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Oil, oil everywhere

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How many barrels of oil do you use to wash your hair? That’s right, shampoo, conditioner, mascara, dishwasher detergent all contain petroleum derived ingredients. Those products themselves and the bottles they are in all contribute to our oil consumption. To quote a Seventh Generation bottle, “If every household in the U.S. replaced just one bottle of 25 oz. petroleum based dishwashing liquid with our 25 oz. vegetable based product, we could save 81,000 barrels of oil, enough to heat and cool 4,600 homes for a year!”.

Millions of bottles end up in landfills and the ingredients that were in the bottles were not even all that good for you. For example mineral oil, paraffin wax, and petrolatum are common moisturizers derived from petroleum. They may make your skin feel soft at first, but they smother skin not allowing it to breathe, and dehydrates it over time. Harsh detergents like sodium laureth sulfate strips skin of its natural oils. Even artificial fragrances are made from petroleum! To make matters worse, petroleum derived chemicals may be contaminated with cancer causing agents such as dioxane.

With so many products out there marketing themselves as “natural” or “green”, it’s hard to choose the ones that really keep you and the Earth looking good. Here are some practical tips to lower your beauty carbon footprint:

  • Go for Solid - Soap bars require less packaging than shower gels, and it’s easy to recycle the paper package. Manufacturers would love for you to buy more bottles, but why pay for the water when you have it raining from your showerhead? Also try shampoo bars and switch to solid laundry detergent.
  • Refill When Possible – For those liquid only products, once you find one you love, save money and time by getting a bulk refill. You’re reducing the number of bottles in landfills or energy needed to recycle, and you save money in the long run. You can now find refillable makeup compacts and baby shampoo, among others.
  • Buy Local – Just like anything else, locally produced beauty products cut shipping costs and gasoline. You’re also helping your local economy! If you can’t find everything you need locally, at least stick with Made in USA.
  • Get Plant-Based - Read and understand the ingredients in the products you already have, and make educated decisions on your future purchases! For example, go for coconut or olive oil derived ingredients rather than EDTA, phosphates, and sulfates. For help with cosmetic ingredients, go to EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic database for a lot of interesting and important information on ingredients.
  • Recycle – Check your local city or county recycling website for rules on what’s allowed. Next time you’re shopping, make sure what you are buying can actually be recycled by your town. It’s also great to go for packaging that has recycled content. Here is the recycling info for Albany, Schenectady, Troy, and Saratoga Springs.

When you think of sustainable living, you might first think of adding solar panels to your home, or buying an electric car. But greening beauty supply and household supply can be a lot easier and cost effective. When it comes to skin care products, safety is as important as efficacy and sustainability.

In many ways, the solution to our energy problem is many people making small changes in their everyday lives. Added together, these small changes can have a big impact on our energy future. Every dollar you spend is a vote for or against energy independence. Let’s make every dollar count toward a more beautiful world for our children and our children’s children. In the process, you’ll be more beautiful too.


Jennifer Zhao is a local mom and owner/founder of Organiworks, a retailer of high quality natural and organic skin care products serving the Capital Region and beyond. Jennifer is passionate about sustainable living and also writes a blog on choosing green personal care products. Please leave your comments or questions below or connect via Facebook or Twitter.

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