As the zero waste movement has gained traction, so have companies tailoring products towards the plastic free and low waste lifestyles. Cosmetics are no exception! If you're looking for a zero waste makeup brand to add to your routine, this list is for you. Carefully curated with businesses from all over the world, you'll find all the details you need when choosing a new mascara (that isn't trash!).
There are companies out there offering sustainable cosmetic options - you just have to look a little harder to find them.
Conventional makeup contains dangerous chemicals.
Cosmetic products have been in the spot-light for many years highlighting animal testing issues and potentially dangerous chemicals. As a product that so many people put directly on their skin daily, it comes as no surprise that we take such an interest in how they are produced. Many plastics themselves have harmful effects if exposed to continuously and may have the potential to leak chemicals into whatever product is contained inside it.
Makeup packaging isn't usually recyclable.
Most lip stick containers and skin care bottles can't be recycled in curb side programs. In fact, very few kinds of traditional cosmetic packaging can be put anywhere other than the trash bin. There are a few companies that have developed their own in-house recycling programs but those aren't widespread. Even being able to recycle the containers isn't enough though. Relying on disposable containers is adding to the 4.5 pounds of waste each one of us is making each day, a number which is only increasing as the years go by. It's time for the cosmetic industry to come up with an alternative to plastic containers.
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15 Zero Waste Cosmetic and Makeup Brands
(that you'll love!)
HQ Location: Oregon, USA
Highlights: woman-owned and run, B-certified Corp, 1% for the Planet, offset 100% of carbon emissions, magnetic compacts with refillable options for container, over 35 different shades of foundation!
Description: Katie started Alima Pure in 2004 and has run it ever since. They donate 1% of sales each year and participate in a variety of environmental initiatives throughout the year. They provide a large array of foundation options and have a sampling of eye shadow, mascara, and blush to choose from.
The Not-So-Good: There is no refill option for the liquid products and the sample sets come in plastic containers.
HQ Location: Oregon, USA
Highlights: BIPOC-owned, woman-owned, vegan, limited packaging, cruelty free
Description: Axiology offers vegan lipsticks and lip balms in the most beautiful selection of shades! Dedicated to reducing plastic pollution, many packages are made from plastic litter collected in Bali and then manufactured into containers. Their new lines of Balmies also feature no lipstick tube, simply cardboard packaging! Their management team is completely comprised of BIPOC and their brand features a diverse array of models using their products.
The Not-So-Good: The worst thing about Axiology is that they simply don't offer products beyond lip care! I'd love to see them expand into highlighters and foundation with their same model. The crayon lipsticks' packaging is not recyclable (but the aluminum tubes are!).
HQ Location: Michigan, USA
Highlights: Black-owned, women-owned, vegan, cruelty free
Description: The Lip Bar gets a special seat on this list of zero waste cosmetic brands because they represent inclusivity and diversity like no other brand. Their website features individuals wearing makeup that don't traditionally fit the stereotype and the selection of colors in their foundation line is immense (26 shades!). Although the brand does not have a focus on sustainability per say, they market themselves as simple and efficient - designed to only have a minimal amount of products to get your gorgeous face ready quickly!
The Not-So-Good: The Lip Bar could step up its game by looking into plastic free packaging alternatives, shipping plastic free, and offsetting carbon emissions.
HQ Location: Canada
Highlights: bamboo containers, refillable compacts, 75% waste-free, vegan, working towards B-Corp certification
Description: Elate Cosmetics offers a variety of makeup products in bamboo based containers, refillable metal compacts, and low plastic mascara tubes. The company is woman owned, uses 75% organic ingredients and is working towards becoming a B-Corp. They also have a Perfectly Imperfect line that sells products that have packaging "flaws" that would normally be taken off the shelf.
The Not-So-Good: Elate does not yet have a wide variety of color variations and does not provide sufficient options for Black and non-Black people of color.
HQ Location: South Carolina, USA
Highlights: recycled glass pots, shipping boxes 80% post-consumer paper, cruelty-free
Description: RMS Beauty has been making natural skincare and cosmetic products for 10 years. They offer a list of ingredients on their website that lets you know which ingredients are organic and wild crafted.
The Not-So-Good: Although the liquid foundations are sent in recycled glass pots, the majority of RMS Beauty's cosmetics are in plastic palettes and mixed material tubes which are difficult to recycle.
HQ Location: Ohio, USA
Highlights: women owned, Etsy business, handmade, accepts container returns
Description: Keeping It Natural is run by Linda who makes all of the products by hand. She has been selling products on Etsy since 2011 and has a stellar reputation in the zero waste community. Her products usually come in metal tins and she's most famous for her cake mascara.
The Not-So-Good: Although her cake mascara is good, I simply prefer to make it myself if I am going to use that type of mascara.
HQ Location: USA, United Kingdom
Highlights: refillable products, paper-based capsules
Description: Kjeir Weis offers a variety of standard pressed makeups that come in refillable compacts. Their mascaras and lipsticks even can be replaced with refill tubes! They recently launched a paper compact as well that can be recycled (or composted if spilled on) once the makeup is used up.
The Not-So-Good: Definitely on the pricey side! And although they market the mascara tubes and lipstick tubes for refills as recyclable that simply doesn't mean that they can be recycled in all areas.
