Indulging in our favourite skincare routines in the morning and post-work can function as a quiet, therapeutic moment for ourselves amidst daily pressures.
Nevertheless, with a multiple-step routine featuring toners, serums, face wash, moisturiser, sunscreen and more, it can be easy to overlook that many of our beloved products come in small plastic containers that have to disposed every couple of months or so.
According to Zero Waste Europe, a network of 32 NGOs that work towards zero waste in the continent, around 120 billion units of packaging are produced globally every year by cosmetics companies. The end of the lifecycle of most? Landfills.
Here are some small tips to make your routine that little bit more sustainable, whether by buying a bathroom recycling bin to drop your empty plastic bottles off at or refilling your often-used products.
1. Rethink your buy
How many times have you bought a beauty product in your routine, and used it up to the last drop? The answer is probably not always. The hunt to find the perfect beauty products for our skin often includes going through myriad unsatisfactory ones, heard of online or from loved ones.
Amruta Kshemkalyani, the founder of Sustainability Tribe, a UAE-based social enterprise focused on educating and inspiring climate action in local communities, says, “The key to healthy skin and real beauty is definitely understanding our skin, hair and finding healthy and natural products instead of getting carried away by beauty trends.”
The key to healthy skin and real beauty is definitely understanding our skin, hair and finding healthy and natural products instead of getting carried away by beauty trends. Consumers shouldn't fall for beauty trends or what influencers are promoting because what works for others may not work for your skin.
“Consumers shouldn't fall for beauty trends or what influencers are promoting because what works for others may not work for your skin. Unfortunately, many consumers don't show enough love to their own skin, experiment with too many different beauty products in search of a perfect look, and then fall for too many repair treatments when the result is damaged skin or hair.”
If suffering from a serious skin issue, reducing unnecessary cosmetic waste can be as simple as consulting a dermatologist for targeted care before trying an array of products, or taking the time to understand your unique skin needs and find products best suited for it.
2. Use refill stations
At one point, you find a product that you can use for years – and if you’re buying the same product over and over again every two months, it is time to look for refill options. Stores such as Body Shop, Lush and L'Occitane offer refills for select products.
A range of beauty brands such as Fenty Beauty, Ritual, Hermes, Charlotte Tilbury, Ouai, Yves Saint Laurent and Dermatologica also offer refills for some of their products – and there are also designated zero waste beauty brands.
Kshemkalyani says, "Reducing or eliminating packaging waste through refill stations is a great idea. We support such efforts by brands via our #ZeroWasteUAE Social Initiative and encourage our Sustainability Tribe to make use of such facilities.”
3. Recycle your beauty packaging
Creams, toners, serums, shampoos, conditioners… all of these come in often hard plastic packaging, but we are less likely to think about them as objects to recycle.
Garnier and Terracycle conducted a UK-based study in 2018 that showed that only around 50 per cent of bathroom packaging is recycled due to inconvenience, as compared to 90 per cent of kitchen waste.
To make the process of recycling easier, just keep a small separate bin for cosmetic recyclables in your bathroom that you can easily drop the products into when empty.
Clear it out over the weekend into your nearest recycling centre along with your house’s recyclables and voila! A circular beauty routine that is more zero waste.
4. Avoid one-use products and microplastics
Single-use plastics are universally criticised for environmental reasons, but this issue can extend to the beauty industry as well.
Complex multi-step routines that include sheet masks, one-use ampoules, and even rubber masks that can be mixed and used only once are very normal in today’s beauty practices. And if you’re like me, you might have even tried Korean beauty challenges that include using a sheet mask a day to emulate some K-celebrities for glowing skin.
But when using a product encased in layers of packaging for only a single use - it will come as no surprise that over time this generates a lot of plastic and synthetic waste.
There are single-use hair masks, sheet masks for the face, hands, belly, feet and more… avoid using these too often, and instead opt for alternative masks that come in large amounts and can be used for long, as a more sustainable option.
Microplastics, tiny pieces of plastic that enter the food chain and accumulate in fish and animals when released into the environment, are also more omnipresent in beauty products than one would think.
Face and body exfoliants and toothpastes with beads are known to often house microplastics, but according to recent research by Greenpeace Italy, a network of independent environmental campaigning organizations, products where the presence of microplastics were more frequent are mascara, lipsticks and lip glosses, foundation, highlighters and face powders.
So wait, how can we know if a product contains these?
Just check the ingredients lists for solid microplastics that include according to the study, polyethylene, polymethyl methacrylate, nylon, polyethylene terephthalate, polyvinylpyrrolidone or PVP.
This may be cause for dismay (it was for me) but glitter, is also actually made from metallised plastic film that is chopped into minute pieces – and counts as microplastics.
Can we use biodegradable glitter then? Sadly, a 2020 study at Cambridge-based Anglia Ruskin University found that ‘biodegradable’ glitter causes the same ecological damage to rivers and lakes as the normal product.
Currently, Bioglitter is the only glitter with the certification of biodegrading in fresh water by the TUV Austria Bureau of Inspection and Certification – according to the website, 4 out of 5 product ranges achieve their 'OK biodegradable water' certification. World Wildlife Fund also offers an ‘OK compost’ biodegradable certification that you can watch out for.
5. Consider minimalism and no packaging
Finally, just being mindful of your product use in the household can go a long way. You can take a moment to count all your products and check - do you really need all of them? Are there more eco-friendly alternatives (hint – a plastic toothbrush can be replaced by bamboo)? Can DIY perhaps replace some? Products that run out quickly, such as handwash, can also be bought in bulk.
Kshemkalyani says, “The question I would like to address is - do we need separate products for separate functions and different family members? A non-toxic multipurpose product can be used for all family members.
“Products like hand wash and soap, for example, I prefer to buy in bulk to reduce plastic waste from individual or small packs.” You can also keep an eye out for no packaging products such as soap and shampoo bars, sustainable packaging options and alternatives such as bamboo toothbrushes.
Kshemkalyani also recommends DIY beauty products, and sourcing ingredients from your kitchen or garden such as aloe vera, turmeric, yoghurt, honey etc.
She says, “This way you not just eliminate product packaging waste but you don't expose yourself and your kids to harmful and toxic beauty products.” Personally, a DIY body moisturiser recipe that has worked well for me for the past seven years is a mix of one part glycerine and four parts rosewater, and you can increase or decrease the glycerine levels depending on your moisture needs. However, make sure to do a patch test for any DIY product beforehand.