Cotton bud ban: 13 best plastic-free beauty products that aren’t adding to landfill

Emma Henderson
De-clutter your bathroom: so many things don't need to be packaged in plastic anymore
De-clutter your bathroom: so many things don't need to be packaged in plastic anymore

Take a look around your bathroom, and you’re sure to find a lot of plastic in the everyday products you use – from toilet paper packaging to toothbrushes, deodorant and cotton buds. We're sold it and it's so entwined into our lives that we barely notice it.

While doing Plastic Free July, we found that the hardest products to swap out were the beauty products and toiletries we used every day. We searched for a while for toilet rolls sold without the thin plastic wrapper, as well as

But there are plenty of brands and small companies that are changing that as the plastic-free movement grows.

We’ve continued to incorporate these products into our routine over the past couple of months to give them a thorough testing.

We were amazed at some of the companies we found, that not only eliminated plastic from its packaging, but also went above and beyond by donating to charities that range from supporting people who don't have safe access to toilets to orangutan foundations, refusing to test on animals, being free of palm oil, supporting women's cooperatives and resuing products that would otherwise end up in landfill.

Here are the best alternatives we found.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

Who Gives a Crap toilet paper: Multipacks from £24, Who Gives a Crap

This Australian company began in 2012 and donates half (yes, that's right half) of its profits to charities and projects – including Sanergy, which builds toilets in slums of Nairobi, as currently more people in the world have a smartphone than access to hygienic sanitation.

It doesn’t use any virgin trees in its product – or inks, dyes, scents – and instead the paper is made from waste paper, like textbooks. Each roll is three-ply and still nicely soft. They are individually wrapped in a thin piece of brightly pattnered kraft paper that keeps them dry, which is the most sustainable way to package them. We also love that it’s a sign-up delivery service too, meaning you’ll never have to awkwardly carry a bargain multipack home again. Thanks goodness.

Buy now

Paper-stemmed cotton buds: £2.86, Its All About You

The plastic sticks that make up many cotton buds are one of the most commonly washed up things on British beaches after they’re flushed down the toilet. Now many brands have switched to paper or bamboo alternatives thanks to the #switchthestick campaign in 2016. These bamboo buds come in a biodegradable pack and not a plastic case, they can be composted at home, too.

Buy now

Wild refillable natural deodorant: From £12 for a subscription, Wild

We've been looking for a refillable natural deodorant for a while, and here it is. And it's box-ticking credentials are far beyond impressive. Firstly, the plastic-free refillables are made from bamboo pulps, so they're also compostable, and the brand never tests on animals and is vegan too. Aside from that, Wild is a carbon positive company, meaning any carbon made during production is counteracted by planting trees, which naturally absorb carbon. To do this, it has partnered with On A Mission, whose, well mission, is to fund sustainable reforestation projects that support local farmers and communities to plant trees.

As well as being kind to the planet, it's also kinder to your skin. It's free of aluminium and parabens – the former (usually found in antiperspirants) blocks your sweat glands, while this deodorant masks any odour caused from sweating. As for the latter, while not directly linked, a small study found traces of parabens in some breast cancer tumours, according to Cancer Research UK.

Back to what is in it, there's four scents to choose from: rose blush, mint fresh, coconut dream, orange zest and bergamot rituals. We tested the bergamot rituals and loved its creamy texture that easily glides on underarms, without feeling thick and sticky or flakey (like some other creams), and the scent is mild and absolutely not overpowering. We found it well protected us, doesn't leave us feeling sweaty at the end of the dayand even after exercise we didn't experience any unwanted odour.

The case is made from anodised aluminium and recycled plastic, and the whole box is the perfect size to fit through your letterbox. It's cheaper – and easier – to subscribe (for £12 you get the case and one refill), but if you want to make a one off purchase, it's £25 for the case which includes three refills. Refills are then purchased in packs of three (you can mix and match) to reduce excess packaging, which costs £15 on a flexible subscription, and postage is free, too. If that's all not enough to convince you to make the swap – we don't know what is.

Buy now

KANKAN London mandarin and clary sage hand wash starter set: £24, Kankan

This brand has clearly spent a long time thinking about all aspects of its business model, from it’s cleverly designed yet minimalist protective packaging to planting a tree for every can sold. But what we love most is that its using aluminium cans as refills. Why? Because aluminium can near infinitely be recycled.

It can be used and reused over and over and almost never lose any of properties. This makes it a much better alternative to cardboard or glass, and of course, plastic, which can only be recycled a maximum of a handful of times before the material is useless. It’s estimated that around 75 per cent of all aluminium ever made is still in use today.Utilising that, this brand KANKAN set up by friends who straddle the planet, across the UK and Australia, uses aluminium cans as refills for it’s glass hand wash dispensers.

The hand wash starter kit comes with the glass bottle and one can, and refills are £15 each. If you decide you don’t want your glass bottle anymore, you can return it to the brand (labels are provided). We think the amber colour looks chic in the bathroom and we love the fresh and citric scent.

The hand wash is pretty special too. Made in the UK, it has a long list of credentials including being free of palm oil and parabens and sulphates, It’s also made with 100 per cent essential oils, including mandarin, lavender, lemon, patchouli and clary sage and vegan and cruelty free.

At the moment, the pump is still made of plastic, as most brands have found with pumps, no other material seems to work. The cans are also a touch too big to entirely fit into the glass bottle, so you’ll have a little left over, but this can be used as a shower gel, as the brand’s short video shows.

