10 tips for a greener beauty routine
The industry's most interesting voices speak up
What does sustainable beauty mean? Organic ingredients? Zero carbon emissions? Recycled packaging or fair wages and ethical sourcing? There are several ways to reach this goal as long as you’re reducing your impact on Earth’s resources, and doing no harm to animals and humans. Instead of being intimidated by the zero-waste lifestyle movement, make mindful amendments to your beauty routine. Whether it’s supporting brands with the right ethos or taking time to understand the environmental impact of your favourite shampoo, you can easily create a conscious regimen that will be sustainable for you and the planet.
Mira Manek, author and wellness consultant
Besides reducing plastic consumption, the UK-based slow living advocate advices us to revisit traditional practices for a more eco-conscious lifestyle. She says, “When it comes to beauty, turning to ancient wisdom can show us another way, sometimes even a better solution. If you look at ayurveda, nothing is wasted—even banana peels can be useful. Milk that has gone off can be combed through the hair before washing. Coconut oil isn’t just great for the scalp (wonderfully soothing to an itchy scalp), it’s also a brilliant make-up remover. I apply oil to smudge off make-up, or wipe my face with hot water and a muslin cloth. I still use a face wash after this, but this way I need far less—these are just a few examples. There’s a lot that can be incorporated in our day to day life, but I believe in taking practices that appeal and marrying them with our other daily rituals.”
Anya Gupta, sustainable lifestyle advocate
When she isn’t working on low-waste living projects for her local community, the Chandigarh-based social media strategist can be found trying out home skincare remedies or harvesting organic produce at her farm, Aura.
My life motto: “Why buy when you can make? My family came up with this mantra when we moved to the farm eight years ago, and the area around wasn’t as well developed.”
My beauty modus operandi: “In the mornings, I use the Conscious Chemist Ritual Face Cleanser to wash my face and then apply The Magic Potion Aloe Moisturiser—it’s a small batch brand with handmade products. I apply coconut oil as a body moisturiser and do a weekly exfoliation with a haldi-besan mix. At night, I apply a combination of coconut, castor and almond oils to my brows and lashes. Occasionally, I scrub my lips with some sugar and coconut oil.
Anya’s low-waste beauty advice
1. “Pop in a few mint leaves in water while facial steaming for an aromatic experience, then repurpose the warm water for an at-home manicure.”
2. “Use leftover coffee to create a scrub by mixing it with a hint of coconut oil, ground rice, dry mint leaves and rose petals.”
3.“Flat, leftover beer makes a great hair conditioner.”
Nikita Mehta, co-founder of Fable & Mane
Mehta is no stranger to the environmental impact of our urban lifestyle. In fact, the 28-year-old co-executive producer of the much-talked about documentary, The Game Changers chose to go vegan a few years ago. Over time the idea of living greener and cleaner has influenced the other spheres of her life as well, including her vegan and ethical haircare brand that uses upcycled materials and organic ingredients. She says, “Issues such as not having the right lipstick shade, or ‘eco’ and ‘organic’ not being sexy enough are rapidly changing. It is now much easier to limit compromise and to be able to choose brands that simultaneously perform well, do well and look good.”
My beauty drill: “As a haircare junkie I swear by our all-natural hair mask. I make my own rinses with black tea, hibiscus and apple cider vinegar, and follow a weekly hair oil routine with onion and kalonji oil.”
In my beauty bag: “While researching products I keep in mind where they are made and ensure the formulas are toxin-free. This has led me to discover Indian brands with unique ingredients.” Her top picks include the Fable & Mane Hair Mask, Pahadi Local Himalayan Gutti ka Tel and Purearth Illumine Elixir Supercritical Face Oil.
On sustainable living: “Refuse, reuse, reduce, recycle and repair. Make maximum use of daily essentials to produce minimum waste. I am against one-time use products, even if they are biodegradable. The breaking down processes of these materials needs very specific conditions and besides, nobody has the time or space to compost them.”
Adopting eco-friendly menstrual practices: “It’s vital to understand that you will always be reluctant to change, but after making the switch, you’ll regret not trying it earlier. Despite belonging to a culture that holds virginity dear, I tried the cup as a teenager and highly recommend it even today. Now there are several green alternatives to conventional pads and tampons that perform well and are super comfortable. One cup or a set of 10 cloth pads can be used for over five years and will replace at least 1,200 napkins in the landfill.”
Urmila Ratnam, CEO of Alima Pure
When Ratnam met Kate O’Brien, the founder of Alima Pure at a networking event nine years ago, she was instantly impressed by the mineral make-up brand’s clean formulations, carbon neutral production process and emphasis on inclusivity—it also has green beauty advocate Emma Watson’s stamp of approval. As someone with a keen interest in waste and water management, Ratnam soon joined the company and has since been a big supporter of earth-friendly beauty brands.
On building a conscious cosmetic brand: “Push vendors and suppliers to be more innovative and insist on more sustainable material options, and green manufacturing practices. Use your platform to raise awareness and engage communities on the issue of environmental stewardship and remember that every little step makes a difference–start small and build impactful initiatives over time.”
