Makeup is making the planet ugly.

So what do you do if you want to be eco-friendly and also beautiful? I wanted to find out how to buy makeup that wasn’t bad for the environment and what I was supposed to do with it after I was done, so I went online and started asking questions. Every company and recycling center I talked to was more than helpful and actually eager to talk to someone who cared. If you still have questions after reading the article, please get on the phone. You can make a difference every day, and remember every purchase is a vote for a better environment.

Before we get started, I want to suggest that you purge all your makeup first. Empty out every bag, drawer, suitcase and purse — I mean everything. No compact left behind. To figure out what you want to recycle, you’re going to need to figure out what you don’t want anymore. I’m not just talking empties; make sure you check expiration dates and color-match everything. In order to have a clean and safe makeup collection, you need to keep up to date on everything in it.

The Process to Recycle Makeup

Start with that old makeup at the back of the drawer or the bottom of the bag. Maybe you stole it from your mom in high school, maybe it came as a freebie when you bought something you actually wanted, or maybe it’s been five years and you realized that bronzer is not the same as foundation. Whatever the case may be, we all have those items that we keep around for some reason.

If these items are gently used or not used at all, look up your local women’s shelter. Most of them will take your makeup items, sanitize them, and hand them out to women who otherwise wouldn’t be able to purchase them. Bringing someone else a little bit of happiness in the process is always a win.

If the products are definitely used or empty, check to see if that brand has a recycling program. I suggest checking out this article for a quick rundown on companies that we know of that do have a program. If your brand isn’t on the list, contact their offices and ask if they have started one or what they will do about their waste. I think it’s every company’s responsibility to have a plan for their product through the end of its life, and not just when it leaves the store.

If you can’t find any buy-back option, try reusing the container. Clean out the product responsibly (scoop product into a sealed container to throw it away so no chemicals from the makeup are seeped into the trash) and then sanitize it to be reused again. There are so many YouTube videos on how to make your own makeup from things already in your kitchen. If that’s not something you want to try, go online and offer the containers to someone who might be making their own.

Once you’ve tried every option to make sure your palette or compact doesn’t make it to a facility, find out what is accepted for recycling near you. Since I live in San Diego, I went to the city website and looked for the recycle program. They have a clear list, with pictures, of what can be recycled and what cannot. Since my city accepts all plastics besides cling wrap, straws and utensils, I can recycle my palettes and compacts, etc. But first, remember to wash them clean and empty any product left into a sealed container for the trash. If it’s lipstick or mascara — any tube, really — that will most likely end up in the landfill.

Buy Makeup Responsibly

The biggest lesson in makeup disposal is how you get there in the first place. Most of us have walked aimlessly up and down a CVS aisle completely bewildered at some point. Now that I am living a more eco-friendly lifestyle, I like to do my research before I buy. The easiest change is to make sure it’s vegan. I know that sounds weird, as you’re not eating it — it clearly doesn’t have meat or cheese in it. But what does make it vegan is the testing on animals. Most major brands are vegan, so you won’t have to look far, but it is such an easy change and you’ll be helping the planet in no time!

The next thing to consider is the packaging we’ve been talking about — do you need it? I buy all my makeup from Makeup Geek Cosmetics. The eye shadow comes in its own metal pan without a compact, which is great for reducing excess trash. They ship everything in paper as well, so there is no carbon footprint on this purchase besides the travel. I’m so in love with it. Below is my customizable makeup palette.

I buy eye shadow, bronzer and blush from them, and I’m never going back. It’s so easy, and it actually looks more organized and appealing to me. As far as concealer, I am currently working through all my old pots, but as soon as I’m done, I am purchasing the one from Lush. Along with the eye and lip products, the concealers all come in glass containers that can easily be recycled. The only thing I have yet to find in recyclable packaging is mascara. If you’re feeling adventurous, try making your own. My favorite recipe is from Going Zero Waste. It does take a little more effort than running over to the store, but it’s so much better for the planet and your health!

Makeup can be overwhelming if you’re trying to create less trash, but if you buy responsibly, there isn’t much that will end up in the landfill.

Feature mage courtesy of

By Audrey Holmes

Based in San Diego, Audrey Holmes is on a personal journey toward zero waste. She admits to watching otter videos on YouTube way too much and having an unhealthy obsession with matcha. Speaking of green, read all about her zero-waste journey on her blog, Green Blue Marble.