When it comes to being more sustainable, many of us have made the switch from water-intensive shampoo in single-use plastic to soap bars like the Dove Men + Care: Clean Comfort Soap Bar. The Clean Comfort Soap Bar is made with ¼ moisturizing cream to thoroughly cleanse and maintain healthy-feeling hydration levels for the skin. Although Dove takes pride in being the No. 1 dermatologist-recommended soap bar brand, they may only be better than large corporations because they minimized impacts rather than proactively finding alternatives and new sustainable practices. Knowing what materials are used is helpful, but for better sustainability analysis, we need to know how much is used and how it’s acquired. A 3.75oz 6-pack costs ~$10, which is feasible for most but still results in concerns for environmental and human health. Even though this bar is plastic-bottle-free, that does not nullify the ingredients, manufacturing processes, and lack of transparency that are of emerging concern. Dove’s website contains highlights with an abundance of commitments and sustainable ideals, however, these are meaningless until progress is made by taking adequate actions to shift the types of ingredients used and the methodology of the production/distribution processes.
Single-use plastic bottles are products of indefinite environmental concern because they don’t biodegrade and take hundreds of years to break down, releasing microplastics in the process. Dove’s soap bar eliminates the need for a single-use bottle, however, it does not get rid of the dependence on fossil fuels. The 6-pack is enclosed in film plastic and cardboard with a plastic coating; both are unrecyclable and thereby contribute to our evergrowing waste stream. Regardless of the continued use of plastic, the company has some ingredients of concern since they contradict the “pure” and “natural” branding around its products. For example, palm oil is one of the necessary ingredients, but there is no tangible number to reflect how much of this resource is extracted. This is of concern because palm oil extraction requires high levels of energy-intensive deforestation, followed by an increase in CO2, which then leads to increased warming caused by the greenhouse gas effect. Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) is another ingredient of concern because studies found it has moderate risks for cancer, toxicity in the non-reproductive organ system, and irritation/immunotoxicity. BHT mostly has some moderate-low risks, but Dove’s wide array of fragrances have moderate-high risks. Individuals with allergies and eczema are the highest at risk of severe allergic reactions or immunotoxicity, making this product disproportionately more available to “healthy” individuals - typically in countries with wealthier economies.
Based on my research and according to leading international certifiers, PETA, it was evident that no animal testing was done throughout the manufacturing process. Many customers, like myself, value cruelty-free products, and although Dove fulfills this, it doesn’t imply all the ingredients are harmless to us because corporations often use humans as the “guinea pigs” instead. The manufacturing/production process is critical for investigating the environmental costs of a product, however, I was unable to find any sources as to how the Clean Comfort Soap Bar is made. This makes our analysis difficult because we cannot gauge an understanding of how much land or water is used – aside from their highlighted goals on zero waste and plastic reduction – nor the potential environmental degradation/impacts caused by the processes. It’s disheartening to see the lack of transparency on how the product is made because throughout the Dove website, transparency is emphasized; however, it’s mainly in terms of the sustainability they hope to achieve rather than actual achievements. The manufacturing factories and transportation processes require a great deal of energy and most likely are dependent on CO2-releasing fossil fuels. Greenhouse gasses and a plethora of waste byproducts are also expected to be released from the conversion of raw materials into usable products. The website is unclear on their processes, however, they have some factory commitments to zero waste through composting, recycling, and recycled uniforms, showing they are willing to start making regenerative changes. Dove’s sustainability ideals can be achieved, but they must put in substantial transformative efforts and not just the bare minimum to satisfy consumers because looking green won’t cut it. I believe corporations must include full transparency throughout the product lifecycle to evaluate how ethical and unjust their processes truly are.
Dove, owned by Unilever, is a personal care brand founded in the US in the 1950s. It currently offers products for men, women, and babies in over 150 countries. Similar to Unilever’s commitment to a waste-free world, Dove has committed to a NO | BETTER | LESS PLASTIC initiative by 2025 to reduce the manufacturing of 20,500 tonnes of virgin plastic/year. Achieving this goal will require making the iconic Beauty Bars plastic-free, launching 100% recycled bottles, and trialing a refillable deodorant. Removing plastic packaging from soap bars has tremendous impacts on the environment because it prevents the extraction of fossil fuels and the leaching of microplastics. On another note, 100% recycled only means the material used is recycled, meaning this product itself may not be recyclable and will contribute to our waste stream; however, this does provide the potential for a biodegradable bottle. Dove emphasizes the issue of plastic pollution to highlight how much will be produced at our current rate, however, this gives a global perspective of the issue rather than elaborating on how their progress has countered it. The brand targets average consumers who lack the time for a proper skincare routine to boost confidence and skin health, although, it does not excuse their lack of transparency on their “natural” products and the means of acquisition. Though they have improved factories through more recycled materials and some zero-waste commitments, these just minimize costs instead of improving working conditions and living wages for employees. Even though Dove has capitalized power, we have the purchasing power to boycott them or demand they continuously improve large-scale product recyclability while switching to environmentally-friendly core ingredients.