A Consumer’s Struggle: Sustainable Skincare Packaging

When you visit your local drugstore, it’s easy to find beauty and skincare in their respective aisles, almost always found in boxed plastic tube and cylindrical containers. While some of these containers are recyclable, they require the consumer to rinse them out beforehand and toss them in the recycling bin, and realistically only 9% of plastic in the world is actually recycled.

I walked by St. Ives’ Mixing Bar pop-up shop in Flatiron district in NYC to find that I could customize my own facial scrub using their famed walnut shell exfoliants or substituting it with other scrubs like bamboo powder or volcanic sand and choosing the scent to pair it with. The process was quite exciting, as they’ll make the scrub at their mixing station in front of you with their lab and chemistry gear! The staff were extremely pleasant to speak with and I had a fruitful conversation with one about St. Ives’ skincare packaging choices.

Currently the skincare products they’re most known for (face scrubs, body scrubs, and body lotions) come in plastic tubes, pumps and tubs. When I visited their pop-up, they were selling these portable cleansing sticks exclusive to the pop-up, as well as lip scrubs and fragrances. I didn’t get a chance to examine the lip scrub and fragrance packaging, but all of the other packaging was plastic.

I’d love to see skincare companies move away from plastic or use only recycled plastic for their packaging. There are other skincare companies such as LUSH that incentivize customers to bring back their black recycled plastic containers and get a free fresh face mask, or Origins that has a cosmetics packaging recycling program where they accept your emptied containers to any of their stores in North America.

On Origin’s website they say,

“We created the beauty industries’ first recycling program for cosmetic packaging in 2009.”

Other companies like Juice Beauty which uses recyclable tubes for their mascara and Rituals which encourages consumers to keep their used containers and just purchase product refills. There are also package-free options at LUSH for their shampoo bars and body soap bars, which I think St. Ives can consider for their cleansing sticks.

From what one of the staff told me, the St. Ives mixing bar is the only area in the shop that washes and reuses the plastic containers after each customized scrub is made. I’m aware that St. Ives has a loyal customer base and many of us are trying to be more eco-friendly, but it’s hard to when the choices are limited in stores. Unilever, St. Ives’ parent company, prides itself on its sustainability efforts and I hope they will consider their packaging choices to reduce their carbon footprint and help consumers do the same. I did check St. Ives’ FAQs and they say they have a dedicated center to look into sustainable packaging so I’m really excited to see what comes out of that in the future!

Check out my series “A Consumer’s Struggle for Sustainable Packaging” on Medium.