My zero waste skincare routine

Skincare and beauty were the first parts of my life I tackled when going zero waste. That in mind, I didn’t master zero waste skincare for over a year into my zero waste journey. I’ve tried most of the DIYs out there and have tried homemade and natural moisturizers, acne solutions and masks.

My skin type is dry, acne prone, and sensitive. Before zero waste I was using moisturizers and multiple acne treatments, and I wore a full face of foundation each day. This was already scaled back from trying out bits of Korean skincare like toners, extra creams and the like. To make things more zero waste, I used up old products and didn’t rebuy them, because no amount of package-free products is as green as not using anything. A word of advice if you are in the midst of trial and error adopting a zero waste skincare routine: unless your skin is noticeably irritated after applying a product, give it at least method a month to allow your skin to adjust.

So for the products I use, my routine, and an inventory of everything that gave me bad skin along the way, check out the following:

Products

Moisturizer

The only moisturizer I use is the Hyaluronic Acid facial serum by Provence Beauty (not sponsored). I found it at TJ Maxx and I’ve been using the product for almost a year; I’m only on my second bottle. Hyaluronic acid helps the skin retain moisture and is found naturally on the skin. It was my favorite moisturizer ingredient pre-zero waste as well. If you’ve done any research into skincare ingredients, you’ll recognize everything on the label, and if you haven’t, most of the scientific names are also in layman’s language in parenthesis next to it.

It’s technically a serum but has a very thin texture and dries on the skin quickly, so it can be applied in the morning, too. It’s light but works very well for my dry skin, which usually peels in winter. It doesn’t clog my pores or make me break out. As for zero waste, the bottle and dropper tube are made of glass. The only plastic is on the top of the bottle, so the bottles and droppers could definitely be reused and most of the components are recyclable.

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Sun protection

For my body, I always wear commercial sunscreen. There is no excuse for applying untested, homemade sunscreen to your skin or the skin of your loved ones. There is no safe amount of sun exposure and all tanning is sun damage, so your base tan is off the table as well. Always apply sunscreen and wear appropriate clothing, hats and sunglasses in the sun.

On my face, I use zinc oxide powder. Zinc oxide is a common ingredient in sunscreens and diaper creams; in diaper creams it acts as a waterproof barrier to prevent skin irritation. As a facial product I find it helps keep my skin hydrated, unlike most DIY zero waste face powders that completely dried out my skin. In sunscreen, zinc oxide acts as a physical barrier to the sun’s rays and is considered one of the most protective broad-spectrum sunscreen ingredients. In the past, zinc oxide was known as the thick white paste lifeguards applied on their noses to prevent sunburn.

I purchased my zinc oxide in a compostable paper packet and apply it every morning with a fluffy makeup brush. If I’m out in the sun, I will apply more zinc oxide every few hours and I always wear a hat. I choose this method because it means I don’t have to purchase another sunscreen product or use a body sunscreen that will make my face break out. Sunscreen helps reduce skin-aging, but most importantly prevents sunburn.

Acne medicine

My best advice for clearing your skin is finding out what causes your acne- be it hormones, stress, diet, or products you put on your skin. What I’ve learned after years of feeling bad about my skin is that stress gives me painful acne that no acne medicine (over the counter or prescription) can cure. Not only is my skin a good indicator of my stress levels, but one consequence of keeping too much stress around is having an painful face.

When I do use acne medicine, I use prescription clindamycin and benzoyl peroxide topical gel. I share it with a family member and refill a small container for myself when the prescription is filled. To be frank, if a drugstore acne treatment like salicylic acid worked on my skin and I was dealing with frequent breakouts, I would probably buy that because the clearer my skin, the less makeup I consume, and painful, irritated, itchy skin feels like much more than an inconvenience. In the past, I used a double dose of salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, which didn’t completely clear my skin and made my dry skin even worse.For anyone using drugstore acne medicine, online I’ve found salicylic acid 2% bars of soap you could use for the face. Knowing that stress causes my skin problems and that topical medicines don’t do anything has taught me how to reduce my breakouts and reduced the number of products I use.

Cleanser

Here’s where you might not be on board with me: I don’t wash my face. Now if you’ve seen my zero waste makeup post, you’ll know I put almost nothing on my face-just zinc oxide and some concealer for brightly colored blemishes. Zinc oxide helps keep my skin moisturized, and using a lot of water, especially hot water, on the face dries out the skin. Not vigorously washing my face is another huge factor in keeping my dry skin, well, not so dry and I’ve been doing it this way for over a year. I don’t totally neglect washing my face, of course, and I clean around my hairline every day. If I am wearing a lot of concealer, I wash my hands and remove it gently with warm water and my fingertips. I always make sure to pat-dry my face with a towel because I find letting my face air-dry makes it itchy and dry. Believe it or not, cutting down on make up and just leaving my face alone have made the biggest positive impact on my complexion.

Routine

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Morning

If my skin feels fine, I apply any concealer for the day and my zinc oxide powder. If my skin feels dry or tight, I apply a few drops of hyaluronic acid serum, my concealer, and my zinc oxide powder.

Evening

I almost always clean around my hair line with my fingertips and warm water. If I am wearing a lot of concealer, I gently rub it off using my fingertips and warm water. If I wash my whole face or my skin feels dry, I apply a few drops of hyaluronic acid facial serum. Occasionally when I have many small pimples or textured skin, I apply some of the prescription strength acne medicine, but I avoid doing so as it dries out my skin.


As you can see, I don’t always use products at a certain time of day. I use products when I need them. If you spill wine on a shirt, you don’t scrub the whole shirt, you scrub the stain. For lack of a better metaphor, treat the parts of your skin for what they need rather than wasting products on your entire face if only certain parts of your skin are dry or get breakouts.

What didn’t work

As I said at the beginning, I tried quite a few things that did not work for my easily irritated skin.

African black soap

Soap was very drying and while it did help, I had to use a lot of moisturizer to make up for the drying effects of the soap.

Coconut oil

This stuff is very comedogenic, meaning it will clog your pores. It made my skin awful and clogged the sink. And if you haven’t heard it yet, coconut oil is not an effective deodorant.

Tea tree oil

I had no luck with this stuff; there doesn’t seem to be a ton of research about its’ effectiveness either.

Vitamin E oil (tocopherol)

It’s supposed to be good for fading scars and healing skin, but all it did for me was clog my pores

Bentonite clay

When it was time to remove the clay, getting it off my skin caused a lot of irritation. I found it drying, too.

Baking soda

I’m not sure why this is even recommended for DIY skincare. Perhaps because it makes other things go away, so why not acne? It didn’t do anything.

Exfoliating

Regularly exfoliating didn’t agree with my sensitive and dry skin; I think the friction combined with cleaning my face with lots of water afterwards just left me dry and my skin more likely to peel.


If skincare and beauty is the first step in your zero waste journey, best of luck to you. I know I found it to be a manageable first step and it helped me seek out creative solutions. If you’ve been pursuing zero waste and still haven’t mastered skincare, I hope you feel comforted that even though it took over a year, I managed to find something that has worked for me now long-term.