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I eliminated all plastic from my bathroom and beauty routine – here's what worked

Lisa Walden
Photo credit: Lisa Walden

From Country Living

Is a plastic-free bathroom and beauty routine possible? Country Living writer, Lisa Walden, tests a range of zero waste, plastic-free swaps for personal hygiene, makeup and beauty products. Lisa tries everything from shampoo and conditioner to foundation and floss. Here's how she got on...

Last year, it was reported that the beauty industry generated over 142 million units of packaging, and much of it was plastic. I myself used 12 plastic-packaged products for hygiene and beauty every single day. But, during my switch, I got my that number down to zero.

All of the product swaps were either plastic-free, packaging-free or refillable. I replaced everything, including body wash, foundation, mascara, moisturiser and face wipes with their eco-friendly alternatives. And at the end of it all, my bathroom bin was almost empty – no wipes, cotton pads and empty plastic bottles heading for collection.

My new routine made a real difference to my waste, but did all the zero waste products work and will they become permanent swaps?

Keeping in mind the shocking stat that 50% of Brits don’t currently recycle bathroom waste, which leads to 2.7 billion plastic bottles heading to landfill every year, here's how I got on...

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BATHROOM

Plastic-free hygiene swaps:

Photo credit: Lisa Waslen

Ethique 'Heali Kiwi' shampoo bar, £12.99, Holland & Barrett BUY NOW

This plastic-free shampoo bar from Ethique looks like any other bar of soap, except it's not. Once you have wet your hair, take the shampoo bar and lather onto your head. I have short-to-medium hair. This takes longer than just pouring from a bottle so I quickly learnt to allow extra time for washing my hair. But I was very surprised at how foamy it was and just how soft my hair felt after blowdrying. Permanent swap?

Green tea and eucalyptus shampoo bar, £5.99, Acala BUY NOW

Trying a few plastic-free shampoo bars meant I had the option to find one right for my hair (I recommend also shopping around until you find one you truly love). At first glance, I loved the Christmas-like peppermint smell of this round, brown bar. It felt fresh on my hair and easily created a bit of foam. But after I had brushed and dried my hair, I realised that it had left the underneath of my hair feeling still quite greasy, almost a bit damp-looking. I gave it a few goes, but this happened every time I used it. Just like other products, sometimes they work better on other hair types. While it smells wonderful, it just doesn't work wonders for me. Permanent swap? ❌ Why? Makes my hair greasy.

Ethique conditioner bar, £12.99, Holland & Barrett BUY NOW

First impressions? It smells incredible – like a creamy coconut drink you might sip by the pool on holiday. But does it work? Yes, and there were no tangles when it came to brushing. Top tip: take the bar and rub generously straight onto your hair. You'll be amazed something so small can make your hair feel so soft. Permanent swap?

Ethique Lavender and Mint bodywash bar, £5.49, Holland & Barrett BUY NOW

While this body wash bar smells like a balmy summer's day, it's worth noting that it does leave your body with a squeaky 'soap' feel that takes a bit of getting used to. I find rubbing on with the natural body sponge (below) helps to create a foamy, lathery consistency. Permanent swap?

Ethique 'bliss bar' face cleansing bar, £14.99, Holland & Barrett BUY NOW

Perfect to use both day or night, this cleansing bar has now replaced my plastic face washes. There is nothing worse than a cleanser that stings in the eyes or doesn't actually clean your face at all – but this one from Ethique is great. Use with a muslin cloth, run it under warm water and your skin will thank you for it. Permanent swap?

Refillable glass bottles, £19.50 for two 500ml, Clean Natured at Wearth London BUY NOW

If you find yourself not getting on with shampoo bars, these refillable glass bottles allow you to use trusty liquid products without the packaging. My editor, Emma-Louise Pritchard, loves hers and swears by them after realising shampoo bars couldn't get to grips with her long hair. Emma-Louise refills the bottles at her local As Nature Intended shop which stocks natural, plant-derived shampoo, conditioner, body wash and hand wash from Faith in Nature (they have a list of refill stations on their website). Plus, the amber glass bottles with embossed labels look amazing in the bathroom. To refill, head to your local refill station. Permanent swap?

