I’ve always been environmentally conscious, but it was a recent trip to South-East Asia that changed my outlook on waste forever. After witnessing the impact our over-consumption of plastic products is having on our oceans and beaches, I’ve made some changes to my beauty regime for the better.
Plastic waste. It has become a big issue, and one that has recently captured the public’s attention. Certainly in the UK, The TV show Blue Planet 2 shocked the eyes and struck the hearts of the nation, with record viewing numbers reported. The documentary series has now aired in many countries worldwide, including the US and Canada. (If you haven’t already seen it, check out the prequel here.)
As travellers, we do not need to watch a TV show to understand the issue. It is unavoidable for us. And I think we can all agree, we would prefer our Instagram shots of isolated beaches and under-water diving to be plastic free, but if no changes are made the problem will only get worse.
So what can we do? Recycle more? Well yes and no. The truth is only 9% of the plastic waste we have ever produced has been recycled , partly because most of the packaging used in our everyday products is not actually recyclable. So in reality we need to start with the root cause of the disease, rather than focus on treating the symptom. We need to start reducing the volume of plastic we use. Greenpeace recommends we look first to the biggest problem child single-use plastics, especially packaging.
It may not be the first thing to come to mind, but one of the biggest contributors to our plastic packaging waste is our beauty products. Just think of the number of shampoo bottles you have thrown away already this year. According to Forbes, an average woman’s uses about 12 shampoo or conditioner bottles a year. That amounts to almost 1,000 over the course of each of our lives.
Yet when I think about my own hair product use, I am horrified to think that it must be more than this. While travelling on longer trips, I have ashamedly thrown away an almost finished shampoo bottle between destinations to lighten the weight of my backpack. I have also, on more than one occasion, purchased those convenient travel-size bottles for shorter trips. I doubt I am the only one here to have done this, but alas we cannot change our past actions, only our future ones.
To make up for all those shampoo bottles that I once discarded, I’ve compiled a list of the best beauty alternatives that I now travel with to try and influence others to do the same.
Top 7 Plastic-Free Travel Beauty Products
What is a shampoo bar? A concentrated block of shampoo to which when you add water, magic happens and you produce the shampoo needed to cleanse your luscious locks.
How is it plastic friendly? No plastic required. You never need to throw an empty shampoo bottle away again.
Why should I get it? Firstly, these are so small, they take up next to no room in your case. Secondly they can last for anything up to 100 washes, which means a two month trip can be catered for with only one little bar. Thirdly, most of them are made of all natural ingredients so are generally kinder to your hair and skin.
Where can I get it? They may not yet be available in your local supermarket, but there are many places to buy them online. Check out Etsy or Amazon for ones that are made with coconut and argan oil. Alternatively, pop into your closest LUSH store for some sustainably made, natural products.
Insiders tip: Let your shampoo bar dry out after each use, this way it will last longer, and find a small metal tin to carry it so that it does not leak over the rest of your belongings.
What is it? I won’t patronize you here by explaining what a face cloth is. However, I will take this opportunity to point out that a face cloth, can be otherwise referred to as a wash cloth or flannel depending on whether you speak British English or American English. There, I am glad we cleared that up.
How does it reduce my plastic waste? I would hazard a guess that a few of you, like me, have become accustomed to using face wipes or cotton pads to cleanse your skin before bedtime. We use them, we throw them away and we forget about them. Sadly, a lot of them end up somewhere in the ocean, and will be there way past our own lifetime. Replacing these wipes with a facecloth, can stop this dreaded cycle.
Why should I get it? You probably already own one, so you may not even need to buy something new. If you don’t already have one, it will cost you only a few $ to buy and you can use it forever. Not only will this item reduce the waste you add to the world, but it will save you money. If face wipes cost you around $8 every month, that’s $8 extra you profit every month after you buy your facecloth. (Almost $100 a year!)
Where can I get it? Your local supermarket or pharmacy. It is not a new invention, just an old one that we want to bring back. Use your run of the mill cotton cloth, or get an ultra soft microfibre pads made from bamboo.
Insiders tip: The trick is to wash and re-use them. Take more than one with you, that way you always have one ready when the other is being washed.
What is it? It is the oil made from the fleshy inside parts of a coconut.
How does it reduce my plastic waste? Coconut oil is usually packaged in glass jars or tins which can be re-filled.
Why should I get it? Coconut oil can be used as a substitute for not only one but three of your current plastic packaged beauty products – Hair conditioner, make up remover and moisturizer. So you save both money and backpack space by investing in only one product rather than three.
Where can I get it? You will find it in your local health food store or again online. Do not be fooled into thinking there is a difference between the coconut oil we use for cooking and the one we use for our skin. They all come from the same place. Ideally look for a brand that packages it in glass jar or tin, like this one on Etsy.
Insider tip: Use in small amounts. A little goes a very long way, especially when conditioning your hair, I learned this the hard way. Also I would suggest you try it out before you travel. Although it is 100% natural, there is still risk of a bad reaction. It may be that alternatives such as argan oil work better for your particular skin and hair type.
Bars of Soap
What is it? It’s soap. You really do not need me to explain this one.
