This is how you can be a beauty environmental crusader: Less wastage; with a more mindful vanity

When a video of scientists pulling a plastic straw out of a sea turtle’s nostril goes viral, the world takes note. I take note. And I vow to cut plastic straws from my life.

A whale with 6kg of plastic in its stomach washes up on a beach. I skip the plastic bag when I get my bubble tea. I bring my own tumbler to get coffee or tea. I start sorting the recyclables from my trash. It sounds like I’m living a more eco-friendly life. But that’s not the case for me with beauty products. I’m a horrible hoarder when it comes to those.

Cute, beautiful and limited-edition packaging are my Achilles’ heel. And lipsticks.

Drawers full of them, more than I can use in the next five years. I want to give the excuse that it’s part and parcel of being a beauty writer. But I know the truth: My job has nothing to do with my urge to buy beauty products. So during my latest spring-clean, I asked myself hard questions: Do I really need so much makeup and skincare?

That kick I got from the likes on the #shelfie I posted six months ago – is it still making me happy? Have I even touched the limited-edition eyeshadow palette I bought a year ago? No, no and no, were the hard answers.

Social media is a double-edged sword. The same platforms that raise awareness of environmental issues are also guilty of propagating the meaningless unnecessity of #shelfie culture. When I put the two together, I suddenly and uncomfortably became aware of the needless waste I was generating.

That smorgasbord of beauty products – how much skin did I have to apply them all to? What about the packaging, from boxes to multiple bottle parts, many of them not recyclable? It was time to take baby steps to remedy my planet-unfriendly self-indulgence. I started looking for brands that sell refills, those that allow customers to bring back empty containers for recycling, or those that use recycled bottles.

When I came across news of how oxybenzone and octinoxate – ingredients in certain sunscreens – supposedly make coral more susceptible to bleaching, I stopped using products containing them. The research made me realise that while clean beauty is having its moment, its trickle-down environmental benefits are seldom emphasised enough.

To prove my point, I did a poll of friends, colleagues and friends of friends, all practical, high-achieving women.

Here’s what I found: A small percentage make an effort to buy eco-friendly beauty brands. And the ones who don’t are open to supporting brands that work sustainability and environmental consciousness into their identity. The problem: They aren’t sure which ones these are. So it helps beauty brands to shout a little louder about their eco-friendliness.

Being more eco-friendly isn’t about becoming an ecoactivist. For me, it’s simply taking a mindful approach to my love for beauty products. It’s acknowledging that my vanity table shouldn’t be like a buffet spread because I ultimately need only a slice of what’s available.

I still want options for switching up my skincare routine. On days when my skin feels drier or oilier, I want to have the right products to help it along. I love the joy of having different lipstick colours to choose from. But I’m going to practise restraint and consider how likely I am to use up my next cleanser or blusher or mascara before I buy it. I’ll make smarter, more conscious decisions for the planet – and my wallet.

So when I feel like sweeping up all five shades of a lipstick because I love the formula or finish, I’ll rein myself in and buy just one – with an option for two if it sparks much joy. As for the irresistible beautiful stuff, well, the Libra in me says balance is key, so it’s okay to treat myself to a collectible once in a while.

Her World's sustainability issue

This story first appeared in the April 2019 issue of Her World magazine.