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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Sustainability in the Cosmetics Industry

Rebecca Bateman

Sustainability in the Cosmetics Industry

Cosmetics, which per the EU Cosmetics Directive are “any substance or preparation intended to be placed in contact with the various external parts of the human body” with a view mainly to cleaning, perfuming, changing, protecting, or correcting them, are often worn to express individuality, sexuality, or social status.  A typical adult uses seven cosmetic items daily, while women in particular, who on average spend US$16,800 on cosmetics in a lifetime, use at least nine products each day.


Unfortunately, due to a number of unsustainable aspects, this widespread use magnifies the industry’s flaws.  Major problems include environmentally and socially unsustainable sourcing practices, inhumane animal testing, human absorption of dangerous chemicals (i.e., “body burden”), and toxic ecosystem pollution.  These difficulties affect those involved in the products’ life cycles and supply chains as well as young and unborn children, wildlife, vegetation, and the earth’s natural resources.


There are a number of techniques that can be employed to improve sustainability of the cosmetics industry.  The EU Cosmetics Directive is a regulatory measure to prevent sale of any cosmetics in the European Union with negative mutagenic, carcinogenic, or reproductive effects.  In the United States, there are certification bodies attempting to improve the transparency, labeling methods, and health impacts of the industry through the setting of standardized criteria.  Many firms themselves, such as the Body Shop, are attempting to take advantage of the niche market looking for cosmetics products with more natural and environmentally conscious ingredients.


This research intends to investigate the sustainability of the industry and suggest a path forward.  Through exploration of current initiatives, catalysts and barriers to change can be identified.  Increased public awareness, improved regulatory measures, and research into new technologies will help create responsible products with improved product formulations, testing methods, and manufacturing controls.  The goal is to demonstrate how the industry can become one that protects and ensures the health and wellbeing of humans, wildlife, ecological systems, and other stakeholders for both the present and future generations.


The potential exists in this industry for great improvements.  The intent of this work is to provide solutions in various contexts to facilitate change.

Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.