How To Build A Low-Waste Beauty Routine

By Madeleine Crutchley
Forgo excessive packaging by buying less and browsing our local brands. Photo / Babiche Martens

Dust off your hairbrush, clean up your brushes and crack open that special lipstick — it’s Viva Beauty Week. Overwhelmed by plastic piles, Madeleine Crutchley trials a low-waste beauty routine for one week.

A few years ago, I made the switch to refillable shampoo and conditioner bottles.

It’s become

Unexpectedly, this switch has shone a light on the waste that litters the rest of my beauty routine. Inspired by our discussions around Viva Beauty Week, I decided to embark on a fully committed trial — how much can I reduce the waste in my daily routine?

Day 1

To start: a stock take. I survey the products I’m already using in my routine.

My shampoo, conditioner and body wash, as mentioned, are regularly topped up at local refillery stores (GoodFor and Bin Inn POA). My daily cleanser (which I consider a staple, hyperbolically, among my desert island picks) is a Gentle Solid Ethique bar, $25, packaged in cardboard. Similarly, I use the Body Butter, $20, on special occasions. When I don’t have that tube, I use olive oil instead ... glugged from the glass bottle in my kitchen.

I’ve also opted for a solid bar of the Gentle Solid Shampoo, $22, to clean my ancient makeup brushes. Each time I need to swap out my toothbrush I’ll choose bamboo — the handle can be composted but, unfortunately, the nylon bristles still have to be thrown away (generally it’s suggested that people snap the heads off their used toothbrushes).

It feels like a good place to start for my toiletries, but there are some staples I’ve yet to replace. This week, I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for toothpaste, deodorant, moisturiser and sunscreen housed in packaging that I can refill or reuse.

Aotea’s Kawakawa balm has a long list of potential uses and the small jar is easily reused for other purposes. Photo / Madeleine Crutchley
Aotea’s Kawakawa balm has a long list of potential uses and the small jar is easily reused for other purposes. Photo / Madeleine Crutchley

Day 2

Today, a makeup-less Saturday, I turn to consider my cosmetic collection. This is more confronting.

I wouldn’t categorise myself as an avid beauty buyer — I keep to the basics and generally only have one product for each category. I’m also pretty good at using products down to the dregs; I’ve been known to dip the handles of my makeup brushes into bottles to scrape out the last drops (you say gross, I say resourceful).

However, my makeup collection is surprisingly big. I’ve got multiple eyeshadow palettes, handfuls of lipsticks and random containers of untouched goo (some my purchases, others gifted from friends).

Within my daily routine, I rarely reach for these products, making the collection a little absurd.

Instead, foundation, bronzer, blush, mascara and the lipstick in my handbag are haphazardly smeared across my face — I’m optimistic about switching out such a breezy routine.

With that short list of the necessary replacements, I apply my moisturiser, sunscreen and the Aotea Kawakawa Balm, $40, across my lips, brows and eyelashes. I’m set for the day (and ready to find my new substitutes).

Day 3

Ever the expert, beauty editor Ashleigh Cometti has lent me a few makeup products to trial for the week. She prioritises pieces from beauty brands that utilise packaging that is refillable or recyclable. Among the finds there’s a foundation in the form of the Rose Inc Skin Enhance Luminous Tinted Serum, $95, a highlighter (RMS Beauty Living Luminizer, $78), a gel eyeliner (Aleph Gel Liner, $58), two cheek and lip tint (Maryse Lip Shine, $59, and Aleph Cheek/Lip Tint in Gloria, $58) and a lipstick with Henné Organics Luxury Lip Tint, $45.

All market an element of reuse — housed in glass, post-consumer recycled plastic or recyclable packaging.

I also find a new moisturiser to try — the rose and chamomile variety from Anihana. It’s buttery and not too fragrant (and I wake up the next day feeling well hydrated). Sunscreen and toothpaste have been trickier to track down (though a refillable toothpaste jar from Solid looks like a potential swap).

Soap bars and washable jars offer an opportunity for a lighter recycling bin. Photo / Madeleine Crutchley
Soap bars and washable jars offer an opportunity for a lighter recycling bin. Photo / Madeleine Crutchley

Day 4

Before work, I experiment with the makeup products.

