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How to Build a Sustainable Makeup Routine: A Beginner's Guide

So, you’re interested in transforming your beauty routine into a more sustainable one, but are not sure where to start? We’re here to help! Welcome to Pretty Clean Shop’s Beginner’s Guide on How to build a sustainable and eco friendly makeup bag, where we outline step-by-step what considerations you may want to make to create a beauty routine that you can be proud of.


It’s no secret that the cosmetics industry comes with some high costs – not only monetary costs, but environmental and social ones too. From packaging, to toxins, to animal-testing, to ingredient-sourcing - the negative impacts of the biggest beauty brands are often complex and overlapping. So, how can we as consumers navigate the complexities of these issues to make the best choices for our health and the world around us?

First of all, it’s important to know what you’re looking for so you don’t fall victim to greenwashing! Greenwashing is a marketing technique through which companies share misleading information on the environmental-friendliness of their products, often using phrases such as “earth friendly”, “certified green”, and “natural” to deceive customers into thinking they are making sustainable purchasing choices when this may not actually be the case. Below, we’ve broken down some steps for how to see through the greenwashing and make conscious choices when building your makeup routine.

PRO TIP: Natural mascaras cannot be waterproof! If a “natural” mascara product claims to be waterproof, this is most likely an example of greenwashing.

How to build a Sustainable Makeup Routine

Step 1: Use what you have & buy only what you need

Many of us have stacks of unused makeup sitting in the back of our cupboards…you know who you are! It’s so easy to throw away all of those items and start your sustainable makeup routine from scratch, but we recommend resisting the urge to do so. Even if those older products no longer align with your values, the most sustainable option is always to use what you already have at home. Use what you have and gradually replace the products you need with better alternatives. There’s no rush in creating the “perfect” clean beauty makeup bag; take it one step at a time.
Throughout this process of using up what you already own, we recommend making note of which products are your “essentials” and which ones you barely use. Part of building a sustainable makeup routine is keeping it minimal – buy only what you need! Remember that this looks different for everyone. For instance, everyone on our team here at Pretty Clean Shop has different essentials: Josie loves her Elate Essential Mascara, while Miriam opts for the Elate Pencil Eye Liner, and Deborah chooses the Elate Crème Revealer Concealer on the daily. We also sell quite a few versatile products that can be used for multiple purposes to keep your makeup bag even more minimal; Claudia loves using the Elate Universal Crème on her eyes, cheeks, and lips!
 

Step 2: Determine what is most important to you & do your research

Is making sure that your makeup bag is fully vegan and cruelty-free most important to you? Are you trying to support companies that use fair, ethical labour throughout the supply chain? Do you have a budget for your makeup routine that you’d like to stick to? Do you want to minimize plastic packaging in the products you choose to purchase?
Everyone has different needs and priorities when building their makeup routine, so it’s important to spend some time reflecting upon what is important to you in order to be intentional with your spending. Sometimes this will come with trade-offs, as there is no black-and-white “best” product for every person. But, doing some research beforehand can help tremendously in determining what is best for YOU.
We recommend skimming through the “About” and “Standards” section of company websites. You can often learn a lot from what companies choose to share, and from what they don’t (transparency is key!). Afterwards, do a quick Google search to find any missing information. Nowadays, it’s almost certain that other curious consumers have already asked the same questions you have!
Something we always like to look for when sourcing the products that we sell here at Pretty Clean Shop is third-party certifications. This is because these independent certification organizations can help do much of the work for you in validating that a company meets certain standards. Maybe you’re interested in fair-trade or cruelty-free certified products – look for the label! For instance, the main makeup brands we sell are Elate Cosmetics, which is a certified B Corp and uses FSC-certified bamboo packaging, and Birch Babe, which is CertClean-certified. Please note that becoming certified is often expensive, so some smaller brands may not have any certifications for accessibility reasons.
 
