When it comes to the makeup industry, the majority of brands are still utilizing one of the most unsustainable materials to house their products; plastic. As we’ve seen in recent times, this has become an unbelievable problem for our planet—and potentially our health. So it’s no wonder we’re starting to see beauty brands come up with solutions that minimize or eliminate the need for plastic in their products.
Ingredients that are used in makeup formulations are also often excessive and unnecessary to the efficacy of makeup products. Some of the ingredients found in makeup can bioaccumulate in our environment, which can cause damage to ecosystems, and to our health. The clean beauty movement has many brands switching their formulas so that they don’t contain harsh toxins, however, there is still a long way to go if we’re going to make some serious differences.
In this article, I’ll discuss the plastic pollution and toxicity issue in our environment; how plastic and toxic chemicals can affect our health; and the zero-waste beauty brand putting the planet and our health first; Zerra & Co.
Environmental Implications of Plastic
You’ve probably heard me, and many others, talking about the plastic epidemic we’re seeing, globally. The beauty industry is one of the worst contenders for using plastic packaging in e-ver-y-thing. This is because plastic is the most affordable, lightweight, and waterproof material available. Many beauty products and cosmetics need to be protected from light sources, too. So an opaque plastic bottle or tube can make that formula last longer.
The packaging materials that companies choose to use are chosen for their:
- Cost efficiency of the packaging; and,
- Effectiveness in housing the products.
The environment had never been considered in the selection process—until recently.
But only 9% of the world’s plastic has made it into recycling. 12% has been incinerated—which brings in another issue of air pollution; and the other 79% has ended up in landfill and, sadly, our oceans. Images of sea turtles and seabirds with plastic straws and lids off bottles lodged in their nostrils and around their necks and beaks are hard to ignore. But that isn’t even the worst of it (1).
When a plastic bottle ends up in landfill or the ocean, eventually that bottle breaks down. But it doesn’t biodegrade. It simply breaks into a million microscopic little pieces that we either can barely see, or cannot see at all. These are known as microplastics. Microplastics have now become commonplace, as scientists have found them in just about every landscape and ocean on our planet.
What’s even more alarming is that these microplastics are now in the seafood that we eat. Scientists performed a study where they caught 42 species of different seafood and found that 79% of them contained Polyethylene as microplastics within their flesh (2). Polyethylene is the most commonly used plastic in beauty packaging.
You may be trying to do the right thing by recycling everything at home. But unbeknownst to most of us, when we do send our plastics off to recycling, majority of it gets shipped overseas. Impoverished countries are drowning in recycling and waste from countries like the US. A whopping 70% of the US waste ends up in developing countries where it is mismanaged (7).
The Health Implications of Plastic
Another thing you may not have considered is the health implications we’re exposed to as a result of the plastic epidemic. Certain plastics contain harmful chemicals, such as phthalates. Phthalates are the compounds that make some plastics more flexible, found in things like packaging and PVC teethers (5). They are also carcinogenic, and have been banned in many products because of their harmful effects. However, they are still found in some plastics, and no doubt are plaguing our planet. There’s no way to tell if the seafood you’ve been eating contains microplastics that have been made using this harmful chemical.
And Phthalates aren’t the only concern. Bisphenol A (BPA) is another chemical that was once used in just about all plastic products in our home. BPA has been removed from most plastics due to its harmful properties, as it can leach into our food and cause health problems, such as hormone imbalances, cancers, DNA mutations, reproductive problems, and inflammation; and can also bioaccumulate over time (4).
There was a recent study done that found microplastics can also be found in human systems, including the placenta and foetus of pregnant women (6). There hasn’t been enough study done on this at this point in time, however, it isn’t too far fetched to assume that this is going to have some adverse health effects on humans in the future if we don’t curb our plastic usage and waste.
The Plastic-Free Clean Makeup Brand
One brand that has been pioneering their way to a more sustainable beauty industry is Zerra & Co. This indie makeup brand was founded in 2018 by Hailey Graef, and has disrupted an industry that seems to be so stubborn to change.
