Everything I Learned Trying A Plastic-Free Beauty Routine For Two Weeks

by Louise Whitbread

This month marks Plastic Free July, a movement dedicated to reducing our plastic pollution in an effort to improve our local and global communities. One way of implementing change is within your beauty routine, where many brands have committed to introducing eco-friendly packaging, refillable products, and recycling schemes.

Our beauty products are some of the worst offenders when it comes to plastic pollution. It was only earlier in 2019 that Water UK revealed that wet wipes are accountable for 93% of blockages in UK sewers, totalling up to 300,000 blockages every year.

So in a bid to cut down my single-use plastic consumption, I took up the challenge of going plastic-free for two weeks in July. I set out to find high-performing products that I could slot into my regime with ease while doing my bit for the planet. Here’s how it went.

Week One

First up was skincare. As I have hormonal acne which rears its head every month and oily combination skin, double cleansing is a must. I like to wear a full face of makeup nearly every day and my go-to products are a salicylic acid serum and a hyaluronic acid-rich moisturiser. Lush was my first port of call for this.

Lush is a naked packaging pioneer in the beauty industry, opening a shop in Manchester earlier this year that’s entirely plastic and packaging-free. I picked up the Jade Roller Cleansing Balm, £5, no bigger than a pot of vaseline, rich in hazelnut and marula oils to meltdown my makeup before removing it with a wet flannel.

I followed this with Amazon Primer Naked Facial Oil, £10, again from Lush, which I applied by warming it between my palms and pressing into my skin. I first discovered this product when I attended the launch Lush’s flagship store in Liverpool and was converted ever since. It’s hydrating but still leaves the skin completely matte, all while reducing the appearance of redness. Essentially it creates the perfect base for makeup.

For lip balm and dry patches around my nose, I used the Bybi Babe Balm, £18, which is a great multitasker and travel-size friendly. Best of all, the tube, which looks and feels like plastic, is actually made from biodegradable sugarcane.

I picked up a From Earth To Earth Bamboo Toothbrush, £3.99 and opted for Lush Toothy Tabs, £6.50 in place of traditional toothpaste which isn’t completely plastic-free, but is packaged in recycled plastic.

When it came to body care, I was spoilt for choice. There are a plethora of shampoo bars to shop, but I chose the BECO Argan Oil Bar, £3. The brand has a socially-conscious approach to creating beautiful products, employing visually-impaired, blind, and disadvantaged workers. As it contains no SLS, it doesn’t foam like a traditional shampoo, which does make it tricky to see how much you’ve used. As a result, the first time I tried it, I used too much and ended up with a lot of product build-up and a greasy barnet until I washed my hair again. By the next try, I was a convert. It’s a palm-sized treat that smells amazing is intensely hydrating and thus ideal if you have dry tresses and . Plus, it can be stored neatly on a soap dish, (I got mine from Muji for £4.) Bargain.

I switched out my shower gel for an Haeckel’s Exfoliating Seaweed Block, £18, which is packaged in a recycled cardboard box and can be cut into smaller, more manageable pieces, which is what I did. It’s a vegetable-based, vegan soap bar made from coriander seeds, peppercorns, aloe vera and tea tree which gently exfoliate and clean your skin at the same time. Once out of the shower, I moisturised using the Lush Naked Little Pot Of Energy, £12, which is a solid bar in the shape of a pot. I tried using this on both dry and damp skin and found it lathered up much better on damp skin once warmed up between your palms. It’s packed full of sharp yet sweet citrus scents including orange puree and grapefruit pulp and I went to bed impressed with how easy it had been so far.

The next morning marked my first foray into plastic-free beauty, which proved to be less simple than I’d hoped. For foundation I used the Lush Naked Slap Stick Foundation £17, which is a packaging-free bar with a wax seal to stop it melting over your hands and makeup bag. I paired it with the Lush Naked Trix Stix £12, and set both with the Emotional Brilliance Loose Powder £15. Unfortunately foundation didn't work well for oily skin and I was left looking shiny by lunchtime. But a quick top-up of the powder keeps the excess shine at bay. The foundation is definitely one to try if you have dry skin but maybe not so much if your skin is more oily.

For the eyes, I used the Make Beauty Nude Palette £32, which features eight shades including shimmery and matte beige, taupe, brown, along with two lip tints. A fantastic multi-tasker I must say. The dark brown eyeshadows really came in handy for filling in my eyebrows.

For blush £41, and highlighter £41, I dab on the cream pots from Kjaer Weis which, while pricey, are refillable and made completely from glass and finish off my look by dotting the rouge lip stain from the eyeshadow palette. I resisted the urge to pick up a makeup brush and instead stick to my fingers and a beauty blender sponge.

