Plastic-Free Beauty

The true cost of beauty

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but there is nothing pretty about the amount of plastic the cosmetics industry generates. On average we spend £482.51 a year on beauty products – that works out at £2.39 per day – and the global beauty industry produces over 142 BILLION UNITS of packaging every year!

But did you know that some products actually contain as much plastic added as ingredients as the plastic they are packaged in?

Research shows that in the UK, whilst almost 90% of people claim to regularly recycle from the kitchen, only 52% say they regularly recycle from the bathroom*. The good news is that it’s easier than ever to make simple switches and changes to our daily routines to help us reduce the amount of plastic it takes to keep us looking beautiful.

Read on to discover more about reusable cosmetic options as well as tips for making your own products at home – reducing packaging and tiny plastic ingredients without having to change your beauty regime.

Lady using a wet wipe to wipe her mouth while looking in a mirror

1. Don’t Believe the Wipe

Wet wipes and facewipes are a big problem. Packed with plastic and most often disposed of in the wrong way (#unflusables campaign), these cause a real issue in our sewage systems and then on our beaches and in our oceans too. Wet wipes were the 2nd most common item found on Scottish beaches, and 12.5 wet wipes were found for every 100 metres of beach surveyed.

But there is another way! Reusable make-up wipes are becoming popular and can now be found in many high street shops. Simply pop your used wipes in the wash with your other clothes, et voila… clean, soft wipes that you will never run out of.

3. Refillable Beauty

Some brands like offer refillable products so you can keep the outer case and simply replace the old with the new refill product – it works for eyeshadows, pencils, mascara, lip glosses, foundation and lots more! Take a look at Fill, where you can find refillable products to clean yourself from head to toe (quite literally).

You can now use our award-winning Refill app to find your nearest zero-waste shop or your nearest Body Shop store, where you can find refillable and plastic-free beauty products.

2. Return to Sender

There are companies out there that will accept their own used packaging pack which they then recycle – and in return offer a little treat for you!

With M.A.C’s Back to M.A.C Programme, you can return six pieces and receive a free lipstick of your choice as a special thank you.

LUSH also encourages a packaging return scheme. By returning your clean black pots you will contribute to their in-house closed loop recycling scheme, meaning they can be remade into black pots again and again. You’ll get a fresh face mask for your troubles – and LUSH will get another chance to reduce plastic landfill waste. Win, win!

4. Time for some TLC

Relaxing with a facemask is much needed at times, although a lot of facemasks you find in retailers are in single-use, unrecyclable packaging. There are ways you can make natural, simple facemasks from the ingredients we already have at home, for example, olive oil, yoghurt and honey! These can be made for all skin types, take a look yourself and see if you have the ingredients to indulge this evening!

5. DIY make up

Make up made from your very own natural ingredients is a great way to get creative and reduce plastic packaging in your make up bag. From mascara to blusher, face creams to deodorants, you may not realise that you actually already have great cosmetic alternatives in your kitchen! Check out these recipes and beauty hacks.

6. Use it up!

The golden rule is to make sure you use up what you have first before replacing it with plastic-free alternatives. While it’s tempting to have a big clear out and buy a load of new products (any excuse!), remember it’s wasteful and expensive to discard what we have already to make way for new plastic-free alternatives.

We suggest reducing what you have to a few good quality items rather than loads of very similar products that you never even use – quality over quantity is better for the planet and your pocket! And be sure to do a little investigating. There are so many great, sustainable and plastic-free brands and products out there it can be overwhelming. But with a little research, you’re bound to find one to suit your needs – it may take a bit more time, but you’ll thank yourself in the long run.

7. Switch it up!

Research commissioned by Direct Line Travel Insurance estimated that British tourists throw away over 43 million travel minis every year! Thankfully, many hotels are now putting a stop to the miniature craze and are instead installing refillable pumps in bathrooms for their guests. Big up those hotels who are getting onboard with the Refill Revolution!

As holidaymakers, we can all do our bit too by avoiding miniatures and instead opting for shampoo bars and good old fashioned soap which will not only last much longer, but will save plastic and money too! Check out more of our hot tips for reducing plastic when travelling over at our Plastic Free Travel hub.

Beauty that doesn’t cost the earth

We hope you’re feeling inspired to embrace a plastic-free beauty regime and start researching so you’re ready to replace your fave products with plastic-free alternatives as soon as they run out. Because no amount of beauty should cost the earth!

Want more inspo? Check out this clip of our founder Nat showing presenter Hayley Pearce how to adopt a zero waste beauty regime on BBC3 in the Plastic Not Fantastic episode.


Got a hot tip that we’ve missed? Share it with us on social media. We want to hear from you – what works and what couldn’t you do without? Check out our top tips for living with less plastic. Or, find out how to support our campaign.

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*Zitko and Hanlon 1991; Gregory 1996; Derraik 2002; Thompson et al. 2004; Fendall and Sewall 2009; Arthur, Baker & Bamford, 2009; Leslie, Moester, de Kreuk & Vethaak, 2012; Leslie 2012

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