A little goes a long way with the foundation, which has good coverage and a semi-matte finish (I skip concealer to keep the routine smaller). The Maryse Lip Shine, $59, in the shade Lychee is a really close match to my usual blush and lipstick — it’s semi-sheer and deliciously glossy. The RMS Beauty Living Luminizer, $78, has a similar texture, and overlays on my cheekbones nicely. I get adventurous and find it doubles well as an eyeshadow too. In a similar vein, I brush a little of the black Aleph Gel Liner, $58, over my eyelashes to replace my mascara.

At work, I reapply my lipstick but try Henné Organics Luxury Lip Tint, $45, shade Azalea instead. Though it’s an intimidating fuschia, it sheers out nicely. It’s a good handbag option, when publicly dipping your finger into a container isn’t the ideal move.

At home, I check for slippage — no more than expected (and that’s without powder or setting spray).

Day 5

It’s time to refill my shower products. I’m annoyed I didn’t notice on the weekend, as I only have a short time slot to do this after work (my local refillery store closes at 6.30pm).

I stop by and fill the bottles. This has been easy enough after a bit of practice, though I’ve managed to blast the EcoStore conditioner all over myself a few times in the past. I check out a few minutes before closing. Now, I’m restocked for the next few weeks (I’ve also noticed a closer awareness of exactly how much product I’m using to wash my hair, due to the transparent bottles).

Day 6

Not unusually, I sleep through my alarm and half-sprint through the house to get ready for work. I find I’m very thankful for the versatility of the RMS Beauty Living Luminizer, $78, and Maryse Lip Shine, $59, cheek and lip tint as I can smear it on in 30 seconds before legging it for the bus.

Could this low-waste routine be an unintentional solution to my sleepy punctuality?

Local beauty brand Aleph will take back and reuse packaging from its products. Photo / Madeleine Crutchley
Local beauty brand Aleph will take back and reuse packaging from its products. Photo / Madeleine Crutchley

Day 7

Throughout the work week, I’ve stuck to the same routine — foundation, blush, highlight and lipstick or balm.

Usually, I break from this routine for special occasions or nights in the city, seeking a sense of drama. Winged liner has been a staple and I’m happy to discover an easy swap to the Aleph Gel Liner, $58. Though it’s housed in a glass container, the formula is closer to a liquid. I have to be speedy in my application, but once it’s on it doesn’t budge.

After a week of thinking about makeup, I also feel more daring. I apply a bright red lip, courtesy of Kate Sylvester’s recent collaboration with Aleph with the Aleph Cheek/Lip Tint in Gloria, $58 (inspired by her latest collection Gloria). It’s glossy and sturdy, and easily reapplied.

From now on

I’ve written before about my preference for simple and achievable routines that make me feel more relaxed. Of course, some of the efforts to avoid plastic are not simple or easily achievable for everyone.

I, fortunately, live near various refillery stores and am afforded the time to visit them (on top of a regular supermarket trip). I’m generally also paying a bit extra for these products, which require more expensive and quality manufacturing to lessen environmental impacts. The products also suit my various wants — my hair texture and skin don’t react to any of the formulas and my makeup routine is easily compatible with the available options.

Tackling the volume of waste can feel insurmountable (I’ve only considered excess packaging for this piece, but the term “waste” and wider impacts of overproduction stretch so much further). It’s not for us to change all alone; community action and legislation are other key pillars for progress.

But, for my daily routine, forgoing new products and swapping to less excessive staples feels good. I’m happy to be treading a little lighter.

More beauty

From the best new launches to the products we swear by.

The key makeup looks of the season are set to cultivate your creativity. This garden-inspired beauty shoot proves autumn is the perfect time to get experimental with your makeup.

How to dispose of beauty products you tried but didn’t like. Yes, it is possible to recycle your barely-used beauty products.

Too many products can stress out your skin. Here’s how to scale back. Multistep routines can cause breakouts and other issues, experts say.

Should we be paying GST on sunscreen? One skincare founder takes on the NZ government. A new petition launched by local skincare entrepreneur Katey Mandy seeks to remove GST from the sale of sunscreen products.

We gave 4 makeup artists $100 to restock their kits. This is what they bought. Expert tips on looking glam despite the cost of living crunch.

Unlock this article and all our Viva Premium content by subscribing to 

Share this article: