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Green Acne Treatments

This is a blog entry about green acne treatments. It is not about treatments for green acne, but rather about acne treatments that are made in environmentally friendly ways. Some of the environmental costs of acne treatments may surprise you. Here are some acne product ingredients that you may want to avoid.

Sunscreen on belly
Avoid using sunscreens with Benzophenone, as it may be linked to skin cancer.

1,4 Dioxane

The Environmental Working Group estimates that 22% of cosmetics contain 1,4-dioxane, a chemical used to help other ingredients dissolve in solution. Although the US FDA treats 1,4-dioxane as “relatively nontoxic,” the US EPA classifies 1,4-dioxane as a potential carcinogen for humans1 and has spent tens of billions of dollars removing it from contaminated soil. Exposure to large amounts of 1,4-dioxane in the environment causes damage the kidneys and central nervous system. Exposure to small amounts of 1,4-dioxane in cosmetics is not known to cause damage to either the kidneys or the central nervous system—but it is not known not to cause damage, either.

When 1,4-dioxane appears in skin care products, toothpaste, and mouthwash, it is not intentional. Some 1,4-dioxane gets into these products as a contaminant to the sudsing agents they contain. If you avoid sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), however, you won’t likely get any 1,4-dioxane2.


Bisphenol-A, also known as BPA, is the nearly universal building block of plastic bottles and the resins used to make the sealer for cans of food. The manufacturing of BPA requires mixing phenol (which in turn is made from benzene) and acetone (the same chemical in nail polish remover) in the presence of hydrochloric acid. The resulting chemical becomes the polymer that is used to make plastic containers for your acne products.

The problem with BPA is that it interacts with animal tissues in much the same way as estrogen. Some rivers in Canada that are contaminated with BPA have nearly all-female fish populations, the BPA converting male fish to female fish. The human body has a way of decontaminating BPA with a liver enzyme, but this enzyme does not function (1) in the placenta or (2) when people consume large amounts of either aspirin or soy products. Humans also are at risk for hormonal disruption caused by BPA3. And acidic products—like any exfoliant for acne-prone skin—leach BPA out of the bottle into its contents.

It’s a good idea to get your acne treatments in bottles that aren’t made with BPA. It’s better both for the environment and for your own health. If your acne treatment comes in a clear bottle, chances are that the bottle contains BPA. If your acne treatment comes in an opaque bottle, chances are that it does not.


Until very recently, most sunscreens and sun blocks only offered protection against the sun’s milder, UV-B rays. Sunscreens and sun blocks did not, for the most part, protect the skin against the more dangerous UV-A rays. A chemical called oxybenzone was the first synthetic ingredient discovered that can protect the skin against UV-A.

The problem with oxybenzone is that when people use sunscreens that contain it, skin cancer rates go up, not down. Scientists have not proven or disproven the proposition that oxybenzone may cause cancer—but for your own safety and particularly for the safety of children, you may want to avoid it for its potential adverse effects4. And if oxybenzone is combined with traditional sun protective agents like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, it breaks down so fast it can’t protect your skin from sun, anway.

Polyethylene Beads

Polyethylene beads, also known as polyethylene microspheres, are added to many acne products as an exfoliating agent5. If you gently rub the a cleanser containing polyethylene beads across your skin, the beads will remove the “black” lying on top of blackheads and also loosen dead skin so you can rinse it away. Products that contain polyethylene beads include AcneFree Severe to Clear Skin System, AcneFree Mild Moderate Clear Skin System, Artistry by Amway Clear Now Scrub, Aveeno Positively Ageless Daily Exfoliating Cleanser, Clinique Acne Solutions Post-Blemish Formula, Clinique Sparkle Skin Body Exfoliator, Eau Thermale Avene Gentle Purifying Scrub, Estee Lauder Idealist Pore Minimizing Skin Refinisher, L’Oreal Paris Age Perfect Rich Restorative Cream Cleanser for Mature Skin, Marcel Hydra-C Radiance Facial Exfoliating Gel, MD Formulations Face and Body Scrub, Murad Acne Body Wash, Murad Gaga for Glow Facial Scrub, Patricia Wexler MD Acnescription Exfoliating Cleanser with Acnostat, The Body Shop Vitamin C Facial Cleansing Polish, and Wei East Green Tea Antioxidant Facial Scrub.

