Hey! Now that we’ve gotten your attention with our greenwash-y, SEO-friendly title (thanks, Google), you should know that while there’s no such thing as “eco-friendly” shaving cream, here’s what to be wise on when you’re shopping so you can pick the best option for you, the planet, and the people making your stuff.
Going au naturale when it comes to body hair is gaining in popularity and we fully support it! If you don’t shave, then you don’t need shaving cream and everything we’ll discuss in this guide will be moot.
Even though fewer people might be shaving, it’s still the choice for many. Nearly 150 million Americans used shaving cream in 2020 and most used it 2-3 times per week. That’s a lot of hair – and chemicals – to be putting down the drain. Before your next shave, let’s get the facts straight on the impact of all that shaving cream.
What to Be Wise On
The footprint of shaving cream can vary greatly depending on the ingredients used, the packaging it’s contained in, and most profoundly, the amount of water waste produced while using it. Besides using this guide to purchase a more “sustainable” shaving cream, it’s best to also try to do your part to cut back on water waste.
The Factors To Consider:
Even though razors were first used in 3000 BC, it took millennia for the first shaving cream to be invented. It wasn’t until 1919, when a former MIT professor developed a solution for a more comfortable shave, that shaving cream first appeared. Originally, it came as a thick cream in jars or tubes, but then the aerosol can was introduced in the 1950s and it completely changed the market. Why? Aerosol cans could produce softer, fluffier foam that wouldn’t get stuck in between razor blades as easily and would feel lighter and airier on the skin. Because the best shaving creams are light and fluffy, right?
While shaving cream might feel light and airy, there’s nothing soothing about the toxicity levels of some of the ingredients that go into manufacturing that feeling. Unfortunately, the top 5 selling brands in the US are all made with pesky ingredients like triethanolamine, isobutane and fragrances. Not sure what that even means? Let’s break it down. Research has proven that repeated use of triethanolamine (TEA) can cause cancer and irritate the skin, immune, and respiratory systems. Yuck. Overexposure to isobutane can cause choking, eye irritation, and even frostbite. Double yuck.
On top of all that, both ingredients are the byproducts of petroleum production. So much yuck! Even though fragrance might be the one term you’re familiar with, you’ll probably never know what’s giving you that enticing aroma. That’s because fragrances are protected from disclosure. While it might appear to be one ingredient on the label, it could potentially comprise hundreds of chemical compounds just for that one scent.
The good news? Removing TEA doesn’t diminish the performance of shaving creams, which is why several brands have done away with it. Plus, isobutane is only needed in aerosols and there are great options that don’t use aerosols (which are pesky in their own right as we’ll get to in a moment – skip ahead to ‘Packaging’ if you just can’t wait to learn more). Still, over 128 million Americans use shaving creams that come in aerosol cans.
How about one more ingredient to watch out for…just for good measure? Four out of the five top selling brands use palmitic acid, which is derived from palm oil. Does this ingredient condition your skin while it’s lathered on? Sure. But does collecting it also wipe out rainforests, displace Indigenous peoples, and exploit child labor? 1000%. It’s important to note that not all palm oil is produced in such an irresponsible way – some palm oils are produced without contributing to deforestation or ecosystem disruption. In fact, many brands are sourcing their palm oil from more responsible suppliers or doing away with palm oil as an ingredient altogether.
The Best Shaving Creams are Certified
If reading each ingredient list isn’t your thing (we know, it’s a lot!), then try looking for these certifications to cut back on the bad and get more of the good.
Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO): This certification verifies that palm oil suppliers are using practices that don’t contribute to deforestation or ecosystem disruption. We can already hear the Amazon thanking you!
Leaping Bunny: This is the only internationally recognized symbol that guarantees no new animal tests were used in the development of the product. This is really important for evaluating the toxicity levels of those pesky ingredients.
Fair For Life: This label ensures that each player in the supply chain operates with fair pricing, working conditions and contractual obligations. Fair for Life is part of the fair trade movement and is helpful when assessing many at-risk ingredients like palm oil.
