Rebecca Fearn is a freelance beauty journalist living in London. She is a Glamour magazine alumni, and now writes for titles such as Dazed Beauty, Refinery29, ES Magazine, and Bustle. You can find her on Instagram (@beautyandtheb). Here she discusses the issue of plastic in beauty…
Plastic. It’s a material which is absolutely everywhere, and one that has piqued our interest in recent years — for all the wrong reasons. David Attenborough’s groundbreaking 2017 Blue Planet 2 series revealed that an eye-watering eight million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans every year; a fact that resulted in the world finally sitting up and taking notice about how much the material can really impact our planet. And nothing has proven how huge the anti-plastic movement has become more than Collins Dictionary’s 2018 chosen word of the year: ‘Single-use’.
Upsettingly, the beauty industry has a lot to answer for when it comes to plastic pollution. Look around in any drug store, higher-end boutique or online retailer, and you’ll be overwhelmed by the amount of plastic packaging on the shelves. And while we’re taking on excess waste by ditching straws, carrying reusable cups and bottles, and saying no to supermarket plastic bags, there’s a whole lot more we could be doing when it comes to keeping plastic to a minimum in our beauty routines.
I challenged myself to avoid plastic in my regime for two weeks, and in truth, it was hard. After trying it out for myself, it’s clear that certain areas are much easier to go plastic-free in than others. Buying non-plastic hair and body products, for example, is relatively problem free. Plastic bottles of shower gel can be replaced with the humble soap bar, as can facial cleansers (this Australian Bodycare Cleansing Bar Trio, for example, is great on the face and the body), and shampoo. My current plastic-ridden haircare routine features a lot of incredibly handy pumps, but unfortunately, these are non-recyclable at present, meaning they had to go (a hard adjustment, I must admit).
a lot of make-up still contains micro plastics, which are hard to avoid but are highly damaging
Skincare was a little harder, but using things like glass serums and ampoules really helped in ditching plastic. I also replaced any remaining face wipes (a sustainability nightmare which admittedly, I rarely turn to) with reusable muslin cloths and these amazing Face Halo pads, which are basically like cotton pads you can wash and use over and over again. There are other areas where reducing plastic in your routine can be done if you buy into the right brands, too. Perfume brand Floral Street, for example, has ditched their old cellophane packaging to become more sustainable. Their fragrances come in beautiful glass bottles, and their range of scents are divine.
The real problem is finding totally plastic-free make-up. While some products are packaged in alternative materials like glass tubes, a lot of make-up still contains micro plastics, which are hard to avoid but are highly damaging, inevitably end up in our oceans. While it’s seemingly difficult to avoid plastics completely, brands such as Illamasqua are doing everything they can to reduce plastic pollution within their packaging. “We have made some changes to help protect our planet,” explains Pablo Rodriguez, Head Of Artistry At Illamasqua. “These include replacing individual plastic eyeshadows for cardboard eyeshadow palettes. In addition, every time you buy Illamasqua products online, they are delivered in 100% recyclable paper/cardboard packaging.” Rodriguez goes on to explain that all glitter used in products is now biodegradable, and plastic q-tips in store are banned.
While avoiding plastic completely in my beauty routine has been difficult, I’ve learnt so much more about being more environmentally aware of the type of brands I buy from, and the approach to plastic that they have. Brands such as Ren Clean Skincare do use plastic, but they’ve worked with TerraCycle to create a new 100% recycled product bottle containing 20% reclaimed ocean plastic. They also vow to produce zero waste by 2021, meaning all their plastics will be recycled and recyclable, and they will offer refillable solutions for many of their products. Ren is a brand that largely represents the current situation of plastic in beauty: it may not be avoidable altogether, but when it is used, it should be done as sustainably as possible.
With this in mind, it’s important to brush up as much as possible on what can be recycled and what cannot, and to follow some top tips in order to reduce your plastic pollution footprint as much as possible. Arnaud Meysselle, CEO of Ren Clean Skincare, recommends following certain rules, such as avoiding brands that obviously feature unnecessary packaging, and opting for products that have been printed with vegetable ink rather than traditional inks, as this makes them far easier to recycle. Perhaps the best tip Meyselle offers is to keep a small recycling bin in your bathroom as well as in your kitchen. Statistics from a Recycle Now campaign show that while 90% of packaging is recycled in our kitchens, only 50% is being recycled in the bathrooms (largely because of laziness and inconvenience). But if you finish a shampoo bottle and have a small recycling bin next to your landfill bathroom bin, why would you not recycle it there and then?
While I found it relatively simple to ditch plastic in some areas such as my body and haircare products, elsewhere it was not as straightforward. Until brands dedicate themselves to using plastic alternatives and banning micro plastics, we have to be far more diligent in the way we buy plastic, in terms of who we buy it from, and how we treat it afterwards. In short, we have to shop smarter until we have more wide ranging plastic-free options.