Air Clean Up

  • Do Beauty Products Contribute to Pollution?

Do Beauty Products Contribute to Pollution?

May 23 2018 Read 1705 Times

It’s logical that the air pollution on a busy urban thoroughfare may be heightened during the morning rush hour, since that’s when the majority of commuters pass through in their vehicles. It may be less intuitive that around half of the pollutants in the atmosphere are coming from personal care products rather than car exhausts.

Intuitive or not, that’s the conclusion reached by scientists at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where a recent study has indicated that beauty products contribute just as much pollution as passenger vehicles do. The findings add another compelling argument on why we should all try to rein in your use of makeup, hairspray, perfume and other personal care products as best we can.

More than just a cosmetic effect

The Boulder research, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, used a rooftop research laboratory and mobile air quality monitoring station to drive around Boulder and record levels of over 100 types of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

VOCs are complex compounds which, when coming into contact with sunlight, react to produce harmful forms of pollution like particulate matter (PM) and ozone. Although it has long been known that household cleaning products and personal care items are emitters of VOCs, it had been thought that car emissions were by far the biggest source of the pollutant, especially in urban environments.

However, recent advances in the cleanliness of vehicle exhaust systems and subsequent reductions in transport-related pollution mean that beauty products appear to be just as damaging to the environment. The Boulder researchers found elevated levels of D5 siloxane, which is commonly found in deodorants, creams and shampoos. In fact, the concentrations of D5 siloxane were just as high as benzene, which is one of the most common contaminants from car exhausts.

“Personal plumes” on the rise

“It’s kind of stunning in that, when you think of sitting in traffic behind the tailpipe of a semi-truck, you assume that exhaust is the big contributor to air pollution,” explains Matthew Coggan, one of the lead authors on the report. “But now that car engines are much cleaner, we are able to see that emissions are also impacted by personal-care products that people in the vehicle are using.”

The microplastic content of personal care products has been well-documented (so much so that microbeads have been banned in both the USA and the UK within the last couple of years) but less is known about the “personal plume” effect of such products. This is the term used by scientists to refer to the cocktail of chemicals and gases left behind by people as they travel around their neighbourhoods and communities.

“We all have a personal plume, and nowadays your personal plume can be just as big of a contributor to ozone as your vehicle,” Coggan added. “You do have a personal choice, so thinking about what products you want to use is certainly something to consider.”

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