Seen the news lately? It’s grim. We’ve got sea life choking on plastic, homeless baby orangutans and an overall picture of more people than resources to go around. It’s something to mull over while you’re applying your moisturiser, serum and eye cream before bed tonight, or restocking your shower gel, hair wax, and deodorant.
How we live is a problem and even something as unremarkable as our daily grooming habits are having an enormous impact on the living planet. Consider this: at the last count the population of the UK was 66,040,200. Let’s assume that 90 per cent of the population has a plastic toothbrush, using 1-2 per year.
Add disposable razors to the scenario. Add shampoo bottles. It doesn’t take a maths genius to work out that that’s a hell of a lot of plastic waste per year – just from the UK.
Why You Should Use Sustainable Grooming Products
Globally, an estimated 12 million tonnes are currently entering the oceans each year – and depressingly this is projected to increase. That’s a full rubbish truck every minute or five full carrier bags of the stuff per every foot of coastline.
Doorstep collection might make it look like we have recycling under control – we don’t. What doesn’t end up the sea ends up in landfill or incineration – all of which releases greenhouse gases. Plastic recycling rates in the UK are pitiful and until recently we were shipping most of it to China (which no longer wants it). Most plastics cannot be recycled more than once anyway and the process uses more energy than with glass or aluminium.
In the right circumstances plastic can be a wondrous substance, but in the age of ‘single use’ convenience it’s become a curse – and it’s finding its way into our water, food and bodies.
And what’s the fuss about palm oil? Palm oil is used in the vast proportion of processed foods including biscuits, cakes and spreads – but also in personal care products like toothpaste, shower gel and shampoo. Manufacturers like it because it’s cheap and – to get a bit technical – it’s a good source of long chain fatty acids that help create emulsions.
The demand is stripping forests in Malaysia and Indonesia, pushing orangutans, rhinos and tigers towards extinction. At current rates 98 per cent of Indonesian forest will be gone by 2022. We need these biodiverse habitats too – they soak up masses of carbon dioxide. Palm oil is very hard to avoid because brands list it under a myriad of sneaky names (there’s a comprehensive list here).
Will It Ever Change?
Cheery stuff, we know. But don’t feel defeated. There’s a lot of talk about sustainability but some brands are more serious about it than others. “At Bulldog sustainability is in our DNA. Since the very first day of launching in 2007, we never used plastic micro-beads for instance and this was well before the ban,” says Simon Duffy, founder of Bulldog Skincare, which won recognition for its sustainable practices in our 2018 Grooming Awards.
“We consider ourselves man’s best friend, so of course it’s important for us to be sustainable but also to the beauty industry as a whole. We’re seeing more concern for how things are made and consumed. In personal care eco-conscious brands have been highly sought after.”
The good news is that knowledge is power and you, the consumer, can drive change. Every pound you spend is a vote for the kind of world you want to live in and we think it’s time to elect the good guys who are out there proving that things can be done differently. Don’t forget to use your voice either; social media has made it very easy to tell brands what we want.
What To Look Out For
Read The Label
Scrutinise the ingredients list as you would a food label. Organic ingredients are a bonus because organic farming is pesticide-free and supports soil health and insect and bird life, including pollinators like bees, which are essential to the food chain. It will also help you avoid palm oil and toxic ingredients like parabens or fossil fuel derivatives like petroleum.
Avoid Unnecessary Packaging
Swerve plastic wherever possible – even if that just means taking the item with the least amount of packaging – and look at solid ‘naked’ alternatives like shampoo bars. Refill where possible, buy in bulk, or take your trash back. Kiehl’s has a reward scheme for returned empties and Bulldog is soon relaunching its refillable shower gel, which cuts 85 per cent of packaging.
Switch To Lower Impact Items
Reusable steel razors are often nicer to use than cheap plastic alternatives and there are lots of brands making biodegradable toothbrushes including bamboo. Some brands are also experimenting with bottles made from more sustainable materials such as recycled cardboard and sugar cane.
9 Sustainable Grooming Brands
Davines (pronounced Da-vee-ness) is a carbon neutral professional hair care company from Italy that sells online and via salons. It still uses plastic containers, but the minimum amount, and encourages salons to offer clients refills from the bulk supply. It’s careful about its ingredients, choosing organic sources wherever possible, and makes brilliant paraben- and sulphate-free shampoos, styling products and conditioning aids.
Garish bath bombs might not be our thing but Lush has more to offer. If you’re interested in living plastic-free, Lush specialises in solid deodorants, cleansers, shampoo bars, hair wax and even solid toothpaste and mouthwash tabs. Most of these are hand cut so you can take as much as you want, and the brand provides tins for storage and travel. Lush is transparent about its ingredients, strives for an ethical supply chain and doesn’t test on animals. On a side note, we really rate the Kalamazoo beard wash.
Neal’s Yard Remedies
Ethical pioneer, certified organic (by the Soil Association – always look for the trademark), cruelty free and free from synthetics, NYR is the original British sustainable beauty brand. Made here in the UK, it’s never used microbeads and the signature blue glass bottles cut out UV light which allow them to use fewer preservatives. It’s not all fluffy formulas either, it backs its products with clinical trials and research.
Unity is a new grooming line from football stars, Mesut Özil and Mathieu Flamini. There are 11 products for face, hair and body, most of which come in bottles made from a sugar cane-derived plastic, which they claim is recyclable and biodegradable. Their formulas are free from chemical nasties such as parabens, SLS, mineral oils, microbeads and artificial fragrances. A common complaint is that ‘green’ brands are more expensive but Unity is affordable too.
Cruelty-free brand Bulldog proves that efficacious grooming products can still be eco-friendly. All its products are made in the UK and it favours similar Brazilian sugar cane plastic packaging to Unity. Bulldog swerves standard plastic where possible, introducing the first mass market bamboo razor handle, wooden combs and it’s just trialled a Shower Gel Refill Kit made from FSC certified cardboard with minimal plastic that delivers the equivalent of 25 plastic bottles.
Started by a mum on a mission to make natural skincare to treat her daughter’s eczema, Green People makes safe, chemical-free beauty and grooming products for everyone. Organic certified, ethically sourced ingredients go into the dedicated men’s line and an extensive unscented range for those who are sensitive. We like the reef-friendly sun care and aluminium-free deos.
With origins in natural medicine, sustainability is in the DNA of German skincare expert, Dr Hauschka. It supports organic, biodynamic farming and fair trade behind all sourced raw materials. The manufacturing process is entirely run on renewable energy and the packaging itself uses minimal plastic with predominantly glass bottles and lined aluminium tubes.
Ren has long championed ‘clean’ skincare and has set its stock by being free from dodgy chemicals. Packaging wise it uses some glass, lined plastic pump action bottles (which make sure all of the product gets used up) and offers some bulk editions. It’s working towards 100% recyclable packaging and currently use 20% recovered ocean plastic in certain products. Ren has also set up beach cleaning initiatives with partner Surfrider. (It’s just a shame that parent company Unilever aren’t using the same approach across Dove, Lynx and Vaseline too.)
Looking for plastic-free teeth whitening? Procoal makes charcoal-based teeth whitening powder and natural deodorants in glass jars with metal lids. The deodorant is aluminium, paraben and phthalates free, vegan and cruelty-free. Charcoal is known for its natural whitening, odour-absorbing and purifying qualities.