8 Zero Waste Skincare Products that Cut Plastic Packaging

From package-free to refillable, we found the best zero waste items for skin.

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When choosing the products that touch our skin, we should focus on the ingredients. But we often overlook the importance of their packaging and how they’re shipped. We don’t help the environment by choosing a natural, organic product if it is packaged and shipped in non-recyclable plastic or other materials. However, you can build your own zero waste skincare and beauty routine just by choosing a different combination of products.

Many skincare brands have begun to put more thought, effort, and money into moving toward zero waste or near zero waste packaging. For some, that means packaging in post-consumer recycled paper or cardboard, switching from plastic to recyclable glass containers, or packaging in reusable containers that can be refilled. A great option is to patronize local shops that sell zero waste products in bulk, so you can bring your own refillable containers and be truly package free.

Below are just a few of the best skincare brands that make the effort to use eco-friendly and zero waste packaging and shipping.

Best Overall: Wildland Organics The Zero Waste Bar

5
Wildland Organics The Zero Waste Bar

Courtesy of Wildland Organics

To earn the top spot on our list, a product not only needs to have great performance, healthy ingredients and zero waste packaging and shipping, it also must be made by a company that cares.

Wildland Organics Zero Waste Bar, also known as the Super Bar, is an “All-In-One” bar suitable as a cleanser, body wash, shampoo and shave soap. Its organic ingredients are certified by a trusted third party, and the locally-sourced, fair trade ingredients are Leaping Bunny Certified cruelty-free and vegan. You’ll love the moisturizing feeling of the oil blend, which includes sunflower, coconut, and jojoba oil. Although it also contains organic palm oil, the oil is fair trade and wildcrafted, as is the gotu kola, known as “the longevity herb” in traditional Chinese, Indonesian, and Ayurvedic medicine.

The bar is marketed in two ways. You can buy it in a reusable metal tin as the hand-milled Zero Waste bar or as the Super Bar in post-consumer recycled paper packaging that is 100% recyclable. If you happen to live near their retail shop in Idyllwild, California, you can buy this product “naked” or free of packaging by bringing in your containers for refill. Each bar is meant to last up to 40 washes. To make the bar last, Wildland Organics recommends using a soap dish to lift the bar and allow it to dry out completely between uses.

Wildland Organics are also members of 1% For the Planet where 1% of sales are donated to the preservation of American wildlands. It also use a variety of sustainable shipping practices. Unlike so many other brands, Wildland Organics has taken the time to be transparent about their practices on their website and in their product descriptions. That transparency offers consumers the opportunity to make informed choices that help protect our planet.

Best Budget: Raw Elements Tinted Daily Face Moisturizer SPF 30

Raw Elements Tinted Daily Face Moisturizer SPF 30

Amazon

Raw Elements Tinted Facial Moisturizer with SPF 30 is three products in one at an affordable price. Packaged in a reusable, recyclable round tin, this moisturizer is also certified “reef-safe” meaning it is free of ingredients that are known to harm corals and marine life. It uses 23% non-nano zinc oxide that is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. The tint is a bonus as it evens out white cast for most skin shades.

The other ingredients are USDA Certified Organic sunflower and hemp seed oils, cocoa and mango butters, and antioxidant green tea. All of the ingredients are soy, gluten, and nut-free while also being Leaping Bunny Certified cruelty-free and Non-GMO Project Verified. Raw Elements are members of 1% for the Planet, so 1% of profits are donated in support of environmental initiatives.

Best Moisturizer for Dry Skin: Sea Witch Botanicals Lucidum Reishi Facial Serum

Sea Witch Botanicals Lucidum Reishi Facial Serum

Courtesy of Sucreabeille

Finding a moisturizer that is just right for your skin type, with gentle, organic ingredients as well as zero waste packaging and shipping is a tall order. Sea Witch Botanicals Lucidum Reishi Facial Oil is an excellent option.

The ingredients are Certified Vegan by Vegan.org and never tested on animals. This facial oil is called “age adapting” because of its combination of botanical extracts and essential oils. Those include organic coconut oil, non-GMO rice bran and grape seed oils, botanical extracts of sea buckthorn, rosehip and nettle, and frankincense essential oil produce glowing, dewy skin without leaving an oily feeling. Their oil includes extract from Certified Organic reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum) sourced locally from Cascadia Mushrooms. These fungi have been used for centuries in Eastern medicine for their anti-inflammatory properties.

The oil is packaged in a locally-sourced reusable glass bottle with a dropper made of rubber, glass and a (recycle #2) plastic lid, with plant-based inks on the label.

