Plastic-Free Skincare: What Do Shoppers Need to Know?

Dec 19, 2022by Heather Smith

What exactly is plastic-free skincare? Like most things, this terminology isn't defined or regulated. In general, plastic-free skincare usually refers to the containers that hold the product and the external packaging. However, with increasing awareness of the harm of microplastics, many brands are also starting to avoid liquid plastic ingredients in their products.

The anti-plastic movement is on the rise and activist brands like bareLUXE are increasing their visibility. However, plastic is pervasive throughout every facet of our lives. When it comes to fighting climate change and our dependence on fossil fuels, the net direction of change is what matters most. In fact, sometimes, using plastic responsibly is a better choice than avoiding it altogether.

In 2017, the beauty market was over 455 billion dollars - and growing at a rate of 5% per year. It's estimated that the global production of cosmetics containers is 120-150 billion per year. Since we know less than 10% of plastic actually gets recycled, this leaves massive room for improvement.

In the marketing world, greenwashing is rampant. However, it's also important to recognize that there is a significant incentive to both the plastic and petroleum industries to discredit and minimize the voices of brands trying to forge ahead. We have some examples in our discussion below.

Skincare Containers

Plastic is a cheap material to package in, and it can be made to look very luxurious and expensive. There is no secret the beauty industry has a dirty relationship with the plastic industry and the production of cosmetic chemical pollution

Huge corporations can have trouble seeing past the bottom line when they are deciding between a sustainable jar that costs $1 and a plastic option that costs $0.07 - especially when they are purchasing a million of them!

Conversely, indie brands may have their hands tied because the minimum order quantities for the better material options are prohibitive, making it impossible for them to choose the better material.

In the world of sustainable alternatives to traditional plastic, some real innovators and changemakers are working to develop truly better materials. Biodegradable bioplastics like PHA are showing great promise and hopefully a much better biodegradability profile than it's controversial cousin, PLA.

Other, more standard options include aluminum, which is lightweight, durable, and easily recycled. There is also glass, however don't be fooled by the description 'infinitely recyclable' - while technically true, what many don't realize is that frosted or colored glass jars and bottles will not get recycled. Painted glass is better, though the fact it is painted can result in it being removed from the recycle stream, depending on how the machines are calibrated to sort the material.

Paperboard tubes deserve an honourable mention, and they certainly have some utility. However, they will soften and start to fall apart due to a lack of durability. They can also result in the product drying out because they are permeable. Paperboard packaging is great for solid, waterless skincare products like shampoo or soap bars. Understanding the difference between biodegradable and compostable is important for consumers to avoid marketing traps. 

Shipping Packaging

Bubble mailers are problematic from a plastic standpoint. Still, there have been great strides in the biodegradable, recyclable, and even compostable options. Packing peanuts, too - there are fully dissolvable options that are not environmentally persistent. There is a lot of really innovative stuff happening with mushrooms right now too.

When a brand chooses to avoid plastic containers and shipping materials, the consequent reduction in plastic pollution, plastic production, and the impact of the oil and gas industry are reduced.

However, beauty brands can take things a step further and apply their anti-plastic activism to their skincare products.

Liquid Microplastic Ingredients

In the beauty industry, liquid microplastic ingredients are used to thicken cosmetics and create a smooth texture. They are used in various products, including shaving cream, moisturizers, sunscreen, and deodorants. In fact, liquid microplastics can be found in up to 90% of available products on the market currently. 

Microbeads are visible and have been largely banned. Liquid microplastics are invisible and appear to dissolve when washed down the drain. The issue? They don't dissolve, and they are environmentally persistent and bioaccumulative.

The Plastic Soup Foundation and its Beat the Microbead app and certification program are working to draw attention to this.

bareLUXE is proud to be a certified plastic-free brand. This certification refers specifically to the absence of liquid microplastic ingredients in our products. We do still have to use some plastic in our packaging, but we do so very responsibly and with much thought put into every decision - which we will discuss more below.

Can Beauty Brands Use Plastic Responsibly

Eco-friendly skincare brands should all be doing something to eliminate single-use plastics, reduce plastic waste, and promote the shift to clean energy. The bigger the corporation, the more impact its purchasing decisions can be.

If activism is a skincare trend, we hope everyone jumps on the bandwagon. 

When you're 'the little guy,' it can feel overwhelming and like making a difference is impossible. One example is how we've chosen to print our promotional materials on Rolland Enviro® Smooth paper, which is 100% post-consumer recycled material manufactured at a facility that uses biogas (reclaimed from an adjacent landfill). Additionally, it's processed without chlorine, and the source material is FSC® and Ancient Forest FriendlyTM certified.

What does that mean for the environment?

From the standpoint of bareLUXE's current purchasing power and influence, not much. We order 200-500 at a time right now. But it's built into our business model so that someday when we need to buy 500 000 at a time, we can continue to support this type of company, and our impact will grow.

An example of how we use plastic responsibly can be seen with our newly launched product refill program. The details can be found here, but the bottom line is that by using plastic for our product refills, we actually decrease shipping weight/size by over 60% and total plastic used by about 30%. 

This reduces costs to the consumer, decreases the overall carbon footprint of the purchases, improves recyclability, and ultimately reduces fossil fuel production and use.

Skincare Refill Packets - bareLUXE

What's the actual impact?

Well, if we say this makes us the best eco-friendly skincare brand, we'd be greenwashing. The actual amount of plastic saved is around 1g per product.

Since the world produces over 380 million metric tonnes of plastic annually, this isn't even a drop in the bucket. But that's where activism and conscious decision-making comes in. When we make it to the big leagues and sell a million units per year - that is a million grams of plastic, which is 1 tonne.

And if we inspire change in other brands, the results and measurability of the impact grows.

Change takes time.

Conscious Consumerism

On an individual level, being honest with yourself, is important. To make the largest impact, reduce purchasing by 100%. Stop shopping. Everything else is just balancing different amounts and types of harm. There are many simple steps you can take towards sustainable beauty. 

However, on a brand level, remember that corporations are consumers too. The realities of consumerism mean that impact can occur if enough widespread change occurs. A top down approach from massive corporate shifts are unlikely to drive these changes, so purchasing power, grassroots movements, and indie brands have to step up. 


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About the Author

Dr. Heather Smith developed her love for skinimalism and clean beauty years ago when she began making home remedies for her newborn's eczema. She is an expert in natural ingredients and active botanicals and has now launched bareLUXE Skincare - a full line of effective oil serums. She dedicates this blog to consumers who are researching ingredients and working to make their beauty ritual more natural and sustainable.


This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Smith nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content should consult their physicians about their skincare concerns and routines.