How Much Plastic is in Your Beauty Routine?

Hollie Shirley / Hair & Skincare Editor

Have you ever stopped to think about how much plastic are you using in your beauty routine and what can you do to reduce this?

I’m a big fan of David Attenborough, and after watching Blue Planet 2 like everyone else,  it was even more apparent that we need to do more to reduce our plastic consumption. The Attenborough Effect has been growing ever since the series aired in 2018, so much so that the European Commission has pledged that all plastic packaging is to be recyclable by 2030. We are all trying to do our bit to reduce our plastic consumption these days – if you’re anything like me, you are sipping water from your reusable water bottle, you grab your morning coffee in a reusable cup (saving 30p in the process), you bring your own lunch to work and have a collection of tote bags – bonus points if they are made from recycled bottles.

In the UK alone Around 12.2m tonnes of plastic waste is deposited in the marine environment each year, according to The Green Alliance. But from the moment you wake up and start getting ready for the day, just how much plastic are you using and what can you do to reduce this?

white bottles on windowsill

Plastic when you wake up.

The ban on microbeads (the tiny little balls of plastic in most face scrubs and toothpaste) came into effect in January 2018, which was a huge step in reducing microplastics that can be eaten by marine animals which can effectively end up on your plate.

However, there are other areas where it can creep in. Your toothbrush, your toothpaste tube, is likely made from non-recycleable plastic and of course, any products that you are using in the morning are most likely in a plastic bottle or jar. Cleansers, toners, micellar water and moisturisers are all culprits.

Let’s not forget the morning shower, which also adds to the plastic bottle pile with shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, bubble baths and any other products – single-use plastic razors are another major culprit, along with shower sponges. All the products you use may be great for a #shelfie for Instagram, not so great for the planet.


Plastic in makeup? 

Aside from the obvious containers for your cosmetics, If you tend to use cotton buds to clean up your eyeliner or mascara your beauty routine may be less environmentally friendly than you thought.

Plastic-stemmed cotton buds may be banned in the future alongside plastic straws. Wastewater treatment works are not designed to deal with microplastics or larger plastics like cotton buds. They all just pass through the filters and end up in the ocean. 

If you like to add some extra sparkle to your makeup, glitter that is washed off will also end up in the water system as it is too small to be detected.

Plastic is  there when you’re taking off your make-up, too

Wet wipes and single-use cotton pads are the major culprits in blocking sewers and causing fatbergs. They may be the most convenient way to remove your makeup but they will n mix with oil and fat in the water treatment system, making them the main culprit in 93% of sewer blockages. Even if the packet says flushable, most are made of non-biodegradable materials like polyester. Although they may be doing wonders for your skin, all the steps in your skincare routine add up to more plastic waste. Depending on how many toiletries you use, you could be adding to the 13 billion plastic bottles that the UK uses each year, according to figures from charity RECOUP (RECycling Of Used Plastics Limited). Research from an article by Science Advances shows that the total volume of all plastic ever produced is around 8.3 billion tonnes, and 6.3 billion tonnes of that is now waste.

assorted plastic bottles on white background

So what can you do to reduce this? 
While this all makes for very unpleasant reading, it’s not all doom and gloom.
Switch to sustainable brands

There are loads of brands out there these days that operate sustainably whilst also forgoing single-use plastics. There are a number of brands out there that will allow you to opt in to refill “subscriptions” whereby you can return your bottles to be refilled with the product, cutting the need to produce new bottles. 

Go longer between hair washes

The easiest way to minimise your environmental impact is to wash your hair less often. Not only will this cut down on product use, but will also save on water and energy needed for any styling tools. Sleeping on a silk pillowcase or a silk hair wrap will help your hair stay looking fresh for longer, meaning you don’t need to wash your hair as often. 

Use reusable wipes (and other things)

A personal favourite of mine is Tabitha Eve, who make everything from reusable makeup rounds, plastic-free bath pouffes, nail polish remover wipes, to flannels, shower mitts and bamboo toothbrushes. For hairbrushes and makeup brushes, Eco tools range are made from recycled materials and all their packaging is too. It is also worth investing in a safety razor, which will last virtually forever (and look much more aesthetically pleasing on your bathroom shelf). 

Opt for plastic-free packaging

Probably the easiest switch you can make is avoiding using products housed in plastic and instead choose packaging that can be recycled or reused, such as glass. The Ordinary, Neals Yard, Dr Botanticals and Fresh are mainly packaged in glass bottles or jars.  Alternatively, forgo packaging altogether and buy soap bars and solid shampoo and conditioner bars. Lush is pioneering this zero-waste, ‘naked’ style packaging with shampoo and conditioners, solid versions of its shower gels and more. but it’s also worth looking at handmade soap companies found at local produce markets, as these will have a much lower carbon footprint. 

Hollie Shirley
Hair & Skincare Editor

Hollie Shirley is SILKUP’s hair and skincare editor. She’s obsessed with all things hair care and results-driven skincare, that is kind to the environment and your wallet. She has a weakness for limited edition eyeshadows and is always testing out the newest and greatest deep conditioners. Hollie has a passion for hair and is studying Trichology, working towards becoming a Member of the Association of Registered Trichologists.