At Lush we believe in giving customers choice, that’s why we provide self preserving and synthetically preserved products side by side, it’s why we offer bottled and naked products, as well as SLS and alcohol-free versions of some of our shampoos and scrubs.
Whether the ingredients inside the pot are natural or aided by a little synthetic help, Lush products always do what they say on the tin. We believe in providing effective products with effective ingredients, and sometimes, when nothing else can provide the ethics or quality that we need, that includes synthetics. They’re an extra tool in our belt to help create the innovative, culture-changing, cosmetics that you know and love. But enough about what we do, and more about polymers.
What are polymers and, tbh, what’s their deal?
Polymers. Hmmm, even the word is tricky. Let’s break it down. You probably notice ‘poly’, from polygon, polyamorous, polytechnic, meaning many. In fact it’s from Greek polu - ‘many’ and meros ‘part’. So literally it means ‘of many parts’. And that’s a good place to start.
Polymers can be natural or synthetic and can refer to a whole range of materials - nylon, silk, cellulose, Teflon, polyester, wool, and even DNA. Put simply, polymers are chains of molecules repeated over and over again. The repetition of the same molecules creates strong bonds and allows for a wide range of different effects and uses - such as slipperiness, stretchiness, viscousness and a whole lots of nesses.
‘Polymer’ is an umbrella term for a whole host of materials all with separate benefits, considerations and uses. They can be natural and they can be synthetic, and they’re found in loads of things we use in our everyday lives - most notably plastics. However, it’s a common misconception that all polymers are plastics - they aren’t. While all plastics are polymers, not all polymers are plastic - just look at that list of natural polymers to be sure. Wool, DNA, and silk are all materials that are categorically not considered plastic.
So what’s the problem?
In cosmetics, the use of polymers has caused a stir because, quite rightly, plastic has come under a lot of scrutiny in the past decade. Here at Lush we’ve pioneered plastic-free cosmetics - from shampoo bars and naked shower gels, to packaging-free shops and plastic-reducing technology (hello Lush Lens).
We make every effort to ensure our impact on the environment is not only sustainable but regenerative - putting more back than we take and ensuring we enrich the environments and communities we work with.
When it comes to polymers there’s somewhat of a grey area around what constitutes as a plastic. Some polymers have never really been defined either way. We’ll leave the nitty gritty plastic debate to the field scientists, but here’s what we know about the polymers Lush uses:
The polymers we use in our products, and in particular Lush Makeup - that’s styrene/acrylates/ammonium methacrylate copolymer, and polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP), (catchy we know) - are water soluble, meaning they don’t contribute to microplastic pollution in the same way that solid materials like polyester and nylon found in your gym kit do . These plastics are synthetic solid materials and when they break down can create plastic pollution that negatively impacts the environment.
Remember microbeads? Well we do. Lush has championed natural exfoliants since we opened in 1995, and the world followed (albeit over two decades later) with a ban in 2018. We don’t use solid polymers in any of our products because research has shown the negative impacts on aquatic environments. Microplastics are tiny synthetic polymers that resist biodegradation and block the digestive tracts of fish, aquatic creatures, and other wildlife.
The polymers Lush uses in its vegan eyeliners are water-soluble and liquid synthetics. They are not in the same category as microplastics because they are structurally different, and as such need a whole different approach and treatment. Research and debate is ongoing in relation to their impact.
Here at Lush we are at the forefront of cosmetic research. We fund alternatives to animal testing, and are constantly reformulating our products to better reflect the latest discoveries, and we always will. Right now, there’s not much science out there about the polymers we use, other than that they are effective, dissolve in water, and create great, cruelty-free makeup. But rest assured we’ve got our eyes on it. We’re constantly looking to improve our products and our supply chains, so when there’s something better - we’ll be the first to innovate with it. Don’t want to use them? That’s fine too. We’ve got loads of other, polymer free products for you to use.
What polymers does Lush Use?
What does it do:
PVP promotes the dispersion of pigments, making it a very effective ingredient for creating makeup products with an even consistency and pigment. It is also a binder, helping to control the viscosity of a formula.
Where is it used: Lush Eyeliners to create an easy to use and vibrant colour.
Styrene/acrylate/ammonium methacrylate copolymer with Butylene Glycol and Sodium Laureth Sulfate
What does it do: This copolymer, made of styrene, acrylates and ammonium methacrylate is a water-resistant film-forming agent.
Copolymer compounds create a water-repellent base for products with waterproof qualities. They act by creating a thin flexible film that prevents water from washing the product away.
Where is it used: Lush Eyeliners to provide a long-lasting and vibrant vegan eyeliner - helping makeup to stay on the skin comfortably.
Why do you use polymers if the science around them isn’t definite?
Science is always evolving, and we’re always evolving with science. As new discoveries and innovations are made, we adapt our product recipes and ingredients. Just look at how we removed palm oil from our soap base. We are proactive about finding solutions to our cosmetic needs - with a whole team of product inventors working to ensure all our products are the best they can be.
Cosmetic science is a fine balance. Here at Lush we’re always striving to create the most effective products while keeping our impact on the environment positive.
Over to Lush Co-founder and inventor Helen Ambrosen:
“These two polymer ingredients, PVP and Styrene/acrylate/ammonium methacrylate copolymer with Butylene Glycol and Sodium Laureth Sulfate, are not solid plastics but are dissolved and used in solution within the product. They are water-soluble though we do use them at times in oil-based systems.
As they are used in solution they are not of instant concern like microplastics. Their impact in marine or freshwater environments has not been sufficiently researched yet.
At Lush, we have long debated the inclusion of synthetic polymers in our makeup. We remain on the lookout for any new information on this or alternative, natural compounds.
Right now there are no new types that we can use to create the effect we know our customers want. Therefore, to give a product that works well and that is as close as possible to our ethics, we use these two types - Polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP) and Styrene/acrylate/ammonium methacrylate copolymer with Butylene Glycol and Sodium Laureth Sulfate. These ingredients used together make it possible to have products that do what our customers need them to do. In makeup they need to stay on the eyes and face and not slip off or smudge.
It is vitally important that we give the customer a product that works. There are so many measures we have taken to make Lush Makeup the best both ethically and environmentally. This is yet another step on our journey.”
We think that’s everything you could ever need to know about polymers, but if you want more info give Customer Care a call. Find out more about vegan and cruelty-free Lush Makeup here.
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