finding out about plastic-free waste-free beauty

finding out about plastic-free waste-free beauty

Tracey Banks

'Plastic-Free Beauty Day' - a completely arbitrary day but got us thinking about the amount of plastic found in our bathroom cupboards and served as a good reminder to us about the amount of 'invisible' plastic in most cosmetic products. 

Less waste cosmetics are at the 'difficult' end of the scale unlike such high-waste 'personal care' products as shampoo, conditioner, deodorants and ear buds (which we're not including instead choosing 'beauty' in it's purest sense). Somewhat due to regulations in the beauty industry, the difficulty is mostly down to limited availability of sustainable alternatives - although thankfully this is changing at a pace with big brands and independents alike. 

Knowledge about plastic in cosmetics is on the rise with the high-profile ban on micro-beads in 2017 and widespread public knowledge of the existence of microplastics in every facet of life. However, given how many cosmetic products contain plastic, and the public focus on microplastic in our oceans, its surprising there's not equal public backlash towards these plastic-containing products. More awareness and education needed. 

There is still a long way to go. Whist there is a visible spotlight on the beauty industry to use less plastic on the outside, there's equally as much work to do for it to be plastic-free on the inside too.

We've done some scouring and found sustainable alternatives for 10 staple cosmetic products in your less waste daily routine - as well as a basic guide on how to spot those pesky plastics ingredients that may be hidden inside your favourite cosmetics...sorry! 

Less plastic on the outside please!

1. cleanser: use a cleansing soap bar or konjac sponge

try Friendly Soap Cleansing Bars or Hydrophil Konjac Sponge

 plastic free face cleanser


2. face moisturiser: opt for a natural face cream

try honey, olive oil, avocado, oats or KiteNest

  plastic free face body cream

3. foundation & blusher: choose pressed compact refills

try Lush, Zao or Kjaer Weis

plastic free waste free foundation

4. eye-liner / mascara: find the reusable wands with refills, or reuse the wands with a solid block

try Zao or Fat & The Moon

plastic free waste free mascara eye liner makeup

5. lipstick: these exist as refills or with aluminium cases

try Lush or Axiology 


6. make-up remover: just use coconut oil⁠ or natural toner in glass

try Flawless

7. nail varnish remover: non chemical laden formulas exist

try Fresh Therapies

plastic free waste free makeup nail varnish remover beauty

8. nail varnish: seek out the non-toxic polish brands

try Zao

plastic free waste free nail varnish beauty

9. make-up remover wipes: a good old flannel or some reusable wipes⁠

unpckd stocks: Head in the Woods

10. nail varnish remover wipes: reusable dark pads work a treat⁠

unpckd stocks eye pads that double as nail pads: Head in the Woods

  plastic free waste free makeup nail varnish remover wipes beauty


Less plastic on the inside please!

Do you know what you’re rubbing on your skin and lips? And whether it can make you sick?

Despite the microbead ban that came into effect in the UK in 2017, the use of plastic in cosmetics goes beyond microbeads. The fact is that almost all major cosmetics brands add tiny plastic particles, nanoplastics, or even liquid plastics to their skincare products and make-up. Sometimes they do this to give these products particular properties, but most of the time, they are simply a cheap filler. You will still find microplastics in anything from hairspray, sunscreen, and baby products to mascara, lipstick and eyeshadows.

Most of these plastic ingredients contain non degradable polymers, and can take hundreds of years to completely degrade.  Due to these microplastics being such tiny particles, it is impossible to collect it for recycling. So when microplastics are present in cosmetic formulations, and washed down the sink after use, we are adding to environmental pollution each time. There has been consistent evidence that the presence of microplastics is having a detrimental effect on our planet - from sea-life to the soil we use to grow our crops, as well as drinking water and therefore making their way into the stomachs of livestock and other mammals, including us humans.

Why put plastic in my cosmetics?

Microplastics are used in cosmetics mainly to assist with the feel and finish of the product. Silicones, for example, are used to give makeup products a slippery, soft feeling that is desirable amongst consumers when applying foundations or primers. They can also assist with the thickness of the product, known as a bulking agent, in order for the product to flow as desired. 

How to avoid plastic beauty products

There's now no need to be using products containing microplastics with a growing choice of natural cosmetics out there on the market. In the last 10 years, natural cosmetics have evolved and improved, using completely natural, biodegradable ingredients that aren’t having a detrimental effect on our environment, eco systems, land and marine life. The best way to avoid microplastics is to familiarise yourself with both the plastics commonly used and check the ingredients in your cosmetics.

Get to know the plastic ingredients

The plastics are included in the list of ingredients on the packaging, but only under their chemical names so therefore unrecognisable to most people. Here's a handy guide to what to look for, what it's used for and then know to avoid!



Nylon-12 (polyamide-12)

Bulking, viscosity controlling, opacifying (e.g. wrinkle creams) 


Bulking agent, viscosity controlling

Poly(butylene terephthalate

Film formation, viscosity controlling

Poly(ethylene isoterephthalate

Bulking agent

Poly(ethylene terephthalate)

Adhesive, film formation, hair fixative; viscosity controlling, aesthetic agent, (e.g. glitters in bubble bath, makeup)

Poly(methyl methylacrylate) 

Sorbent for delivery of active ingredients

Poly(pentaerythrityl terephthalate)

Film formation

Poly(propylene terephthalate) 

Emulsion stabilizing, skin conditioning


Abrasive, film forming, viscosity controlling, binder for powders


Bulking agent, viscosity increasing agent


Film formation

Polytetrafluoroethylene (Teflon)

Bulking agent, slip modifier, binding agent, skin conditioner


Film formation (e.g. facial masks, sunscreen, mascara)


Viscosity controlling

Acrylates copolymer

Binder, hair fixative, film formation, suspending agent

Allyl stearate/vinyl acetate copolymers 

Film formation, hair fixative

Ethylene/methylacrylate copolymer

Film formation

Ethylene/acrylate copolymer

Film formation in waterproof sunscreen, gellant (e.g. lipstick, stick products, hand creams)

Butylene/ethylene/styrene copolymer

Viscosity controlling

Styrene acrylates copolymer

Aesthetic, coloured microspheres (e.g. makeup)

Trimethylsiloxysilicate (silicone resin)

Film formation (e.g. colour cosmetics, skin care, sun care)


or download this handy app that scans the ingredients for you

Beat The Microbead App

The free Beat the Microbead app by Plastic Soup Foundation reads the ingredient lists on the packaging and recognises more than 500 different types of microplastics. You can immediately see whether the scanned product contains microplastics and, if so, which ones.

About The Plastic Soup Foundation

The Plastic Soup Foundation, a member of the global movement Break Free From Plastic, has been campaigning against the deliberate addition of plastic to skincare products since 2012. Its Beat the Microbead campaign has resulted in many toothpastes and scrubs finally being microbead-free. Their goal is to make all skincare products and cosmetics plastic-free, but until this is the case, consumers should be able to choose whether they want to buy a product with or without plastic.




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