8 Ways to Cut Back on Plastic Waste in Your Beauty and Wellness Routines

Maintain your glow more sustainably.

sustainable beauty products

Looking to cut back on plastic waste? Invest in some sustainable beauty products, like compostable bamboo tooth brushes. Photograph by Dougal Waters/Getty Images

This article was originally published in our April 2020 print issue as a part of a guide to living a zero waste lifestyle. Given the recent trash crisis in Philadelphia, we are publishing this guide online to share ways to make less waste.

The health and beauty industry is huge. Unfortunately, so is its output of plastic waste. Here are ways to sustain your youthful glow … sustainably.

1. Do your homework.

Evaluate the brands you use on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website, which rates products for safety and healthiness. From there, assess what’s really worth the money. Sabeen Zia, owner of the Indie Shelf in Grad Ho, recommends switching products gradually: “Really try to use up what you have before buying more. Switch over to zero-waste products slowly — don’t overwhelm yourself or your wallet!”

2. Make your own.

A lot of hygiene products (think toothpaste and deodorant) can be made at home from basic ingredients. “I have a few jars of a bath scrub I made from Epsom salts and essential oils,” says Julie Hancher, co-founder and editor of sustainability blog Green Philly. “And I make a face mask using leaves from my aloe plant.” Philly herb aficionada Jada Walton says making her own deodorant saves her time and energy: “I haven’t had to make another batch in a few months, but when I do, I just use baking soda, organic coconut oil, organic arrowroot powder, and whatever essential oils I have lying around.” Pinterest is littered with at-home recipes for any product you can imagine.

3. Simplify your makeup routine.

Julie Hancher says her main beauty-routine hack is to keep it simple: “Prioritize what’s important — I prioritize local and nontoxic ingredients — to make decisions.” Sabeen Zia, whose Indie Shelf features lots of small indie brands, says she looks at packaging first, prioritizing glass, aluminum, bamboo and sugarcane plastic. (She swears by Ere Perez offerings as well as Sappho New Paradigm’s vegan mascara, which comes in a metal tube, and refillable bronzer.) Then, “Replace cotton rounds with reusable muslin or bamboo rounds and biodegradable wipes and swabs,” she says. “It may cost a bit more up front for some of these swaps, but if we all start normalizing these products, they’ll eventually become more affordable.”


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4. Rethink tampons.

Going zero-waste involves examining even the most intimate decisions. I’m talking about periods. Ninety-eight percent of women manage their periods with tampons or pads, and the average woman uses about 240 tampons each year. Hancher recommends substituting a menstrual cup — a small, flexible cup made of medical-grade silicone or latex. “I can’t recommend them enough. I’ve been using Lunette for years,” she says. “Contrary to misconceptions, cleaning and sanitizing them is a breeze. Plus, I no longer waste $12 a month on tampons.” Menstrual cups cost between $20 to $40 and should be replaced every one to two years.

5. Abandon bottles.

Reduce the clutter in your bathroom by switching to local bar-based shampoos, conditioners and soaps. Several Philly brands focus on environmental impact and come with minimal packaging. Green Ablutions of Phoenixville is one of Hancher’s favorites; it makes low-waste shampoo and conditioning bars. Also check Stinky Girl Beauty Co.’s natural deodorant, Franklin & Whitman skin-care products, and Beekman’s COPA soaps, for natural soaps made from essential oils and herbs.


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6. Shave smarter.

Zia recommends safety razors: “They take time to get used to, but they eliminate plastic. You have to switch the blades, which are recyclable, but the actual handle can last forever.”

7. Lose the loofah.

Get rid of the nasty plastic pouf in your shower. Not only is it unsanitary (so is the natural kind), but, y’know, it’s plastic. Hancher recommends investing in good washcloths: “Use a soft organic washcloth, and toss it in the laundry after three to four days.” Doctors, however, say you should just use soap and your own hands to get yourself clean.

8. Brush your teeth better.

Bite, a plastic-free all-natural toothpaste, eschews the tube in favor of a small glass jar of pellets. You, ahem, bite one, then brush. The subscription service sends four months’ worth of minty bits in a compostable cardboard box. Bite sells compostable bamboo toothbrushes, too.

Published as “Waste Not” in the April 2020 issue of Philadelphia magazine.