Studies Show We Only Use 12.5% of Our Makeup Products—Here's How to Limit the Waste

Portrait of Woman with Hair Wrapped in Towel on a Nature Background
Stocksy | Design by Camden Dechert .

With spring finally here, spring-cleaning is a requisite pastime, but there are ways to elevate your efforts beyond simply KonMari-ing your beauty collection. As an industry and consumption category, beauty is a major source of waste. According to recent survey, the average person owns a whopping 40 makeup products, but on average, only uses five—meaning 87.5% of the collection is going to waste without regular use.

"The eco-impact of these items is pretty great and not oft studied," notes Ashlee Piper, eco-lifestyle expert and author of Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet. "Cosmetics packaging, in particular, is often a combo of plastics, papers, and metals, which in their combinations are often not recyclable—think of traditional razor cartridges, toothbrushes, and flossers. And when you consider all the fixed components—think of a pump foundation, for instance—many aren't even reusable."

The fewer items you use and buy, the less you're contributing to the waste stream. Additionally, being more conscious about what you do end up buying is better for the environment—as well as your own wellbeing. "There are so many reasons why minimizing our grooming and beauty routines is a damn good idea," asserts Piper. Below, she's provided actionable ways we can spring-clean our beauty routines and consumption habits to put an end to the waste.

Go on a "Financial Fast"

As someone with bathroom drawers brimming with beauty products, I'll be the first to admit overbuying is a serious problem. Except for my lineup of everyday go-tos, it's rare I'll completely finish a skincare or makeup product—and yet I continue to round out my collection with enticing new releases or beauty buys I end up using once in a blue moon. "I recommend people go on a 'financial fast,' which in this case is also a 'beauty fast,'" Piper tells us. She instructs to start by taking stock of what you reach for and actively use regularly. Then, put everything else away for one month. "Commit to using all items in your pared-down stash until they're empty," suggests Piper. "Only when they're done, consider a replacement."

Give A Shit book
Ashlee Piper Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet. $15.00

Swap in Eco-Friendly Replacements

Once you've accumulated some empties and are in the market for new products, it's the perfect opportunity to clean up your routine. "This is the time to swap in a more eco-friendly replacement, like a compostable toothbrush or refillable lipstick," notes Piper, who lists a handful of sustainable swaps worth trying.

In the shower, Piper suggests switching out body wash with bar soap, exfoliating creams and scrubs with an exfoliating mitt, and disposable razors or cartridges with a reusable safety razor with refillable recyclable blades. Instead of cotton balls, pads, and rounds, try using reusable, washable cotton rounds and compostable cotton balls. When it comes to dental hygiene, in addition to switching to a compostable bamboo toothbrush, you can switch out dental floss with a natural fiber floss that can be composted, or even a water flosser. Menstrual cups, period panties, and reusable pads are more sustainable alternatives to disposable feminine care. For makeup, options that are refillable or in recyclable packaging are the best way to reduce waste.

Luv Scrub mesh body exfoliator
Luv Scrub Mesh Body Exfoliator $18.00 $15.00

Donate What You Don't Need

"Revisit the items you put away and see if you missed or wanted any of them," suggests Piper. "If not, see if they can be of use to friends, shelters, resale, or other programs that will take gently-used items." Learn from this exercise what products you do actually use and what you can live without so you can make smarter choices the next time you shop. The environment—and your bank account—will thank you.

Eliminate Temptations

To ensure you stay on track with this more minimalist and sustainable approach to beauty buying, it's best to eliminate temptations. "If you can, unsubscribe from beauty and grooming company emails and avoid going browsing 'just for fun,'" advises Piper. "We're highly susceptible to buying items we don't need because we feel a kind of way—happy, stressed, not happy in our bodies, excited for a date, etc." Instead, Piper recommends noting what you actually use and need, what products you love, and as you swap in new eco versions, note how much time they save you or what you like about them. "This exercise should save you some time and free up mental space, which are always nice byproducts," she observes.

Explore the World of Eco-Friendly Beauty

Piper admits there are many misconceptions regarding living more sustainably, especially when it comes to beauty routines. "That it's going to be difficult or expensive, that they'll have to settle for under-performing, 'crunchy' products, or that they can't be glamorous and good-smelling," she lists. "They're all totally untrue stigmas—eco-friendly beauty is just as va-va-voomish as the norm and so many options are cost-effective and readily accessible. If anything, eco-friendly items are even cooler," Piper says. 

A Few Suggestions:

  • Lush for the playfulness and transparency of their items
  • Aether Beauty for their wholly recyclable palettes
  • Elate for being largely refillable and totally vegan
  • Plaine Products for their dedicated to the elimination of single-use plastics by letting you refill bottles of simple and effective shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and the like
  • Leaf Shave for their multi-blade safety razors that Piper says are every bit as good—and gorgeous—as traditional wasteful razors
Plaine Products shampoo
Plaine Products Shampoo $30.00

Take Baby Steps and Stick With It

"Though we might be told or hear the contrary from folks, every step and swap that we make, no matter how little, is helpful," reminds Piper. "So, don't discourage or be tough on yourself, don't race out and buy all new stuff right the second—working with what you currently have is the most eco-friendly option anyway—and don't psyche yourself into thinking you don't make a difference. Each one of us does and our choices matter."

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