Our Favorite Products for Going Plastic-Free in Every Step of Your Beauty Routine
A well-honed beauty routine is all about me time. Both the a.m. and p.m. iterations provide a space to (hopefully) slow down, gaze in the mirror, and primp. Unfortunately, the moment you expand that me to an all-encompassing we, you may be forced to reckon with the abundance of plastic that collectively features in our personal care products.
“The personal care and beauty industry produces more than 120 billion units of packaging every year globally—most of which are not truly recyclable,” says Lea d’Auriol, founder of international nonprofit Oceanic Global. Packaging accounts for a whopping 40 percent of all plastic, the bulk of which ends up in landfills, incinerated (and so in the atmosphere), or in our oceans. According to d’Auriol, the United Nations Environmental Programme reports that an estimated 11 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean annually—nearly two garbage trucks’ worth per minute. “There are over 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean today, and 80% of plastic in the ocean comes from land-based sources.”
What about microplastics?
In addition to new plastic entering our environment, existing plastic is becoming a greater concern. Minuscule pieces of plastic debris (5 mm to 1 nm), known as microplastics are the result of plastic degradation, and they are finding their way into everything.
“In the past two years, scientists have found microplastics in the human placenta, blood, and lung tissue,” says Eve Fox, digital director at Beyond Plastics. These plastics can even be found in beauty product formulas themselves, making going all-natural a worthy sustainable shift.
Where do you start?
“You should not throw out everything you own and use this as an opportunity to go on a big plastic-free shopping spree (although that would be fun, it would also be very wasteful),” Fox says. “The best thing to do is start by using up what you have. It’s not the most glamorous suggestion or the most immediately gratifying one, but it’s important to avoid putting even more plastic into the waste stream.”
When you're ready to restock, opt for packaging made from glass, aluminum, and biodegradable materials, and if you have to purchase plastic, look for numbers 1, 2, or 5 on the bottom of the item. (Those are the most commonly accepted at recycling facilities.)
“Look at recycling as a last resort,” says d’Auriol. “Recycling beauty products can be confusing, as they are often composed of a variety of types of materials.” d’Auriol suggests supporting brands that have zero-waste packaging (or no packaging at all), as well as exploring DIY beauty alternatives.
Last but not least, make your opinions known. “Drop the company a line via email or tag them in an Instagram post to let them know you’re opting for plastic-free packaging and products, and that you hope they’ll reduce plastic,” says Fox. “The more potential customers and former customers they hear from, the more likely they are to make changes.”
9 products that can help you build a plastic-free beauty routine
Ditch cotton rounds and single-use makeup remover wipes in favor of these reusable bamboo pads, which come in a cardboard container. They’re machine washable for easy cleaning (Clean Circle provides a small bag), but can also be rinsed in the sink. Plus, their pointed design means that these reusables can be used in the place of cotton swabs, too.
Shampoo bars are on the rise, and this moisturizing option from J.R. Liggett is amassing a cult-like following. Don’t let the old-fashioned packaging fool you: A luxurious formula featuring coconut, castor, olive, and argan oils, along with vitamin E, is sure to leave your hair feeling soft, strong, and frizz-free. The brand also offers conditioner bars.
Fox is a huge fan of the refillable metal bottle model used by Plaine Products. “You mail them back the empty bottles and they send you newly filled ones, or you can refill them at a local bulk shop if you have one nearby,” she explains. Plaine Products’ body lotions are designed with all skin types in mind, and there are three options to choose from: unscented, rosemary mint vanilla, or citrus lavender.
Most modern razors are made of plastic, and are either disposable or require a plastic disposable replacement head. While the plastic is technically recyclable, because it’s attached to the metal blades, billions of razors and refill components are thrown away every year. Leaf Shave’s metal safety razor comes in plastic-free packaging and is crafted from zinc alloy. It’s built to last for life, which means you only need to replace the blades, which can be collected and sent back to Leaf Shave for recycling.
While there are many refillable deodorants on the market, it’s hard to find an option that’s entirely plastic-free—which is why we love this product from Meow Meow. The all-natural formula is effective and contained in a biodegradable paper tube that can be tossed in the compost once empty.
Tubes of toothpaste are so last century. Nix your plastic habit in favor of these tiny, fluoride-free chewable tablets, which team with your damp toothbrush to create the same old paste you know and love, minus the waste. Bite’s Toothpaste Bits come in a glass bottle with an aluminum cap.
Multi-use makeup is a modern staple of many a beauty routine, and this tint is ideal for warming cheeks and lips in tandem. The formula—housed in a glass tub topped by a biodegradable bamboo lid—is hydrating and packed with antioxidants, all while providing the right amount of buildable color.
Those who like to finish their look with a touch of luminous highlighter will be pleased to know that Fat and the Moon has perfected the product, sans plastic. Available in Beam (the brand’s most-popular shade), Glow, and Lit, this highlighter combines plant-based ingredients and sustainable shimmer in a small, recyclable package.
Yep, even skin care has gotten the plastic-free treatment. Dew Mighty created a solid serum bar that takes unnecessary packaging out of the equation. Simply swipe the bar directly onto your skin and enjoy the benefits—it calms redness, moisturizes, and gives you a healthy glow sans waste.
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