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 • Lifestyle  • Putting Together Your Sustainable Beauty Routine: 10 Tips
How to cut down on cosmetics waste

Putting Together Your Sustainable Beauty Routine: 10 Tips

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If you’ve found yourself on Live That Glow it’s probably because, like me, you’re something of a product addict.

I mean the sort of addict who preps for a long weekend by packing two tops, one pair of jeans, and 20 beauty products.

Or the sort of addict who will happily go without buying a new pair of work shoes, even if they are on *the very edge* of acceptable public use, as long you’re fully stocked with cleanser.

Skincare has always been my passion- from trying out new brands to testing different ingredients and formulas, I really do love it all.

All that fun does come at a cost though: according to the British Beauty Council, up to 95 per cent of beauty packaging is thrown away. Most of this is single use plastic which can take up to 450 years to naturally decompose in a landfill.

So recently I’ve become far more aware of the impact of my beauty addiction on both product and packaging waste, and I’ve set myself something of a challenge to cut back as much as I can on my personal beauty waste.


Putting Together Your Sustainable Beauty Routine: 10 Tips

Image – AnnaSchlosser/Adobe



This is new, up-to-date information. We updated this article in July 2023 to add further tips, complete with new stats.


1. Donate or swap unwanted products

It’s that sinking feeling…you’ve bought a product you were really looking forward to trying- and that everyone else on the planet seems to love- but it leaves your skin irritated and unhappy.

My general temptation when I’ve bought a product I hate is to: 1. Feel aggrieved for half a day 2. Stick it on a shelf in the hope my skin will somehow learn to tolerate it, and then 3. Eventually forget about it until it goes off.

Not only does this potentially waste the packaging, but also the actual product itself.

Instead, I’m trying to get back into the habit of something I used to do when I was a student in London; donate to women’s shelters.

I’m not talking about products I’ve half used or ones that I think could harm someone else’s skin, but I mean ones that I’ve tried once or twice, carefully, and just haven’t worked for my skin type.

Not every shelter will accept used products though, so if that’s the case I also like to give something that hasn’t worked for me to friends and family who might be able to make use of them.

Even more fun is the product swap party- getting a group of friends over (cocktails optional) to all try out each other’s products and swap anything we don’t use.


2. Check out sustainable brands

Luckily a lot of brands are already conscious of the impact their products have and are actively trying to cut down on beauty waste.

For example, 70 per cent of natural skincare company Bybi’s products are housed in glass bottles, while its cult Babe Balm (£15.30 for 30ml, Feel Unique) is housed in tubes made from 100 per cent recyclable sugarcane-derived packaging.  Meanwhile its packing materials- both the box and stuffing- is made from Grasspaper; a material which uses 80 per cent less energy than wood to produce.

And brands like Rahua (pronounced rah-wah), are making sure even the ingredients that go into their products are sustainable. 

This rainforest-inspired brand uses rahua, morete and sacha inchi oils in it its products which grow wild and are hand-gathered and processed by indigenous Amazonians for above fair trade wages. Rahua says this helps tribes create an independent economy based on their own traditions and continue living self-sufficiently in the rainforest.

The brand and its charity, Ecoagents, also carries out environmental work in the Amazon which has so far contributed to preserving more than 35,000 hectares of tribal lands in the rainforest.


Putting Together Your Sustainable Beauty Routine: 10 Tips

Image – Bander/Adobe


3. Use recycling schemes

Thankfully, lots of brands are now getting on board the sustainability train and many are now offering their own recycling schemes.

One example is Bybi, which recently launched its Circular Recycling scheme, ReBYBI, for part of their product range.  This sees glass packaging bottles returned to Bybi once you’ve finished with the product, to be sterilised and reused for future orders- allowing the packaging to be 100 per cent recycled.

Similarly- although at the higher end price wise- Kjaer Weis has made recycling packaging chic with its (very beautiful) refillable metal and enamel compacts. In fact, there’s no need to even send their packaging back since even the brand’s metal lipstick and mascara tubes can be refilled, while the packaging the makeup refills come in is also recyclable.


4. Buy locally

Like shopping for fruit and veg, I’m making a concerted effort to find out which brands close to me make great products, in an effort to cut back on emissions from transportation.

In the UK, some of my favourite brands like REN, The Inkey List and Bybi all manufacture products within Britain.

For US-based buyers, brand Drunk Elephant’s products are designed, tested and made within America using responsibly sourced global ingredients.  While in Canada, companies like nature-inspired skincare brand Cela are also made domestically.

Finally, in Australia, skincare company Frank Body makes all its products within the country using only natural and naturally-derived ingredients.

Equally, artisanal local shops and markets can be a great place to find handmade soaps or other beauty products- and many are natural, often beautifully made, and support small business.

Even my local vineyard stocks a great line of avocado-based beauty products made from locally-grown crops- so keep an eye out for some beauty finds the next time you’re shopping locally.


Putting Together Your Sustainable Beauty Routine: 10 Tips

Image – FloralDeco/Adobe


5. Upgrade Q-tips and cotton pads

An obvious one but still worth mentioning, Q-tips- while useful- are the straws of the beauty world; used almost every day and a large source of ocean pollution.

