Microplastics are contained in many cosmetic products, but they are not biodegradable and therefore harmful to humans, the environment and animals. Brigitte.de spoke to Katrin Steinbach from the cosmetics brand cosnova about how the switch to microplastic-free recipes works and what mission the company is pursuing in terms of sustainable and environmentally friendly cosmetics.
Brigitte.de: How does microplastic get into cosmetic products in the first place?
Catherine Steinbach: Microplastic particles are various types of plastic that are intentionally added to cosmetic products to achieve a specific effect in the product. Some are important for the sensory properties – i.e. how soft or creamy a product is – others for the shelf life and certain effects, such as shimmer effects or a soft focus effect to conceal wrinkles. This was all the rage in the cosmetics market when they realized just how many different areas you could use microplastic particles to perform really well. At that time, however, nothing was known about the harmful effects on the environment
Brigitte.de: Why is microplastic so harmful to the environment?
Catherine Steinbach: Microplastics enter our environment and thus our atmosphere primarily via wastewater. By removing make-up from cosmetic products, the smallest particles get into the cycle and can hardly be completely filtered out by sewage treatment plants. There is a risk of microplastics getting into our drinking water, soil and air. This can ultimately become dangerous for humans and animals if they ingest too much of it in their bodies.
Brigitte.de: How did you come to the conclusion that there could be microplastics in your products?
Catherine Steinbach: I started in cosnova’s sustainability team in 2017. Through intensive work and dealing with the ingredients of our products, the microplastic particles have come to light. We then commissioned a study to find out how our consumers use the products. It turned out that 50 percent of consumers use water to remove their make-up from their products. This in turn meant that our products ended up in the sewage system. For this reason, we took a closer look at the topic of microplastics and wanted to make sure that our cosmetics no longer contain any microplastic particles.
Brigitte.de: As a consumer, how do I recognize whether my product contains microplastics?
Catherine Steinbach: So actually you can only recognize them from the list of ingredients and of course you have to know which of the ingredients belong to microplastic particles. This is sometimes difficult for consumers. We also know that and therefore explicitly praise our plastic-free products for a better overview.
Brigitte.de: What is cosnova doing specifically to get microplastics out of cosmetic products?
Catherine Steinbach: We have a five-strong sustainability team in which I primarily deal with exactly this topic. In concrete terms, I’m responsible for procuring the raw materials and I’ve been looking for new ingredients at trade fairs and conferences. However, you cannot simply make a one-to-one exchange with microplastic particles. You always have to work with a mixture of different fabrics and then adjust the whole texture at the end. And we basically started by approaching our project partners with my ideas and we worked on the first textures together.
Brigitte.de: Are microplastics avoided in advance in the production process or are they extracted afterwards?
Catherine Steinbach: In order to be able to manufacture a product without microplastics, the recipe has to be renewed. This cannot be done afterwards, but must take place directly in the production process. If you just took out the microplastic, the formula wouldn’t work at all. So we started a pilot project to see which ingredients are going in the right direction. These are mainly natural substances such as starch from rice, corn or tapioca. And then you really have to “take hold of” every single recipe and completely revise it and develop it from scratch.
Brigitte.de: With which products is it easier to avoid heavy microplastics?
Catherine Steinbach: Decorative cosmetics such as powder, for example, I would classify as a “light” product. On the other hand, emulsions such as liquid make-up or waterproof products such as waterproof mascaras are always very difficult to rework. Because you have to make sure that the performance is still right, that the various components stay together in the end and that no pigments are deposited.
Brigitte.de: What else is cosnova doing to become more sustainable and environmentally friendly?
Catherine Steinbach: cosnova has a five-person team that takes care of sustainability in the company. This is divided into different subject areas: ingredients (the subject of harmlessness), packaging, working conditions at our business partners, climate protection and social projects. For example, we work together to reduce packaging waste or make packaging recyclable, we look at the working conditions of our business partners, conduct on-site audits in the production facilities and support social projects at the locations along our supply chain and at our location in the Frankfurt region. Our big project for the climate strategy stands above all these topics. That means that all the changes I just mentioned all contribute to climate protection. For example, reducing emissions by redesigning packaging.
Brigitte.de: Do you plan to remove all plastics from cosmetics in the long term?
Catherine Steinbach: We have drawn up an official guideline that states that new products must always be free of microplastic particles. Since January 2020, we have not included any product with microplastic particles in product development. And at the same time, of course, we also started to convert the bestselling products from our range. Our goal is to make all products microplastic particle-free by March 2023.
Brigitte.de: Do you think that there is a general change in the cosmetics industry and that more companies are focusing on sustainable production and environmentally friendly products?
Catherine Steinbach: We wish more would join. The topic of microplastics is justified. That’s why we’re working on it. It just doesn’t make sense to add a substance to a product if you know for sure that the substances are not biodegradable and that you can replace them. I think we’ve reached a point where we understand that we have to do something good for the environment. And that applies not only to consumers, but above all to the large corporations. Actually everyone should participate.
Thank you very much for the interview, dear Katrin!