Switch to zero waste cosmetics, try to find brands packed in reusable pots or cardboard pots, rather than simple throwaway plastic containers. Many cosmetics brands use animal ingredients (like dead red beetles) for red and pink colours, so find vegan brands too. Also avoid cosmetics made with talc (an inorganic substance not good for health – better brands use arrowroot or cornstarch).
Avoid shea butter (found in some lipsticks) for latex allergies. If choosing lipsticks made with carnauba wax, ensure they are Fair Trade, as reports have been of unfairly-treated Mexican harvesters/workers.
Love the Planet (Scotland) makes cosmetics from ethically sourced minerals (full sourcing information on their site). These cute little tins are sold with their own compostable pouches (including the zip lock strip that is made from starch). Orders are sent out in paper envelopes, with products decanted into a container already owned by customers, and wholesale orders are sent in biodegradable packaging.
This make-up packed in cardboard pots is by All Earth Mineral Cosmetics, a collaboration between a make-up artist and natural skincare expert. Everything is sold in cardboard pots or sustainably-harvested beechwood pots (the liners are made from recycled fishing nets). Made in Cornwall and Kent, the items are sold with linen storage bags (the vegan brushes do contain plastic but if you purchase direct from their site you have the option to send them back to the maker in a returns envelope for recycling).
Zao makes this makeup in biodegradable bamboo pots. If you wear mascara or prefer ‘tube lipstick’, this company offers bamboo casings that you buy once, then order refills (in recyclable plastic). Industrial bamboo is not the same as the fresh green shoots eaten by pandas, but with its popularity (and the fact it’s not local) we have to ensure we don’t go overboard, in case companies start chopping down forests, to grow more plantations. But as a fast-growing grass, hopefully that’s not likely to happen.
Badger-Friendly Make-up Brushes
These badger-friendly make-up brushes are ideal to use with zero waste vegan cosmetics. Conventional brushes cause badgers, boars and squirrels to be killed, to make the bristles. Although we are not yet there with ‘biodegradable plant-based bristles’, there are now several brands that sell synthetic bristles that work as well, with biodegradable handles (usually made from bamboo or wood, with recycled aluminium ferrules). So at end of use, just remove the bristles with pliers and bin, and compost the handles.
To make them last longer, care for them by washing in mild soapy water, rinsing well and then drying upside-down, and keep them in a protective breathable bag. You can buy individual brushes if you only wear eye-shadow – or a whole set if you like to cake it on! Use with zero waste cosmetics.
Flawless Makeup Brush Set includes 11 items. Made from bamboo, the set includes brushes for contouring, foundation, buffing, powdering, blending, diffusing, highlighting, eye-blending and a mini kabuki brush (delivered in an organic cotton bag).
Nicmac Beauty Brush Set are made with wooden handles and recycled aluminium handles. The 6-piece set saves money if bought together: eyeshadow & angled eyeshadow brush, tapered blending brush, concealer brush, slanted eyebrow brush and eyeliner brush.
Reusable Washable Make-up Pads
Conventional facial wipes are responsible for most blocked drains (and can cause garden floods). Recently in London, Fatty McFatBerg was the name given to a huge pile of goop found floating in a sewer that took a lot of time and money to break down. It was found to contain wet wipes, makeup wipes, condoms, tampons, and plastic cotton buds.
Lavera is a good brand of vegan organic make-up remover. If you use cotton buds to remove make-up, switch to biodegradable ones made with paper (sold everywhere these days). Plastic cotton buds are just the right size and shape to slip down storm drains and go into the sea. This photo of a seahorse clinging to a plastic cotton bud went viral. These reusable cotton makeup pads are ideal to replace cotton wool pads and buds, which cause so much pollution. After use, just wash and use again.
These bamboo makeup pads (with headband) contain all you need to wipe off your cosmetics, at the end of the day. The pads are gentler than cotton wool and accompanied by a bamboo cotton spa headband, to help keep hair off your face, while you remove makeup. The set includes a cotton laundry bag.