Disappointingly I struggled to find a plastic-free eyeliner or mascara. Here’s hoping we’ll see them developed soon. Otherwise, in only a few short days, I had grown accustomed to the changes in my routine, which were different but not monumental and I don’t feel like I’ve had to compromise on quality. So far, so good.

Week Two

By now, I’d settled into my new routine and had grown accustomed to using my new products. When it came to skincare, I introduced the Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser £73, alongside my Lush cleansing balm, which acted as my second cleanse and exfoliating treatment. My skin certainly appreciated it more, as I was unable to find any of my go-to acids, glycolic and salicylic housed in packaging that wasn’t predominantly plastic. It’s definitely a gap in the market for the beauty industry and it’d be nice to see the more affordable brands offering alternatives.

However, I could not find a plastic-free SPF for love nor money, which is disappointing considering its importance to skin health. Swapping out my regular Mitchum spray deodorant I found a (mostly) plastic-free alternative in Aesop’s Roll On £23, which comes in a glass bottle with a recycled plastic lid, but is very pricey for an everyday essential. With the heatwave in full force, it perhaps wasn’t the best time to test an alternative to my trusted usual can as everyone and their dog smelled on the central line, but it worked well nonetheless. It’s not quite strong enough to see you through a lunchtime exercise class but for an everyday deodorant, it does the job.

One of my favourite finds from this challenge has to be the Friction Free Shaver, £15. While razors aren't particularly exciting, this plastic-free one's easy to shop, it’s available in Boots, and one of the easiest ways to introduce a more eco-friendly approach to your beauty routine. It works just as well as a normal razor too.

I switched haircare too, trying the Windle London Traveller Ultra Nourishing Shampoo and Conditioner Sachets £12, which come in packs of 7, in aluminium foil, which was ideal for the gym and on the go. Each sachet saw me through two washes, they’re extremely compact, no thicker than a sheet of card and, and the white tea and monoi oil-infused formula gave my typically flat hair a boost of volume and hydration.

I also found a hydrating mask thanks to the L'Oreal Revitalift Filler Hyaluronic Acid Re-Usable Sheet Face Mask, £19.99. It comes dry but you just need add a thin layer of the serum to it and pop it on for 10 minutes of hyaluronic acid action. My favourite part was the ear hooks, which not only keep it securely on your face but entertained me no end while I waited for the timer to finish.

I tried a new foundation too, finding the Lumene Fresh Skin Tint, £32.90, much better for my oily skin. It gave a healthy glow without being shiny and the jelly-like texture is both lightweight and easy to blend. I also switched from Kjaer Weis to RMS Beauty, I found its Living Luminzer Highlighter £36 and Beruti Bronzer £26 equally as good and it's a tad cheaper, too.

I quickly grew to love using cream-based makeup in glass pots. Their recycled plastic lids are a nod to the problem but they're perfect for travel and topping up on the go. For lipstick, I opted for the Make Beauty Dew Pot in Lily, £20, a hot pink shade applied with my fingers that dries matte. While the pot is made of glass, the lids are recycled plastic.

For lip balm, I tried the Evolve Lip Shine in Rose Gold, £9, which has tiny shimmering particles which worked as substitute nude lip colour when I wanted a more natural look. I still had no luck on the mascara front though, struggling to find anything that would work and so I stuck to my longtime favourite Pixi Lash Lift 188.

For perfume, I spritzed on sustainable fragrance brand Clean Reserve's Aqua Neroli, £82, a perfume that smells of jasmine, sandalwood and neroli blossoms. It’s a deliciously summery scent.

Final Thoughts

When it came to skincare and body care, I was impressed by how easy it was to transition to plastic-free alternatives, although it has to be said that Lush is leading the way with eco-friendly, socially conscious choices, meaning it dominated most of my routine.

Body care came easy, thanks to the myriad of solid soaps available to meet your beauty needs at a low cost, proving you don’t need to fork out on luxury brands for effective products. But in the makeup category, it would be nice to see a larger variety of choice, particularly from more affordable brands.

As much as I loved RMS Beauty and Kjaer Weis, it would set me back a hefty sum to buy all my makeup essentials from there, and Lush’s offering, particularly the foundation, just didn’t work quite as well for my oily skin. There’s also little choice when it came to eyeliner, mascara, SPF and setting sprays, which I’m hopeful innovative brands like Lush will introduce soon.

As for my favourite products? The BECO shampoo bar is a real feel-good purchase that is both easy to use and travel with but supports a community of employees who are often limited when it comes to job opportunities. And for change from a fiver, it’s a win-win purchase.