How to make the move to zero-waste personal care products

From toothpaste tablets to moisturizer, these are the products we could see ourselves switching to.

From toothpaste tablets to moisturizer, these are the products we could see ourselves switching to

The newest beauty trend has nothing to do with colour palettes or multi-step cleansing rituals. It's driven by something more altruistic. Beauty's latest buzzword is zero-waste and so-called 'naked" products, with little to no packaging, are cropping up — beyond those fragrant bath bombs. 

"Consumer demand for zero-waste, less-waste, package-free, environmentally-conscious products is definitely on the rise," says Michelle Genttner, co-owner of Toronto's zero-waste Unboxed Market. With the Canadian government set to ban single-use plastics as early as 2021, companies are increasingly driven to creating products that meet these demands.  

"There is a sense of responsibility with a lot of customers who come into our store," says Genttner, "many are already prepared with their own bags or containers, and many more want to chat with us about things they are doing, habits they are changing and products they are searching for in an effort to eliminate the excess that exists in so many areas of our lives." 

Canadian beauty companies are taking a cue from the concerns of socially conscious consumers, in some cases reformulating products and rethinking packaging to ditch single-use plastic components.

"I believe the beauty industry has a long way to go in solving the gap between the life of a product and its packaging," says Karina Birch, co-owner and CEO of Canmore, Alberta-based Rocky Mountain Soap Co. "I use the example of a lip butter. It may last three months, in terms of use, but the plastic container will survive approximately 300 years in a landfill. We were the first company to launch a lip colour in paper packaging," she adds.

"Customers are much better informed and are constantly asking questions," explains Jennifer Brodeur, owner of JB Skin Guru in Montreal, who says cutting down on waste is part of her company's DNA. "From day one we've emphasized the importance of slow beauty, minimalism, and using and buying less." 

For neophytes hoping to adopt less wasteful habits, Linh Truong, co-owner of Vancouver zero-waste shops The Soap Dispensary & Kitchen Staples, says it's all about training yourself to pause before mindlessly buying. She recommends asking yourself questions like whether you actually need the product, if you can determine which resources were used to make it, what will happen to it at the end of its useful life and whether the benefit of having the product outweighs the drawback of its packaging and its carbon footprint.

Genttner recommends starting the path toward becoming less wasteful by auditing one area of your home. "If you are tackling your washroom, for example, consider products like refillable toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner," she says. "Household vinegar is an excellent replacement for cleaning chemicals found in many homes and plastic loofahs can be exchanged for versions made from plants or even washcloths. Paper towels are easily swapped for cotton towels, or at least reusable paper towels [also called sponge cloths], which are made from cellulose, are 100 per cent biodegradable and can replace up to 17 rolls of paper towel. It is best to use products that you already have, and then gradually exchange them for versions in more sustainable packaging."

Paper, glass, or aluminum are your best packaging bets when naked products aren't available, according to Genttner. "Glass and aluminum have the highest rates of recyclability," she explains. "Glass can be endlessly crushed to sand and re-formed, and it is much more economical to reuse aluminum than to mine new resources."  

The transition to less wasteful products does take some getting used to. Most solid shampoos, for example, won't produce as much lather as their liquid counterparts. Truong says the upside is that these sorts of products are easier to travel with, often last longer and are made with better ingredients than commercial packaged brands. "If you find something and you don't like it, don't give up on the whole thing," she advises. "There are a growing number of eco brands and products and if you don't like one, it may just be that particular brand. I think of deodorants when I say this. Not every eco brand of deodorant may work for everyone but you just need to find the right one." 

Use the guide below to discover some products, both new and noteworthy, and longstanding eco fan favourites, that can help make your beauty and personal care routine less wasteful. 

Keep in mind that to date, only some beauty products have been successfully reformulated as solids, eliminating the need for a container altogether. Others have not, or are still sold exclusively with an applicator. We've given honourable mentions to companies that have intentionally designed elements of their packaging to be repurposed or reused.

Hair wash and conditioner

Buzzworthy: Peoni Shampoo Bar, $18, JB Skin Guru

This new product from JB Skin Guru is designed with sensitive scalps in mind, and formulated to reduce flaking and itching.