 

Step 3: Navigate the ingredients list

Navigating ingredients lists on makeup products, which are often super long and include hard-to-pronounce words, can be the most daunting part of building a sustainable makeup routine. We’ve created a list of some ingredients-of-concern and have given you our take on whether or not to avoid them.
  • Micas: Here is a classic example of when “natural” is not necessarily more sustainable. Micas are used in the majority of products with pigment (botanical extracts such as beetroot powder don't work well on their own to yield colour) and are naturally-occurring minerals but can also be produced synthetically. The mica industry is worth billions of dollars, but the majority of natural micas are mined illegally, unethically, and using child labour. The mining of mica is also linked to many destructive environmental impacts. So, what is the solution? We recommend selecting products that use synthetic micas or sustainably-sourced natural micas. Elate Cosmetics uses fair trade micas sourced from suppliers who are active members of the Responsible Mica Initiative.
  • Palm Oil: Palm oil is found in the majority of consumer goods, including many makeup products. While palm oil contributes significantly to deforestation and climate change, it is also one of the most efficient oils to use in terms of yield per area of land use. This means that simply replacing palm oil with other oils would create greater environmental damage. Instead of completely boycotting palm oil, we recommend looking for products with the RSPO sustainable palm oil certification.
  • Animal-Derived Ingredients: If you are vegan, there are many animal-derived ingredients that you may wish to avoid. Unfortunately, these are often not as obvious to spot as commonly known ingredients such as beeswax, which is a common ingredient in lip products. Check out this informative article listing 14 non-vegan ingredients to avoid in makeup and beauty products. 
  • The Dirty Dozen: There are 12 main ingredients commonly found in makeup and beauty products that are industrial chemicals, many of which are carcinogenic or hormone disruptors. In fact, 80% of the makeup Canadians use includes at least one of the dirty dozen toxic chemicals in their ingredient lists! We’ve listed them here, but see this resource to learn more about the science behind what these chemicals can do to your body and to the environment:
  • BHA and BHT
  • Coal tar dyes
  • DEA-related ingredients
  • Dibutyl phthalate
  • Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives
  • Parabens
  • Parfum
  • PEG compounds
  • Petrolatum
  • Siloxanes
  • Sodium laureth sulfate
  • Triclosan
 

Step 4: Consider the packaging

Here at Pretty Clean Shop, we try our best to source makeup products with minimal, plastic-free, reusable, recyclable, and/or compostable packaging. Globally, around 120 billion units of single-use plastic packaging are produced by the cosmetics industry, the majority of which end up in landfills. By making low-waste makeup choices, we can use the power of consumer demand to shift the industry towards providing more sustainable packaging options.
An example of a leader in low-waste makeup packaging is (once again) Elate Cosmetics. They use water-treated, FSC-certified bamboo for their compacts and sell refills in magnetic aluminum pans, paper tubes, and/or seed paper envelopes. They are always looking for new ways to minimize their waste production, which is why we love sharing their products with our community.
We also love the SUSTAIN Lipsticks and Eye pencils from Cheekbone Beauty, another female-owned, Canadian company working hard on transparency and sustainability. 

PRO TIP: For a sustainable makeup-removing routine, be sure to check out our reusable cotton facial rounds, our refillable makeup remover, and the eye makeup remover balm from Elate.

 
 

Step 5: Remember to dispose of the products responsibly

When you finish your makeup products, remember to always dispose of the packaging responsibly. Or, better yet, refill it and reuse it! On the Pretty Clean Shop website, we have an “End of Life” section on each product page that tells you how to dispose of the product at (you guessed it) the end of its life. For products not purchased at our shop, you can almost always find recycling or disposal instructions written on the box or on the company website.
For readers who live close to Pretty Clean Shop, be sure to bring us your used mascara wands when you are finished with them! They are not recyclable, but we collect them to be donated to Wands for Wildlife, an organization that repurposes mascara wands to be used in wildlife rehabilitation efforts.  
 
We hope you learned something from this Beginner’s Guide and are inspired to build your own sustainable makeup routine, one step at a time. If you have any suggestions on how we could expand or improve this guide, or if you would like to share your routine with us, feel free to shoot us an email or a DM on our socials! After all, sharing what you’ve learned with the community is the best way to spread the word on sustainable living and encourage others to take a step in the right direction.

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