9 Green Beauty Tips for a More Sustainable Personal Care Routine

ACV, wooden hair brush, shampoo bar, baking soda are all green beauty products

Treehugger / Vanina Howan

So, you've decided to green your beauty routine: You want to make it more sustainable, less plastic-dependent, more DIY and less filled with potentially toxic chemicals. That's great! But where do you start?

The first and most important thing to know—and this goes for all kinds of changes we make in life—is that you don't have to do it all at once.

Think of this as a months-long project, and accept that it will take you at least six months to a year to really revamp your beauty and personal care routines. That's because if you want to make sustainable, lasting change, it should happen slowly. You need to get used to new habits, and new ways of shopping.

Several of the most impactful changes you can make (for both your own well-being and the health of our one-and-only-planet) will require you to pay attention, make tweaks, and give your hair or skin time to adjust as well.

It's also a much more reasonable investment of time if you pick one or two of the items on this list to tackle and then return to it a month later, and try a couple more. Not everything here might work for you, and that's OK, too. The most important changes are those you will stick with over time.

It's worth taking the time to make these changes and be mindful about them though, because they will cut down the plastic you use, reduce water waste, and reduce your exposure to chemicals you may want to avoid. At the end of your journey, if you can hit all three of those points—and stick with them—you will have made a long-term difference when it comes to your consumption habits. Follow these green beauty tips to get started.

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Replace Disposables With Reusables

Reusable Pads and bottle of cleanser or toner
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Disposable razors, makeup-remover pads, cotton swabs, toothbrush handles, and tissues are all things you can replace with reusable items.

There are now a whole host of razors made from metal where the only replaceable part is the actual razor so you aren't throwing away a hunk of plastic every time your razor gets dull.

Besides lasting for years and keeping plastic out of the landfill, metal razors are more attractive so they will look great in your shower or tub. Toothbrush handles are similar.

Instead of makeup remover pads, cut up an old t-shirt or washcloth into smaller pads, then just toss them in the wash with your darks (old makeup could leak onto lighter colored clothes) or hand wash them in the sink.

Tissues can be a great, sanitary way to blow your nose especially when you have a cold, but if you find yourself using tissues for cleanup and makeup application, consider keeping some larger pieces of those cut-up t-shirts or other fabric for this purpose instead.

Like razors, cotton swabs also have reusable versions that are especially good for makeup application (less so for cleaning out your ears since ear wax is harder to get out of the reusable sponge tips).

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Use Up What You Have

organic spa bathroom items
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If you are looking to reduce your impact, tossing usable products isn't the way to do it. Whatever you have now, finish it up—that will give you time to change your habits slowly and sustainably as well, since you can go at the rate you use stuff up, researching one product at a time, and finding one made with less packaging, or learning how to DIY.

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Donate Stuff You Won't Use

Set of decorative cosmetic.
misuma / Getty Images

If you have unopened items that you really don't want to use because you've found something you like better or are making it yourself, donate it (but make sure they haven't expired).

Homeless shelters are almost always looking for personal care products. Centers dedicated to assisting women at risk will often take unused makeup. There are many organizations that help different groups and could use donations.

If you can't locate an organization near you, check out Project Beauty Share for a mail-in option.

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DIY Your Face Masks

Face mask from avocado, yogurt, banana and honey
svehlik / Getty Images

Face masks are probably the easiest personal-care product you can make yourself, saving money and packaging waste—and maybe even using up leftover bits of food you have hanging around your kitchen.

Fresh ingredients retain all their nutrients without preservatives or extra packaging, and what could be easier than the two masks below?

  • Dry Skin Mask: If you have half an old avocado hanging around, mash it up and combine it with a teaspoon of honey. Spread the mix over your face and wait for 15 minutes, then rinse off with warm (not hot) water.
  • Oily Skin Mask: Mash up half a banana with a tablespoon of yogurt (yes, it can be a vegan yogurt or animal-milk version). Apply to your face and let sit for 15 minutes, then rinse off with warm water.
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Replace Plastic Packaging With Paper or None At All

Close up of glass jar dispensers of beauty products in a waste free wholefood store.
Mint Images / Getty Images

There are so many beauty products that come in plastic, most of which doesn't get recycled. That's because even if the package has a recycle symbol and number on it, in most of the U.S., it's really only 1 (PET) and 2 (HDPE) plastics that get recycled, and only certain sizes and shapes of those make it through the process, which often doesn't include smaller or differently shaped plastic containers.