Luckily, reducing waste doesn’t mean giving them on them entirely.  Instead I’ve upgraded to wooden alternatives- normally made from bamboo.  Easily available online, these not only look cuter on my dressing table but are also biodegradable.

The same goes for cotton pads.  I use these almost every day for removing mascara, but again, hate the waste I’m creating.  Instead, I’ve ordered myself some re-usable, washable alternatives from Amazon.  Super soft and easy to use, they’ll hopefully save me some money on the single-use varieties in the long term; and they also make a great alternative to face wipes.


6. Switch up your sheet masks

While I love a sheet mask as much as the next girl, all that individual packaging and any plastic-based fibres aren’t great for the planet, let’s be honest.

Instead, I now simply stick to masks that come in tubes (preferably of the recyclable kind like Summer Fridays’ Jet Lag), which seriously helps to cut back on the packaging.

If you can’t quite quit the sheet mask habit yet though, at least go for the plant-based cellulose kind, which are biodegradable (and also much more comfortable to use) like 111 Skin’s Bio Cellulose Treatment Mask.


Putting Together Your Sustainable Beauty Routine: 10 Tips

Image – Neonshot/Adobe


7. Think long term

While there may be plenty of products that really do *have* to be thrown away within 3/6/12 months of opening (I’m looking at you mascara), there are also loads of others that I like to extend the life of with a little extra care.

That means washing my makeup brushes at least once a week (or sometimes more often… any gentle shampoo or antibacterial soap will work before drying flat until completely dry), as well as killing all the germs in my beauty sponges by nuking in soapy water in the microwave for 2 minutes after every use (remove from the resulting hot water *very carefully*- I recommend using two teaspoons).

I also like to use any sort of antibacterial spray or liquid to clean the packaging of my makeup products regularly (helping to avoid the transfer of bacteria when I stick my fingers into my cream blusher etc). 

I also tend to wash my hands before applying makeup, use a clean spatula etc to get creams out of the tub, and apply things like concealer to the back of my hand before using fingers to pat under my eyes (rather than using the wand straight on my face).

So while I do still always keep an eye on how long I’ve owned any particular product- and throw away once it’s reached the end of its natural life- being extra careful with how I look after my tools, skincare and makeup does mean I don’t have to end up chucking things as often as I used to.


8. Go natural

When it comes to packaging, plastic may be the most commonly-used but there are actually plenty of (quite a lot prettier) biodegradable alternatives to some of the most common tools we use.

In fact, for the last 10 years or so I’ve tended to only buy wooden hair brushes, partly because I think they just look so lovely and partly because I feel too bad throwing away the plastic variety. 

Similarly, as an alternative to plastic makeup brushes I also try to only buy those with wooden handles and take my own bags out when shopping.


Putting Together Your Sustainable Beauty Routine: 10 Tips

Image – FloralDeco/Adobe


9. Go multi-purpose

Since I’m naturally *soooo* lazy this one actually comes really easily to me, and I tend to lean more towards multi-purpose products for their ease of use and throw-into-my-handbag abilities.

Products like a good quality facial oil can generally be used to cleanse, remove makeup (especially hard-to-remove eye makeup), and moisturise. 

Anything suitable for the skin on your face can generally also happily be used on the chest, neck and rest of the body too (meaning you automatically have a body moistursier too).

And as well as being great for lazy beauty fans (like me!), sticking to multi-purpose products also cuts down on the amount of packaging/shipping buying lots of individual products entails.

One of my favourite multi-purpose products when it comes to makeup is Bybi’s Babe Balm Bronze (so coppery! So flattering!), as well as pretty much anything by RMS Beauty, since both can be used on cheeks/eyelids/lips/collarbones/brow bones (and let’s face it, who actually ends up using the whole pot when you buy loads of individual shades…?).


10. Shrink your routine

And finally possibly the least fun one for me, but I’m making a concerted effort to not buy anything new until I have finished what I am using (however tempted I may get by the sales).

Also, instead of buying multiple products to tackle lots of different concerns, I’m trying to bring together a capsule wardrobe of essentials, which when combined can tackle most skin issues.

Must haves include a gentle yet thorough cleanser, a good quality moisturiser, a vitamin C product for brightening, firming, antioxidant action and tackling hyperpigmentation, and an easy to use SPF to protect skin from UV damage even in cloudy weather and winter.


Putting Together Your Sustainable Beauty Routine: 10 Tips

Image – Mizina/Adobe


The takeaway

From non-recyclable packaging to unwanted products, it can be so easy to inadvertently contribute to beauty waste- especially in the face of continual new product launches, or hundreds of photos of the latest new product on Instagram.

I’ve still got a long way to go, but I do now find myself sticking to brands that I know are actively cutting down on packaging and emissions waste more, as well as taking some more time to research whether a product will work for me before I buy: a reason to feel slightly better about my beauty habit!




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Sally Underwood is a journalist, *serious* beauty fan, and Editor-in-Chief of Live That Glow. Formerly Editorial Director of one of Europe's largest newspaper groups, Sally has been a beauty obsessive since her teen years spent dragging her long-suffering (but immaculately-groomed) friends around every beauty counter in London. She now leads Live That Glow's editorial operations.

Expertise: Skincare, Body care
Education: University College London

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