Zero-waste living appears achievable in other aspects of life except for skincare. How can you generate zero waste with the single-use plastic packaging these skincare products come in? It may seem challenging for us to produce minimal waste. However, read on, and we’ll share with you tips on how to achieve zero-waste skincare and look fantastic.
Zero waste skincare is all about generating low-to-no waste from all aspects of your skincare routine. As you progress your zero waste journey, the choice of products you use on your skin, their packaging, your skincare practice, and your shopping habits all come into play. You’ll be caring for your skin while saving the planet at the same time.
You don’t have to throw all your products away to get started. In fact, that would only cause more waste. Therefore, these tips will allow you to identify the minor changes you can take one step at a time.
This tip saves you from the unending cycle of buying products you do not need. Your skin is as unique as you are and will broadly fall into dry, oily, or combination skin. For glowing skin, we may try various products without considering our skin types.
Taking the time to understand your skin type will allow you to be clear about what you need, and you’ll be saving the planet by cutting down on those not-quite-right products you may have otherwise purchased.
Many manufacturers now produce various zero-waste skincare products for sustainability enthusiasts. These skincare products are almost always cruelty-free since formulators make them from organic ingredients, further supporting an ethical purchase.
You’ll find zero-waste skincare products characterized by a recyclable lid, the absence of harmful chemicals, and certified organic ingredients.
To help you on your way, we have a great selection of zero-waste makeup brands for you to choose from.
Skincare production contributes to single-use plastics that end up in landfills. These include facial wipes, single-use razors, and cotton buds. Also, you’ll be throwing away plastic bottles of shower gels, body washes, and body lotions after you’ve exhausted them.
It is worth shopping around for alternatives if you’re throwing the item away after use because it can’t be recycled or is single-use plastic.
For ample opportunities to ditch the plastic and achieve a low waste skincare routine, have a browse of our guides to:
We’ve all bought items we don’t need while hoping they’ll be useful. Going to zero waste isn’t only about the products you buy. It is also choosing not to purchase products you don’t need. That way, you’re reducing the waste you’ll generate from your skincare routine. Also, you get to save money and create more space in your bathroom!
A basic routine includes cleansers, moisturizers, and sunscreens. Keeping your routine to the minimum reduces the stress that diverse products cause to your skin barrier. Different skin types will require different products; however, these basics remain the same. Lastly, use up products before purchasing new ones if you’re practicing zero-waste skincare habits.
Eco-friendly skincare isn’t just about the package but also starts from the ingredient list.
An attempt to read the ingredients list might make you wonder what those chemicals mean. It’s then difficult to detect whether a product contains synthetic ingredients like sulfates, parabens, and microplastics.
You might not immediately appreciate that many of the standard skincare products out there contain plastics. Not just in the bottle or tube but actually in the formulation. Formulators sometimes replace natural ingredients with microplastics that contain polymers that are non-degradable5. Learn to spot these microplastics in the ingredient list of every product you buy.
To learn to spot ingredients to avoid, the second page of this document shares a list of sciencey-sounding ingredients you should avoid. And for more information on what to look for, check out our guide to natural skincare ingredients.
Natural ingredients do not come in plastic packaging. Below is a list of natural ingredients you can include in your zero-waste beauty routine.
This works as a gentle toner for your face rather than a toner sold in regular stores.
Aloe vera is a plant that produces gel rich in vitamins A, C, and E. It’s good for acne-prone skin and contains anti-inflammatory properties that decrease the pain from burns and injuries. Keep an aloe vera plant in your home to include this in your routine.
The beauty industry recognizes shea butter for its moisturizing qualities because it contains fatty acids and emollients that help keep skin elasticity.
Purchase unrefined shea butter, as it offers better natural benefits than refined ones.
This plant-based oil is rich in Vitamin E, which helps protect the skin from UV damage. However, pay attention to your skin type before applying these ingredients. For example, we do not advise persons prone to eczema to use olive oil. Olive oil isn’t good for dry skin and is not healthy for infants1.
This oil has moisturizing properties that make it perfect for all skin. It doesn’t clog your skin pores. Hemp seed oil can help to balance out oily skin, hydrate it, and regulate the skin’s oil production. It possesses anti-inflammatory properties and also anti-aging properties.