EWG-Verified™: The Environmental Working Group is a non-profit and their label ensures products are free from the chemicals of concern that are outlined in their unacceptable list.
First of all, the main ingredient in most shaving creams is water. And, a lot of water goes into the manufacturing and use of shaving cream – all for just a few square inches of bare skin. In just one shave, you could be using one to ten gallons of water! And, most of that is just unused water going down the drain while the faucet is on.
Let’s be honest. Don’t we really only need water to rinse off our razor and wash off our skin once we’re done shaving? One option might be to turn on and off the faucet intermittently during your shave. Ok, how tedious would that be! Might we suggest filling a small bowl with water for you to rinse your razor and then use the faucet to wash off after the shave? We know, we know – brilliant. That way we can better control our water use and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (because water treatment and movement require energy, which is the greatest source of global emissions). Wastewater treatment plants are responsible for 9% and 4% of methane and nitrous oxide emissions globally, respectively. So the less water you use, the smaller your environmental footprint.
While limiting water waste is one half of the coin, the other is a bit trickier to manage. Remember those pesky ingredients we mentioned earlier? Well, turns out their influence extends beyond application. When these chemicals go down the drain and into our waterways, they can cause contamination that can lead to all sorts of awful illnesses if they later make their way into our tap and drinking water. This is why it’s so important to check the ingredients. And while you’re at it, don’t rely on any claims that an alternative product is “non-toxic” - because just as nothing is inherently “sustainable”, nothing is inherently “non-toxic” either.
Aside from what shaving cream is made of, you should also consider its packaging. Over 90% of Americans that use shaving cream use one that comes in an aerosol can. These cans are made from aluminum or steel – producing just 1 kilogram of either material can emit the equivalent of driving 30 miles in your car. Plus, to get that misting or foaming we associate with shaving cream, aerosol cans require hydrocarbons or compressed gases that emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are prevalent in asthma-induced smog. Unfortunately, tubes aren’t much better – whether made of aluminum or plastic, the energy-intensive production processes come with high levels of emissions. To reduce the impact of these packaging materials, look for shaving cream alternatives without packaging, such as shaving bars.
While some recycling programs accept empty aerosol cans (that also have their plastic caps removed!), many still don’t due to the dangers of pressurized cans exploding in the sorting facility. Sadly, this means that plenty end up in landfills, where aluminum and steel can take centuries to decompose. If you can recycle the aluminum, it could be endlessly repurposed, so check with your local recycling program and make sure it ends up in the right bin.
A Few Key Takeaways:
While we don’t need to use a cream when shaving (have you thought about substitutes for shaving cream? Soap or even your shampoo will do the trick), some of us just love lathering up with that extra buffer to help us get a closer shave and keep our skin smooth and moisturized. We get it. If you’re looking to make a more conscious choice with your shaving cream, try to avoid aerosol cans and ingredients that can wreak havoc when they reach our waterways. And perhaps most importantly, turn off that running faucet!
Common Questions We Get
“Is shaving cream bad for the environment?”
TLDR: Yes. At least the ones manufactured by many traditional brands. As we’ve discussed, these options extract natural and non-renewable resources in a way that exploits labor and destroys biodiverse environments. They are made with ingredients that can irritate our bodies and contaminate our waterways. And that doesn’t even account for the packaging! The good news? Some shaving creams cause less damage than others, so always remember to check the ingredients.
“What is the most environmentally friendly way to shave?”
Not shaving at all will have the least environmental impact, but assuming you’re hankering for hairless skin, there are a few things to consider when shaving. First, if it wasn’t obvious by now, cutting back on water use can save gallons of fresh water from going down the drain (literally). And when it comes to shaving cream alternatives, better to use a bar that comes in little to no packaging to reduce waste.
“What kind of shaving cream is most sustainable?”
While there’s really no such thing as “sustainable” shaving cream because shaving will always produce water waste, we like to choose these more sustainable shaving creams because of what they’re made of.