After starting her own zero-waste journey, Hailey noticed there was an enormous gap in the industry where conventional beauty was wasteful and full of filler ingredients, and “clean” and sustainable beauty was made using ineffective formulations—and were also overpriced.
She set out to create her own formulations that were made in low-waste packaging, with winning formulas, at an affordable price point. Sustainable beauty should be accessible to all of us, after all.
Handcrafted in Baltimore, and shipped carbon neutrally in recyclable packaging, Zerra & Co formulates all of their products with clean and sustainably sourced ingredients. They have a small artisanal selection of makeup and skincare products, all of which contain almost 100% natural ingredients. The other small amounts of synthetic ingredients are harmless and high grade intended to enhance the products’ efficacy.
Their packaging is perhaps the most impressive part of their products. They use very minimal plastic. The only plastic used are in their pumps and dropper bottle lids—something that the most sustainable and eco-conscious brands have struggled to find solutions for. But these can be recycled with Pact through our recycling program. The rest of the packaging is either glass, aluminum, or cardboard—three very easily recycled materials at most curbside municipalities.
A few of their best selling products are:
One of their very first products was The Zero Waste Mascara. In an industry first, they’ve created a solution to those unrecyclable plastic mascara tubes. It comes housed in a glass vial with an aluminum lid, so you simply rinse the vial out with hot water, and pop each piece into the recycling.
The formula is clean and minimal, with only 12 ingredients—most of them naturally-derived. The mascara also comes with a bamboo spoolie to apply your mascara.
Complete your makeup look with the Zero Waste Eyeliner. Similar to the mascara, the eyeliner comes in a glass pot, with an aluminum lid. The ingredients are very minimal—only seven clean ingredients.
You may have read all about the waterless beauty trend that has been growing in popularity. The beauty industry uses an enormous amount of water in formulation and in production. So many brands are now choosing to reformulate their products so that they don’t require water.
The Zerra & Co Lotion Bar is one of these products. It contains five all-natural ingredients, nourishing olive oil and shea butter, hydrating coconut oil, candelilla wax, and natural fragrance. This means that the bar is solid, so you just swipe it across your skin to instantly hydrate the skin.
Two other reasons why waterless products are preferable is that they are not diluted, giving you the full potency of the other ingredients; and the product weighs less so it has a lower impact on our environment.
The Neutral Eyeshadow Palette is the perfect addition to your makeup bag. It has four neutral, but stunning shadows in Frost, Sunlit, Rose, and Earth colors. You can apply them as light or as bold as you like, for day and night wear. The ingredients are, of course, minimal and harmless—unlike many eyeshadows that can contain questionable ingredients.
The palette is made from cardboard. Simply remove the mirror and recycle the palette when you’re finished, or you can get replacement shadows from Zerra & Co’s website.
Last but not least is The Mascara. The tube comes with a glass vial, and a bamboo lid. You can easily store The Mascara like a traditional mascara, with the wand inserted into the product, unlike The Zero Waste Mascara, where the spoolie is separate.
The formulation is the same best-selling formula as The Zero Waste Mascara, and you can easily recycle the tube when you’re done.
It’s going to take us all a while to adopt new habits of using less plastic—and packaging in general, which will minimize our impact, particularly when many plastic-free and zero-waste brands are still not as effective as conventional products. But we’re really seeing brands step up in this space.
Zerra & Co are just one example of thoughtful brands paving the way for a better beauty industry, and better future for us all.
Emma Masotti is an Australian now living in Austin, TX, and has been a trained esthetician for over 15 years. She is a sustainable skincare writer, educating and building awareness around proper skin health that doesn’t cost the earth.
Some of the products promoted in our blog are from our online store. Many others are brands we have researched and found to be great examples of sustainable, ethical, and innovative brands in their field, and we don't make any profit from mentioning them in our blog. #CollaborationOverCompetition