How does it reduce my plastic waste? Rather than buying large bottles of shower gel, let’s learn from the generations before us and just use soap. There is no need for the multiple plastic bottles. I actually carry my soap in an old soap dish that my mum has had in the back of her cupboard for years. Not only am I reducing my plastic use, but I am also finding a new use for an old unwanted piece of plastic.
Why should I get it? Its small, its cheap and its versatile. I don’t really understand why any of us stopped using it.
Where can I get it? Literally any shop, anywhere. If you want to get fancy, try these vegan eco-friendly bars that smell like a dream
Insider tip: Make it multi-purpose. There is nothing to say you can’t use soap as shampoo too, or use your shampoo bar in place of the soap. The ingredients are very similar after all. Free up the space in your bag by only carrying one.
What is it? An old-school alternative to the plastic disposable razors we have been commonly using since the 80’s. They are based off traditional metal razors men would have used in the early 1900s. Safety razors are still heavily marketed towards men, but this does not stop them from being a viable plastic-free alternative for women.
How does it reduce my plastic waste? I was disposing around 18-24 plastic imprisoned shaver blades annually, not to mention those I may have thrown away from my carry-on bag in fear of getting stopped by security. The replacement packs of blades I would buy for my Gillette Venus, devoted a private single-use-plastic casing for each and every one of my new blades. Convenient, yet environmentally damaging. Moving to a safety razor, I immediately reduced my plastic footprint through use of metal blades alone.
Why should I get it? If you have not already invested in laser hair removal for your entire body, which most beauty magazines would make us think is the norm, you are most likely spending a chunk of your monthly income on disposable shavers or razor blades. These are pricey as well as being single-use-plastic items. With a safety razor you invest mainly in the handle, since the blades cost on average about $0.10 as you can buy a pack of 100 for around $10. Also unlike the plastic disposable shavers, you do not have to stay loyal to one brand. The blades are a standardized size, and you can shop around for the right blade at the right price for you.
Where can I get it? Try the men’s shaving section in your local department store or pharmacy. Safety razors are not a new invention but do not expect to find them in the women’s section, and be prepared to search a little longer that if you were looking for a plastic shaver. There are several female-marketed options available online, for example this beautiful rose gold razor. However, you may find razors with less plastic packaging if you keep your online search gender neutral. After all who cares what the razor looks like, as long as it keeps our legs silky smooth.
Insider tip: Do some research and watch some videos on how to use these. They are perfectly safe for beginners, and once you have mastered the angle there are very few risks involved. However, let’s remember that we are still using a sharp blade very close to our skin, so preparation is not a bad idea. Also, it goes without saying, but keep these out of reach of small kids.
What is it? Much like your life long plastic toothbrush friend, this is a toothbrush made out of bamboo.
How does it reduce my plastic waste? Bamboo is compostable, meaning it will actually degrade within our lifetime. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a bamboo toothbrush whose bristles are biodegradable, so remember to remove them before you compost the toothbrush.
Why should I get it? They cost on average the same as your plastic equivalent, but will decompose within your lifetime (on average within 10 years) rather than the 400 years it takes our plastic toothbrushes to decay.
Where can I get it? You will find many options available on Amazon. Opt for those that minimize their packaging, like Bali Brush. These are my favourites as their charcoal infused bristles keep my teeth white and they can be recycled after use.
What is it? An eco-friendly alternative to the standard nylon floss products that many of us use
How does it reduce my plastic waste? The plastic waste benefits here are two-fold. First the floss. Standard floss is made from synthetic material, such as nylon, which is derived from crude oil along with most other single-use plastics. It takes at least 30 years to decompose when thrown away, and if it ends up in the sea it can tangle or strangle smaller sea creatures. Plastic free alternatives use silk or bamboo fibre which are both compostable.
Second the container. Mainstream flossing products are packaged in single use throw-away dispensers, with no re-fill options available. However, the emerging alternatives dispense their silk or bamboo floss from glass jars or mental tins. Pick a good one like Dental Lace and the glass container is even re-fillable.
Why should I get it? Because they are now available. Fully plastic-free floss alternatives are a fairly recent development in the zero-waste industry so take advantage of the opportunity and reduce your plastic waste. If you floss daily, your plastic waste could drop significantly if you opt for one of these plastic-free options.
Where can I get it? It is unlikely you will find the best range of plastic-free alternatives in your local pharmacy but that does not stop you from asking. If not, there are multiple options online. Check out amazon and etsy for “zero waste floss” products.
Insider tip: If you are completely vegan or passionate about animal rights, you may want to stay clear of the silk floss alternatives, as silkworms are killed in the manufacture process. Do not fear, our friends at Dental Lace have made a fully vegan alternative with charcoal, still in its plastic-free packaging.
There is a high likelihood that if you swap out all of your plastic products for the options above, you will drastically reduce your plastic footprint, with no noticeable impact on your outer beauty. Try it. In reality we do not need as many beauty products as we think we do. The added bonus here is that if we carry less beauty products in our luggage, we make more room for shoes. 🙂
What is your favourite plastic free beauty product? Which have I missed? Let me know in the comments below.
About The Author
Karen C Mackenzie is a passionate writer, known for her ability to connect to her audience in a unique authentic style that resonates with all. She specialises in three topic areas: yoga & mental health; travel; and personal finance, all with the intention to lift people out of that feeling of being stuck in an endless daily grind. Check out her professional writing services, Instagram and yoga blog.