The Best Zero Waste Makeup of 2021

A dazzling array of clean cosmetics in minimal packaging for your boudoir.

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

The Rundown
River Organics is a plant oil-based makeup company that minimizes litter as far as possible (think paper and glass packaging).
Best Capsule Collection:
Elate Cosmetics at Elatebeauty.com
With its philosophy of reduce, reuse and recycle, Elate is primed for building the perfect capsule collection.
This Etsy shop has scores of 5-star reviews for its affordable, vegan, plant-based, plastic-free makeup.
Pure minerals and botanicals, packed in a mix of recycled, recyclable and compostable materials.
Kjaer Weis’ uncompromising standards, aesthetics and ingenious refillable packaging have redefined sustainable luxury makeup.
The multi-purpose, silky crayons are wrapped in recycled paper that can be peeled off and recycled or composted.
We love the luminosity of the organic blushes made sans mineral, mica and iron oxide, coming in wee tins.

For long, the gold standard of a beauty box was lilliputian brochures, marvelous coffrets and reams of diaphanous wrapping. Tucked in its belly was usually a tiny (or a large) container, oftentimes made of plastic.

The cosmetic industry for decades has been notorious for producing waste, especially tons of plastic waste. Compounding this issue, only a miniscule 9% of the billions of tons of plastic produced globally is recycled. But now, consumers are demanding better alternatives, and some brands are stepping up to the challenge. They’re conscious of not only what goes in the bottle, but also the whole packaging caboodle.

To navigate the zero-waste universe, we checked in with Kathryn Kellogg, author of 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste and founder of Going Zero Waste. “Beauty products are notoriously difficult to recycle,” says Kellogg. What you should really keep an eye out for, she says are "products that you can upcycle (unleash your DIY skills by turning glass beauty pots into candles), refill schemes and products with extended producer responsibility, for instance, where brands have partnered with recycling companies such as TerraCycle or take back the packaging.”

Ahead, our pick of the best zero waste makeup brands, plus a few that are the next best thing, with extremely minimal and eco-conscious packaging. 

Best Overall: River Organics

River Organics Blush Sticks

Kiss packaging peanuts goodbye! If the beauty industry’s junk gnaws at you, then make sure River Organics is part of your lineup. Art Historian Corinne Lefebvre and natural product chemist Fabien Scorza, partners for life, founded River Organics, a plant oil-based makeup company that minimizes litter as far as possible (think paper and glass packaging).

It uses kraft-based packing material to wrap the goodies before shipping them in 100% recycled padded mail envelopes made by Eco-Enclose. Its unbleached, compostable and biodegradable labels come from Pure Labels. The business cards are printed and cut from kraft paper at home. What’s more, the company packs in 60% more blush in the paper tubes than they could in similar sized rigid plastic doodads, dialing down waste. We also love that they match every dollar you donate to offset your carbon footprint.

Best Capsule Collection: Elate Cosmetics

Intrepid EyeColour Trio

Certified B Corp Elate Cosmetics with its philosophy of reduce, reuse and recycle is primed for building the perfect capsule collection, where less is more. Attend online masterclasses (for a small fee) or take a quiz on their website, to choose among spiffy palettes, handy canisters and cutesy compacts.

The refillable, cruelty-free makeup contains 75% organic ingredients. Its products come primarily in lovely compostable water-treated bamboo containers, recyclable aluminum pans, and glass jars. Plant mommas rejoice, it ships refills in plantable wildflower seed paper envelopes made from waste fiber.

You can also buy visually imperfect palettes and compacts (though usable), otherwise destined for the dump. What’s more, the complete collection can be composted or recycled. While approximately 75% of its packaging is plastic and waste free, the company striving to bump off the dregs forever.

Best Budget: Clean Faced Cosmetics

Clean Faced Cosmetics Zero Waste Mascara

This beloved Etsy shop has affordable, vegan, plant-based, plastic-free makeup. Metal tins and glass bottles with metal caps are its choice of containers. With ingredients such as cocoa powder, organic matcha, coconut oil and rose powder, you might just be tempted to try the entire collection, ranging from blushes and bronzers to lipsticks and mascaras.

For refills, you get a peachy 10% discount. The powders are shipped in biodegradable bags, while you need to dispatch clean containers back to them for refilling creams, balms, and lipsticks.

Best Mineral: All Earth Mineral Cosemetics

All Earth Mineral Cosmetics Bronzer

Makeup artist Julie Wieczorek and natural skincare aficionado Guy Hanson teamed up to create a cosmetic company, which uses pure minerals and botanicals, packed in a mix of recycled, recyclable, and compostable materials.

At the heart of this vegan and cruelty-free Cornish beauty brand is the low carbon footprint, recycled and recyclable puck-shaped ‘Pot of Life.’ This curious sifter-style case is fashioned locally from discarded fishing nets plucked from the Cornish coast. Refill these long-lasting pots endlessly by reordering favorites, which are ferried to you in biodegradable, recyclable tubes.