My top shelf beauty buys: “May Lindstrom’s Youth Dew or Trilogy’s CoQ10 Booster Oil to massage on damp skin. Alima Pure Pressed Foundation with rosehip antioxidant complex is silky, lightweight and buildable. Plus, it comes in a refillable compact. Alima Pure Natural Definition Brow Pencil in Raven, because I think brows really frame your face.”
Sunayana Walia, founder of Raw Beauty
This DIY beauty enthusiast’s clean beauty brand is simply an extension of the green lifestyle her family has been following for many years. She explains, “I used to work with Kheti Virasat Mission, an NGO that promotes organic farming. Slowly, we started eating organically grown local food. We moved away from commercial detergents and soaps and instead use soap nuts and garbage enzymes as cleaning solutions. We also started using toothpowder and homemade hair cleansers.” Her family recipes of charcoal toothpowder and amla-reetha hair cleanser are also some of Raw Beauty’s top sellers.
Good practice: “Sustainable beauty is not just confined to green nature-derived ingredients, it also represents minimalist skincare. It means using a few potent multi-utility products that reduce the need to buy too many products. We need to understand the impact of consumerism.”
DIY beauty essentials: “I’ve always been making my own skincare— organic apricot or almond oil to moisturise and a cleanser made with oats, honey and dried rose petals. My top five skincare ingredients are raw honey, orange peel powder, turmeric, oats, aloe vera”
Harini Sivakumar, founder of Earth Rhythm
The banker-turned-entrepreneur created the all-natural, 99 per cent plastic-free beauty brand in 2018 when she failed to find fragrance-free products for her special needs child.
Her top tips to identify a sustainable beauty product:
1. “Check if it is organic, vegan, SLS- and paraben-free or has an ECOCERT certification and PETA logo.”
2. “Consider the packaging. Neither will a clean brand use plastic tubs or tubes nor will it ship them out in bubble wrap.”
3. “Verify the product’s authenticity by scanning the box for a manufacturing license number. This will prove that the formulas are audited and lab-tested. To confirm, you can check if the production unit is GMP-certified (that signifies consistent quality in every batch).”
4. “If a brand is making specific claims like ‘dermatologist-tested’ or ‘skin brightening’, you can double-check this with the specific body that certified these declarations.”
Shaan Lalwani, founder of Coco Custo
With a background in automotive engineering, construction and real estate, Lalwani’s passion to protect our oceans gave birth to her brand of sustainable laundry detergent, Coco Custo. After years of doing beach clean-ups and witnessing the damaging effects of cleaning chemicals on marine life during diving trips, Lalwani started educating herself on how our lifestyle is impacting the planet’s water bodies. She gives an insight on what happens when harmful ingredients from beauty products land up in the ocean:
“There are two main culprits in cleaning products: phosphates and LAB (linear alkylbenzene sulfonates). Phosphates cause water to foam and that triggers an overproduction of algae in fresh water bodies, leading to oxygen deprivation events. Studies have shown that LAB kill coral at even a 0.05 per cent concentration.”
“SLS (Sodium laureth sulfate) in our shampoos takes very long to break down in water and can irritate the skin of marine species. You also want to look out for PEG (polyethylene glycols—widely used as a cosmetic cream base) or anything that is antibacterial.”
“Sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate are the worst for coral reefs”.
“Sheet masks and make-up removal wipes are made of polyester and contribute to plastic pollution in the seas and oceans.”
Arjun Sudhir, clean beauty advocate
His instagram account (@JustAskArjun) is the go-to resource for clean beauty lovers. The Melbourne-based blogger scouts and shares honest reviews of the most potent, luxe green skincare in the market. “There’s a misconception that green products are a jumble of oils and extracts, but modern formulations are sophisticated and contain highly efficacious potent actives,” he says. “I had the worst acne until I turned green—clean formulations completely transformed my skin.” He recommends avoiding:
“Petrochemicals can upset the skin’s microbiome and stop it from breathing, leading to inflammatory responses like acne.”
“Synthetic fragrances contain thousands of chemicals linked to hormonal imbalances.”
“Phthalates, sulfates and parabens. Sulfates are what help cleansers and shampoos foam. They tend to strip the skin too much and aggravate skin conditions, like acne and eczema. Fun fact: most toothpastes contain sulfates, so if you constantly suffer from dry mouth/ ulcers, try switching to a sulfate-free toothpaste.”
Shagun Khanna, beauty and wellness influencer
Khanna cleaned up her diet and deep dived into the science of skincare when she was diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) in her 20s. Now, she shares this knowledge on her website (ShagunKhanna.in) with clean eating ideas and product recommendations.
Finding the right product: I have hormonal imbalance due to PCOS, which often causes breakouts. For this reason, I try my best to stay away from all kinds of parabens and artificial fragrances. Ingredients like ethylparaben, butylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben may disrupt the endocrine system, cause cancer, and reproductive or developmental toxicity. I try to go for products that have potent and natural or organic ingredients, organic cold-pressed essential oils, and non-GMO ingredients. I also look out for vegan and cruelty-free labels on products.
Favourite clean beauty picks: “I love Zahara skincare (beautiful all-natural, organic products made in Kashmir), Juicy Chemistry, Aurelia Probiotic Skincare, and Just B Au Naturel. These brands are free from all kinds of nasties and believe sustainable sourcing.”
Photograph: Jagjit Singh (Anya Gupta)