Buy now

UpCircle chai soap bars: £6.99, UpCircle Beauty

We’ve gone full circle when it comes to what you use to wash in the shower, so bring out your soap dish and stop buying shower gel in single use plastic bottles. UpCircle is all about reusing, repurposing and re-loving. In short it uses natural ingredients that would otherwise end up in the landfill in its products: think coffee grounds and chai tea spices. Everything is 100 per cent natural, free of palm oil and vegan, obviously. We love this chunky soap bar, which is actually a two-in-one product, as the repurposed chai spices act as a scrub on your skin too. We just hold the bar and rub over our skin and we come out feeling sparkly with noticeably soft skin, too.

Buy now

Axiology lipstick: £29, Glow Organics

The brand takes its name from the word which means "the philosophical study of value", and clearly it has many values: calling itself 100 per cent evil free, and believing that make-up shouldn’t only be safe for humans, but for animals and the environment too. Eac lipstick only has 10 ingredients (which it proudly lists on its site from organic coconut oil to candelilla wax), compared to other lipsticks which often even have lead in them. The lipsticks aren’t tested on animals, are vegan, are free of palm oil and the brand donates to the orangutan foundations and other charities.

The packaging is completely recyclable: it comes in a recycled paper triangle packet from a women-run cooperative in Bali, and the outer bullet is made from aluminium and is completely recyclable. There’s 30 shades, and we tested Bonafide, which we found to be wonderfully creamy and a great summery pinky/ orange hue.

Buy now

Face Halo make-up remover pads, pack of 3: £18, Amazon

If taking your make-up off at the end of the day is something you hate doing, and you're fed up of using cotton pads that come in non-recyclable plastic bags and get through endless amounts of bottles of cleanser, or worse, packs of face wipes, these face pads from Face Halo solves all those problems. The large fluffy white pads – incredibly – only need water to remove make-up, so there’s no chemicals, woo! And it's so quick and easy.

Yes, we were dubious too, but it works and takes off mascara sufficiently. We even used a cleanser afterwards to see if there was any stubborn make-up left behind, and there wasn’t. We bent it in half to easily take off mascara, without rubbing delicate skin. These can be washed up to 200 times in the washing machine too. And once you’re done with them, don't throw them away – you can send them back to Face Halo to be recycled.

Currently, the bags are not recyclable, but the brand is working on it, and as these pads last so long, you’ll certainly be cutting down on waste. The bags are also designed to not need extra packaging in the post too.

Buy now

OHNE tampons: From £5.80 for 24, OHNE

OHNE tampons are organic, guaranteed by the Soil Association, are not bleached like most tampons and are free of pesticides. The wrapper, box, shipping bags and applicator of the applicator version are biodegradable. While the non-applicator tampons are wrapped in a thin layer of recyclable plastic, which it needs to prevent contamination, the company is working on finding a bioplastic. You can order mixed boxes of tampons to suit your periods and money from each box contributes to providing young women in Zambia with menstrual education through School Club Zambia, as well as new toilet blocks.

Buy now

Ben & Ana natural papertube deodorant stick: £.25, Ben & Anna

As one of the only brands offering a plastic-free option for deodorants, this Germany-based company has designed this push-pop style cream stick, and it’s a godsend. Coming in seven scents, we prefer the original one, “pure”. They are all made from natural ingredients like shea butter and soda, and aren’t tested on animals. It’s a smooth application and stops any odour from occurring. Once you’ve finished, you can recycle the cardboard after washing it.

Buy now

TePe Good toothrbrush: £2.75, Waitrose & Partners

Now this might look like an ordinary single use toothbrush, but that it ain't. This is bio-based plastic that's made from sugarcane and caster oil. What's more the whole things is created with 100 per cent green energy in Sweden. This process also recirculates an estimated 95 per cent of the carbon dioxide emissions during its life cycle. It's an easy to use brush with a nice and small head so you can get right to the back of your gnashes. Available in regular soft, compact soft and mini extra soft. The plastic packaging is also made from 70 per cent recycled PET and the cardboard is made from FSC approved cardboard.

Buy now

Zao pearly eye shadow: £16, Zao Essence of Nature

This brand, founded by David Reccole, specialises in plastic-free makeup. Currently, its compact bronzing powders, eye shadows, eyebrow powders, eye primers, blushes and shine-up powders are all plastic free – while some items that come in tubes or use wands still use a little plastic, but come in bamboo packaging.

The eye shadows have refillable pots and use sustainable and biodegradable bamboo outer materials that clip back together with tiny magnets. We tested the golden sand eyeshadow that’s 100 per cent plastic-free and very easy to apply. All the brand’s products are non-toxic, natural, and cruelty-free too.

Buy now

Lush shampoo bar: From £6.60, Lush

Paving the way in the zero-plastic toiletries market, and now offering 40 per cent of its range plastic-free, Lush launched its shampoo bars in 1988 and has 26 different fragrances to choose from. Our favourite is by far the blue seanik bar. After lathering the product up in your hands to apply, it leaves your hair clean, shiny and soft. If you’re worried about keeping them dry and surfaces clean, you can buy a metal tin to keep them in for £2.50 from Lush that will last for years.

Buy now

Environmental bamboo toothrbush: £2.80, Ethical Superstore

Disposable plastic toothbrushes are a huge source of plastic waste. Swap yours out for a bamboo option that’s sustainable and biodegradable. The bristles are made from BPA-free plastic, which is non-toxic. When you’re done with it, remove the bristles and it can be decomposed at home.

Buy now

Verdict: Plastic-free toiletries and beauty products

Who Gives A Crap toilet paper is such a great company: not only does it use no non-recyclable plastic that toilet roll usually comes in , but it donates money to charities that help build toilets around the world. We also love that it’s a delivery and subscription service, too. Wild deodorant is also a top choice for its excellent design and eco-credentials from being cruelty free, to compostable refillables and subscription service, too.

Read more

13 best reusable water bottles

9 best plastic-free living books

12 best plastic-free tea bags that make the tea run greener

10 best resuable produce bags to help reduce single-use plastic