The duo previously sold products under the brand "Angel Face Mineral Cosmetics," some of which came in plastic packaging. If you happen to have any of these old containers lingering at home, you can send them in for recycling under All Earth’s Eco Swap service (with Terracycle) whenever you shop with them.

Sleek, stylish and sustainable, Kjaer Weis’ uncompromising standards, incredible aesthetics and ingenious refillable packaging have redefined sustainable luxury makeup. Its refill system (a simple triad of pop-out, pull hard and click in) hinges on artistically sculpted cases made from glossy metal and lacquered paper that simply implores you to replenish your stocks.

The carefully crafted outer packaging and shipping material are recyclable and compostable, made from FSC-certified materials with lettering in water-based ink. We’re also partial to this brand for its meticulous cruelty and gluten-free formulations that are certified organic by COSMOS or CCPB.

Best for Lip Color: Axiology Of The Earth Balmies Tio

Axiology Balmies Tio

Axiology’s journey started in Ericka Rodriguez’s Brooklyn kitchen. Rodriguez perfected her minimal ingredient lipsticks finally after 200-odd experiments as she trotted across the globe. Our favorite crayon-style balmies contain no more than 10 luscious goodies such as oils (like avocado and grapefruit), butters (such as kokum and soy), and wax (including sunflower seed wax).

Ditching the plastic tube, the multi-purpose, silky crayons are wrapped in recycled paper that can be peeled off and recycled or composted. The containers are made from 100% recycled paper. Available in super-sized packs, sets, and singles, we can think of nothing kinder to smear on our cheeks, eyes, and lips.

Best for Blush: Bee You Organics Organic Blush

Bee You Organics Organic Blush

An accident left Larissa Warren’s skin scarred and sensitive to conventional makeup, so she experimented to make her own, resulting in Etsy shop Bee Your Organics, and now, also a store in Spokane. Hand-formulated, gluten, and cruelty free, the selection of mineral and organic cheek blushes and stains add a dreamy glow to your face.

We love the luminosity of the organic blushes made sans mineral, mica, and iron oxide, coming in wee tins. (You can opt for a plastic version with a sifter, but it isn’t zero-waste). Made from deliciously clean ingredients including organic hibiscus, beetroot, and cacao along with kaolin clay, they’re available in shades such as Dusty Rose and Georgia Peach. We’re blushing.

Final Verdict

Perk up your natural beauty without adding to the litter with River Organics’ plant oil-based nourishing makeup (view at River Organics), packaged in paper and glass to minimize litter. Meanwhile, Clean Faced Cosmetics (view at Etsy) is an affordable, vegan, cruelty-free and zero-waste cosmetic brand.

What to Look for when Shopping for Zero-Waste Makeup

Let go of junk, literally. Whether it’s the gunk you’d end up slathering on your face or boxes that would end up in the landfill, cut through the clutter to pick up natural makeup that has minimal impact on the planet. Here's how to sift through stock like a pro:

Take a Close Look at the Containers

Does it come in recycled and recyclable paper or cardboard? Is it packed in an easily reusable glass container or a metal tin? Or is it packed in plastic? Ask the right questions before you choose, and know which materials can be easily recycled in your area.

Check Packaging and Shipping

If you’re an online fiend, it’s good to check if your online order will be shipped in sustainable packaging, or in mountains of Styrofoam or reams of bubble paper. Check out EarthHero, Credo Beauty, Ecoroots, and Package Free Shop for better alternatives.

Experiment with Products

We love all-in-one lip, eye, and cheek tints in cute vintage tins or crayon style, lipsticks in cardboard tubes, as well as refillable mascara. Basically, every ingeniously redesigned product that keeps our beauty regimen clean and our planet green.

Quality Over Quantity

Buy what enhances your natural beauty, is gentle on your skin, and doesn’t add to the debris of beauty waste. Invest in quality, clean, and toxin-free cosmetics in fuss-free packaging that you love to use.   

So now you know how to buy, what should you actually buy?

An integral part of a zero-waste beauty routine is streamlining your makeup drill.  Zero-waste advocate Kathryn Kellogg tells us how to build a capsule, zero-waste makeup collection. “It is very similar to putting together a capsule wardrobe. You whittle down your products to what you know to be useful, love and wear almost every day,” she says.

Kellogg recommends the one-in and one-out rule. This stops you from buying multiples of the same product, ending up with loads of cosmetics that never go past the experimentation stage, lying unused until the expiration date has passed. “By focusing on pieces that you truly love and use often, you will be able to create a capsule makeup collection which saves money, waste, and lots of drawer space,” she concludes.

Why Trust Treehugger?

Treehugger wants to help our readers make kinder choices for your skin and the earth by sifting through the clutter of brands so that you don’t have to. We researched ingredients and packaging materials, and consulted with a zero waste expert about what to look for in waste-free makeup.

Author Neeti Mehra writes about responsible luxury and is committed to slow living. Practicing a sustainable lifestyle, she’s exploring the landscape of zero-waste and refillable skincare, haircare and cosmetics.