In Honor of Earth Month, I Swapped (Almost) My Entire Beauty Routine for Compostable Products—Here’s What I’ll Be Keeping for the Long Haul
Beauty is an incredibly wasteful industry—full stop. It's responsible for 120 billion units of packaging each year, which are often made from materials that are impossible to recycle locally. Luckily, containers made from recycled materials, cosmetic recycling programs, and refillable solutions are becoming increasingly popular. But what about the beauty products that don't melt into our skin and are meant to be tossed after use—like makeup sponges, sheet masks, and false lashes?
"There is an industry-wide issue with plastic waste. Single-use sheet masks and under-eye patches, for example, do contribute to this as many are made with plastic polymers. These polymers eventually turn into microplastics, which can take thousands of years to decompose and in the meantime, end up in our waterways and oceans," says Laura Burget, co-founder of Three Ships Beauty. "The more we can pursue biodegradable or compostable options, the more our consumers don't have to choose between their self-care and caring for the planet."
With that in mind, I've scoured the internet to find compostable beauty products that I can use to decrease my waste. Composting is already a big part of my routine, so adding beauty products into the mix is an easy incorporation. I have a Simple Human Compost Caddy ($50) that attaches to the side of my garbage can (I have this fancy one but I think it should work with most square/rectangular metal cans). There, I collect food scraps while I'm cooking, and now, I'll also throw in a compostable sheet mask after use. Once it's full, I can turn it into compost in my Lomi ($499), which turns food waste into plant food. Or, I can drop it off at a compost bin in my neighborhood through New York City's Smart Compost program. These items can also be broken down through traditional worm-and-dirt compost.
If you don't have access to composting, getting compostable beauty products isn't that meaningful, explains Mia Davis, vice president of sustainability and impact at Credo Beauty.
"In many ways, 'compostable' would seem to be the gold standard for beauty products," says Davis. "If materials can break down into CO2 and soil, amazing. However, there are not many truly compostable product offerings, and too few Americans have access to home or industrial compost. Furthermore, most industrial composters do not want compostable packaging (eapodsltl plastics), because it does not add any value to the end product and it takes much more energy to break down (compared to food or yard waste)."
So compostable beauty products are a step in the right direction, but still place a lot of onus on the consumer. "Considering that recycling guidelines are different from town-to-town, and that compostable material is pretty new to our industry, it’s essential for brands to not overstate their 'eco-friendliness,' which becomes greenwashing," says Davis.
That being said, if you do already compost or have a legit plan to compost, swapping the single-use beauty items you love for compostable options is great. As an optimistic girly with a compost machine, I'm v down to dive head-first into compostable beauty. I tried and tested most of the below products (nine out of 14) in my Lomi along with food scraps and can confirm that they were no longer with us by the end of each cycle. Read about the products I found below and my honest thoughts.
My thoughts on these 15 compostable beauty products
- 03Under-eye patches and sheet masks
- 04Wipes and swabs
I’ve always hated throwing away makeup sponges, so once I switched these composable options a year ago I never looked back. They’re made with only 5 ingredients—water, corn, bionanopol (the secret ingredient that makes it biodegradable and compostable), a natural preservative, and natural pigment. Plus, the packaging has FSC-certified, biodegradable paper packaging printed with soy ink. I wash them after each use and they hold up like any other makeup sponge. Once I’m ready to use a new one, I toss this into the compost.
I haven’t tried this yet because I typically use just my hands or a cotton washcloth to wash off in the shower (which are defs the most eco- and wallet-friendly options). But if you’re looking to replace single-used cloths or makeup wipes, this is a great option. It’s made of 100 percent natural konjac plant fiber and is infused with bamboo charcoal. Konjac is naturally alkaline, helping balance skin’s pH and it’s fully biodegradable in a home compost.
These falsies made from Korean bioPBS, a 100 percent biodegradable plastic alternative derived from sugarcane with a cotton band. They’re available in 10 different lash styles and are compostable. Because you have to toss falsies after use (if you clean them down with rubbing alcohol after wearing them you can reuse them basically until they fall apart) I love the idea of a biodegradable option.
Under-eye patches and sheet masks
These biodegradable hydrogel eye masks have a forever home in my fridge and I love throwing them on to get a cooling, brightening, depuffing, and hydrating effect. They’re made with red algae extract and upcycled avocado extract.
“What inspired Brighter Days specifically was actually the seaweed I came across on a beach walk when visiting my partner’s family in Prince Edward Island, Canada,” says Burget. “It had a beautiful texture and stuck flat to my skin without feeling heavy or slimy. At that moment, I had an epiphany and knew that this seaweed was our way to create a biodegradable mask. I took the seaweed home with me to Toronto, rehydrated it in my kitchen, cut out an eye mask shape, and applied it to my face. It worked! From there the idea for Brighter Days was born.”