There are many things to like about Sea Witch Botanicals. As a Certified B Corp, the company is thinking about sustainability in every aspect of their business including paying employees fair wages and benefits. It's able to divert 95% of their waste from the landfill by partnering with local recyclers and Terracycle. It uses 100% compostable packing tape and peanuts for zero waste shipping. Its facility is moving towards zero waste, and it purchases sustainable energy credits that support the establishment of clean energy sources.

Sea Witch Botanicals are members of 1% for the Planet, and also gives back locally to environmental and social justice nonprofits.

Best Moisturizer for Sensitive Skin: Lush Argan Naked Facial Oil

Lush Argan Naked Facial Oil

Courtesy of Lush

You have to be extra careful about the products you use on sensitive skin as some will only make it worse. We like Lush Argan Naked Facial Oil because this bar softens and soothes sensitive skin with deeply-hydrating facial oils. Harvested by community cooperatives in Morocco, argan oil is a source of omega-6 fatty acids and vitamin E.

This vegan facial bar is also made with hydrating fair trade cocoa butter and shea butter sourced from a farming collective in Ghana. Vitamin E-rich prickly pear oil, healing Aloe vera extract and soothing organic rosehip oil calm sensitive skin, while lemon essential oil brightens. This combination of ingredients is self-preserving which means no unnatural preservatives need to be added to make this bar last. It has a rose scent.

Lush does no animal testing and actively lobbies the cosmetics industry to go cruelty-free. All of Lush’s Naked products can be purchased sold packaging-free when you shop in person. When packaging is needed, they use metal tins or cardboard boxes and compostable peanuts that are either completely recyclable or biodegradable.

This bar is solid at room temperature but melts when warmed by your skin so you can just run it over your face or hands and smooth it into your skin. It is sold package free although Lush recommends it should be stored in a cool, dry place, and can even be refrigerated when the weather gets warm.

Best Cleanser: Etee Facial Cleansing Bar - Charcoal & Aloe

Etee Facial Cleansing Bar - Charcoal & Aloe

Courtesy of Etee

Etee Charcoal & Aloe Facial Cleansing Bar is a great vegan, palm-oil-free cleanser that’s suitable for all skin types. Etee is dedicated to being plastic free, so it only uses recycled cardboard packaging and biodegradable cellulose tape.

Because batches are handmade, each bar has a slightly different composition but is made with 85% USDA certified organic ingredients including olive and coconut oil, shea, cocoa and mango seed butter, and Aloe vera powder. The remaining ingredients are plant-based mildly fragrant essential oils. Charcoal has been added to soaps because its large surface area allows it to absorb toxins, binding to dirt and oil on the skin to help clear out pores.

A bonus, Etee's factory is powered by renewable energy. The company has also recently partnered with Hue Man Race, which was developed to raise awareness of race inequality.

Best Toner: Meow Meow Tweet Geranium Palmarosa Face Toner

Meow Meow Tweet Geranium Palmarosa Face Toner

Courtesy of Small Flower

Meow Meow Tweet Geranium Palma Rosa Face Toner is made from certified organic witch hazel, rose water, and essential oils from lavender, geranium, and palma rosa. It comes in a reusable and recyclable glass bottle. It can also be purchased as a refill with a metal cap or with a a reusable post-consumer recycled plastic pump that Meow Meow Tweet notes as 100% recyclable because you can return it to them for Terracycling. The bottle is packaged in a paper box that is reusable and recyclable.

Made in small batches by hand in New York, this toner is Leaping Bunny Certified vegan and cruelty-free and ethically-sourced. Meow Meow Tweet also participates in programs so that their products are climate neutral and certified plastic negative. Climate neutral and plastic negative means that they offset the carbon and plastic used to make their products by donating money to nonprofit groups that remove carbon or eliminate its emissions and recycle or remove plastics from the waste stream.

They also give back monthly to a different nonprofit organization in the areas of earth and nature and social and animal justice.

Best Wipe: Jenny Patinkin Organic Bamboo Reusable Cosmetic Rounds

Jenny Patinkin Organic Bamboo Reusable Cosmetic Rounds

Blue Mercury

Reusable cloth rounds are the perfect all-purpose accessory for health and beauty because they can be used for cleansing, applying or removing skincare, makeup and nail products and can even be used around the house. Opting for reusable ones just makes good environmental sense.

We like Jenny Patinkin Pure Luxury Organic Bamboo Reusable Rounds are made from fast-growing carbon neutral bamboo. This set of 14 vegan, cruelty-free rounds comes in a pink, snakeskin-effect vegan leather carry case with a mesh drawstring laundry bag for easy washing. The bamboo is made into a fabric called Lyocell that is Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) Certified and OEKO-TEX 100 Certified Non-Toxic.

