Every time I open my bathroom closet, I have to catch the dozen bottles of moisturizers, shampoos, face mists, and body lotions that spill out. Could I possibly need all this stuff? I don't think so, especially when I stop to consider that every lipstick I reject or shampoo I toss goes into a landfill somewhere.
So, why this blind spot when it comes to beauty products? In other parts of my life, I'm far more conscientious about how I treat the environment: I write on the blank side of used printer paper, air-dry my clothes, and walk to the farmers' market on Thursdays with my own canvas bag. But when it comes to looking good and pampering myself, it seems I must have the latest bubble bath and the newest conditioner.
Turns out I'm not alone—women confess to having about 12 products, on average, in their vanity, according to an April 2008 survey commissioned by O.B. Tampons. And while 77 percent of women say they recycle, less than half are doing other simple things to reduce waste, like buying products with less packaging. If, like me, you don't want to dirty the planet while beautifying yourself, follow these 14 tips for a greener beauty routine.
1. Use less water: We each use about 100 gallons of water a day—and most of it goes right down the drain, flushing detergents, foaming agents, artificial oils, colors, and scents into the ecosystem. An easy way to use less water is skip your daily shampoo (for most hair types, every other day is fine; for curly hair, once a week is plenty). In between shampoos, try a dry shampoo or hair powder to keep grease down. Limit yourself to a seven-minute shower (use a kitchen timer to help you keep track), and save shaving and brushing your teeth for outside the shower.
2. Dry smarter: Air-dry your hair. If that's not an option, use an eco-friendly blow-dryer. "Reduce drying time and conserve energy by drying at the roots only, using a round brush and nozzle," says Amanda Freeman, founder of Vital Juice Daily (vitaljuicedaily.com), an eco and wellness e-newsletter. "Let the ends air-dry and prevent flyaways by using an anti-frizz serum."
3. Color safer: At home and at the salon, look for ammonia-free hair colors, says Stuart Gavert of Gavert Atelier Salon in Beverly Hills, who uses nonammonia color treatments, never lets excess color go down the sink, and recycles the aluminum foils used during highlighting. Or ask your stylist to check out Disposacolor ($.40 each; disposacolor.com), a color bowl liner made from disposable recyclable plastic; using one means salons don't have to wash 25 color bowls a day, the national average for hair salons.
4. Give yourself a pedicure: Salons use as much as five gallons of water when giving a pedicure. At home, try eco-friendly lotions with shea butter or even straight olive oil, says Jenny Farrand, director of Linden Spa at the Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michaels, Md., a new eco-friendly spa known for using local plants and herbs. After rubbing in the lotion or oil, use a pumice stone to scrub skin smooth and then add a final coat of the product to soften.
5. Use safer nail polish: Many nail polishes contain formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and toluene. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, and the other two are toxic to animals' reproductive systems.
6. Skip aerosols: Hair sprays, shaving creams, and deodorants that come in aerosol spray cans contain volatile organic compounds, which hurt the environment and can have negative health effects. The vapors can cause diarrhea and earaches in infants, and headaches and depression in mothers, according to a 2004 study published in the Archives of Environmental Health. Plus, the cans can be difficult to recycle.
7. Finish what you buy: Most women use only six of the 12 products they have in their vanity, according to the O.B. survey. Use the products you have before buying more. If you know you aren't going to use one, try to recycle or reuse the containers.
8. Dispose of waste properly: Any beauty products that contain solvents, flammables, or petroleum count as hazardous waste, including nail polish remover, nail polish, hair color, and aerosol hair spray. Most counties in the U.S. have regular collections, or specific places where you can drop your hazardous waste; search online to find lists of what they will accept. Or, buy from companies that don't use these chemicals in the first place.
9. Research the company: Check the company's website—the more forthcoming they are about sourcing and processes, the better. And for an extra environmental bonus, support companies that are giving money to environmental organizations.
10. Buy reusable packaging: "If you buy a body wash or lotion from a spa, ask if you can return and get it refilled," says Vanessa Henderson, director of the eco-spa Glade Spring Spa in Cle Elum, Wash.
11. Look for plantable packaging: Many products come in recyclable boxes, but some companies are now embedding seeds in the box, so you can plant it in your garden afterward.
12. Recycle: If you're not sure a product can be recycled, recycle it anyway; it will get sorted there. For makeup, there is no standard for recycling but don't put it down the toilet or drain. Recycle a plastic blush compact, for example, but put the powder in the trash. Or, buy shampoos in large bottles that you can pour into smaller ones, to reduce packaging.
13. Simplify: Choose products with fewer ingredients in general and fewer synthetic ingredients, in particular, says Debra BenAvram, co-founder of Organically Happy (organicallyhappy.com), a new store that sells eco-friendly beauty products. Look for the biodynamic label; it means ingredients were grown using sustainable practices that help keep balance in the ecosystem.
14. Make your own: A lot of what comes from a bottle can be made at home, says aesthetician and organic chemist Kimberly Sayer, who has her own eco-friendly line of products. "For an at-home facial mask, mix one to two tablespoons of clay powder with spring water until you get a smooth paste." Honey also works well: mix it with equal parts milk. After all, responsible beauty care starts at home.