HQ Location: North Carolina, USA
Highlights: compostable paper tubes, recycled envelopes from Eco-enclose, sugar cane based labels, vegan, handmade
Description: River Organics offers a variety of cosmetic products including highlighter, bronzer, eyebrow wax, lip balms, and blush sticks all in compostable paper tubes. It was originally started by a husband and wife in North Carolina and now is in a variety of shops around the U.S.
The Not-So-Good: They offer a very limited selection of skin tones for Black and non-Black people of color.
HQ Location: California, USA
Highlights: woman-owned and run, cruelty free, small batch, metal focused packaging
Description: Besame was founded by Gabriela in 2004 and is a vintage cosmetic company. It is run by Gabriela and her family today and continues to offer an array of cosmetics with an antique look. Products include cake mascara, pressed foundation, and lipstick among many more.
The Not-So-Good: Besame lacks details on their website on what exactly each product is packaged in which limits customers' ability to determine reuse/recycling options.
HQ Location: Michigan, USA
Highlights: woman run, handmade, Etsy shop, small business, refill options, minimal packaging, vegan, mostly organic
Description: Laura hand makes all of the products offered on her Etsy shop. That means she also allows custom orders and is very interested in customer feedback! She provides detailed pictures of the glass vials and lids her products come in to help with recycling them later on. She also provides refills for repeat customers!
The Not-So-Good: Like a lot of cake mascaras, this one goes on pretty light. The glass bottles of eye liner and eye brow gel also pose a slight hazard of breaking in the bathroom (but can be worked around!).
HQ Location: USA
Highlights: Black-owned, woman-owned, Leaping Bunny Certified, Gold Green America, vegan, mostly organic
Description: Plain Jane Beauty has inclusivity at its core and boasts 17 shades of foundation to show for it! The shades of foundation also match across powder, cremes, etc. so you don't have to figure out your color each time! Their commitment to empowerment and giving back reflects in who they also partner with. The company chosen to process their credit card transactions also has an eco-office and donates 50% of their profits back to the community. Plain Jane Beauty could have just picked someone easy - but they went out of their way to find a partner that aligned with their values!
The Not-So-Good: Plain Jane Beauty doesn't make it easy to find where their products are made in the U.S. They also don't give details on shipping material and what "responsible packaging practices" mean. All of there products contain plastic packaging in some form.
HQ Location: Canberra, Australia
Highlights: woman owned, Etsy, small business, hand made, metal packaging, vegan, paper packaging for shipping only
Description: Dirty Hippie Cosmetics is a cosmetic company offering a wide variety of products including soaps, foundations, eye shadow, moisturizer, and shaving cream. All the products are handmade in Australia and shipped world wide. The packaging is focused on glass and paper, whenever possible, so there will be limited plastic arriving with your makeup.
The Not-So-Good: Only three shades of foundation are available all of which are for white tones. I also can't find specific information on who, exactly, owns Dirty Hippie Cosmetics and where the ingredients are sourced from.
HQ Location: Across Europe, including Germany and Italy
Highlights: Latinx-owned, women-owned, refillable containers, EcoCert, vegan, cruelty free
Description: Zao describes themselves as an "eco-luxury" brand of cosmetics. Owned and operated by three Latinx women, their brand encompasses values around sustainable, social justice, and health. The packaging is a combination of bamboo, glass, and plastic depending on the product. Their pallets are all refillable with the option of buying only the insert (saving yourself money). The bamboo is sourced from China and all the products are manufactured in Europe.
The Not-So-Good: Zao's refillable system doesn't necessarily avoid more plastic. Their liquid foundation, for example, ships a refillable tube of foundation in a traditional looking plastic package. You can then squirt it into the previous bamboo container if you wish (but it doesn't avoid that plastic container in the first place).
HQ Location: California, USA
Highlights: woman-owned, minimal packaging, glass focused
Description: Fat and the Moon produces a variety of products including facial masks, bath scrubs, deodorant, and cosmetics. Their cosmetics include eye shadow, highlighters, and lip/cheek stains that come in little glass containers with metal lids. If you are looking for some fun, bright eye shadow colors, they definitely have some that pop!
The Not-So-Good: Fat and the Moon doesn't provide information on what they ship products in and don't have any certifications listed on their website. They also have limited cosmetic products and do not offer foundation nor mascara.
The Not-So-Good: This company is owned by a white man who was handing out bath bombs to cops in the UK the day after George Floyd was murdered. They have lost my support and business. I have included them here simply to inform other potential customers to choose another business on this list instead.
HQ Location: USA
Highlights: Black-owned and features ONLY Black artisans, toxic free, natural ingredient focused, small businesses
Description: BLK + GRN is a unique company in that they're really more like a store front. They offer an Etsy-like collection of products made by Black artisans from around the U.S. Their products include skincare and cosmetics, but aren't limited to just that! No matter what you buy on there, you'll be supporting a Black business owner producing sustainable products for your body and the planet - a win-win-win!
The Not-So-Good: BLK +GRN collections are limited in some areas. While they do have some cosmetics, it is mostly around skin care rather than makeup.
Overall Best Picks
Full disclosure, the below ratings of BEST in a certain category as purely my own subjective determination based on research. It'll give you an idea of where you might want to shop though based on your highest priorities!
Best in Gender Inclusivity: The Lip Bar