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Getting all whipped up over handcream

May 19, 2010

Sometimes there are moments where aspects of my life grind to halt.  Often I get going with myself on the ethics and issues surrounding something I’m interested in.  This inevitably leads to me questioning every single aspect I can think of about my new object of desire.  This is annoying because at every turn I find myself hesitating to buy something I want or need, all the while my conscience asking me, “Where did it come from? How was it made? Who made it? How far did it travel? Were the workers paid fairly? Did anyone die for it? Will it biodegrade?”

You get the picture, right?

I have a conscience very easily made guilty.  Often, when my eyes get opened to an issue that becomes important to me, concerns about one issue often boomerang into another issue and I start thinking about things in ways I hadn’t before.

Leave it to me to make such an issue out of something as seemingly simple as handcream.  And, if you’re wondering, my concerns about handcream came about after I started thinking about drinking more coffee.  Yeah, how did we go from coffee to handcream? These two things are seemingly unrelated except for the details that we use hands to hold coffee cups and use handcream to keep those hands looking pretty.  And that perhaps the cocoa or shea butters used in handcreams may come from some of the same places that coffee is grown.

Of course, my mental avalanche of thoughts about the ethics of and issues surrounding coffee (a multi-part post coming from me sometime) led to me mulling over handcream quite a bit.

And so for me a trip to a store to buy handcream is never as simple as a trip to a store to buy handcream.

What am I looking for?  Well, let’s start with packaging.

I don’t like plastic anything.  I still consume far more plastic through groceries and other purchases than I like to admit.  If I must buy plastic, I’d like it to be recyclable in my area.  Now I am under no illusions that recycling is all that environmentally friendly.  As with many issues, there are pros and cons.  The only thing better than recycling is not buying something in the first place or, if possible, buying something second-hand.  I’m not really keen on plastic tubes of any sort.  Sure, many of them have recycling symbols on them, but how often do any of us bother to take the time to cut the end off the tube, wash it out, and then take it to the recycling bin?  Also, plastic – though hailed early in its advent as a miracle material – is made of some pretty insidious chemicals that sometimes require more insidious materials to be used in the recycling process.

So plastic packaging? No thanks.

Also, the last thing I want is yet another image of a dead albatross chick rotting on a beach, its stomach contents exposed to the world, contents that look a lot like the plastic caps and flip tops we all use every single day and toss away without a care.  Don’t know what I’m talking about?  If you haven’t already heard of the Pacific Trash Vortex, then check of this result of our disposable society.  I think I even see the top of a spray pump in the picture.  You know, the kind used on non-aerosol hairspray bottles.  That picture pops into my mind almost every single time I put something plastic into the garbage.

I’d rather opt for glass packaging that I can reuse.  Aside from the obvious problem with the amount of energy it takes to make or recycle glass, at least I can reuse a glass jar.  If it doesn’t have a plastic lid, that is.  Since most small jars used for personal care products use plastic lids, this option also seems pretty much out of the question for me unless I find a metal lid.  Of course, then I start thinking of the plastic sealing compounds used on metal lids, or the toxic, inorganic polystyrene seals used on glass containers under the lids to prevent chemical reactions between the jar’s contents and the metal lid.

What about metal packaging, like aluminum tubes or small tins?  The problem here is that metal needs to be mined, and mined metal comes from ecosystems that have been devastated beyond any repair.  Just look up pictures of any open-pit mining operations or mining projects that have toxic tailings ponds and you’ll see what I mean.  And don’t forget minerals used in metal alloys.  They need to be mined too.  These projects, though their products vital to numerous aspects of our lives, hurt people and hurt wildlife.  And like eating plastic caps for lunch, landing on a tailings pond is a horrific way to die (think about what happened up at the Syncrude project in northern Alberta).  Sure, there’s recycled metal.  But, as with plastic, the methods used to recycle metal could be just as toxic as the processes used to mine it.  And I’m not sure there’s much of a demand at the moment from consumers for recycled metal packaging for many products.

Unless my handcream can levitate as a neat blob that doesn’t touch anything, then it seems I’m out of luck, right?  I suppose that depends on if I can reason with myself over the possibility of glass being a better choice over plastic and metal.  That is, if I can find a glass jar of handcream that I can  buy locally and not buy online. 

If I can come to a compromise with myself over the packaging, then I launch into the issues of ingredients.  Is a product truly vegan?  How were the ingredients produced?  Are there any toxic preservatives?  How will this affect the environment?  Is anything artificial?  Did the ingredients cost an animal or a human their life or freedom?

