths.


About 2.1 ounces per 4.4-ounce tube

Toothpaste is about 50 percent water already, so there's no need to add more to get those pearly whites shining. The toothpaste contains all the ingredients necessary for creating a nice, foamy lather without wetting your brush first. You can save water, too, by only using a pea-size dab of toothpaste — your tube will last longer, as will the water table.

Bottom line: Go for the natural look

Many cosmetics use oils, one of them being castor, which burns through water. Other ingredients can also clog the water supply — and your pores. Healthy and natural beauty — the kind found, say, at birth — is easiest on the eye and requires the least water fetching to produce.

It's what's inside that matters, so avoid products with lots of packaging. It takes water to produce the plastic, glass and paper used to contain beauty products. There's often more container than product in what you buy. If you use bar soap, however, no plastic container is required.

Don't flush your blush. It's an ugly truth: People dump unwanted cosmetics down the drain or flush 'em down the toilet. When these products enter the water supply, they can come back to make us all look bad by polluting the water, fish and plants — and us.

Full Body Presence

Excerpted from the book The Green Blue Book: The Simple Water-Savings Guide to Everything in Your Life ©2010 by Thomas M. Kostigen. Printed with permission from Rodale.

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