How to Build a Greener Beauty Routine from Head to Toe

Reconsider everything from your nail polish and hair dye to body wash and fragrance. We'll help you make the switch.

pink shades nail polish bottles
Photo: Yasu + Junko

Adopting a greener beauty routine is a walk in the park these days, thanks to brands that are making big strides with sustainable ingredients and more thoughtful packaging. Ahead, we've plucked a bouquet of over-performers, from eco-friendly nail polishes to lipsticks with lighter footprints.

Choose good-for-you nail polish that's better for the environment, too.

Since a 2015 study done by Duke University and the Environmental Working Group found that chemicals in polish can be absorbed through our nails and into our bodies, brands have scrubbed their formulas of potentially harmful ingredients. Look for ones that are "three-free" at a minimum, meaning they don't contain formaldehyde, toluene, or dibutyl phthalates. A handful of companies have improved their packaging, too: OPI Nature Strong's caps are 20 percent recycled plastic, and we're partial to the shade Natural Mauvement ($12, Sally Hansen Good. Kind. Pure. brushes have plant-based bristles, and we think you should try Rock Steady ($9, Tenoverten—we like Elridge and Cornelia ($12—partners with the chemical-recycling program Chemwise so dregs from bottles don't end up in waterways; just bring empties to its salons. And acetone-free Sundays Soy Polish Remover ($28, comes in a reusable glass bottle.

Opt for gentler hair dye formulas.

To dye your hair, each strand's protective cuticle needs to be lifted in order to deposit new pigment underneath. Ammonia is commonly used to do that, but it can irritate your scalp if it contacts the skin, and the fumes can be harmful to your respiratory system. New to the green scene is Garnier Olia dye ($11, It's ammonia- and cruelty-free, and formulated with four kinds of plant-based oils to ensure post-blowout shine.

Look to organic lip products.

"Colorants are tricky because mineral, synthetic, and animal-derived pigments all have potential concerns, depending on how they're sourced," says Credo Beauty vice president of sustainability and impact Mia Davis. Two safe bets: The luminous shades in RMS Beauty's Lip2Cheek Glow Quad ($28, are made with certified-organic ingredients, and Hourglass Red 0 Refillable Lipstick ($39, doesn't rely on the crushed beetles (yes, beetles) typically required to create the rich French-girl shade. And to polish off your look with something a little greener? Swipe on a few coats of L'Oréal Paris Voluminous Noir Balm Mascara ($12,, which is formulated with 99-percent natural ingredients and won't irritate sensitive eyes.

Choose smarter fragrances.

The word fragrance covers (and hides) a number of ingredients on labels, some of which are potentially harmful, says Davis. Go for goods without it, like Dove Body Love Body Lotion Sensitive Care ($7,, which comes in a bottle made of 100 percent–recycled plastic. Or to smell great sans the questionable stuff, opt for formulas with fragrant active ingredients: Maya Chia Revitalizer Beautifying Body Oil ($48, leaves skin subtly scented, courtesy of marula-fruit and pomegranate oils.

Switch to low-waste body washes.

Bars beat packaged cleansers any day of the week. Most come encased in paper, and their waterless makeup lowers their carbon footprint. Pamper your bod with Method Body Bar Soap in Pure Peace ($20 for four,; it soothes with rosewater and is wrapped in 50 percent–recycled paper. Glossier's Body Hero Exfoliating Bar ($14, sloughs with biodegradable bamboo powder and moisturizes with sunflower-seed oil. Treat hands to Mrs. Meyer's Rain Water Bar Soap ($4,; it lathers up like foam options, sans the harsh sulfates. And to wash your hair, do as we do every April and stockpile Aveda's limited-edition Shampure Nurturing Shampoo Bar ($19, It works—and smells—like a dream, and part of every purchase helps fund clean-water projects where the brand sources ingredients.

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