Honey, which shows up in astonishing amounts in edible and non-edible products, is not an option for me.  With the worldwide decline in honey bee populations in recent years, and the fact that bees are darned smart, the last thing I want is the saliva from a bee in my food or anything else I use.  Besides, bee spit?  All over my face or my toast?  Gross.

I also get to visualizing just where ingredients in a handcream came from and where they went to be processed before being sold to a company to be used in a handcream.  Then, I have to think about where the handcream was manufactured versus where it ends up after being purchased by a distributor, where that handcream gets shipped to before it finally gets to a store shelf only to be picked up by you or I and taken home. And that’s just the cream itself.  There’s also the label, the ink used on the label, and the production of the packaging to think about.  By the time I get to it, my handcream will have gotten more milage than my entire family will get in all their lives.

As for heinous preservatives and other foaming, extending, and stabilizing ingredients, there just isn’t enough room here – or enough of your patience – to hear me go on about these.  If you need to know what the dirty is on ingredients like PEG, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, or any of the five parabens commonly used as preservatives, you can read about them here.

Oh, and then there’s the ethics of the company producing said handcream.

It doesn’t look as though I could come to any conclusion about handcream, right?  I can come up with any number of issues like I’ve talked about here for any particular item I want to consume.  Sometimes I abandon my desire for something new and decide that I really don’t need it at all.  Sometimes I don’t, and I almost always have that little whisper of guilt in my mind.  Like you, I’ve been born into a world where I’m told I can have whatever I want whenever I want without even thinking about it.  But there’s responsibility to be taken in everything, and whether I like it or not I’m one of those people who has a harder time ignoring something they think is wrong.

So the first question I should be asking myself, before I even get into any of what I’ve said here, is do I really need it?

Where handcream is concerned, perhaps.  Most of my yearning for it has to do with avoiding those painful splits in my skin I tend to get when my skin is dried out.  And it’s not just my hands that need serious moisture therapy.  From head-to-toe I have dry skin that is uncomfortable most of the time.  I doubt even the Nile or the Amazon rivers could quench the thirst of my moisture-robbed skin.

So if I need moisture, what’s the solution to my dilemma here? Both you and I will be staying tuned for that.  I haven’t at all exhausted this subject; I’ve said here only about half of what I’ve actually thought about.

Like I said, for me a trip to a store to buy handcream is never as simple as a trip to a store to buy handcream.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Linda permalink
    May 19, 2010 2:53 pm

    Love your blog! Awhile ago I got a recipe for vegan mayo from your blog but it seems that link is no longer in use. The mayo was described as even better than Veganaise which I totally agreed with. Any chance you could post that recipe again. It was awesome.

    Many thanks

  2. May 19, 2010 2:57 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Linda! I can repost that recipe if you like. I modified it from a recipe in the Candle Cafe cookbook if you’d like to check that out – it’s a great book!

  3. Buddy permalink
    May 20, 2010 6:16 am

    Great post. I know your dilemma as I’m sure many other vegans do. I don’t know if there are any ethical issues involved (now you have me thinking about that), but I use straight olive oil. It comes in glass or aluminum containers and doesn’t have the dreaded additives. You can’t slather it on whenever you want, but if I do it right before bed, I don’t need hand cream the rest of the time.

  4. Gabrielle permalink
    May 20, 2010 11:21 am

    Hi, I use extra virgin coconut oil. The kind that comes in glass jars. It lasts forever, smells delicious, and works wonderfully! 🙂

  5. May 21, 2010 9:04 am

    I still think glass is the best to use and it’s the best environmentally because it can fully be recycled.

  6. May 23, 2010 2:36 pm

    I have to agree with you previous commenters Buddy and Gabrielle, if you can find ethical, vegan oil to cook with, this can be used as a skin moisturizer. “Handcream” is a dependency product. You don’t “need” “handcream”, you need something that will keep the moisture of your skin in it – do this from the inside by drinking water (and, sorry, avoiding things like coffee, which dehydrate you) and from this outside by putting some sort of oil on it that prevents moisture from leaving your skin – olive oil and coconut oil do this just as readily as any “handcream” on the market and hopeful will address your ethical concerns. (You can use these oils for all sorts of things too – makeup remover (oil removes oil), combined to create other beauty products (olive oil and ethically sourced sea salt is a lovely body scrub etc) I think in Victoria there is someone who makes olive oil soap too…Just remember to reapply the oil when needed!

  7. Rebecca permalink
    June 13, 2010 2:08 pm

    I second the veganaise recipe..can you repost? I still don’t seem to see it..bummer!


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