Moisturizers, soaps, shampoos, toothpastes and the like all have justifiable grooming and health purposes - but eyeliner and blush and lipstick are look-enhancers that, strictly speaking, are harder to justify. Before you give up the blush and eyeliner, though, think about what goes into them, how they're packaged, and how you can support companies that are trying to do better for you and the earth. That way you'll feel better and still look your best.
Where your mouth is
You've been tossing your old toothbrush each time your dentist gives you a new one. But wait - can that toothbrush be recycled? The Preserve toothbrush is made from recycled products - 100% recycled polypropylene (#5) plastic (Stonyfield Farm yogurt cups are cited as one source). It comes in eco-conscious packaging, too; and when the bristles get all nasty and fringy, it too can be recycled. If #5 plastics are a no-no in your recycling program (Madison accepts only #5 dairy tubs), Recycline provides a postage-paid mailer back to a recycler. Returned brushes - and Preserve's sustainable disposable razors - are again recycled into plastic lumber for outdoor play equipment. (Available at area Copps, Whole Foods, Community Pharmacy, Willy Street Co-op and The Soap Opera.)
Another strategy is to save the toothbrush handle and just replace the head. TerraDent , Fuchsand Smile Brite (all available at Community Pharmacy along with three-packs of replacement heads) adopt this strategy, which, it's argued, is much more ecologically sound than all the resources needed to recycle the Preserve brushes.
EcoDent Gentle Floss is the most sustainable floss on the market. It's made of nylon, yes, but it's packaged in a renewable, biodegradable, non-plastic box. It's also made with 100% vegetable wax.
As far as toothpaste goes, jettison the tube that comes inside the cardboard box - very wasteful - and go back to the traditional mix of baking soda mixed with water. If you are baking-soda averse (studies show that toothbrushers like the "tingly" minty sensation that mainstream pastes provide), try adding some peppermint.
The city of Madison cannot recycle any toothpaste containers, no matter what the container is made from. By the way, Tom's of Maine offers to recycle their tubes for you - "save up a bunch and send them to us."
In your kitchen cupboard
There are more solutions that you can probably find right in your home. Take your coffee grounds and use to exfoliate. Scrub away and then compost as usual. (You are composting, right?) This smells kind of invigorating, if you like the smell of coffee, and works okay, although keeping the coffee grounds out of the drain is a hassle.
There are more DIY food-based peels, scrubs, moisturizers and remedies than you can count. Egg whites can be used as a toner/peel, apple cider vinegar as an astringent, milk as a moisturizer, plain yogurt as a facial mask, chamomile tea bags to reduce eye puffiness, and beer as a volumizer for hair. Not just any beer, either; a good beer with lots of yeast. On the other hand, just how flat is your hair that you need to pour a perfectly good beer down the drain? Consider the "highest and best use" doctrine.
Supporting locally produced beauty and care products means less energy is expended on transportation. Rollin' Hills Honey Beeswax Moisturizing Skin Cream is a great year-round solution for rough dry areas such as elbows. The cream is sold in a number of mild, naturally scented flavors, and is produced in Platteville, Wis. It's not greasy and leaves "problem areas" nice and smooth. Rollin' Hills sells at the Hilldale, Fitchburg and Northside Farmers Markets.
Four Elements Herbals , in North Freedom, makes a line of body care products made with herbs from the family's organic farm. The lip balms are made from olive oil, beeswax, vitamin E and herbs. Moisture creams include a special eczema formula, a calendula blend for "mature skin" and an unscented comfrey blend for those who have sensitive skin. Available at Community Pharmacy and Whole Foods.
Other locally made soaps with natural ingredients and minimal packaging are available at area farmers' markets, Community Pharmacy, the Willy Street Co-op, and many area gift shops.
Chuck Beckwith notes that The Soap Opera has been selling its own shampoos, body washes, bubble bath and the like in simple refillable bottles for the last 35 years: "Some customers have been coming in with the same containers for 20 years." Now that's re-use. The bottles are also #2 recyclables. Ingredients for Soap Opera store brand products are made from 100% biodegradable and otherwise safe ingredients and not tested on animals.
The small glass vials that The Soap Opera's essential perfume oils come in are also refillable and recyclable. Many of the store's soaps come in low-impact packaging, a simple cellophane wrap, or you can go without, by purchasing soap sliced off the decorative "deli-style" loafs - "Pick the size you want," says Beckwith.
He also recommends the store's bar shaving soaps , used in lieu of a can of shaving cream. "They're creamy, gentle on skin, with no air added." They do lather best with the use of a shaving brush.
There is a trend for less packaging across the board, Beckwith notes. Products from brands such as Crabtree and Evelyn that used to be packaged as jars inside boxes are now arriving just in the jars.
The Willy Street Co-op also has a refilling station for bulk soaps, shampoos, conditioners and lotions, featuring products from Shikai , Nature's Gate , Tijeras and Kiss My Face .
The store also carries several varieties of Dr. Bronner's castile soaps at the refilling station, including a baby-mild formula. Dr. Bronner's liquid soaps are three to four times more concentrated than most and are organic and biodegradable. The company has a number of other forward-looking ecological and business practices.
It could be argued that the most ecologically sound cosmetic would be not to have one. Even the most ecologically aware cosmetic manufacturer is still expending resources on something that, in practical terms, doesn't need to exist.
Even so - if you were to give yourself a little beauty touch-up in a most sustainable way, which products should you choose?
Earthly Delights nail polish comes in 30 shades and is formaldehyde- and toluene-free (available at Community Pharmacy).
Dr. Hauschka's line of cosmetics (lipsticks, concealers, face powder, rouge, eyeshadows and mascara, available at Community Pharmacy and Whole Foods) is made from natural mineral pigments, without synthetic preservatives. The company's supplier promotes sustainable fair-trade farming in Bulgaria and Burkina Faso, Africa; Dr. Hauschka is also aiming toward eco-conscious packaging.
Juice Beauty products are made from "a base of organic fruit juices, making our total organic content up to 95%," with a 100% vegetarian ingredient policy. The company's tinted sunscreen (SPF 30) is downright luscious. (Available at Whole Foods Market.)
Cargo does no animal testing and has only an online (no paper) catalog. The lipstick case is made from corn, so it's compostable. And the box the lipstick comes in is studded with seeds and can be planted: "Just moisten and plant it to grow your own wildflowers."
Pangea Organics also has plantable seeds embedded in its biodegradable packaging for soaps and skin care lines - herbs (basil and amaranth). (Available at Whole Foods and Community Pharmacy.) And voilà, you just saved yourself a trip to the garden center.