Bamboo cleansing cloth, £15, Magnitone London, Look Fantastic BUY NOW

This bamboo microfibre cleansing cloth really does do what it says on the package: it removes all traces of makeup with just water. Its soft cotton-like feel doesn't feel harsh or scratchy on the skin. In fact, it feels as if it has been made using natural oils — and I love using it everyday. Simply pop in the washing machine or hand wash once a week and it's good to use again. Even after washing it still does the job. Permanent swap?

Natural body sponge, £8.60, Ecco Verde BUY NOW

This natural sponge is the perfect alternative to the cheap plastic body sponges that do the environment no good. Run it under warm water in the shower and lather with your favourite body wash bar. I used it with the body bar from Ethique and found it to be incredibly foamy and soft on the skin. I wish I'd got my hands on one sooner. Permanent swap?

Natural face sponge, £7, Beauty Kitchen BUY NOW

Here's another great natural product to add to your routine. Prior to giving this one a go, I would just squeeze some face wash onto the palm of my hands and use a muslin cloth. But this sponge is a real game-changer. Simply run under the tap and it will become soft and easy to use. Permanent swap?

Natural deodorant stick, Ben & Anna, £9.95, Planet Organic BUY NOW

The real test of any deodorant is to wear it on a hot summer's day travelling on London's Northern Line – so I gave it a go, on the tube, in almost 30-degree heat. I was nervous and had no back-up sprays in my bag but this natural deodorant gets rave reviews from me. Not only does it last all day, but it survives city heat, too. Yes, no sweat patches. No odd smells. It's worth noting, though, that it is expensive, flakes a bit when you apply it (be careful with black t-shirts) and everyone sweats differently. Permanent swap? ❌ Why? Much more expensive.

Vegan, refillable and eco-friendly floss, £4.90, Acala BUY NOW

Nylon floss might be easy to use on your teeth, but it does the environment no favours. This vegan one from Acala comes in a pretty glass pot and can be refilled once empty. Brilliantly, it is soft on the teeth and doesn't pull either. I wish I had come across this earlier. To refill, post back to to supplier. Permanent swap?

Organic zero-waste toothpaste, £6.95, Georganics BUY NOW

This is an entirely different experience to normal toothpaste. It does clean your teeth and leaves them feeling polished but it doesn't foam like a tube toothpaste so the rest of your mouth doesn't get that fresh feeling. I think it needs to be used alongside mouthwash tablets as well but, seeing as this is already an expensive swap, that may not be an option. Permanent swap? ❌ Why? I'd rather wait for more effective plastic-free toothpaste options to become available.


SKINCARE

Plastic-free skincare swaps

Photo credit: Lisa Walden

Beauty Kitchen Seahorse Plankton moisturiser, £16, Feel Unique BUY NOW

At first, I was nervous to trade my trusted tube products for messier bars and plant-based creams. But I've really found one I love. This moisturiser comes in a refillable glass jar, which means once you've scraped out every tiny drop, you can send it back for a top-up. I used this on my skin before my foundation and found it to work a treat. Its blue-coloured formula has a strong lavender scent, but blends wonderfully into the skin. To refill, post back to to supplier. Permanent swap?

Beauty Kitchen Seahorse Plankton facial oil, £15, Feel Unique BUY NOW

Likewise, the facial oil is incredibly moisturising — and it too is refillable. If you're not a fan of oily products, then the moisturiser might be more appropriate for you, but I loved this product to soak into my skin right before bed. To refill, post back to to supplier. Permanent swap?

Naked facial oil 'Argan', £10, Lush BUY NOW

Blended with rich shea butter, this facial oil is incredibly moisturising on the skin. I used this in the evening after removing my makeup and found it to leave my skin incredibly soft. Permanent swap?

'Sleepy Face' cleansing bar, £5, Lush BUY NOW

This packaging-free cleansing balm is a great for cleaning your face. Simply rub onto your skin and gently remove with a washable cotton pad. Or if, like me, you love the smell, leave it to soak into your skin. Top tip: get your hands on a dish to put it in and store it in a dry place. Permanent swap?

