Refillable makeup products promise to reduce waste and help create a more sustainable beauty routine. If you’ve ever thrown out old makeup, you know how much waste plastic packaging creates. You can fill a wastebasket pretty quickly with old eye shadow and powder compacts, not to mention foundation bottles and so on. But which refillable makeup containers are the most sustainable? Are some better than others? We set out to figure out if refillable makeup products are as sustainable as they say, and which ones offer the best value.
Why is refillable makeup sustainable?
Refillable makeup usually works like this: you buy a normal container of a product and then every time it runs out you simply buy the filler to replace it and keep using the container.
For eye shadow or powder compacts, that means you buy a small tray of product to fit into the compact and keep the original plastic casing and mirror. For foundation or deodorant, it often means buying a plastic or glass case filled with a sleeve of products, and a cardboard or plastic sleeve or bag of products gets switched out in the outer container every time you need to replace the product. This keeps plastic out of landfills. In a similar way, we try to avoid single-use plastic dishes.
So which products are the most sustainable and why? Well, first it comes down to materials. Are you purchasing sustainable packaging, and was it made in a sustainable way?
Second, some makeup brands have started offering generous samples of their products so you can try before you buy. That’s another way that brands keep waste out of landfills. If you love the shade of foundation you bought, then you buy the full-size package. Brands like 100% Pure do this for its organic plant-based foundation, and we love it. They also offer extra samples in extra shades when you buy a foundation, so you know you’re buying the right shade for you.
Downsides to refillable makeup products
Sometimes you might buy an eyeshadow refill from a brand and the filler tray keeps falling out of the container packaging. If you buy a deodorant that offers refills, maybe you don’t want to use the same packaging forever, especially if this deodorant is banging around your gym bag. Overall, though, we have to say we love refillable makeup. It’s sustainable and, in the long run, it is also cheaper.
At the moment, however, that’s the downside to refillable makeup products. They’re expensive. We all want a sustainable beauty routine, but can people afford to pay more for refillable products that get us stuck in a loop buying the same brand’s products and paying extra for packaging?
Refinery29 recently ran a piece on the problem with refillable makeup, citing cost and the hassle of mailing packaging back and forth to some companies for refills. We think this will get sorted out over time as brands adapt to a sustainable model for packaging, but it’s true it’s not much fun to deal with right now and creates more emissions from shipping.
Here’s one way around this problem. When you choose refillable makeup products, look at the original packaging price and look at the refill price. You might just decide you don’t need the original packaging at all for some products. We do recommend buying packaging for any product that needs special applicators to work properly. But if you are using your own packaging or brushes anyway, why buy the full size when you can buy the refill cartridge and use it by itself?
The best refillable makeup products
Harper’s Bazaar listed some of their favorite refillable makeup products, including Charlotte Tilbury Magic Night Cream and Rose Inc. Blush Divine lip and cheek color. We love two things about these products. The cream is a great innovation, as we’ve hardly seen any brand use pods for refilling cream pots before, and having a refillable cheek and lip color cream palette is the perfect makeup product. It has multiple uses, fits in your purse and can be refilled. What’s not to love?
Hermes also just started offering refillable lipsticks, which we love. It’s a little “bullet” of lipstick that pops out of the casing and can be replaced. If you’ve ever loved the casing of your lipstick as much as the color (hello, Dior), you’ll love this idea. Bonus to Kjaer Weis Im-possible mascara for figuring out how to create refillable mascara.
Hangar-12 praised brands Kjaer Weis and perfume conglomerate Memo International for doing a great job creating high-end cosmetics with refills that make sense. We agree. Once you start thinking about sustainable packaging, it makes sense to create refills for glass perfume bottles and high-end cosmetics.
In fact, this could give rise to a designer-label trend of creating custom or high-end packaging for customers and offering interchangeable pods of product that switch out. So, you could try new fragrances and moisturizers and keep your favorite product bottle out of the landfill and enjoy its beauty for life.
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