One frustrating side effect of being a small business growing organically in late-stage capitalism is that we just can’t do it all and still do what we do well. So while we’re still working on carrying the best and covering all the bases for the categories we do have, some categories get left out. One such category that we get asked about with growing frequency is makeup. It makes sense that people who have ditched plastic toothbrushes would also be looking for an alternative to their plastic mascara wand.
Makeup is just one of those product types whose necessarily small portions seem to come with a lot of plastic and single-use components in tow – not to mention the questionable ingredients that are found in the most popular (and frankly, effective) makeup on the conventional market. Toxic chemicals in makeup have become so commonplace that multiple companies have cropped up with the goal of offering a selection of clean beauty all in one place. And I’m talking about the scary chemicals like formaldehyde, mercury, and phthalates (of which even mainstream news outlets are now covering the dangers). However, even those companies with an eye for healthier ingredients have little or no representation of products that are also going above and beyond to minimize their environmental footprint. That’s likely because there are so few and many of those few companies are quite new on the scene.
The question then follows: ARE there any zero waste makeup lines that check all of Ware’s boxes for sustainability, clean ingredients, and function? Funny you should ask. We put together a handy list of eco-friendly beauty brands for inquiring minds just like yours.
3 Zero Waste Makeup Brands We Love
First A+ for this company is all of their makeup comes in compostable paper tubes and pots. For application of mascara and brow products, you can either buy from them or source your own spoolie (yes, that’s the actual term for the brush tool you use to apply mascara) to use over and over again across many products and years. Though, I’d recommend getting a separate, designated spoolie for products with drastically different pigmentation (like black mascara vs. blonde eyebrow wax, in my case).
This brand is near and dear to Ware. The founders of RO are an art historian and a former Chanel skincare chemist. Their understanding of elegance and functionality shine through in their products. They are located on the coast of our home state of North Carolina in the beautiful city of Wilmington. We’re not mentioning them here because we carry their (amazing) lip balm. We carry their lip balm, because we can really get behind the work they do, and that’s why they’re at the top of this list. That work happens to extend beyond chapped lips and covers makeup and skincare for the whole body. Their makeup, in particular, is exceptionally noteworthy in the world of sustainable makeup. In fact, I (Gillie, owner of Ware. Hey y’all!) use their concealer every day. I keep one in my bathroom and one in my purse, right alongside the lip balm. If I’m wearing nothing on my face, I’m still wearing under eye concealer, and it’s always by River Organics. And, to be clear, as part of my job, I test a lot of products. I have a lot of other natural and low-waste makeup in my collection, and none compare for coverage and ease of use.
I’m harping on about the concealer, but River Organics makes low waste mascara and brow wax that I’ve been impressed by, too. I’m a natural blonde with ginger-esque features (pink undertones, light eyebrows and lashes, freckles, etc.), so finding eyebrow colors that aren’t yellow (because why is this even a thing?!) and aren’t too dark is an actual challenge. RO did it. When we briefly stuck our retail toes in the makeup category, we carried their bronzer and highlighter, as well as their cheek and lip colors – we still have a fair number of people asking us regularly if they’ll be back in the store any time soon. Sadly, still no. But not for lack of love! Business is complicated.
Quite possibly the only drawback I can think of with the River Organics makeup line is range. The concealers tend to apply a bit lighter than they appear in the packaging, so even their darkest tones are less so. Additionally, their bronzer and highlighter are stunning on the skin tones they complement, but the highlighter isn’t ideal on many darker or olive/yellower complexions. And the bronzer isn’t great on fair and pink skin. To be fair, their concealers offer a much wider range of hues (read: go darker) than any other natural, low-waste line I’ve come across. But it’s still not particularly dark in the grand scheme of human diversity. So that being said, there’s room for growth. It’s a very solvable thing, and one I’ve seen them doing even since I came across River Organics for the first time about four years ago. That tells me they’re on the right track.
