In many ways, sustainability is the direct opposite of what we see on social media. From large-scale haul videos with hundreds of products to rapidly-cycling trends that seem to change from one week to the next, trying to create a more sustainable beauty routine might seem like an impossibility.
Fortunately there are small changes you can put in place that can make a world of difference, not just to your well-being, but to the planet as well. Sustainable beauty is much more than a passing phase; it’s here to stay. If you’re wondering how to give your routine an eco-friendly makeover, here’s how.
Before we dive in, it’s time to debunk a few myths that might be keeping you from starting your own journey as a conscious beauty consumer:
- Eco-friendly products are difficult to find: this one is definitely untrue: most large, mainstream stores now have at least one line of products using vegan and cruelty-free ingredients, or packaged using sustainable materials.
- There’s also an array of stores dedicated exclusively to sustainable beauty products, like YukaFace vegan skincare, whose bakuchiol line of products offers a gentle alternative to retinoids for those with sensitive skin.
- Sustainable products aren’t as effective: staying on the topic of skincare ingredients, this can be a contentious issue, as many “pharmaceutical grade” beauty ingredients originally come from plants. Many eco-conscious products are as effective, if not more so, than these.
- It’s too expensive: the idea that sustainable beauty is more expensive really comes down to quality over quantity. While it might be tempting to spend lots of money at the next cosmetics sale, fewer higher quality items (particularly reusable products) will give you more value for money in the long run, proving that saving the planet doesn’t have to cost you the Earth.
While companies are finding as many ways as possible to get us to part with our cash (often through exploiting our perceived insecurities), it can be difficult to hear your own voice of reason above all the noise. In addition to following suggestions from beauty YouTuber Kimberly Clark, here are three questions you should ask before clicking “add to cart”:
- Is it a want, or a need? If it’s the latter, that’s okay, but make sure you’re not “stockpiling” regular purchases because they happen to be on offer, or adding another unnecessary step to your skincare regime. If it’s the former, then progress to the following question.
- Do I already have something like it? Nobody needs thirty-two red lipsticks (even if they are all slightly different shades).
- Does this suit me? This can be a difficult one, especially if you are buying online. A useful resource to use if you are unsure of which products to buy is Findation, which helps match your makeup to items you have used previously, based on your skin tone. If there’s no opportunity to test the product out in store, you can also look at your seasonal palette to gauge which colors might suit you best.
Shopping mindfully isn’t the only way to reduce your level of makeup consumption. Another misconception about ethical beauty is the idea that in order to become more sustainable, we need to get rid of all our existing products and start with a clean slate, but doing so goes against one of the key tenets of sustainability: wherever possible, minimize waste. This can be done using any one of the following methods:
- Replacing single-use items such disposable razors with reusable equivalents. While these might appear slightly pricer to begin with, again this comes down to quality and cost-per-use: while disposable razors last only 10 shaves before being thrown in the trash, a reusable safety razor can last a lifetime, and in many cases, the blades can be recycled.
- Decant your products: initially, decanting your existing beauty products into pretty pump dispensers and colorful bottles can help minimize the amount of packaging you have laying around. In the long run, it’s also a good idea to check out any refill schemes or services online where you can fill up your bottles with your favorite products.
- Similarly, many eco-focussed beauty retailers now sell refillable makeup products such as lipsticks and compacts which are not only more aesthetically pleasing than your standard cosmetics; they also help to save on waste.
- Choose recyclable options: where reusable products aren’t available, consider buying items made from compostable materials such as bamboo or wheatstraw, a compostable alternative to plastic.
- Even if you recycle all your empty shampoo bottles, it’s still adding to the amount of plastic in circulation. Opting for low-packaging or plastic-free products such as solid shampoo and conditioner bars helps to reduce the amount of plastic use overall while giving you a product that lasts considerably longer than its bottled equivalent.
- A key issue with makeup is that some of it can be difficult to recycle: nail polish is notoriously difficult, as most have a synthetic brush, a plastic lid and remnants of varnish inside which are difficult to remove, although in some places there are schemes which deal specifically with used nail polish and cuticle oil bottles.
- Non-biodegradable skincare products can end up in our seas and landfills where they can take years to break down, often contributing to water pollution. Plant-based, sustainably sourced formulas offer a more ecologically-sound alternative.
Lastly, support companies who engage in ethical practices, and call out the ones who don’t. Unfortunately it’s become all-too common for unscrupulous corporations to cash in on the push for sustainability, which can result in greenwashing or even using fake third-party testing logos.
Advocating for better beauty practices can include raising awareness online, boycotting certain products and signing petitions. While it’s important to support small independent businesses who focus on sustainability, holding larger companies accountable is another step towards making ethical practice the norm across the board.
More Than a Phase
It could also be said that sustainability is a trend destined to go the way of other beauty fads of recent times, but if the increased attention given to key environmental and social issues over the last few years is anything to go by, conscious consumerism won’t be disappearing any time soon.
With a wealth of information at our fingertips, learning about key issues such as supply-chain transparency, sustainable ingredients and worker’s rights has never been easier, and while many of these issues are too big to change overnight, there are steps we can take towards sustainability which can make a difference.