Some of these products are great for your skin. Some of them are not. But all of them contain polyethylene beads that are made from alcohol treated with sulfuric acid heated with an aluminum catalyst. Beads made from jojoba wax do not require acid treatment.

Does the itty bitty amount of polyethylene beads in a facial scrub make a big difference in environmental quality? No, but buying products that are made with jojoba beads keeps the market alive for a more environmentally friendly ingredient. Try Derm E Alpha-Hydroxy Acids Beauty Fluid (if you have sensitive skin) or Jojoba Micro Bead Purifying Facial Scrub (only if you don’t have chemical sensitivities or allergies).

Products That Are Tested On Animals

None of the science cited on this cite was derived from product testing on animals. When scientific fact is used here, it comes from tests on human volunteers. This site is also free of products used on tested on animals. One reason for not participating in animal testing is ethical. Animals can’t consent to undergo painful tests. But the other reason for not participating in animal testing is practical. Do you really think that testing on a rabbit’s ear tells you how well a product will work on your face?

Many makers of acne care products and other cosmetics do not do animal testing, and they rely on brilliant alternatives6. These include Abercrombie & Fitch, Affordable Mineral Makeup, AHAVA, Alba Botanica, Almay, Aveda, Bare Escentuals, Body Shop, California Baby, Clinique (Estee Lauder), Coach (Estee Lauder), Dermalogica, Exposed Skin Care,  Flirt! (Estee Lauder), Herbology, Inara Organic Body Care, Inika Mineral Cosmetics, Kiss My Face, Larocca Skin Care, LUSH Cosmetics, Merle Norman, Murad, MyChelle, Nakid, NuSkin, Organix South, Patricia Wexler MD, Pur Minerals, Revlon, Safeway, TanOrganic, Tommy Hilfiger, and Tom’s of Maine. This is not an exhaustive list of cosmetics companies that do not do animal testing, and other companies may be added to the list when their testing standards are confirmed.


  1. 1,4-Dioxane in Cosmetics: A Manufacturing Byproduct. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (Website). Accessed 2019.
  2. Bondi C.A., Marks J.L., Wroblewski L.B., Raatikainen H.S., Lenox S.R., Gebhardt K.E. Human and Environmental Toxicity of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS): Evidence for Safe Use in Household Cleaning Products. Environmental Health Insights. 2015;9:27-32.
  3. Konieczna A., Rutkowska A., Rachoń D. Health risk of exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA). Roczniki Państwowego Zakładu Higieny. 2015;66(1):5-11.
  4. Siller A., Blaszak S.C., Lazar M., Olasz Harken E. Update About the Effects of the Sunscreen Ingredients Oxybenzone and Octinoxate on Humans and the Environment. Plastic Surgical Nursing. 2018;38(4):158-161.
  5. Kitsongsermthon J., Duangweang K., Kreepoke J., Tansirikongkol A. In vivo cleansing efficacy of biodegradable exfoliating beads assessed by skin bioengineering techniques. Skin Research and Technology. 2017;23(4):525-530.
  6. Cheluvappa R., Scowen P., Eri R. Ethics of animal research in human disease remediation, its institutional teaching; and alternatives to animal experimentation. Pharmacology Research and Perspectives. 2017;5(4).
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Ruth Henriquez Reply

Nice post -- thank you for providing this information. In regards to polyethylene beads used in scrub products, it's important for people to know that over the past few years, evidence has come forth that these beads go into the water supply, and, being plastic, do not break down. (They are not removed at water treatment plants.) If you do a search on "microbeads and water supply" you will find numerous articles on the subject. One, from CBS News, states that "Scientists say the non-biodegradable microbeads absorb chemicals, pesticides and other toxins that can eventually end up in the food chain -- and on our dinner plates. High concentrations of microbeads have also been found in The Great Lakes." In other words, animals all the way up the food chain are eating plastic beads with their other food, and it's not good for them -- or us. In other words, microbeads are the total opposite of green. Please spread the word, and contact the makers of cosmetics who use these. There are alternatives for scrubs, like salt and ground walnut shells (St. Ives has one of these for acne which is very nice).

April 27, 2015 at 12:51 pm Reply

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