Minimizing buying plastic packaging in the first place—or working towards eliminating it from your beauty routine altogether—is a worthy goal. The good news is that a number of companies, from those that make floss and deodorant to makeup and hair products, are making non-plastic options available.

Refillable Packaging

Some companies are offering refillable packages, so you either buy a dispenser from the company and refill it with more of the product, or you can buy or make your own glass or ceramic dispenser.

Refills tend to come in paper-based packages that if not recycled, will eventually biodegrade a lot faster than plastic will. Floss, hand soap, liquid body soap, and deodorants are now available from a number of companies in refillable options.

There are even some makeup companies that offer this option, which can be especially useful for items you use a lot of, like powder or lipstick—and the reusable containers are often beautiful to use and hold.

Paper-Based Packaging

Other companies, including some that make deodorants, lip balm and makeup, and floss, offer disposable packaging that's paper-based, which can sometimes be recycled or could be composted. At the very least it will biodegrade faster than plastic packaging.

Package-Free Beauty Products

And then there are the personal care items that don't need any packaging at all, or maybe just a single layer of easily recyclable paper.

Look for solid soaps, as well as body balms, shampoos, conditioners, and deodorants that are made in solid, bar-type styles.

Grow Your Own

You can grow your own loofah (local and biodegradable, unlike plastic shower poufs), which is an easy-growing vine and will produce enough sponges for you and all your friends, or you can look for someone who grows them locally to you.

An aloe vera plant is easy to keep as long as you have a window with plenty of light, and you can harvest the gel easily from the comfort of your own home.

Lavender, mint, and lemon verbena are all easy to grow and use as a natural scent in your home, for tea, or to add to oils and create scented versions.

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Buy or Make Solid Soaps and Conditioners

Soap Base. Homemade Soap.

Stevica Mrdja / Getty Images

Once you've used a package-free soap, shampoo, or conditioner, you might realize that the simple ingredients are easy to combine yourself.

There are lots of recipes online, but the easiest solid personal care products to DIY are probably body butters/moisturizers, and lip balms.

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Reduce Your Water Use

Get ready to put on your best smile
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This is an easy beauty hack that you can do right away and will even save you money. While you may already be aware of your water usage if you live in a drought-prone area, freshwater resources are limited worldwide, and wasting water also costs energy (often fossil fuels), especially warm or hot water.

To save water, try these easy steps:

  1. Turn off the tap while you are brushing your teeth or washing your face.
  2. Set a shower timer. Aim for 5 to 7 minutes, depending on what you normally do in the shower. Or consider warming up the shower and wetting yourself, then turning it off and shaving, conditioning, etc.
  3. Flush every other time you pee.
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Wash Your Hair Less

A man washes his head with shampoo on white background, rear view
Tatiana / Getty Images

If you wash your hair daily, you probably don't need to. Cut down to every other day, and then try stretching it a bit longer. Over time, your scalp will produce less oil when you're not washing it off every day.

Keeping some of those natural hair oils can be good for your hair and scalp. Less-clean hair is actually a lot easier to style, too.

Some people have found that their hair is actually healthier and shinier when they wash it less (here are 9 steps to doing that), and can go a week or more without washing, while other people still need to wash every few days. But cutting just a couple of minutes from your daily shower will save hot water, products, and your time.

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Oil Cleanse Instead of Buying a Facial Cleanser

Beauty product with transparent yellow liquid and drops on pastel blue background.
Iryna Veklich / Getty Images

You can eliminate another plastic bottle by switching to oil cleansing (which you can definitely do even if you have oily skin).

Many people who switch to cleansing with oil find they need fewer skin care products and extra moisturizers since oil cleansing both cleans and moisturizes. You can also use the same oil to cleanse your face to remove makeup.

A great oil cleanser to start with is castor oil, which is good for most skin types.

Mix a tablespoon of castor oil with a tablespoon of grapeseed or sweet almond oil to try out oil cleansing for yourself.

Simply spread the mixture over your face, working it into skin in gentle circles for at least a minute. Both the oil and the motion of your fingers will remove excess oil, dirt, and makeup from your skin.

If this sounds counterintuitive, remember that in chemistry, "like dissolves like" so oil cleansers will pick up both sebum (the oil skin produces) as well as oil and non-oil-based makeup and particulate pollution, grease from food, etc.

After you have massaged the oil cleanser into your skin, wipe it away with a warm (not hot), damp washcloth or splash your face with warm water and rub the oil off.

Originally written by
Katherine Martinko
Katherine Martinko

Katherine Martinko is an expert in sustainable living. She holds a degree in English Literature and History from the University of Toronto.

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