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9 Ways to Instantly Make Your Beauty Routine More Sustainable

How does one kickstart a more sustainable beauty journey? Try following these tips to instantly clean up your act — and your self-care routine.

Vogue Arabia, April 2024. Photo: Claire Harrison

You’ve heard this before: beauty has an ugly side in terms of waste. But with pressure growing for more sustainable beauty offerings, the good news is that there’s plenty of new innovation to not only soothe your eco conscience but also make high-tech beauty lovers purr with delight.

Nor do these new products cost the earth – figuratively speaking or in terms of price. After all, we don’t want a regime that’s supposed to be beautiful creating ugly problems for our planet. We know our beauty routines and habits can have a huge impact – from plastic packaging filling landfills to cosmetic chemicals washing away down the drain and disrupting marine life.

We might think we can’t change the world in a big way through the beauty products that we choose, but cumulatively, a switch as simple as ditching our daily face wipes could save thousands from entering our oceans throughout our lifetime. The government is getting on board, too, by announcing its intention to ban the sale of wet wipes containing plastic by the end of 2024, followed by an 18-month transition.

With more brands innovating to come up with a league of creative and sustainable solutions to the problem of sustainable beauty, the choice is ours. We just have to make it. More and more brands are now B Corps certified – with The Body Shop, Davines, Rituals, Elemis, The Inkey List and Bybi, among others, leading the charge.

Keep scrolling for nine easy ways to make our beauty routines more planet-friendly…

1. Consider waterless beauty

A new scientific discovery by researchers at the University of East Anglia could turn water- and oil-based beauty products, such as moisturizer, into small dry pieces of confetti-like paper. All you would then need to do is add a drop of water to the paper-like disc to turn it into a liquid.

Ground-breaking, right? And not least because only 3% per cent of the earth’s water supply is now accessible freshwater (the rest is trapped in glaciers and snowfields) – and moisturizer and serum is typically made of 70-90% distilled water.

While paper moisturizer may be the future, waterless beauty – an umbrella term for products that eliminate the need for water or allow you to add only the necessary amount at home – is becoming increasingly popular.

Sbtract’s Vitamin C Booster is the first solid vitamin C serum that not only feeds lack-lustre skin a bevvy of antioxidants via rosehip and sea buckthorn oils, but is also perfect for hand-luggage as it doesn’t count as a liquid.

Or become your own skincare alchemist by dropping Mono Skincare’s tablet into the reusable bottle, filling it with water at home, and then watch as your new skincare serum appears before your eyes.

Water-soluble packaging is also fast becoming the beating heart of innovation for niche brands. PLUS is the first-of-its-kind dissolvable body wash – you simply add water to lather up and wash the sachet down the plug.

2. Go down the biotech beauty route

Traditionally, natural beauty has involved planting flowers or herbs on an industrial scale, then using water and energy to farm them. All of which takes time and puts a strain on resources. The trouble is, demand for natural ingredients is outstripping supply (the global natural cosmetics market expected to be worth £48 billion by 2025), which is where biotechnology is stepping in to lower the environmental impact.

Biotechnology combines biology (bio) with chemistry (tech) to grow skincare ingredients in a lab that are identical to what is found in nature. What happens behind the scenes goes a little like this: scientists use petri dishes of bacteria, yeast and algae to grow cultures of plant cells to produce a specific ingredient.

For example, Biossance leans on biotech to create the hydrating ingredient squalane for its 100% Squalane Oil as an alternative to squalene, which is sourced from shark’s liver. It does so by mixing a yeast strain with sugarcane syrup – and via fermentation, the yeast converts the sugar into a squalane molecule.

Swedish brand Tiny Associates is also making waves in the biotech space. In particular, it has found a way of creating bisabolol, a natural ingredient used to calm the skin that typically requires one tonne of wood to produce 7kg of essential oil. Instead, Tiny Associates ferments plant sugars to obtain the nature-identical molecule found in Boosting Molecules 01 The Face Serum.

3. Switch to eco-friendly perfume

An already buzzy word in fashion, the upcycling trend is now trickling down into the fragrance world. Ingredients derived from waste are now finding their way into perfumes as a way of cutting back on harvesting. For example, beachy scent Ellis Brooklyn Salt Eau de Parfum contains cedarwood oil extracted from sawdust and jasmine petals repurposed from religious ceremonies in India.

Gucci, meanwhile, now uses alcohol made from upcycled pollution. The Alchemist’s Garden is laced with 100% captured carbon emissions from industrial sites. Instead of being released into the atmosphere, bacteria turn the carbon emissions into alcohol, which ensures the perfume lingers on your skin for longer.

4. Give solid soaps and shampoos a try

When you consider that 80 billion (!!!) plastic shampoo and conditioner bottles get thrown out globally each year, it’s easy to see why we’re in need of a switch-up towards sustainable beauty. Increasingly, brands are turning to solid bars to massively reduce on waste and promote sustainable beauty on three fronts.

First, they reduce the use of packaging. Lush’s Naked bars leave behind zero trace, while others from the likes of Ethique and Garnier’s Shampoo bars use only a small amount of recyclable FSC certified cardboard packaging.

Second, they reduce water consumption, since they make use of the water you’re already showering in to lather up.

Third, they save on emissions since they weigh considerably less than heavy bottles of shampoo and conditioner and take up far less space when being transported. Making it an easy switch with a huge environmental pay-off.

