8 Makeup Brands That Are Fighting Plastic Packaging

shampoo bar, wooden hair brush, and pothos plant for green beauty care

Treehugger / Vanina Howan

When you hear about excessive plastic packaging, the focus is usually on the food industry – straws, coffee cups, Styrofoam takeout containers, chip bags, and more. While the food industry is certainly at fault for not coming up with better packaging designs, it's curious that other industries have largely been spared the same level of criticism.

Take the beauty industry, for example. Cosmetics, hair, and skin care products are responsible for enormous amounts of plastic packaging waste. The microbead horror may be fading into the past, thanks to legislation, but just think about the typical containers used to hold eyeshadows, mascaras, lipsticks, foundations. Lotions and shampoos in pump-action bottles are nearly impossible to empty; most get thrown away with one-fifth of the product still inside. Cosmetics packaging may even be harder to recycle than food packaging because it often contain multiple types of materials than need to be separated prior to recycling – and often are not.

There is so much of it, too:

"Euromonitor sent Teen Vogue its global data on plastic packaging in the beauty industry, which shows that in 2010, the industry produced 65.62 billion plastic packaging units. By 2017 that number was 76.8 billion. That count, of course, doesn't even factor in plastic accessories, like mini scoopers or application tools."

Fortunately there is a very small yet growing segment of the beauty industry that is seeking alternatives to single-use, hard-to-recycle plastics. It is still uncommon and hard to find, but I wanted to offer a list of a few brands that are challenging the status quo. It's not easy. Glass containers are heavier than plastic, which adds to shipping weight and cost. Recycled plastics are a temporary solution that eventually goes to waste regardless; and just because something is recyclable or refillable doesn't mean it actually gets recycled or refilled. There's a long way to go to making this system truly circular and accessible, but at least some companies are trying.

The following list is varied, both in packaging solutions and products offered, and I will not suggest that the solutions are equal. Some are obviously much better than others. But at least it's a start, and by supporting cosmetics companies that are trying to improve, you send a message to the world that this is something that matters.

1. Loli

Loli face cream in a glass packaged in a box.

Courtesy of LOLI

Loli's facial oils, moisturizers, and cleansers come in glass jars and vials, with compostable labels, bags, and boxes. Teen Vogue reported, "Compared to most beauty products, which are 70% to 80% water, [LOLI's] products are 100 percent waterless, and the brand uses glass and post-consumer recycled cardboard in its packaging."

2. Soué

I've noticed an impressive number of eco-friendly beauty startups coming out of Australia in recent years. Soué is one of them, a vegan/cruelty-free brand that puts all its products in compostable cardboard tubes and glass jars with metal lids. Even the labels are compostable:

"Most stickers are made with a plastic backing which means it can’t be composted. But we found a compostable alternative with a water-based glue and vegetable ink, which can break down in your home compost bin. If you don’t have a compost bin, you can reuse your tube as a seed planter in your garden or simply recycle it."

3. Beauty Kubes

A woman washing her hair in a white shower.

torwai / Getty Images

I'm calling it: shampoo bars are the next big thing. Soon you'll be seeing these everywhere. Most take the form of a solid soap-like bar, but UK brand Beauty Kubes has a curious take on it. It sells boxes of 27 perfectly formed tiny cubes. The cubes are meant to be crumbled, mixed into paste with water in your hand, and then massaged into hair to cleanse. "The majority of our customers report back that they do not have to use a separate conditioner after use."

4. Alima Pure

A woman applies eyeshadow on her eyelid with a brush.

Rob Melnychuk / Getty Images

Alima Pure offers refills for its concealer, foundations, and eye shadow, which means you only have to purchase a compact once. The refills fit into the magnetized compartment just like new. An article in Fashionista spoke highly of this brand:

"The boxes are crafted from 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper and printed with eco-friendly, soy-based inks; the jars are food-grade plastic; and all orders are shipped in recyclable geami paper instead of bubble wrap."

5. Ethique

Ethique shampoo bar for hair in with sustainable packaging.

Courtesy of Ethique.

We've mentioned this New Zealand company in the past, but its product line is so cool that we think it deserves some fresh attention. Ethique claims to have stopped over 400,000 bottles from going to landfill, and is on track to making an even bigger difference. It sells everything from facial cleansers and moisturizers to exfoliants, hair masks, and shampoo/conditioner is in solid bar form, wrapped in paper – and it's all so beautiful, too! Now ships free to USA via Amazon.

6. Zao Organic Makeup

Bamboo growing in a garden.

FangXiaNuo / Getty Images

Made in Italy, this company offers an ingenious refill system for most of its products. You purchase a bamboo compact once, then buy refills for it indefinitely – even for products like mascara, which I have never seen before.

"With standard sizing, they can hold one refill after another, allowing you to try new colors when you choose. The refill system reduces costs and packaging, making them economical, sustainable and durable."

7. Elate Cosmetics

This Canadian company is a leader in the world of refillable palettes. It makes attractive bamboo compacts for foundation and blush and magnetic eyeshadow palettes for which you can purchase refills. Green Tree Beauty sings this brand's praises on Instagram:

8. Lilah B.

A woman writing a return for a package.

Emilija Manevska / Getty Images

This California-based clean cosmetics company packages its makeup in "signature stone compacts" that look like white pebbles. There is minimal information on the website as to what this packaging is actually made of, but worth noting is that Lilah B. accepts its old containers for recycling. Customers can print out a pre-paid shipping label from the website and mail containers back, which is a great step toward the Extender Producer Responsibility that we're always talking about here on Treehugger.