Zero waste makeup bag

When most of us start going zero waste, there’s at least one thing we immediately know isn’t for us. Maybe it’s hankies or making your own almond milk. For me, it was makeup.


60% of women feel bad about their appearance at least once a week

How long did you spend in front of the mirror this morning? Women dedicate 55 minutes a day to their appearance – the equivalent of two weeks a year!, Daily Mail

Ready-made zero waste makeup is expensive, and unless you can purchase it in-person, it’s risky to try and shade match from online images. The most popular brand zero wasters discuss, Elate Cosmetics, has good intentions but like many brands, far fewer shades of face makeup than there are skin tones, and even fewer of their shades are appropriate for people with darker skin tones.

DIY zero waste makeup was dangerous to my dry, acne prone skin. I tried a variety of the DIY recipes with little to no success. My skin was dry from frequent washing or whatever DIY zero waste remedy I was trying for what was actually stress breakouts, so I had about seven months of bad skin. Top that off with attempts to wear less makeup or zero waste makeup, and things were no bueno.

I tried a month long makeup ban which lasted about two weeks. An entire two weeks unable to look anyone in the eye, that ended when I began field work for my masters degree and was mortified to meet classes of students with my naked face. After that, I went back to makeup, making eye contact and went for a more gradual approach to stop wearing foundation.

All this to say that it’s actually been about two years since I bought eye makeup, and probably a year and a half since I bought foundation. I’ve worn makeup since I was 12 or 13, happy with pressed powder and eyeliner on my waterline. By the time I tried to stop wearing makeup, I wore a full face of foundation every day, even on days at home in case I had to look at myself. If you’re looking for a sign it’s time to reduce or give up makeup, a good indicator is feeling like you don’t look like yourself without makeup.

Failure with zero waste makeup has produced my zero waste makeup strategies, so hopefully some of the following ideas work for you.


Nyx concealer

If you didn’t gather from above, face makeup was my vice. No zero waste option worked as well as actual makeup (surprise). I gave up on the circles under my eyes in my teens, so this product serves to is cover acne. It lasts forever, the container is recyclable, and it’s vegan.

Zinc oxide

This isn’t makeup, but in the vein of DIY makeup, if we put it on the bristles of a makeup brush we get to call it makeup. Zinc oxide is a popular ingredient in diaper cream because it creates a water tight barrier on the skin, but for this purpose I like the natural  SPF it has. Because of this, zinc oxide is a common ingredient in makeup and sunscreen. I use it as face powder and I bought it in a paper pouch (plastic free); it smooths things over and makes the skin more matte, but it is not makeup and is bright white. If zinc oxide is not brushed carefully on the skin it will leave white patches.

78% of 16-18 year old teens reports feeling bad about their appearance at least once a week
— How long did you spend in front of the mirror this morning? Women dedicate 55 minutes a day to their appearance – the equivalent of two weeks a year!, Daily Mail

I have fair skin and a family history of skin cancer (whoo!) so some kind of skin protection is a must. In summer, I wear sunscreen every day that I spend time outside, excepting walks to/from my car. Sun exposure is also a leading cause of skin damage, and I don’t pretend that’s not part of the reason I powder my face. Even though we’re all doomed to age, wrinkle and die, it’s hard to resist the pull of looking young as long as possible in a culture that ties beauty to youth.

Eye liner


The tightly lined eyes of my teenage years are only a bad memory, but a few times a year I put on eyeliner. I have an old eyeliner pencil, made of wood and makeup in the center, that I use for such occasions. It can be sharpened and purchased mostly plastic free.

 Brow wax and mascara

DIY and zero waste mascara technology didn’t seem up to par for me, so I stumbled on this by accident. After making my own brow pomade (mostly bees wax and coconut oil, plus leftover lip balm from this tin), I found it worked well to comb my eye lashes and stand them up as well. It’s less effective on hot days, but still works. If I want to further darken my eyelashes I rub the eyelash comb on some dark brown eye shadow.

Eyelash curler

Perhaps not eco-friendly, but I’ve had my eyelash curler for years. It still works (no surprise) and creates a traditional mascara effect when used with my brow/eyelash wax.

Makeup brushes

All of my makeup brushes were purchased pre-zero waste. Most of the brushes I still own are Ecotools brushes and they work well. I recommend you use the brushes you have for as long as possible and make a conscious purchase if they begin to fall apart.



Nothing fancy here. If you’re like me or most of the women who wear makeup that I know, you probably have a small (or inexplicably large) amount of extra makeup that is not for everyday use and that you have in substantial quantities. I have two small containers of eyeshadow left, and I’ll use those for the foreseeable future. If you’re looking to zero waste your makeup routine, don’t start by throwing away useful resources like extra makeup in shades you can wear. The containers, except for glass components, will most likely go to landfill.


Much like eye shadow, the lipsticks I have are leftovers from the past. If close friends or family buy a shade that doesn’t work for them, I’m happy to take it off their hands as well. When I finish these products, I plan to buy soft lip-liners that can be sharpened (plastic free) and used as lipstick. The idea is not my own, but comes from Nelia Rose, and was featured in one of her videos about makeup. Her Youtube channel is wonderful if you’re interested in zero waste, simple living, or frugality.

Do I recommend any green beauty brands?

If any cynicism has leaked into this post, I am not surprised and I don’t see any reason to edit it out. It’s been well over a year since I’ve worn a full face of makeup, and I still miss it at times. It doesn’t change the fact that the beauty industry is built on the insecurities of women and the goal of this industry is to profit from our insecurities.

No company cared about making your natural beauty shine or proudly advertised people saying “I wear makeup for me” until they realized that those messages would make them money. I believe we should all have the choice to wear or not wear makeup, and while you may feel you genuinely wear makeup for yourself, no person is an island; we live in a culture that values beauty above all else in women, even if that is not our personal view. We are not separate from our socialization, even though we can grow to see the problems with some of the beliefs we are taught.

Our fingernails match our toenails, match our lipstick match our rouge...The habit of applying warpaint outlasts the battle.
— Angela Carter, Wise Children

I can’t recommend any beauty brands in particular because I don’t entirely condone a culture and industry that promotes makeup wearing only for women, that promotes makeup wearing as empowerment while profiting from insecurity, or that shows another generation of young girls or any children that makeup wearing is compulsory or a rite of passage.

Makeup is not warpaint. If makeup were warpaint, who are we fighting? Are we fighting other women? They are, after all, the most likely opponent since many of them are also wearing warpaint. Are we fighting for ourselves? Are we fighting for status is a culture that affords more to the beautiful? Are we fighting to be worthy of love? Who are we at war with?


Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot. Hopefully, you can make your makeup routine more zero waste. If all else fails, refuse where you can and reduce what you must.

And if you’re looking for more zero waste in 2019, let’s kick off the year together. Check out how to kick-start the year!

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