I Tried Zero-Waste Makeup and Found My New Holy-Grail Beauty Routine

Welcome to I Tried It Month, where we’ll be publishing a new fashion, beauty, or wellness article every day in January that features a first-person account of shaking up an old habit, pushing beyond a comfort zone, or simply trying something new. Follow along for 31 days of storytelling, including everything from going without a cellphone for 40 days to trying the polarizing low-rise pants trend.

Over the past few years, I’ve been gradually trying to adopt a more sustainable and low-waste lifestyle. Although I am far from perfect (and from being zero-waste!), I’ve managed to pretty seamlessly integrate some more environmentally friendly swaps into my personal hygiene routine. These low-waste changes include replacing my bottled shampoos and conditioners with package-free bars, finding reusable options for single-use essentials like cotton rounds and ear swabs, and prioritizing refilling certain necessities to reduce excess packaging when possible. (Editor’s Note: I’m privileged to live in a city like L.A., where I have access to zero-waste shops like Tare and Sustain LA with refill stations.)

But as someone who works in the beauty industry and who gets unreasonably giddy over shiny, new makeup launches and all the latest and possibly life-changing skincare products, I’m embarrassed to admit that I really haven’t given a second thought to the amount of waste that I’m producing just by accumulating these products.

To get a better understanding of how this industry has been contributing to environmental waste, I asked Mia Davis, the director of environmental & social responsibility at Credo, to weigh in. According to Davis, more than 120 billion beauty packages are created annually, and only a small fraction of these (less than 9%!) are recycled. Even fewer are refilled or reused. That means these materials, most of which are plastic, are being landfilled, incinerated, or stuck as toxic pollution.

The good news? There is a positive shift happening in the beauty industry. For example, Credo has launched its Sustainable Packaging Guidelines, and its first milestone in 2021 is to eliminate single-use items like masks, pads, and sample sachets. 

"We're really hoping that other retailers and brands will join us: Let's stop making stuff that will never be recycled or reused," Davis said.

With the pressure on brands to use more sustainable packaging, as consumers and individuals, we can take steps to help reverse this environmental impact now as well. This month, I challenged myself to take a critical look at the makeup I use and see if I could find comparable sustainable and package-free alternatives.

Keep reading to see if zero- and low-waste makeup products can really outperform my tried-and-true brands and if I'll end up incorporating them into my beauty routine for the long run. 

I started my low-waste makeup routine off with Kjaer Weis’s Invisible Touch Concealer, which is truly unlike any cream product I’ve used before. When applied, this concealer is super blendable and then dries down to an almost powdery consistency. I really love the feathery, natural finish it gives. 

As a luxury clean-beauty brand with the price tag to match, it's no surprise that Kjaer Weis doesn't compromise on its quality or its packaging. The sleek metal casing to designed to last a lifetime, so you can simply purchase a refill once the product is done. 

In addition to its volumizing properties, the rosehip-seed oil in this mascara helps to condition my lashes. I'll definitely be picking up a refill once I'm finished with this. 

I was most intrigued by Axiology's Lip-to-Lid Trio. These multipurpose Balmies can be used on your cheeks, lips, and eyes. While the crayons look tiny, each one contains the same amount of product as a standard tube of lipstick (.12 oz), but with zero packaging. I found them to be ultranourishing and easy to use, and once we have places to go again, this trio will be a perfect addition to an on-the-go makeup bag.

This Alima Pure Cream Blush, particularly in the mid-tone pink shade called Blossom, has to be my favorite discovery from this entire routine. I'll use my ring finger to dab this mousse-like product onto the apples and high points of my cheek as well as the bridge of my nose for a naturally sun-kissed flush. 

Like Kjaer Weis, once you finish the product, you can buy a refill and reuse the same compact for minimal waste. 

Elate Beauty is another company that's known to be a pioneer in low-waste makeup that employs packaging and sourcing transparency. Currently, the brand's packaging is 75% waste-free, with continued efforts to be entirely zero-waste in the future. 

I tried the Brow Balm in Raven, which comes in a reusable bamboo compact. This product is truly a workhorse and rivals some of the better brow pomades I've used in the past. 

Once I got the hang of using a shorter applicator, like the one that's on this Liquid EyeLine, my wing liner looked defined and stayed put throughout the day. 

If I hadn't sought out a specific low- and zero-waste makeup routine, I would have never guessed that this Aether Beauty eye shadow palette would classify as such. By any standard, these shadows, especially the duo-chrome and shimmery shades, are so beautiful and buttery soft to the touch. While I'll typically swipe a neutral color all over my lids, I've been experimenting with different eye looks from this palette—the options are limitless. 

Once you're done with the product, simply remove the elastic and pans, and the palette becomes fully recyclable.

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