The beauty industry is one of the largest contributors to waste. While moves are being made to increase recycling, the Royal Statistics Society says that 91% of plastic is never recycled. That’s 9 out of every 10 bits of plastic you use. Making your beauty regime kinder and more eco-friendly can seem overwhelming, but making a few small tweaks to your routine can help you create big positive changes.
Pay attention to the ingredients
1. Get to know your microplastics
It can be difficult to spot microplastics in cosmetics thanks to the INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) list. While plant-based ingredients are often recognisable under their Latin names, synthetic or chemical components are less obvious. Although Britain banned microbeads in 2018, microplastics remain commonly used as emulsifying ingredients or cheap bulking agents. When rinsed down the drain they are not filtered out by sewage treatments and, instead, end up in the ocean where they are absorbed and eaten by marine life (and, ultimately, us). As they are not biodegradable, once they enter the ecosystem they stay there. There is emerging evidence that microplastics are harmful to pollinators and terrestrial ecosystems, and we are just beginning to uncover their effects on the human body.
So how do you know if your products contain microplastics? The Plastic Soup Foundation (who ran the successful ‘Beat the Microbead’ campaign) have put together a list of the most common names for the different types of microplastics. You might even recognise some of the most common names from your face cream, hair products, or mascara: butylene, dimethicone, PVP, ethylene, carbomer, polypropylene. Even ingredients we assume are natural, like vitamin A compounds (commonly known as retinyl palmitate) can be created with microplastics.
2. Find natural alternatives
These microplastics crop up everywhere, even in brands that consider themselves eco-friendly, but they’re not irreplaceable. Rich or hydrating oils can be used in place of your night cream or hair serum: light, plant-derived squalane can be used to hydrate oilier skin and hair, while heavier oils like borage are great for drier, more sensitive types.
If you want to start looking for a vegan and cruelty-free oil to add to your regimen, The Ordinary have a range that covers all hair and skin types and comes in recyclable glass bottles (and if you don't know where to start, they have a live chat on their website!) Tata Harper have committed to using almost entirely recyclable glass packaging and no microplastics, and UpCircle Beauty repurpose leftover natural ingredients.
If small businesses are more your thing, Natur was born in Wales and uses only eco-friendly ingredients and packaging (their all-natural dry shampoo comes in a handbag-friendly glass jar).
3. Try to avoid non-sustainable ingredients
As one of the cheapest available oils, palm oil is found in most skincare products as a moisturising and emulsifying ingredient. However, the production of palm oil is linked to human rights abuses and negative environmental impacts. Vast amounts of rainforests are cleared to make way for the land needed to meet the massive global demand, devastating the habitats of endangered species such as the OrangUtan and releasing carbon into the atmosphere. It can be difficult to avoid palm oil altogether, so if you can't bypass it try researching companies that strive to source sustainable palm oil under initiatives like Sustainable Palm Oil and Traceability with Sabah (SPOTS).
Another family of unsustainable ingredients found in skincare is petrochemicals, a byproduct of the fossil fuel industry. Paraffin wax and petroleum jelly, derived from the process of refining crude oil, are often used in skincare as softening ingredients as they are cheap and readily available. However, rather than properly hydrating or softening the skin, these ingredients are occlusive and provide short term relief while ultimately clogging your pores. They can even make dry and sensitive skin worse in the long run. Often listed under innocuous names like mineral oil, it can be hard to spot these ingredients in your products, but according to Myroo you can begin by looking out for terms like methyl-, propyl-, butyl- and ethyl-paraben; propylene glycol; sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate; parfum; synthetic colours. If you’re looking for a rich, petrochemical-free alternative to Vaseline, Myroo also makes a range of skin balms, which are certified by the Vegan Society.
Make your hair care greener
4. Try making your own shampoo
We know that shampoo and conditioner contribute to massive amounts of plastic waste so make your beauty regime eco-friendly by swapping to something more sustainable. If you’re feeling creative, you can make your own dry shampoo using corn-starch and essential oils and use sodium bicarbonate and apple cider vinegar in place of shampoo and conditioner
5. Swap your shampoo bottles for bars
If you’d rather opt for something ready-made, then head for the ubiquitous shampoo bar: they’re cheap, they’re convenient and you can get them almost everywhere (even Superdrug has brought out its own range). Moving to a solid bar not only reduces packaging waste, but also reduces the space used for shipping.
Primal Suds, another cruelty-free, family-run soap and shampoo bar business, is dedicated to making natural soaps affordable and obtainable. As well as palm-oil and SLS-free shampoo and conditioner bars, they sell dry shampoo made from natural clays and powders that come on compostable bags or tins.
If you’re used to more salon-quality products, renowned colourist Christophe Robin has produced an artisanal shampoo bar that will hydrate even dry hair while aiming to preserve its colour. There really is a shampoo bar for everyone.
6. Protect marine life by avoiding SLS
Many shampoos contain SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) which gives you that familiar, squeaky clean lather but is toxic to some marine life in varying quantities. It’s easy to avoid and many smaller, independent brands miss it out entirely.
Conchus hand make small-scale, vegetarian shampoo bars that are free from SLS, plastic waste, free from palm oil, and free from ‘nature identical’ ingredients like mica. They also make an essential oil-based ‘Halo Hair Rinse’ conditioner alternative that comes in fully recyclable aluminium bottles.
Make your dental care biodegradable
7. Try new materials and formats
Toothpaste tubes are non-recyclable, but several brands are shaking up the traditional format. Instead of the familiar tube, eco-focussed brands Ben & Anna and Georganics produce organic and cruelty-free tooth powders, toothpaste tablets and natural toothpastes that are packaged in glass jars for easy recycling.
For the novelty factor, Lush has created an innovative toothpaste jelly. Like all their products it’s cruelty free and, although it comes in a plastic pot, the packaging is part of Lush’s closed-loop recycling scheme; if you return your pots to your nearest store, they will be remade into more pots.
Improve your shaving routine
Like most waste, discarded razors find their way back to the natural environment and are harmful to wildlife. If you choose to shave and you want to make your beauty regime kinder, it’s worth investing in your shaving routine.
8. Try safety razors and recycle
The revival of the traditional safety razor, thanks to the zero-waste movement, means they’re easily available and made of sturdier stuff than your typical multipack. Because the handles are usually made of metal, you only need to replace the used blades rather than the whole thing, making them a much more sustainable option.
To reduce waste, opt for a brand that offers a blade recycling scheme, like UpCircle Beauty who offers £1 off your refill pack for every five blades you return. It’s also worth checking with your local council whether they recycle safety blades, as some in the scrap metal containers at their recycling centres.
9. Try shaving subscription services
If you want to reduce razor waste but can’t get the hang of the safety razor, Friction Free Shaving runs its own blade recycling scheme in an effort to increase the sustainability of its shaving subscription service. As well as reusable, metal razor handles, all of Friction Free Shaving’s products are vegan and Leaping Bunny Approved, so you can be sure they aren’t tested on animals.
10. Use sustainable shaving gels
To make sure you don’t get the dreaded razor burn, it’s important to use a conditioning gel or lotion. You don’t need to use the familiar, aerosol shaving gel (in fact, some councils don’t accept them in recycling bins as aerosols can be dangerous to waste workers) as long as you use something to create a layer between your skin and the razor. While you should avoid soaps and shower gels as they don’t help to reduce friction, you can use your conditioner or conditioner bar because of its emollient properties or can purchase traditional shaving soap. For a vegan, organic and plastic-free option, try Balade en Provence’s extra-kind shave bars.
By Louder Than The Storm contributor Lauren Wood