On Creating a Zero Waste Beauty Routine

beauty shot of various zero waste beauty supplies on large metal tray

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Creating a green beauty routine is as much about reducing waste as it is eliminating toxic ingredients from the products one uses. If you buy green products that continue to contribute vast amounts of plastic to the landfill site, then what’s the point? Learn how to reduce your footprint when it comes to packaging.

Removing makeup

flat lay of zero waste beauty with felt cloth makeup removers, scissors, and coconut oil

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

You don’t need to use facial wipes or cotton pads to take off makeup. Cut up squares of old flannel, fleece, or muslin cloth to use instead, laundering as needed. Or buy a sponge: Konjac Facial Sponges are vegan and compostable after 2-3 months of use, or you could try a fair-trade, sustainably grown sea sponge from Farm to Girl.

For the actual remover, try using oil (olive, coconut, sweet almond). Oil does a surprisingly good job at cleaning the skin and is an excellent makeup remover for the sensitive eye region.

Cleaning ears

woman uses white washcloth wrapped around finger to gently dry ears

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Q-Tips feel satisfying to use, but they’re actually not that great because they can push wax further into your ears and create blockages. They are also a tremendous source of waste, particularly the plastic ones. The good news is you don’t need them at all. Rinse your ears thoroughly in the shower with hot water and dry with your finger in a towel.


various oils, sugars, coffee grounds, and washcloths for a zero waste facial cleanse

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

You need less than you think when it comes to maintaining healthy skin. Wash with a delicate soap – olive oil, oatmeal, lavender, goat’s milk, etc. – that comes unpackaged. Buy a bottle of Dr. Bronner's Pure Castile Soap that can be refilled at a bulk store. Consider trying the Oil Cleansing Method.

Exfoliate with the most basic ingredients that can be bought at bulk stores in reusable containers – baking soda, sugar, and coffee grounds. Mix with water or oil, and wipe off with a washcloth.

Make your own masks for special occasions using clays (French, bentonite, kaolin) bought in bulk.

Moisturize with pure oils – sweet almond, olive, coconut, shea butter, etc. – many of which you can buy in bulk or reusable glass containers.


flat lay of apple cider vinegar in glass bottle with cut lemon slices on wooden cutting board

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Some soap sores, bulk food, and health stores offer refills on shampoo and conditioner, including Dr. Bronner’s in some locations.

Try going the No ‘Poo route for washing hair. I’ve been using baking soda and apple cider vinegar for two years and my hair has never looked better.

Substitute lemon water in a spray bottle for hairspray. You can fight greasiness with cornstarch in place of dry shampoo. It can buy you an extra day before needing to wash again.

It’s a good idea to stop dyeing hair, not only in terms of waste, but also for the chemicals that get absorbed through your scalp. (Read Gillian Deacon’s There’s Lead In Your Lipstick for lots more information on that.) Use cocoa powder to darken roots temporarily, if you wish, and lemon juice to lighten hair in summertime.


beet juice, lip balm, and cocoa powder alongside "eye" vanity mirror for DIY makeup

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

This is a tough area in which to reduce packaging. You could stop wearing makeup, but if that’s too extreme, then at least start thinking about alternative products and better packaging.

You can make your own lip stain (with beet juice), lip balm, bronzer (using cocoa powder), and homemade eyeliner.

When it comes to packaging, support companies that offer closed-loop production and accept their containers for refill. I’ve found that most companies that sell products in high quality glass jars are happy to have them sent back for reuse. Johnson recommends MAC makeup’s Back-2-Mac program, but the brand isn’t known for using pure ingredients.

Do your research to look for plastic-free skin care products. I’ve recently discovered a Canadian company, Elate Cosmetics, which also offers great packaging that can be reused, recycled, or planted.


person in floral dress shaves legs with metal straight razor

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Try waxing or sugaring your legs, using squares of old clothes to pull it off. You can use a double-edged razor on your face, drying well after each use. According to Johnson, “a 10-pack of blades will last five years if you take care of the blade.” Buy an unpackaged bar of shaving soap or try coconut oil.


over shoulder shot of person in floral dress filing nails with metal file

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Buy a metal clipper and nail file. Moisturize the nail bed and cuticles with any oil or beeswax balm that you use elsewhere on your body.


person in blush cradles alum stone, a natural deodorant and antiseptic for shaving

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Make your own deodorant, or buy it in glass containers that can be sent back to the manufacturer. Some of my favorites are Crawford Street Skin Care’s Lemon Cream Deodorant, PiperWai’s Activated Charcoal Deodorant, and Ashley Asti’s Love Your Body Deodorant. All of these companies sell men’s versions, and the charcoal one is gender-neutral.

Another option is an alum stone, popular in France, which can be used as deodorant and aftershave.


various essential oils in dark brown glass bottles on wooden cutting board with dried lavender

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Not only is it difficult to find safe perfume to use, but it’s not something you can buy with reusable containers. See this list of non-toxic perfumes, but consider ditching the habit altogether. Gill Deacon, author of There’s Lead in your Lipstick, recommends mixing a few drops of essential oil with some sweet almond oil and rubbing over your body after a morning shower. It smells just as good as perfume and is much safer. You can also make your own solid perfume bar.