Sustain­able Travel – Hygiene Products

As part of our blog series on sustainable travel, the following article focuses on the topic of hygiene products – as in everyday life, they also play an important role on holiday.

Chrissy
Chrissy
Travel Guide
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Hygiene on holiday

As in our first blog articles on sustainable travel and flying, we would like to deepen the topic in this article. With the help of some information and tips we would like to help you reduce your ecological footprint on your travels. This time it's about hygiene on vacation: shampoo, shower gel, soap and co.

When travelling, hygiene plays an important role just like at home. During a trip, the accommodation is usually changed more frequently, you share sanitary facilities with many people, use more public transport, meet many new people from different countries, experience a different climate and eat different food which the body needs to get used to first. For bacteria and viruses these are ideal conditions and it is not uncommon to travel home with a cold or a gastrointestinal infection as a holiday souvenir.

To prevent this, hygiene is the right keyword. Regular washing and cleaning of clothes counteracts the transmission of diseases. But how sustainable are the hygiene products that we carry with us when we travel?
In addition to the packaging of some soaps, shampoos or shower gels, the contents of our care products are often harmful to humans, animals and nature. In the following article we would like to introduce you to some of these ingredients to give you an idea of what to look out for when making your next purchase.

Microplastics

Plastic can now be found all over the world: From whole plastic bags floating in the sea to microplastics which have already been discovered in zooplankton with a size of less than five millimetres.
Microplastics have their origin not only in the abrasion of larger plastic parts, but also in cosmetic products. Peelings, make-up, shower gel, creams or detergents often contain microplastic particles. Here, microplastics are used as a binder/abrasive or for film formation. The microplastic particles in cosmetics and hygiene products enter the water cycle through the wastewater and usually cannot be filtered sufficiently out of the water in the wastewater treatment plants – they are now part of the water cycle, where they damage humans, animals and nature.

You can see if microplastics are present in the products by looking for the following ingredients:

Plastic (Abbreviation)

  • Polyethylene (PE)
  • Polypropylene (PP)
  • Polyethylen terephthalate (PET)
  • Nylon-12 (Nylon-12)
  • Nylon-6 (Nylon-6)
  • Polyurethane (PUR)
  • Acrylates copolymer (AC)
  • Acrylates crosspolymer (ACS)
  • Polyacrylate (PA)
  • Polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA)
  • Polystyrene (PS)
  • Polyquaternium (PQ)
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Aluminium

Perhaps you have already read the inscription "free of aluminium salts" on a deodorant package. Aluminium salts close the pores and inhibit perspiration – which is the purpose of a deodorant. So why abandon it? It is not without reason that more and more manufacturers are abandoning the use of aluminium chlorides and looking for alternatives.

Aluminium can accumulate in the body and, according to some sources, promote diseases such as breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, aluminium is considered to be nerve-damaging and skin-irritating. The daily amount tolerable according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is about 8.6 micrograms at 60 kg body weight. However, this value is exceeded when products containing aluminium are used on a daily basis.

But aluminium does not only have harmful effects on the human body. Although aluminium is a natural element – even the third most common in the earth's crust – an increased supply leads to acidification of soil and water. If the pH value falls further, some animal and plant species cannot survive in the affected environment.

Aluminium is not only found in deodorants, but also in other cosmetic products such as toothpaste or lipstick.

Paraffine

Paraffins are used in creams or lipsticks to create a shiny film on the skin and lips; in addition, paraffins have a lipid-replenishing effect. Paraffins are hydrocarbons that are used in cosmetics as a cheap alternative to vegetable oils. The disadvantage is, however, that paraffins are deposited as a film on the skin, clogging the pores and accumulating in the body. As with aluminium, paraffins are suspected to increase the risk of cancer.

And how is paraffin produced? Paraffins are extracted from crude oil – and here we come to the reason why paraffins are harmful to the environment. Paraffins in themselves are considered harmless to the environment; their production is not, however, because environmentally harmful emissions are produced during extraction and processing.
In the table of contents, paraffins are labelled with paraffin oil (Paraffinum Liquidum) and Vaseline (Petrolatum).

Surfactants

Surfactants are the magic agent in detergents or cleaning products that separate dirt from skin or fabric. Among the surfactants are: Anionic, cationic and amphoteric surfactants.

  • Anionic surfactants are found in most detergents as they are effective even at low temperatures. A sign of anionic surfactants is a lot of foam when using the product.
  • Cationic surfactants are mostly used in fabric softeners as they make textiles supple and hair easy to comb, as well as disinfectants and preservatives.
  • Amphoteric surfactants are often found in hand rinses and cosmetic products such as hair shampoo and are more compatible for the skin than other surfactants.

However, in addition to dirt, surfactants in body care products also remove the skin's natural oil layer, which protects the skin. If this is damaged or removed, the skin becomes more susceptible to foreign substances. To avoid this, combinations of different surfactants are usually used. For example, the proportion of amphoteric surfactants is increased.

Surfactants also do not perform well in terms of environmental compatibility. This is partly due to their production and their impact on the environment after they have been used by humans.

Surfactants are produced either from crude oil or other fossil raw materials or from renewable raw materials such as palm or coconut oil. Maize and potato starch can also be used for the production of surfactants. As already explained in the section on paraffins, the extraction and processing of crude oil is not particularly environmentally friendly. And the renewable raw materials? Here, too, we need to take a closer look, because palm plants and coconut plantations can also have a very poor ecological balance. However, organic surfactants from sustainable cultivation can be used as an alternative.

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What all surfactants have in common, however, is that – once in water – they are usually lethal for organisms living in water. Due to their chemical properties, the surfactants lay on the organisms like a film and wet them. This restricts the function of the organisms and leads to increased permeability for other toxic substances, e.g. pesticides. However, if surfactants are biodegradable, this risk is contained. Here the origin of the surfactants comes to the fore. Surfactants from renewable raw materials are more easily degradable and can therefore be quickly broken down into their individual components, which no longer pose a risk.

So if you buy products that contain surfactants, you should make sure that they are biodegradable surfactants made from organically grown, renewable raw materials.

When purchasing and using cleaning, care and cosmetic products, you should be aware that the ingredients will always end up in wastewater and thus ultimately in the water cycle. If you use smaller quantities, less of the ingredients get into the waste water. If you are looking for a suitable all-purpose soap, we can recommend curd soap. Make sure that the curd soap is made from vegetable and ecologically grown raw materials, e.g. olive kernel oil and is also suitable for body care. You can then use the curd soap for pretty much everything: Hands, hair, dishes and clothes.

In case of comments or additions to the topic, we look forward to your message.

You would like to learn more about Sustainable Travel? Take a look at our blogs about Sustainable Travel: Flying and Sustainable Travel: Zero Waste.

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