It’s that time: We end the year hopeful that the next one will be better and resolve to make sweeping, emphatic changes that’ll outlast the first few weeks of the new year. Maybe it’s to be active every single day, or to learn a new language before spring. But not every New Year’s resolution needs to be an exhaustive overhaul. Instead, try something simple, like making more sustainable beauty swaps that’ll benefit both the planet and your wallet.
“More small-batch, eco-conscious beauty companies were popping up pioneering low-packaging, vegan and cruelty-free products and innovations like compostable packaging and recyclable mascara and such, and through their efforts, consumers got to experience their performance and understand that eco-friendly doesn’t mean sacrificing all the stuff we love about getting gussied up,” says Ashlee Piper, sustainability expert and author of “Give A Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet”. “Eco-conscious consumers are one of the fastest growing consumer groups. It’s no longer a trend, and large companies see they need to evolve and change in order to stay relevant. I love it when the actions of individuals become collective and push the status quo to improve.”
Still, Piper notes that terms around sustainability are largely unregulated, so a brand might call their packaging or ingredient list “sustainable” or “green” without much explanation. “With that in mind, ‘sustainable’ can mean almost anything and nothing, at the same time,” Piper admits.
That said, there are myriad ways to make smarter, more environmentally friendly choices for your makeup bag, vanity and even your shower caddy. Ahead, the best (and easiest) sustainable beauty swaps to make ASAP.
“I met the founder of these mesh cloths years ago and have not looked back at traditional wash towels, as they are breeding grounds for bacteria, mold and other germs,” says beauty expert Dana Oliver, who runs the blog Beauty For Breakfast. “Instead I use this African-influenced exfoliating mesh cloth that lasts for a shocking 18 months. I use less body wash or bar soap because this creates an amazing lather with less product. The nylon is repurposed and while it comes in fun colors, it’s made from non-toxic dye. So it’s good for my skin and Mother Earth all around!”
“I’ve become a devotee of reusable and washable products in my routine, and I’ve found it really goes a long way toward helping cut down on waste,” says Stephanie Saltzman, Fashionista.com’s beauty director. “I rely on reusable cotton rounds that can be thrown in the washing machine — like the ones from Kitsch and Public Goods — for swiping on makeup remover, liquid exfoliators and toners. Summer Fridays also makes ones that are high-quality and come in the cutest storage pouch that doubles as a makeup case.”
“This seems almost provincial to mention, but I’ve had my Leaf safety razor for about 9 years,” says Piper. “These have-forever items like a safety razor make such a difference in both the impact on landfills and on your budget. That’s the nice thing about being eco-friendly — while marketing tells us we need to run out and buy some new, shiny ‘eco’ thing to be sustainable, the time-tested sustainability items are surprisingly inexpensive and last a long time.”
“I’m also not a fan of single-use beauty products, even though a sheet mask is such a dream for your skin, so I’ve started looking for products that can be used indefinitely,” says Baxter. “Dieux Skin’s reusable eye masks are genius — you just apply your favorite eye serum, pop them on, go about your day for the next 20 to 30 minutes, then peel them off, rinse and place them back in their case for your next at-home spa day. I feel so much better knowing that I’m not contributing excess waste to the planet for the sake of my undereyes.”
“Bathing Culture is my go-to for a delicious, certified organic, biodegradable body wash that smells divine and leaves my skin supple and smooth,” says Hannah Baxter, a beauty editor and brand consultant in NYC. “I stock up on the gallon jug about every nine months or so to refill my glass pump bottle, which is way more convenient than forgetting to order body wash at the last minute and panic buying something random from a bodega.”
“Although I’m a certified beauty fanatic, it pains me to witness all of the wasted packaging that isn’t recyclable wind up in landfills,” says Baxter. “I think a lot of people would be surprised to learn that bottle pumps, which are so ubiquitous, can’t be recycled since many of the metal components are too small. That’s why I’m a big fan of companies that offer refillable containers and that sell bulk refills so I can keep my original bottle and pump for years.”
“I discovered this gem during one of my many Target runs,” says Oliver, who was “shocked to find this sticking out on the aisle of deodorants, as it’s made from recycled paper and is 99% plastic-free. Unlike popular drugstore brands there’s no aluminum, and the shea butter keeps my underarms smooth and sexy. I also love the soothing lavender vanilla scent. Once all done, I reuse the container to hold makeup brushes.”
Piper says she’s been using package-free soap, hair care and lotion for more than a decade. While Plus has a 50% post-consumer recycled plastic refillable dispenser, its body wash is package-free and only needs to be mixed with water to activate.
Piper has also had her Baiden Mitten — what she calls “the exfoliation princess of the world” — for about seven years. Use it in place of a disposable loofah or even your exfoliating body scrub.
“I’ve also incorporated products that use less plastic — and definitely less single-use plastic — in my body-care routine,” says Saltzman. “I love the safety razors from Hanni and Oui the People, which feel fancy and luxurious, in addition to being plastic-free.”
Another favorite of Saltzman’s, this stainless steel, weighted single-blade razor is great for anyone with sensitive or bump-prone skin. We think it’s the best luxury razor and Underscored associate beauty editor Sophie Shaw even thinks it makes a practical yet unexpected gift.
Shaw always keeps a lip balm with her, but the tiny plastic tubes aren’t easily recyclable. Instead, she’s been opting for eco-friendly options like Evolvetogether’s, which comes in a biodegradable paper tube with one recyclable plastic component that is made from 70% post-consumer waste. You can also look for lip balms that come in recyclable glass jars — the Kiehl’s Buttermask for Lips and Snow Rejuvenating Lip Treatment are other favorites.
“I upgraded my preschool-aged son’s body care earlier this year with the Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade-founded brand,” says Oliver. “I love that the collection uses recycled materials from post-consumer containers. And because I’m someone who cares just as much as what we put in our bodies as on our bodies, the ingredients are just as good for us as they are for the planet. Our cold-weather favorite is the all-over balm because it keeps dry, patchy skin at bay and gives my son an incredible glow!”