“Clean.” “Green.” “Natural.” For planet-conscious beauty consumers, these words can have a strong gravitational pull. But dear global citizens: The secret to saving our reefs and oceans, our forests and trees, is to do so with actions, not words. It all starts with your routine. Some actions can be small (don’t buy a new moisturizer until you’ve depleted the one you have). Some are big (seek out biodegradable or recyclable packages, or skip plastic packaging entirely). And some actions, of course, don’t rest with you, but with beauty companies. (Screaming into the void: Will anyone ever develop a truly earth-friendly mascara? Read on for intel.)
Ultimately, words like “clean,” “green,” and “natural” often have little to do with the buzzword we should really be focused on: “sustainable.” It’s the umbrella term for products that protect the planet’s resources, and the idea can seem, rather ironically, unsustainable. That’s precisely why we went straight to the women who are making a concerted effort, every day, in their own ways, to reduce their impact on the earth. They’re environmentalists, business owners, makeup artists — and they’re all unapologetic beauty enthusiasts.
The Environmentalist: Amber Jackson
After earning her master’s degree at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Jackson (and her classmate Emily Hazelwood) founded Blue Latitudes, an environmental consulting firm that helps energy companies determine whether decommissioned offshore-drilling structures can be turned into artificial reefs. She practically lives in the elements, which dictates her beauty regimen.
Protect everything. “Being on boats and offshore diving, we need to make sure that we keep up with our sunscreen but always use formulas that aren’t going to run off our skin and into the water column, and contaminate reefs and fish species. I like Badger Balm — it’s zinc-based. I’m a very fair redhead with freckles, so it’s super important for me to have protection, and this formula stays on in the water.”
Think micro impact. “Some of the biggest problems in our oceans are microplastics, like the microbeads in face scrubs.” The U.S. banned plastic microbeads in 2017, but there’s no way to know if every company has adhered to the ban. So avoid products with these P’s: polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate, and polymethyl methacrylate. “Those get washed down the drain, are consumed by fish, and then bioaccumulate, so you eat that plastic yourself. I love to exfoliate, and I use an Origins scrub that uses nutshells.”
Travel lightly. “We carry our own reusable bottles that we fill at home and forgo the disposable hotel options.”
The Advocate: Kathryn Kellogg
The author of 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste, Kellogg began chronicling her experience with reducing her trash and recycling output — down to nothing — on her blog GoingZeroWaste. “Living a zero-waste lifestyle encompasses so much more than just ‘Don’t throw it away,’ ” she says. “It means not wasting water and not wasting food.”
Eliminate the middleman. “I put toner in an upcycled spray bottle so that I don’t waste the product by having it absorb into a disposable pad. I just spray it directly on my skin.”
Consume wisely. “I like the ‘one in, one out’ rule. If I want a new face mask or eyeliner, I cannot buy it until I am out of what I have. Also, ask questions of the people you’re buying from. I buy some of my beauty products at farmers markets, and it’s been empowering to be like, ‘I love your product and want to try it, but I don’t use plastic. Can I get it without that?’ So many times they’re willing to accommodate.”
Be realistic. “There are very few options for completely plastic-free mascara, aside from a couple of brands that make cake mascara, like Bésame. It’s also hard to find a zero-waste alternative for sunscreen. I wear Marie Veronique tinted facial sunscreen as my foundation. It comes in a glass bottle, and I upcycle the bottles. I put homemade hand sanitizer in them — half vodka, half water — and keep that in my bag.”
Be proactive. “We should be doing more work with businesses and emailing our government representatives to get larger systemic changes passed, like the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Products Act.”
The Business Owner: Cindy DiPrima Morisse
As co-founder of the all-things-natural-beauty destination store CAP Beauty, DiPrima Morisse spends much of her days analyzing (and reassessing) which products are worth space in her business — and in her life.
Cut yourself some slack. “Any company that’s shipping is creating some waste and pollution. The best thing we can do is to work with vendors who are prioritizing the same things we are and making sure that their practices are not creating too much stress on the environment.”
Shop smarter. “We encourage our customers to choose thoughtfully. We always say, ‘If you’ve got products in your cabinet that have been sitting there for a year, you’re not using them, and you need to simplify. Find products you love and use. Be an editor.’ We aim to deliver a streamlined collection so you’re not overbuying. We encourage customers to try things. [But] it’s more about a trusted arsenal than constant consumerism.”
Be charitable. “I have a sizable beauty cabinet because of testing for the store. Sometimes there can be a moment when it’s like, ‘I’m not going to get to that.’ There are a few charities that collect beauty products. A favorite of mine is Woman to Woman, which supports women with gynecological cancer at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.”
The Makeup Artist: Katey Denno
She regularly paints the famous faces of Amber Heard and Felicity Jones and has been committed to green, no-waste beauty for the past decade. “I started in this industry as the only person who was really serious about green beauty. And everyone was like, ‘That is never going to fly.’ And little by little, everything changed. A lot of actresses are still like, ‘As long as you make me look good, that’s all I care about,’ but there are some that are now die-hard fans of clean beauty.”
Give new life. “I have friends who make candles, and I give them face-mask pots. I store Q-tips in reused cream pots, or use them as flower vases. I save empty RMS pots and give them to clients for their red-carpet bags. If I’ve mixed a lipstick for them, I’ll take a scraping and put it in there.”
Glitz it up. “Aether Beauty has an eye shadow palette. The pigment is intense, and the shimmer is fine. It’s not big chunks of glitter, which a lot of green products have had.”
Know your limits. “I do make compromises, like with Beautyblenders, because I have yet to find anything sustainable that re-creates that texture that I can get on skin.”
Food for Thought
What good is a recyclable plastic bottle if it still ends up in a landfill? Tina Hedges, a former Estée Lauder and L’Oréal executive, asked herself that when she created LOLI Beauty. Hedges sells raw balms, powders, and elixirs derived from organic food waste (like pressed plum seed that would have been disposed of after the fruit was harvested) and packages them in recyclable glass containers that she encourages consumers to upcycle for food storage.
The products are waterless (water is a filler ingredient that just creates extra weight to ship), and can be used alone or mixed to expand their versatility — her face powder, for example, can become a scrub or a mask. “I would like the entire experience to be circular zero-waste,” says Hedges, who is now working on refillable packaging and going entirely compostable.