Naked facial primer, £10, Lush BUY NOW

I thought this facial primer would be greasy on the skin, but it really wasn't. Simply massage into your hands, rub evenly on the skin and continue your makeup routine. Its lavender scent is also delightful. It did last on my skin during the day and worked really well with the Lush foundation bar. Permanent swap?

Reusable makeup pads, £5.99, Acala BUY NOW

These soft cotton pads are brilliant for cutting back on single-use waste. After getting into a habit of using two to three per day, I realised it was about time I found a replacement for plastic-wrapped cotton wool pads which are not recyclable. What I love most about these ones from Acala is that they are incredibly soft. Once dirty, hand wash or put them in a small laundry bag in the washing machine. What are they like after washing? Not entirely bright white, but still perfectly good to use and still soft. Permanent swap?

Ethique body lotion bar, £11.99, Holland & Barrett BUY NOW

Much to my delight, this body lotion bar smells like a medley of summer fruits. It's thick, moisturising and as smooth as can be on the skin. If you're going to apply this in the morning, make sure to leave extra time – unlike plastic tubes, you can't just squeeze and apply. It takes a bit longer. Permanent swap?

MAKEUP

Plastic-free makeup swaps:

Photo credit: Lisa Walden

'Slap Stick' foundation bar, £17, Lush BUY NOW

Don't be put off by it's egg-like shape because this Lush 'naked' foundation bar is worth all the hype. Although it's quite oily, so it may not be suitable for someone with oily skin. With the right brush, it blends seamlessly onto the skin, creating a natural glow. I even tested it on the UK's hottest day of the year so far and it didn't budge! Permanent swap?

'Glow Stick' highlighter, £12, Lush BUY NOW

I was skeptical about the stick but this good-sized highlighter really is worth trying – the pencil shape means you can be really precise. Permanent swap?

Refillable lipstick 'Kiss me quick', £20, Tropic BUY NOW

Despite collecting lipsticks for years, I've never tried a refillable one. What I love most about this one from Tropic is its natural, peachy hue and fruity scent. It gives you the perfect everyday my-lips-but-better look that you can continue to refill over and over again. Brilliant. To refill, post back to to supplier. Permanent swap?

Zao refillable eyeshadow, £16, Glow Organic BUY NOW

This coral-hued eyeshadow is incredibly pigmented and refillable, too. I love that the packaging is made from wood and has a small magnetic clasp on the lid. However, I do recommend using an eyeshadow primer to avoid any mid-day smudges. To refill, post back to supplier. Permanent swap?

Zao refillable mascara, £13.50, Glow Organic BUY NOW

Plastic-free mascara was a real challenge to find. Eventually I came across this mascara in a wooden tube which can be refilled once empty. Unfortunately it didn't give my lashes a volumised look and took a few coats of product before my lashes were fully covered. I think I'll stick to my usual one and then donate the used mascara wands to my local animal shelter – more info here. To refill, post back to to supplier. Permanent swap? ❌ Why? Doesn't work well on my lashes and is much more expensive than my regular.

What lessons did I learn?

1. You use less product overall
I found that I hardly needed to use much product at all. Instead of over-squeezing from plastic shampoo bottles, a bar will give you only what you really need. Brilliantly, too, it will last you much longer.

2. Some products cost more at first but will save you money in the long-run
While many of the items I tried are more expensive, most are much more affordable in the long-run because they last longer. Items such as washable makeup pads can be reused again and again. To be transparent though, some products are more expensive and last the same amount of time as plastic equivalents, but I found them a real treat to use so, for me, they were worth it.

3. Be patient with the products
I didn't fall in love with some of the products on the first go. When it comes to plastic-free options, it can take some getting used to. Give the products time and be patient with them. You might not love them right away, but that doesn't mean you should give up on them altogether. And if you decide they are not for you, luckily there are new eco-friendly products launching more and more often – so watch this space.

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