Liberty Print Reusable Facial Pads are a set of 8 pads with a cotton drawstring pouch, made from a choice of prints in organic cotton and bamboo or organic bamboo towelling. The wipes are overlocked at the edges for added durability, in 26 lovely designs, or just choose a mix-and-match.
Leave No Trace Reusable Makeup Pads are made locally from soft and absorbent 3-ply blend of brushed cotton and hemp. Sold in a set of 8 or 12, the pads include an organic cotton mesh wash bag, so you can keep them together in the machine, without any getting lost. They are made from 70% hemp and 30% cotton, for a planet-friendly alternative to cotton wool.
This two-sided organic cotton cloth is ideal to cleanse your face, and to gently exfoliate. One side is brushed cotton (fluffy and absorbent) and soft enough for the most sensitive skin. The other side has a muslin texture that will gently exfoliate when you wash your face or remove makeup. Designed to replace disposable face wipes, these can be used again and again (use with biodegradable products, then wash in the machine). Available as 3 in a drawstring bag.
Wild & Stone Reusable Make Up Pads contain 4 cotton terry pads, 12 soft cotton pads and 1 organic cotton bag. the four terry pads can provide a deep cleanse and remove stubborn make-up and the 12 pads are for everyday cleaning, and you get a mesh organic cotton bag to keep them in the machine.
The Best Natural Nail Polish
Here are some of the best, if you choose to paint your nails. You’ll see brands advertised as free from the ‘big three’, or ‘the big 7’ or ‘the big 10’. The big three chemicals to avoid are formaldehyde, toluene and dibutyl phthalate. But as most nail polish does not list ingredients, you’re none the wiser. All nail polish is flammable, so take care near naked flames. Keep polish away from pets and children. Never shake your nail polish bottle, it will create air bubbles. Just roll the roll the bottle between your hands.
Nailkind is a new natural nail polish from Denmark. This brand is vegan and 85% natural. Already a winner of a major Danish beauty award, the unique formula uses plant-based ingredients like potato, corn and wheat, is gentle on nails, super-glossy and quick to dry. You’re never going to be able to put a 100% natural polish on your nails (it would not stick), but this is as near to it as you can get. Not tested on animals either.
Zao is a brand free from the big 10 toxins, and 84% of ingredients are again sourced naturally. This high-gloss fast-drying nail polish is sold in glass bottles with bamboo screw tops, and the polish itself contains bamboo rhizome macerate, which has organic silica to strengthen nails. Use with their Top & Base Coat to prevent discolouration and help polish last longer.
Natural Nail Polish Removers
Fresh Therapies is the best brand, invented by a nail technician. This is not harmful to nails and won’t damage the natural oil within your nails. Not suitable for polish coating false nails, but it works for real nails. Includes a hint of lime, to leave a nice fragrant smell. The store also sells a glass nail file in a wooden case.
Rather than use wasteful cotton wool, get Tabitha Eve’s Reusable Nail Varnish Remover Pads. Sold in a pack of 5, these are made from organic bamboo rayon felt. Just use with natural nail polish remover, rinse while wet, leave to dry and use again. Wash cool, do not tumble dry (some staining may occur, this will not affect use).
The Ugly Side of Nail Salons
Nail salons are quite a recent thing, with many people seeing nail technicians from outside windows. It seems a nice job, or is it? As well as the employees working in hazardous conditions due to all the chemicals listed above, there is a big concern over exploitation of many workers, especially immigrants on low wages. One of the 39 migrants who suffocated on the lorry in Essex a couple of years back, had a dream to work in a salon. Vietnamese women are particularly vulnerable.
If you visit a nail salon, avoid places where the ‘prices are too good to be true’, the staff don’t talk (often because they don’t speak English, they are likely being exploited) and who use brands you don’t recognise. Many staff work 8 hours a day and 6 days a week, in cramped accommodation with little pay. Many migrants take these jobs, to pay off the huge costs paid to exploitative traffickers, who bring them to the west.
One anti-slavery investigation found one employee who was working 7 days a week, hardly without a break, and receiving £30. The Global Slavery Index believes the UK has around 13,000 vulnerable people, working with unfair conditions and pay. Poor ventilation systems are another indicator (filing creates dust that must be removed, for both employee and customer safety).
