From saying no to single-use products to buying makeup refills, there are a number of changes you can make to have a greener routine.

By Jenn Sinrich
December 13, 2019

There's never been a better or more urgent time to start making more eco-friendly choices, especially since sustainable, environmentally-conscious solutions are readily available for just about every aspect of our lives. That's the case for our beauty routines, too. Every year, we produce around 300 million tons of plastic, and about eight million tons of this ends up floating around in the ocean, explains Gretchen Frieling, M.D, dermatopathologist and owner of GFaceMD in Wellesley, Massachusetts. "Even if a woman is not willing to commit to a zero-waste lifestyle, there are little steps she can take that help the environment a great deal and can save her money at the same time."

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Luckily, there is no shortage of large-scale beauty brands in the industry that believe in this cause and are willing to support it. All you have to do is buy their products—and make other smart choices along the way. Here, experts share some of the small, yet widely impactful, eco-friendly beauty routine swaps you can make right now.

Related: Zero-Waste Beauty Products That Will Help Make Your Routine a Little Greener

Say no to single-use products.

Many of the products you find at your local beauty supply store are meant for one-time use, but there are several reusable alternatives out there that can make a big difference for the environment. "You can use reusable makeup remover cloths and washable cotton rounds that you can toss into the laundry and use again and again," says Dr. Frieling.

Buy product refills when possible.

Before throwing out and replacing a finished product with a brand-new one, first see if you're able to get a refill. "More and more brands are creating refillable packaging for products that range from shampoo to eyeshadow to foundation," explains Dr. Frieling. "Often, purchasing a product refill is cheaper than buying a replacement, so it's really a win-win." If nothing else, aim to buy beauty products with minimal packaging. Bar soap and shampoos are best for this, according to Hadley King, MD, a dermatologist at Skinney Med Spa and clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University. "If you prefer liquid formulations, look for companies that offer refillable products," she says.

Choose your cleanser wisely.

When possible, swap out your harsh cleanser for a natural option. "Tata Harper Clarifying Cleanser ($72, sephora.com) uses all-natural botanical ingredients to remove excess oil from the skin and keep pores clear," says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He also suggests choosing clay cleansers when possible, as they are naturally derived from the earth and have oil absorbing and skin soothing properties.

Switch out your showerhead.

Believe it or not, a typical showerhead uses an average of two-and-a-half gallons of water per minute, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. So, what can you do about it? Install a low-flow showerhead, as this can cut the amount of water you use when you shower in half, says Dr. King. 

Read the labels.

Not all beauty ingredients are safe for your skin—and the same is true for the environment. "The 'natural' and 'all-natural' labels that grace the bottles of many products may still contain toxic chemicals and additives," warns Dr. Frieling. "This is because the federal government does not regulate these labels." She recommends choosing organic products instead, which clearly boast the USDA organic seal.

Use bamboo beauty tools.

Bamboo isn't only a trendy and attractive material used in beauty tools like hair and toothbrushes—it's also eco-friendly, since it's a replacement for plastic. "Bamboo is a sustainable and biodegradable alternative," says Dr. Frieling, adding that it is also "compostable and biodegradable, and it grows at around three-and-a-half feet per day, making it a totally viable and extremely eco-friendly alternative to plastic."

Recycle in stores.

If you're one of the millions of Americans who recycle in their homes, consider it your duty to recycle outside of your house, too. "Many stores offer incentives for you to return your empty packaging so the staff can recycle it on your behalf," says Dr. Frieling. "Take any full-sized product from any brand to L'Occitane and they'll give you 10 percent off a new full-size product you buy on the day—and "Back to MAC" is a program that gives shoppers a free lipstick once they have returned six full-size empties to the store."

Use reef-safe sunscreen.

"Oxybenzone and octinoxate are sunscreen ingredients that are potentially harmful to marine life," says Dr. King. "We need more testing to ensure safety but so far mineral sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide seem to be safer options for our oceans."

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