Pros: Single-use plastic-free, vegan, made in NC, organic and skin-loving ingredients, exceptional results
Cons: Skin tone range of face products not yet inclusive enough
For the sake of transparency, I will tell you that I have not yet used this product. I’ve been eyeing it for some time and finally pulled the trigger on ordering my own tube after watching the positive reviews pour in from around the web. With that in mind, I will tell you here why I’m so excited for my first tube of Izzy mascara to arrive in the mail.
We’ve established that other people like the product, but it’s the process around the product that earns its spot on this wee list. Your initial purchase of Izzy mascara buys you the stainless steel tube and an insert with contents (black, volumizing mascara) meant to last 90 days. Whether you use the product or not, that is the safe shelf life of opened mascara per just about any manufacturer’s instructions, so Izzy based their subscription program on a 90-day schedule. But one-off purchases are allowed.
Your original purchase arrives at your home inside a “Zero Waste Reusable Shipper,” basically a textile mailer. Just before 90 days, you get an email from Izzy reminding you to return the theoretically empty insert in the mailer (in order to avoid being charged an additional $30, they remind as well). At 90 days, you get a new insert in the mail to refill your tube and send your old one back.
If you’re worried about what happens to the inert and plastic components, here’s what Izzy says about the process:
The tubes contain zero plastic components, while the plastic wipers and brushes are reground and recycled at our facility–resulting in a mascara that uses 94% less plastic than the leading brands. Even the water from our patent-pending antibacterial cleansing process is reused, rather than dumped into the ocean. All of our manufacturing takes place within a 400-mile radius, which means that our carbon emissions from transportation alone are exponentially lower than those of any other beauty brand. Compared to the industry standard, our mascara has a 78% smaller carbon footprint after 25 refills. The more our mascaras are reused, the smaller our relative carbon footprint becomes over time.
I must add that the up-front price of $39 ($43 with shipping) for a one-time purchase isn’t cheap. But such is the case when small businesses are forced to shoulder the burden of accounting for poor regulations around ingredients and waste management systems. Yet we’re still out here trying to make these options available for the public. If you get on their subscription program, every subsequent refill is $19. Moving in the right direction. Also, they allude to intentions to expand their line beyond mascara with time. That is exciting indeed!
Pros: Zero waste, circular system, glowing reviews
Cons: High price, not in stores, only offer mascara (for now)
Axiology Beauty is the rare example of a cosmetics line with clean ingredients and plastic-free packaging that has made it into mainstream makeup retailers. They’re winning awards all over the place for their wide range of “lid-to-lip balmies” that encompass highlighting and bronzing as well as your more traditional red and pink hues for lip/cheeks/eyes. For folks who regularly add color to their cheeks etc. , these universal sticks in simple paper packaging are a great option. They’re highly pigmented and are already holding their own in the conventional market for their ease of use.
Admittedly, Axiology makes other products that are offered in plastic tubes (post-consumer recycled materials and made by a women’s cooperative in Bali, but still). So I won’t offer up their entire line as a one-stop-shop. That, and they are so far exclusively devoted to color for those three parts of the face. But we’re keeping an eye on them in hopes that their Balmies pave the way for further development in the plastic-free category for them.
Pros: Plastic-free lip/cheek/eye color, clean and skin-nourishing ingredients
Cons: Narrow range of plastic-free product types, difficult to travel with unpackaged products
As if your brain isn’t already buzzing enough with sustainable makeup info, I wanted to provide you with some additional candidates that win honorable mention in the clean and low waste makeup category:
- Kjaer Weis for their refillable products.
- Elate Beauty whose line contains minimal plastic due to largely bamboo packaging.
- Bésame Cosmetics mascara cakes and refillable compacts.
You may notice that I didn’t mention cruelty-free as a pro throughout, because really, people, that’s the bare minimum. And very much covered by all of these companies. It should go without saying that testing cosmetics on animals is archaic. Hope that calms your nerves. Good luck shopping!