On your skin these rounds feel like typical terry cloth and are gently exfoliating. You can toss the mesh bag in the laundry and wash as you would towels. This little kit also makes an excellent eco-friendly gift.

Best Acne Treatment: Province Apothecary Clear Skin Advanced Spot Concentrate

Province Apothecary Clear Skin Advanced Spot Concentrate

Courtesy of Credo Beauty

Acne is frustrating and can be permanently scarring. But there are ways to get rid of or lessen it without harsh, drying or irritating ingredients. Province Apothecary Organic Clear Skin Advance Spot Treatment is effective and moisturizing.

It's made with certified organic jojoba seed and neem seed oils that soothe and heal. Turmeric root oil and vitamin E have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Organic calendula flowers and Gotu Kola are just a few of the soothing ingredients that calm acne-inflamed skin. Sea buckthorn berry oil is a powerhouse ingredient rich in antioxidants, essential fatty acids and vitamin C. It's is handmade in Canada from sustainably-sourced ingredients.

Just one drop is all that is recommended on each blemish. This effective treatment comes in a reusable glass bottle with a dropper that includes a rubber bulb, glass dropper and plastic lid. It ships in recyclable cardboard boxes and kraft paper.

Like others on this list, Province Apothecary uses Leaping Bunny Certified vegan and cruelty-free and Non-GMO Project Verified ingredients. They’re also members of 1% for the Planet, so you can feel good about your purchase.

What to Look for in Zero Waste Skincare Products

Plastics & Other Materials

Whenever possible, opt for packaging and shipping materials made from post-consumer recycled materials (no consumption of virgin materials). Paper, cardboard, glass, and metal are preferred because they are the easiest to reuse, recycle, and repurpose both for you and your local recycler.

Shoot for packaging and shipping that is as plastic-free as possible. That’s because even though some plastics are recyclable, they don’t always end up being recycled into other products. A large portion of plastics, including those sent to our recyclers, instead end up as microplastics that pollute our land and water.  

In some cases, it may not be practical to completely eliminate all plastic. For example, glass containers on a camping trip may cause more harm than good. Even when packaged in glass containers, the industry has not found a reliable way to dispense oils without some plastic. A standard dropper may include a rubber bulb, a glass dropper and a plastic top. Manufacturing and materials haven’t yet advanced enough to replace the rubber bulb with a zero waste alternative. Although many plastic lids have been replaced with aluminum alloys of metal, that’s only possible when substances aren’t corrosive (capable of causing rust). Manufacturers must constantly find the balance when choosing materials that are available on the market at a price they can afford, that can safely contain and ship their product and protect its shelf life and that are actually recyclable nation-wide. Support brands that have achieved zero waste as well as those that have made it most of the way there.

If you see that a brand is still using some plastic, watch for a mention of post-consumer recycled (PCR) resin. That plastic is made from plastic that’s already been used at least once. It may not be as good as plastic-free, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Understand Recycling in Your Area

A product may claim to use recyclable materials, but not all recyclers in all areas can accept all types of recyclable materials. The number system for recycling of plastics is a great example. Currently, containers are often stamped on the bottom with their resin type, numbers between 1 and 6 that represent the type of plastic. But many recyclers will not accept or be able to recycle all six types, especially in more rural areas of the country. If you want to be a recycling superhero, check out your recycler's website to discover which plastic types (numbers) they accept. Then check containers before you buy.  

So when evaluating packaging and shipping, ask yourself, “Have I observed other brands that use an alternative?” If the answer is yes, it might be time to ditch your old faithful and put your support—your consumer dollars—behind a brand that’s pushing the envelope toward zero waste.   

Shipping

When it comes to shipping, brands are eliminating waste in a whole host of creative ways, from using biodegradable tape to offsetting the shipping carbon footprint through nonprofits that invest in the environment.

Why Trust Treehugger?

Treehugger has been covering the zero-waste movement for nearly a decade. To make this list, we scoured the market in search of products with eco-friendly ingredients sold in minimal and plastic-free packaging.

Lorraine Wilde has only the highest standards for what goes on her family’s skin and into our delicate water bodies. Lorraine also holds a Master’s degree in environmental science with an emphasis on toxicology.

View Article Sources
  1. Lin ZB. "Cellular and molecular mechanisms of immuno-modulation by Ganoderma lucidum." J Pharmacol Sci. doi: 10.1254/jphs.crj05008x. PMID: 16230843.