Ground oats, known as colloidal oatmeal, are a popular beauty ingredient. Formulators use ground oats in lotions and body washes. You can make yours at home by making a paste from half a cup of oatmeal and half a cup of water.
The sunflower seed oil contains oleic and linoleic acids. Linoleic acid has a direct role in maintaining the water permeability barrier of the skin3. Skin barrier refers to the ability of your skin to keep moisture. Its Vitamin E component can also help protect the skin from free radicals and sun damage.
This is an all-time fave of zero-waste enthusiasts across the world. It moisturizes the skin and fights harmful microorganisms through its antimicrobial properties. However, oily and sensitive skin types should avoid it to avoid clogging their skin pores.
This essential low waste essential oil helps to reduce puffiness and swelling on your skin. Mix with a carrier oil like jojoba oil before applying it to your skin.
Run a patch test with any of these oils before incorporating them into your skincare routine. Apply the oil to a portion of your arm or elbow and cover it up with a bandage for 24 hours. If you notice redness and irritation, then it’s not safe for you. Otherwise, you’re free to apply this oil as you would body oil for your face and neck.
The cosmetics industry produces over 120 billion units of plastic packaging every year. These plastic packages end up in landfills, and only an insignificant percentage ever gets recycled. Whether it’s your bar soap or lotions, begin to look out for degradable packaging.
Choose paper-packaged products over plastic ones. No package ends in the landfill while you’re not throwing anything into the dustbin. Look out for zero-waste skincare brands that ship their products in recyclable cardboard boxes or eco-friendly packaging for your online shopping. However, check that the paper is 100% recyclable.
Manufacturers use plastic bottles because they are cheaper and longer-lasting than glass bottles. However, those plastic bottles can take hundreds of years to decompose, negatively impacting the environment.
Choose to buy products in a glass jar rather than a plastic one. A glass bottle is more recyclable than plastics and elongates the shelf life of your skincare products.
Your aim on a zero-waste skincare journey is to generate minimum or no waste from your routine. An excellent way to ensure this is to try out DIYs at home. Here are some recipes to try out no matter the type of your skin:
Here’s what to do:
A toner helps to maintain the skin’s natural pH. Try these DIYs instead of purchasing toners.
Rosewater works as a facial toner. You can extract rose water from rose petals and enjoy its hydrating and moisturizing properties on your skin. You can also inhale the smell of rose petals for their relaxing benefits.
Apple cider vinegar works as a natural toner for oily skin types. However, apple cider vinegar is acidic, and you should not apply it directly to your skin. Mix one part of apple cider vinegar with three parts of water before applying it to your skin.
Mix some clay with water and apply it as a facial cleanser to your face. Clays possess exfoliating substances that rid your skin of dead skin cells.
Bentonite clay for oily skin and white clay for sensitive and dry skin.
How to use:
The amount of waste that shipping generates will alarm every sustainability enthusiast. The diesel engines of ships, trucks, and even our car trips to and from the stores all produce greenhouse gas that pollutes the air.
Shipping activities produce black smoke, particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxides (NO), unburned hydrocarbons (UHC), sulfur oxides (SOx), carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), etc. These pollutants may deplete the ozone layer, enhance the greenhouse effect, produce acid rain, and are detrimental to the health of living beings.
Diesel engines which power ships, trucks, trains, and cargo-handling equipment, create vast amounts of air pollution that affect the health of workers and people living in nearby communities and contribute significantly to regional air pollution4.
Skincare shipping contributes to many shipping activities all over the world. So, except where the brand states that sustainable shipping is available, shop for your products locally, as is often the case at online zero-waste stores. Your decision might look insignificant in reducing pollution, but with zero waste, every little action counts.
The oil palm tree, when extracted, produces palm oil. There’s a huge problem with this ingredient in the skincare industry. The palm tree grows in warm climates, and every year, we cut more rainforests down for palm fruit plantations.
Products containing palm oil contribute to deforestation, resulting in habitat loss for animals like orangutans. It is the most significant driver of Indonesian deforestation, which destroys habitats and contributes to climate change.
You’ll find this ingredient in many off-the-shelf beauty products. In your shampoos and toothpaste, to bar soaps, you’ll think it’s impossible to avoid them altogether. So, avoid variants like palmitic acid, vegetable oil fat, palm stearin, palm olein, and palmitate.
