How green is your beauty routine? It’s likely that you have considered this to some degree. After all, plastic microbeads are now banned from wash off personal care and cosmetic products in England and Scotland. Environmental groups have long been campaigning for this, but, the masses didn’t seem to engage with this issue until David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II graced our screens. That’s when we all stopped and watched in horror and saw for ourselves the devastating impact plastic and micro-plastic is having on our oceans, environment and human health. After all, we’re top of the food chain, so it’s inevitable that one day we may end up eating our face wash.
Don’t get me wrong beauty products aren’t the devil here - there are many ways micro-plastics enter our environment - but this ban is a start, especially as we should probably ask ourselves; did we even need them in the first place? There doesn’t seem to have been a consumer uproar or mass hysteria now that these products have been removed from the shelves. I’m yet to see anyone crying in the exfoliator aisle because their favourite face scrub has gone. The harsh reality is that many people probably didn’t realise their favourite products contained plastic microbeads in the first place, and if you did you likely already switched to a natural alternative.
Aside from plastic microbeads, what else is being targeted in our beauty routine? Currently it seems anything that contains plastics – cotton pads, buds, and face wipes, shampoo, make up… the list goes on. So, ask yourself this: could you live without these products or switch to a more sustainable alternative? The answer is quite probably, yes. There are certainly several options out there that these single use items can be replaced with. The problem with personal care products is well, it’s personal. What works for one person may not work for someone else - different lifestyles, routines, skin, hair etc.
If you’re not prepared to give up everything but want to reduce your environmental impact there are small changes you can make. Buy paper stemmed cotton buds instead of plastic ones, switch to reusable cloths or cotton rounds that can be used to replace cotton pads, and buy face wash in bar form with minimal or no packaging that can be used in place of face wipes.
Face wipes/wet wipes/baby wipes whatever you want to call them are pretty bad for the environment. So bad in fact, that the EU is looking at regulating them under extended producer responsibility regulations. This means that producers of these products will have to pay a fee when they place them onto the market to ensure that their recovery and treatment is financed when it becomes waste and contribute to the clean-up costs.
Other environmentally-friendly products include bar shampoo. Bar shampoos on sale can be plastic free, vegan, SLS free and cruelty free. More companies are coming onto the market responding to consumer demand for bar personal care products. Some brands are now offering refills so that you only have to buy one bottle of shampoo and conditioner and you can take the empties back to your local shop to refill them from the large containers in store. Not everybody is lucky enough to live near a shop selling refillables, but they are becoming more popular. Shopping local is always key to a sustainable beauty regime.
The growth of sustainably minded consumers means many new brands are appearing in the industry. Aether beauty being one. Founder Tiila Abbitt is passionate for the sustainable beauty product realm and takes seven years’ experience from Sephora. They’ve taken out the mirror, pans and elastic on their eyeshadow palette to ensure that the paper palette is fully recyclable and zero waste, the first in the industry.
All being said, the cosmetics industry is keen to embed a “circular economy” instead of the usual take, make, dispose model we are used to. But it takes time and the industry is subject to stringent regulations. From a consumer point of view, it’s always best to start small. There’s no point in throwing all your current products away to go out and buy new sustainable alternatives. Think of it like this, it’s like going on a crash diet only to find out that you can’t keep it up for more than a week or so before you slip back into old habits. Lifestyle changes won’t happen overnight, but you never know, in a years’ time you might have stopped an extra 500 or so face wipes from going to landfill and languishing there for just the few hundred odd years or so.