What is Nail Polish?
Nail polish dates back to Egyptian times, and used to be made from bones and egg white, but today the ingredients have the same toxins as people who sniff glue (some people have died). Most artificial nails are made from acrylic, and prevent oxygen and moisture from reaching the bed of your nail, where growth of keratin starts (fake nails were actually invented by a dentist).
Most nail polish is as toxic as household paint, and contains similar ingredients. These are flammable and can off-gas into the atmosphere and cause health problems. Plus if you spill it, often it means a permanent mark on the carpet. Many brands contain animal ingredients (mostly dead red insects for pink or red colours) and some brands are tested on animals (even though the EU has now banned the sale of animal-tested cosmetics, many companies continue to test elsewhere).
One founder of a US children’s nail polish company, did so after seeing nail polish burn a hole through a paper plate at a party. She wondered what it was therefore doing to her child’s health. Just as bad (or even worse) is nail polish remover. Usually containing acetone (which can destroy the nail bed), this is also very toxic and can cause breathing problems in susceptible people. It’s also used with wasteful cotton wool.
Many beauty items (like perfumes and nail polish) do not have to list their ingredients. Just like anything we put on our bodies (and that includes nails), we absorb it into our bloodstream. The problem with nail polish is that it contains usually some very toxic chemicals. Some of the worst can cause hormone changes and problems with our liver and kidneys, some (like formaldehyde) are also linked to cancer. Toluene is a common one to avoid, as it can cause damage to the nervous system (it’s a paint thinner). Another one to avoid is xylene that is absorbed easily and again is linked to cancer.
Nail polish is sold mostly in glass bottles with plastic lids and synthetic brushes, but doesn’t last long (it dries up and is no good after a couple of years, as most ingredients evaporate). However, don’t just throw it in the bin. Nail polish is classified as hazardous waste, and actually should be taken to the tip, to be disposed of responsibly. You also should not store nail polish in sunlight (say on the bathroom window), neither in the fridge (it will solidify and be no good). It’s even banned by some airlines (a few brands like neon polish and ones that glow up in the dark are actually illegal, as they have never been approved by regulatory authorities).
Nail polish removers are even worse. Most are made with isopropyl acetone (restricted to low doses in European law and linked to cancer and birth defects – pregnant women and nail technicians are at high risk).
Leave Your Nails Bare (sometimes)
No matter what nail polish you use, it’s good to always let the nail plate be free now and then, to let it dry out. Drink more water, and soak your nails in olive oil (or any good nail oil), up your plant-based protein intake, and wear Fair Trade rubber gloves for washing-up and cleaning. It takes 3 to 4 weeks for discoloured nails to fade (from too much polish) and 3 to 4 months to grow out the fingernails (longer for toenails) if they have white ridges, fungal infections or ridges and splits, due to overuse of chemical nail polish.
Zero Waste Eyebrow Tweezers
Zero waste eyebrow tweezers are simply ones made from metal (rather than plastic) and free from plastic packaging. Eyebrow tweezers are used by many people to tweak eyebrow shapes or remove rogue hairs (or for some hairy people, to remove a caterpillar across their brows!) But most tweezers are poor quality, and don’t work. The top brand names do work, but most are sold in plastic packaging.
JCH Respect Slant Tweezers are of the same quality, but are in cardboard packaging instead. With good care, one pair should last you years. They are made from rust-free stainless steel, with an angled tip.
Tweezing your eyebrows takes a bit of skill. And it depends on the look you want. Don’t tweeze too much, or they may not grow back. The best time to do it is either after a shower (when the hairs will come out easier) or after numbing the area with ice cubes. Or just put a very warm wet facecloth over the area for a few minutes beforehand.
Make a straight line up from the inside eye to know where your brow begins. Then fan it out so that the eyebrows ends in a diagonal line from the outer eye. Holding the tweezers like a pencil, tweeze close to the root, following the direction of hair growth. If you have large eyes or brows high on the forehead, it’s best to leave your brows thicker, to help to frame your eyes.