Do you ever feel guilty about how much waste you create? Same. It is kind of hard not to, given the prevalence of the current sustainability movement. It is also pretty easy to breeze past the fact that you go through makeup wipes like water, even though you know it is not the best for the environment (and not enough to clean your skin, anyway).
Whether we like it or not, excessive waste is actually a growing problem within the personal care industry. Factory farming often gets the brunt of the finger-wagging from eco-advocates, but beauty isn’t far behind. Last year, Euromonitor reported that in 2010, the industry produced 65.62 billion plastic packaging units. Just seven years later, in 2017, that number jumped to 76.8 billion. These stats don’t even take into account plastic tools like hairbrushes and curling irons.
Climate change debates aside, it certainly can’t hurt to be a bit more mindful about how we consume (and discard of) products. Your beauty cabinet is an easy place to start, especially for us product junkies, who constantly have new creams and serums in rotation.
Luckily, there are so many alternatives out there to not only curb waste production but save you money in the long run. Knowing that you are helping the planet and being financially savvy? I would call that a serious win-win.
Here are just a few ways to make your beauty shelves a little more eco-friendly.
Reusable cotton rounds
Those tiny cotton rounds that you use to take off your makeup or apply toner may seem harmless, but they actually have a huge environmental impact. According to the World Wildlife Fund, it takes 20,000 liters of water to produce one kilogram of cotton, which is equivalent to a single pair of jeans.
New York City Dermatologist Hadley King, M.D., recommends swapping disposable cotton rounds for reusable ones as an easy way to cut back on waste. But, she warns, they must be cleaned after each use. “Oil, dirt and makeup will be on the cotton round after use, and this provides an excellent environment for yeast and bacteria to grow, so it is important to wash them after each use,” she says. “An easy way to do this is to wash them in the washing machine with your other linens. Use a fragrance-free detergent and don’t use too much of it so there won’t be residue left on the cotton round to irritate your skin.”
Makeup wipes are a godsend when you are too lazy/tired/tipsy to wash your face, but they are also super wasteful. There are endless products on the market that act as both a makeup remover and cleanser, so why not reach for those instead of creating trash? Products like cleansing balms, oils, and milks are excellent makeup removers and can be suitable for all skin types. However, even the strongest among them often require a second cleanse. Alexa Hernandez, makeup artist with Forward Artists, loves to combine cleansing balms with other cleansers for squeaky-clean skin. “I prefer to use a cleansing balm as part of a two-step cleanse,” she says. “I will usually follow up with my regular cleanser in order to deep clean.”
Pretty much every beauty tool that is typically made from plastic is now available in bamboo equivalent. It is a natural, biodegradable material. Results of a 2017 study led by UC Santa Barbara industrial ecologist Roland Geyer states that a measly 9 percent of plastic is recycled in the United States, which means that the majority of packaging created will end up in a landfill or our oceans. Bamboo beauty tools like toothbrushes, hairbrushes, combs and even cotton swabs are an excellent alternative to plastic and are typically just as affordable.
Now that you have your bamboo toothbrush, you are ready to approach the rest of your dental routine with an eco-friendly mindset. Try purchasing mouthwash in glass bottles that can either be reused or properly recycled. Single-use flossers should also be avoided; instead, look for compostable nylon and plastic-free floss and refillable glass containers. Oh, and turn the water off while you’re brushing!
According to Consumer Reports, many sunscreen manufacturers are taking steps to ban oxybenzone and octinoxate, chemicals that researchers have deemed potentially harmful to aquatic life. “Reef-safe” sunscreen is now an option on the market, but the government has yet to regulate that definition or require testing on marine life. Though we have yet to nail down a 100 percent reliable reef-friendly sunscreen, mineral sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide appear to be safer for coral reefs than chemical ones.
To avoid the plastic waste of disposable razors, try a safety razor: a centuries-old method for a super-close shave. Be wary of the learning curve, though, as it is easy to nick yourself with the ultra-sharp blade. You can also make your shaving routine more eco-friendly by using your other soaps or body washes as shaving cream, to avoid purchasing another product and creating even more waste.
Sheet masks are an easy, no-mess way to give your skin a boost, but they are pretty wasteful. Not only is the mask itself thrown out after one use, they typically come in paper packaging with a peel-off component; that is a lot of trash for a single-use product. Instead, opt for masks that come in a tube or jar to cut down on packaging waste.
Your glitter eyeshadows may seem like the least of your concern when it comes to being eco-minded, but they are actually causing quite a problem. Microplastics like most glitters are not biodegradable and often end up in the oceans. Scientists at the University of Plymouth in the UK have estimated that 51 trillion pieces of microplastics have not only entered our oceans but are ingested by sea species.
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But you don’t have to put a halt on your disco-inspired beauty looks. Tons of smaller companies like Unicorn Skin Cosmetics, EcoStardust and Glitterevolution are creating biodegradable glitters and other makeup products, so you can sparkle responsibly.
Finding multipurpose products is also a great, sustainable beauty choice. For example, pare down your makeup collection by purchasing a few great products that keep you covered. For example, two-in-one foundation and concealers and pigments that can be applied on lips and cheeks.
The chemicals that too-often go into perfumes can be hugely damaging to the environment. A 2018 study published in the journal Sciencefound that spraying items such as perfumes and hairsprays emit the same amount of chemical vapors as petroleum emissions from cars. A simple fix is to opt for brands like Michelle Pfeiffer’s Henry Rose, which are vowing to create safe fragrances with no spray and 100 percent ingredient transparency and clean ingredients, never any synthetics.
Another easy remedy to this problem is using essential oils in place of traditional perfume. A little will go a very long way, and you don’t have to worry about emitting harmful chemicals into the air.
Waste-free feminine hygiene
It is estimated that nearly 20 billion sanitary napkins, tampons and applicators end up in North American landfills every year. Washable cotton pads and period underwear are great alternatives to traditional waste-generating methods, but if you would prefer something even more discreet, look no further than menstrual cups. Made from medical-grade silicone, menstrual cups are designed to collect menstrual blood internally while their suction prevents leakage. With proper care, menstrual cups can be reused for several years, though most retailers recommend replacing every 1-2 years.
Did you know that plastic deodorants are typically made from two different types of plastic, which means they need to be completely disassembled to be recycled properly? Though recycling rules vary in different regions, this is often the case, making recycling plastic deodorant a tricky task. Instead, look for deodorants that come in glass jars (these are usually applied as a paste rather than a roll-on) or recyclable cardboard packaging.
Add a recycling bin to your bathroom
Perhaps it is not the chicest decor, but you are way more likely to recycle your bathroom items with a handy bin nearby. Items like toilet paper rolls, empty shampoo bottles, and cardboard packaging from toothpaste or soap often get tossed simply because we don’t think to drop them in our regular recycling bin. Try adding a second bin to the bathroom for this purpose — just be aware that plastic pumps (like on hand soap bottles) cannot be recycled.
Cut down on packaging
If you are going to take steps to create less waste, why not just do away with packaging altogether? Beauty and hygiene goods like soaps and shampoo/conditioner bars are now being sold “naked” (aka sans packaging), so you are only purchasing what you will actually use up.
Another way to significantly cut down on plastic waste is to use refillable metal or glass containers for items like liquid hand soap or lotion. Simply buy your preferred brand in bulk quantities for refills.