Soaps, shampoos and shower gels – What’s in yours?

The European Ecolabel is ahead of the game when it comes to protecting the environment.

The recent high profile publicity given to the effect on animal life of the use of plastic micro-beads highlights how little knowledge the average consumer has about the wider environmental impacts of the ingredients included in the soaps, shampoos and shower gels they use every day.

The European Ecolabel addresses this issue.  Set up in 1992 and backed by all European Member States, the Ecolabel aims to guide consumers to those products with a less harmful effect on the environment (including human health) by awarding a distinctive logo to products which meet a rigorously designed set of criteria.  Each of these criteria focuses on one of the most environmentally significant aspects of the lifecycle of the product, including ingredient toxicity.  This should make it easier for consumers to choose less environmentally-harmful products without having to do extensive scientific research themselves.

The current set of criteria for Rinse-Off Cosmetics, which includes soaps, gels, shampoos and hair conditioners, already bans the use of plastic micro-beads.  But not just plastic micro-beads.  The use of silver nano-particles is also banned.  Often used for its anti-bacterial qualities, these same qualities mean that it is very toxic to aquatic life and so at low concentrations may also adversely affect the function of wastewater treatment plants.  Other anti-bacterial ingredients and preservatives such as triclosan, parabens, formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasers are also already not allowed in Ecolabel products.  Again this is in advance of moves by regulators.  For example, the Food and Drugs Administration in the USA is banning triclosan by 2017 because of links to allergies in children. A similar move will likely follow in Europe.

The European Ecolabel also restricts the use of fragrances, encourages the use of palm oil derivatives from sustainable sources, and ensures an efficient use of packaging.  It does all this whilst at the same requiring comparative fitness-for-use tests with consumers or in a laboratory to ensure that good environmental performance is not achieved at the expense of functionality.  So you can be sure the product works!

So where can you buy Ecolabel products?  Unfortunately, there are not many on UK supermarket shelves.  The exception is Sanex Zero % shower gel which has the European Ecolabel and is widely available in leading retailers and chemists.

You will however find Ecolabel soaps, shampoos and shower gels in hospitals, businesses and hotels (Mercure, Novotel, Premier Inn amongst others).  Big manufacturers such as Kimberly Clark, GOJO, Deb and Rentokil Initial as well as smaller businesses such as Premiere and Selden are busy selling Ecolabel rinse-off cosmetic products all over the UK and in the rest of Europe!


Oakdene Hollins runs the European Ecolabel scheme in the UK on behalf of Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).  

Click here for more information on the European Ecolabel.

Simon Strick