The Life Cycle of a Skincare Item
The truth is, most of us don’t know how our products are made or where they end up. It’s one of the reasons why Team Versed is strongly committed to transparency and aims to share as much as possible with our community, like our Sustainable Packaging Guidelines and waste footprint. It goes beyond skincare, of course, but because we consider ourselves pretty well-versed (ahem) in that area, we might as well start there. Below, we dive into the lifecycle of a typical product. Read about the environmental impact of your skincare routine below, from understanding how ingredients are sourced to the waste emitted during manufacturing and more.
An ingredient can be sourced in two ways: naturally or synthetically. Natural ingredients may sound more appetizing than synthetic ones but, when it comes to the environment, the opposite is true. Synthetically sourced ingredients are made in a lab; formulators make chemical copies of ingredients that would normally be found in nature. Naturally derived ingredients, on the other hand, are a bit more complicated. Large quantities of an ingredient’s source (such as a plant) must be tracked down. Then the ingredient itself needs to be extracted and purified before being added to a formula. Not all natural ingredients come from a plentiful supply of plants, however. Squalene, a hydrating ingredient commonly found in moisturizers, can be sourced from shark liver. Another skin hero, hyaluronic acid, may come from the cartilage of a rooster’s comb. That’s why our Booster with HA uses a synthetically sourced version instead.
Extracting these ingredients this way harms animals and creates more pollution than if it were synthetically made in a lab. And it’s not just animal sources, either. Overharvesting plants, especially if they’re considered an endangered species, can have a detrimental impact on vital ecosystems’ survival. There are many ways to ensure natural sourcing doesn’t have this negative effect, however. The bakuchiol we use in our Gentle Retinol Serum is certified by CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). We only use FSC-certified (Forest Stewardship Council) paper for our paper packaging, too. If an ingredient can’t be ethically and sustainably sourced naturally, a synthetic alternative might be the better bet.
Once ingredients are sourced, these raw materials are transformed into the products we use every day. It’s not that simple, of course. Manufacturing facilities and labs rely on heavy machinery to put in that work, using up a whole lot of energy while they’re at it. Not so fun fact: After data centers, labs consume more energy per square foot than any other industry. Besides energy, there’s a ton of leftover waste being generated while creating products, too. Studies show that labs produce enough plastic waste every year to cover an area 23x the size of Manhattan.
Side note: Besides considering their environmental impact, we should know whether our products are being ethically manufactured, too. When vetting partners, we ensure they commit to a set of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) which includes requirements like fair wages, safe working conditions, and following zero-tolerance policies on harassment and discrimination.
Considering how much pollution we create simply driving around town (every gallon of gasoline burned creates about 8,887 grams of CO2), one can only imagine how environmentally friendly transporting product to warehouses, retail stores, and of course, our homes, can be. Products can be distributed by plane, train, or ship but, either way, moving them uses a lot of energy. In fact, 25% of the world’s energy consumption is attributed to transportation.
Freight and shipping are one of our biggest sources of emissions. That’s why one of our goals outlined in this year’s Sustainability Report is to reduce per unit GHG emissions by 10% by prioritizing domestic production and energy-efficient transportation methods.
The environmental impact of a product doesn’t end once it’s formulated, packaged up, and shipped out, though. Even something as basic as a cleanser can have an impact while we’re using it since it requires rinsing with water (washing your face for 60 seconds with the faucet running can waste up to 3 gallons). Face masks, facial peels, and body wash….any rinse-off product whose ingredients cannot be broken down by wastewater treatments, like synthetic fragrance, goes down the faucet and into our oceans. Unfortunately, these chemicals can accumulate in the tissues of fish and affect marine life.
END OF LIFE
Where a product goes once it’s emptied really starts with its design. Some materials, like glass or #1 plastics are more easily recyclable than others. Some can’t be recycled at all.
But there’s a lot of consumer responsibility here, too. Even if a product is recyclable, statistics say that less than 10% of plastic is tossed in the bin. Those with good intentions may try to recycle something that isn’t actually accepted (known as ‘wishcycling’), inadvertently infiltrating the recycling stream. If these habits continue, experts expect 12 billion metric tons of plastic to sit in landfills by 2050.
To ensure our routine is as sustainably as can be, we need to put in the work. Think before you shop, reuse what you can, and always check your local community’s recycling guidelines before you toss (PS: here’s how to recycle your Versed products).
For more sustainability tips, read our guide to having a less wasteful routine.