5. Treat your skin to a hot cloth cleanse rather than face wipes

There’s no denying that face wipes are convenient, but their cost to the environment is horrifying. In the UK alone, people use 11 billion wet wipes a year – the majority of which end up in the bin (and therefore, landfill) or are flushed down the loo (and make it into our oceans).

Water UK revealed that wipes accounted for 93% of sewer blockages, while a gruesome phenomenon called fatbergs (floating stacks of congealed waste including face wipes and sanitary items) have built up in our rivers. To address the problem, the UK government has announced its intention to ban wet wipes containing plastic, with legislation coming into place by the end of 2024.

Combine this with the fact that every derm and their dog will tell you face wipes don’t clean our skin well enough, it’s high time we switched to a cleaner alternative. There’s numerous options open to us, but the old-fashioned route of a hot cloth cleanse with a flannel is one of the most effective ways to thoroughly clean skin.

However, new innovations in the category have brought us the Face Halo. The high-tech fibre discs require only water to loosen and lift away makeup. Since they can be thrown in with your washing and reused, each Face Halo can replace up to 500 face wipes.

 

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A post shared by Face Halo (@facehalo)

6. Consider refillable options

Once we have a pump bottle for our hand wash, or a beautiful compact for our blusher, we really don’t need the full shebang all over again when they run out. Think of how much packaging goes into the exterior of our products – springs in pumps, mirrors in compacts, heavy jars for fancy moisturizers. That’s where refills come in, and you’d be surprised at just how many brands have already got on board.

Fenty Skin’s Overnight Recovery Gel Cream launched with a refillable option; body care brand Rituals have refillable options for a range of hand washes, body creams, car fragrances and fragrance sticks.

L’Occitane offers refills for its shower gels, conditioners, shampoos and more, while YSL, Dior and Chanel have refills for their foundation and powder compacts. As for lips, Charlotte Tilbury’s Hot Lips 2 and Hourglass’ Confession Ultra Slim High Intensity Lipstick can be replaced with refills.

OG refill veteran Kjaer Weiss has a range of makeup, too, housed in beautiful keepsake metal packaging, all with refill options.

And fragrance-wise, Jo Loves groundbreaking Fragrance Paintbrushes now come with refills, Giorgio Armani’s ‘My Way’ scents can be topped up in store or with online refills, and niche fragrance brand Le Labo actually offer money off when you bring back your bottle for a refill. Sold.

 

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A post shared by Rituals Cosmetics (@ritualscosmetics)

7. Switch to products in recycled, recyclable and reusable packaging

If you haven’t heard of of PCR (that’s post-consumer recycled) plastic, you’re about to see a lot more of it. Many are now recognising that creating packaging out of virgin plastic when there’s so much of the stuff going to waste already, is madness.

That’s why brands like REN are leading the way by putting existing plastic to good use. Their Ocean Plastic bottles use materials collected from oceans, rivers, river banks and beaches. The compromise is a slightly grey hue (which makes each bottle unique) as the bottles carry over some of the color from their past life. And the metal free pumps are much easier to recycle, too.

Dove has been introducing 100% recycled plastic bottles into its range since the end of 2019 while more than 85% of Aveda’s skin and haircare products contain PCR plastic.

Now, brands like Garnier, Maybelline, Kiehl’s and L’Occitane are working with recycling company TerraCycle to create drop-off points (you can usually find them in supermarkets) for your beauty empties, with some exceptions such as aerosol cans, perfume bottles, nail polish bottles, and nail polish remover bottles.

Elsewhere, brands have turned their focus to materials that can be more easily reused such as glass and aluminium. The trailblazing initiative, LOOP, has partnered with beauty brands such as Nivea, REN, Beauty Kitchen and Molton Brown (alongside food and drink brands and TESCO) to create a waste-free delivery system of sustainably packaged products straight to your doorstep.

Think of it like the milkman of beauty. They’ll drop off a glass or aluminium bottle full of your favorite body wash or shampoo, and when you’ve used it up, they’ll come and collect it.

For another novel sustainable beauty packaging idea, look to Elemis, which has partnered with Xampla to convert plant waste from the skincare brand’s product ingredients into heat-sealable films in order to upcycle waste and, in the long run, replace single-use sample sachets.

8. Get a recycle bin for your bathroom

It seems an obvious one, but there’s no point in making the switch to more recyclable beauty products if we then don’t stick them in the right bin. A study from Recycle Now found that even though we’re pretty good at recycling our kitchen waste (90% of kitchen packaging is recycled), we’re falling behind in our bathrooms, where only 50% of packaging is recycled.

To make it easier, stick two bins in your bathroom, one for general waste and one for recycling. Or get a split bin that has a compartment for each, like this one from JosephJoseph.

 

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A post shared by Joseph Joseph (@josephjosephofficial)

9. Check for ingredient transparency

Transparency, not product, is big news in sustainable beauty right now as an antidote to greenwashing. In other words, some beauty brands are delivering the same degree of transparency as you would expect on food labelling – so that you know exactly how ethical your beauty product really is.

Leading the way is Clarins, which launched T.R.U.S.T., a one-of-its-kind platform that uses blockchain technology and provides full transparency on ingredient traceability and product manufacturing. You can literally find out everything from the geographical origin of ingredients and harvesting methods to where the product was formulated and packed.

Plus, Provenance has launched its Directory, where you can discover 200+ health and beauty brands including The Ordinary, Haeckels and Weleda, and check out the ethical pros of each product, backed up by evidence and/or independent third-party verification.

Originally published in Glamourmagazine.co.uk

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