I used to think that when it came to beauty products, I had to make a choice: I could choose eco-friendly products, or I could choose products that were effective. But now the beauty industry seems to be waking up to the dangers of toxic chemicals (both to our bodies and to our environment), as well as the need to reduce its footprint in terms of manufacturing and recycling. This is great news.
It still takes a little effort to seek out beauty products and routines that have a less impact on the environment, but it’s well worth it. Here are some of the ways I’ve greened my beauty routine (and if you want to go one step further, you can get more sustainable with all of your bathroom habits).
1. Streamline and minimize
I read recently that the average woman owns around 40 cosmetics products. I know that’s probably about right for me — I have a big tub full of unused makeup. As you’re doing your spring cleaning, it would be a good opportunity to weed through your cosmetics and other skincare and haircare items and weed out what you don’t need, as well as what’s expired, dried-out, or otherwise unusable (more on what to do with them in a minute!).
Going forward, consider buying multi-purpose items. BB creams combine moisturizer and other functionality with foundation. Other multitaskers might combine highlighter and eye shadow, lip and cheek color, or brow and lash tint. Buying one product that can do several things, rather than multiple items, helps reduce waste and minimizes resource use for production. It could also save you some time!
2. Read the label
According to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website, which has a wealth of information about buying skin care products safely, some ingredients to avoid include formaldehyde in nail polish, phthalates in fragrances (or, indeed, any added fragrances if possible), and parabens in cosmetics.
3. Seek out responsible brands
Do your homework on the EWG site or from other trusted sources and find some brands that focus on environmentally responsible, non-toxic ingredients. You can also browse the aisles of your favorite natural grocers like Whole Foods or Sprouts to see the brands they’ve chosen that meet their standards. Among the companies that EWG gives high ratings to for not containing harmful ingredients, are Maia’s Mineral Galaxy cosmetics, SOPHi nail polishes, and Beautycounter skin care and make-up.
4. Go au natural
If you’ve always done a full face of cosmetics, consider paring down your look to only a few items: Maybe only do a swipe of mascara and some tinted lip balm. You’ll save money, shorten your routine, and you’ll cut down on the number of tubes and compacts you throw away.
5. Dig in to DIY
When it comes to skin care, look no further than your kitchen for lots of DIY remedies that can be as effective as the chemical versions. Honey, avocado, coconut oil, sugar, and fresh fruit can all be concocted into DIY skin and hair masks, moisturizers, and other treatments. Not only are these ingredients free of the toxic chemicals and preservatives lurking in many commercial products, but they’re eco-friendly from a waste-reduction standpoint, especially if you compost peels and other scraps as you’re preparing them.
6. Seek out less-toxic haircolor
Ammonia, fragrances, coal tar, and other chemicals are among the toxicity culprits in hair color. And while for many women, covering greys is a must-do in their beauty routine, there are some safer options out there. I’m partial to Madison Reed, a subscription hair color service that uses recyclable packaging, and eschews ammonia, parabens, and phthalates. Henna-based dyes are also an option.
7. Recycle right
Whether empty or expired — or simply unwanted — make sure to dispose of old cosmetics and skin care properly. Keep a small bin in the bathroom so it’s convenient to collect empty plastic or glass bottles, or cardboard containers, for curbside recycling.
As for compacts and other packaging that’s not accepted curbside, there are many options for responsibly disposing of or recycling these. Origins will accept for recycling empty containers from its own as well as other brands in its stores (be sure to check with your local store for details). MAC also has a return program for its own packaging, rewarding customers with a free lipstick for their efforts. Garnier has partnered with Terracycle to recycle much of its packaging.
Finally, cosmetics and skin or hair care products that you bought but didn’t use (or maybe just used a tiny bit before deciding it’s not for you) can often be donated to any number of worthy causes.
8. Upcycle when you can
Recyclebank member Lynne H. alerted us to the Wildlife Wands program, which accepts mascara wands (generally not recyclable) for the cutest reason possible: They’re used to clean the fur of tiny rescue animals like baby possums or birds. If you’ve got a crumbling eyeshadow or a broken lipstick, you might be able to salvage it or upcycle it. And in the future, seek out cosmetics that come in easily recyclable or reusable packaging such as cardboard, refillable compacts, or bamboo.
I’m excited about the cosmetics industry’s movement to be more environmentally responsible. Going forward it’ll be easier than ever to be beautiful and sustainable.