Fan favourite: The Balancer Shampoo + Conditioner, $35, Unwrapped Life

Made with ingredients like turmeric, calendula and coconut oil, this shampoo and conditioner combo set is designed to encourage collagen production and keep hair follicles happy, which can lead to stronger locks.  

Facial cleanser

Buzzworthy: Jade Roller, $5.95, Lush

This new product from Lush is designed to cleanse, tone and massage the skin with embedded mung beans. Marula oil absorbs easily, while astringent hazelnut oil and peppermint have a pore-tightening effect. 

Fan favourite: Avocado Soap Facial Bar, $5.95, Rocky Mountain Soap Co.

This made-in-Canada cleansing bar is designed to hydrate. The addition of vitamin E also helps to rejuvenate and calm damaged and sensitive skin.

Facial moisturizer

Buzzworthy: Banana Skin, $14.95, Lush

Get all the benefits of a traditional moisturizer in bar form with this product from Lush's new naked skincare line. With mango butter and fresh banana, this solid facial oil is formulated to hydrate skin and absorb quickly.

Fan favourite: Tinted Face Moisturizer SPF 30, $27.79, Ample + Good

Sold in a reusable tin, this three-in-one product provides the benefits of a moisturizer, sunscreen and skin tint (though it's currently only available in one hue).


Buzzworthy: Toothpaste Bits, $12/one month supply, Bite

Sold in refillable and recyclable glass bottles, and shipped in recyclable boxes and envelopes sealed with paper tape, Bite's toothpaste bits are available with or without activated charcoal. 

Fan favourite: Crush & Brush Mint Glass Jar, $13.99, Nelson Naturals

Crush these Canadian-made, eco-friendly toothpaste tablets with your teeth, then brush normally with a wet toothbrush to create an effervescent foam. 


Buzzworthy: Solid Deodorant, $18.00, Ethique

These new solid deodorant bars keep sweat at bay with a mix of magnesium hydroxide, zinc oxide and bamboo, which the brand says can absorb 200 per cent its own weight in sweat and oil. Choose between lime and eucalyptus, lavender and vanilla, and unscented formulas. 

Fan favourite: Meow Meow Tweet Deodorant Stick, around $30.96,

Packaged in a biodegradable paper tube designed to compost in a year, Meow Meow Tweet's deodorant sticks are available in lavender bergamot and lemon eucalyptus scents.


Buzzworthy: Elate Essential Mascara, $28, Elate

Designed to plump and lengthen lashes, this Canadian product is fairly low waste as far as mascaras go. Once the product is finished, you can crush the outer bamboo tube and compost it. The inner plastic can be cleaned and recycled.

Fan favourite: 1920 Black Cake Mascara, around $45, Bésame Cosmetics

Available in a reusable tin with brush applicator or simply as a refill in a compostable sleeve, this vintage-inspired mascara has a smudge-free formula that has stood the test of time.

Lip tint 

Buzzworthy: RMS Beauty Lip2Cheek, $45, Shoppers Drug Mart

Available in a range of hues from burnt berry to soft rosy pink, this product from RMS Beauty comes in a reusable glass jar, and does double duty as both lip and cheek colour. 

Fan favourite: Hibiscus Pink Tinted Lip Balm, $14, Rocky Mountain Soap Co.

Packaged in biodegradable paper pots that can also be upcycled to grow seedlings, this hydrating tinted lip butter is available in four shades. 


Buzzworthy: Aether Beauty Solstice Eyeshadow Palette, $77, Sephora

Aether Beauty lays claim to the first zero-waste eyeshadow palette in the makeup industry. The brand's Summer Solstice palette, which includes a range of 12 shades inspired by the golden hour, and comes in recyclable paper packaging without mirrors or magnets. 

Fan favourite: Kjaer Weis Eye Shadow, $61, The Detox Market

Packaged in refillable stainless steel compacts, Kjaer Weis products are both luxurious and sustainable. Available in 14 hues, the brand's eyeshadows have a silky texture that's easily blendable. 

Jen O'Brien is an award-winning editor and freelance writer based in Toronto. Follow her @thejenobrien.


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