Organic oils work well as face cleansers. It’s easy to assume that oils will make your face only oily, but you’ll get to know it when you try it out. Oil cleansing gives you glowing skin and balances the pH of your skin. Jojoba seed oil and coconut oil are suitable for your skin without problems. If you have acne-prone skin, grapeseed oil is a better option in your oil cleansing process.
Stick to once a day rather than washing your face in the morning and at night. Just ensure that you pat your face dry with water and apply a natural face oil of your choice. Massage this oil evenly for proper absorption into the deep layers of your face.
You may then proceed with a facial cleanser at night to remove makeup, dirt, and other impurities on your face. This way, you reduce the number of cleaners you need and subsequently cut down on the waste you generate.
The application of many products on the skin affects the skin barrier. Too many alkaline products can damage your acid mantle. The acid mantle is an invisible skin film containing natural oils, sweat, and amino acids. The acid mantle serves to protect your skin barrier by locking moisture in and keeping harmful substances out of the skin.
Most skincare products contain alkaline components. If a product lathers well, it’s likely alkaline which may negatively impact your skin barrier. Applying these to your skin for a long time causes more damage rather than good.
Reusing your jars means you’ll have less to throw away when decluttering your home. How about using your glass jar as a vase for flowers? Or place your kitchen condiments in another jar that’ll do that well. Reuse is a key component of zero waste, and you’ll never term an item as useless with a bit of imagination.
Artificial dyes enhance the colors of beauty products. Manufacturers use them to enhance customers' sense of appeal towards a product. Artificial dyes are bad for your skin because they are by-products of petroleum and other heavy metals.
In the long run, these will have adverse effects on your skin, including irritation and blocked skin pores. People with sensitive skin are prone to skin inflammation resulting from these dyes.
The production of these colors negatively impacts the environment while damaging the skin. A zero-waste routine ensures that the products you use are not harming the environment. Before selecting a product, look out for artificial colorants in the ingredient list and avoid buying them, choosing only natural ingredients.
Today many sustainable beauty brands allow you to opt for refills instead of purchasing new products. You can return used bottles to the company for a refill. Ensure that you follow the instructions the brands give about returning the bottles.
Producers make these from plastics that take hundreds of years to degrade and cause great harm to the planet. These razors are convenient to use and often end up simply tossed into the garbage can after use. Eliminating this option is an excellent step in reducing waste in your shaving routine. Here’s what to do instead:
Buy manual safety razors made from more durable than disposable metals. Some razors come in recyclable handles and carriers. Be sure to look out for these in your next purchase.
You can drop items you don’t find useful in the recycle bin. For example, when dropped in the recycle bin, your glass jars are recyclable.
You practice self-care when you attempt to renew your mental and physical body from stress. However, pay attention to your self-care practice; you’ll notice how we generate plastic pollutants even from caring for ourselves.
The plastic waste facts show we produce about 300 million tonnes of plastic waste every year. We’ve recycled only 9%, 21% incinerated, and the rest, 79%, accumulated in landfills, dumps, or natural environments. Whereas it’s all too easy to think the odd plastic lid doesn’t matter, they all add up.
Check out plastic-free bubble baths, experiment with tea tree oil for glowing skin, and try out bamboo toothbrushes. A plastic-free care practice is achievable.
A zero-waste skincare routine is achievable. It may take some time to find sellers, zero-waste products, and a routine that works for you. But once you find the best matches for you, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying guilt-free skincare. Start today by switching one item on your skincare counter for a more sustainable option.
Simon G Danby et al (2012) Effect of Olive and Sunflower Seed Oil on the Adult Skin Barrier: Implications for Neonatal Skincare US National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health
Rino Cerio et al (2010) Mechanism of Action and Clinical Benefits of Colloidal Oatmeal for Dermatologic Practice US National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health
Tzu-Kai Lin, Lily Zhong, Juan Luis Santiago, (2018) Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils US National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health
Chul-hwan Han (2010) Strategies to Reduce Air Pollution in Shipping Industry The Asian Journal of Shipping and Logistics, Volume 26, Page 9, PDF
|UNEP, 2015: Plastic in Cosmetics Fact Sheet|
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.