Out of all the compostable face masks on this list, this one is my favorite because both the mask and the packaging are compostable! It’s like they never existed!!!! It’s packed with glycerin, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid to soothe and hydrate skin. I love the way they feel and can confirm that both halves disappeared in my Lomi.
I also tried out this set from ESW Beauty, which includes three compostable sheet masks. It includes the Green Reset Anti-Aging Raw Juice Mask, the Pineapple Bliss Revitalizing Raw Juice Mask, and the Avocado Banana Milk Hydrating Plant-Based Milk Mask. So far, I tested out the pineapple mask, got a great glow, and said “bye” to it in my Lomi. This set also comes with a reusable makeup remover pad, which is great if you want one and know you’ll use it, but if not it’s just more waste. Gift it to a friend (who wants it!) or opt to buy the masks outside of the set to forgo the pad.
These masks use nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), an ingredient that activates up to 80 percent of your cellular energy, meaning it gives them a little boost to work more efficiently, addressing and preventing premature signs of aging. Plus, it has plant actives to replenish, hydrate, calm, and illuminate your skin. I love using these to kickstart my evening skin routine and once I’m done I put them to bed in my compost bin.
If you’re like me, you’ve never made a purchase at Sephora and didn’t also walk out with a few sheet masks. Now, you can grab masks from the brand’s compostable collection. You have six options depending on what your skin is craving: Nourishing& Soothing, Mattifying & Pore Targeting, Purifying & Clarifying, Skin Perfecting & Radiance, Quenching & Plumping Effect, and Moisturizing & Glowing.
Wipes and swabs
I’ve been using these since over the summer and I’m in love. They’re made of tightly woven cotton cellulose that is totally compostable and strong. Use them to press in your products for deeper penetration and for thorough makeup removal. Skinsheet founder Mary Frances Knight made these because she didn’t vibe with reusable options but wanted something sturdier than a tissue or cotton round.
“It’s really hard to get [reusable rounds] clean and they’re not necessarily more sustainable,” she says. Comparing them to reusable tote bags, “it would take like 20,000 uses [for a tote] to make up for its footprint. I just didn’t enjoy using [reusable rounds] and I felt like they were even more limited in function than cotton rounds.”
I prefer to wash my face with just my hands and a cleansing balm, but when I’m too tired to wash my face before bed, I’ll reach for a wipe. Neutrogena remade its iconic facial wipes with 100 percent plant-based fibers which biodegrade in 35 days in a traditional home compost. They’re soaked in a micellar-infused triple emollient formula to remove makeup and cleanse skin. I’ll sometimes use these from bed, slap on a moisturizer and go to bed and then toss it in my compost bin in the morning.
If you’re a wet-wipe lover, Twipes are for you. You can use them all over, but they shine when used… where the sun don’t. They’re the first truly flushable wet wipe. Dissolving in three hours, you can flush Twipes without worrying about it effing up your pipes. You can also compost them (but depending on where you use them, flushing might be preferred). They’re totally plastic-free and enriched with aloe vera. Plus, they’re subscription-based so you never run out. Pay $9 for one pack delivered monthly, $10 for two delivered monthly, and $13 for four delivered monthly.
As long as your cotton swab is made from 100 percent cotton and doesn’t have a plastic wand, it’s compostable. I opt for these from Grove Co. because I already order my cleaning supplies from them and appreciate the way they’re made. They’re made with cotton grown in the U.S. and farmed using organic methods that replenish soil, protect air and water purity, and preserve resources.
If you love a good face wipe night and want one that does more than cleanse, grab these from Yes To. They’re formulated with antioxidant-rich grapefruit and vitamin C to help even skin tone. They have a slight texture to help remove makeup and are made from compostable, FSC-certified fabric. And I can confirm, they disappeared in my Lomi.
These wipes are basically hypoallergenic towels that travel easily. Soak them in water and they turn into full-size wipes so you can clean up post-workout or after sex with ease. But remember what Davis said about actually composting what you use for it to make sense? They’re a wonderful tool to have in your to-go kit, but unless you’re gonna carry around your used wipe until you can drop it into a compost receptacle, you’re not getting the sustainable benefit.
Danielle Jezienicki, Grove Co.’s president of sustainability loves using this “Compostable floss made of natural silk and plant wax to keep my mouth feeling clean for when I’m traveling or on the go,” she says. But again, these are most likely to be impactful when used at home where you can compost them, or you’d need to carry around used floss.
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