You don’t need to give up on mascara

plastic free mascara recipe

I’ve been using cake mascara for a while now. Here’s my zero waste mascara recipe. 


Humans have been using makeup since well before plastic was invented. Did you know that commercially sold mascara didn’t always come in a plastic tube? It used to come in a tin.

Cake mascara – the stuff in tins – is old school, but I only learned of it a few years ago when popular Australian blogger The Rogue Ginger wrote about it. She made her own by adapting this recipe made of only soap and pigment to include almond oil and water. Here I’ve adapted hers by adding bentonite clay and swapping the oils for those I had on hand.

Cake mascara is not soft and gloopy like tube mascara. Instead it’s a concentrated hard puck of pigment. You apply it by moistening the cake with a tiny bit of water on the applicator brush (which I hope you’ve held on to from an old tube of mascara). Between uses, the cake dries again, much like watercolour paint. It’s not rocket science, you get used to it. What’s more challenging is taking pictures of your eyeballs for before and afters.

plastic free mascara

Pretty good right? This mascara dries on my eyelashes after I apply it, yet my lashes stay soft and I don’t get flaking or smudging. It’s probably important to note that the soap in the recipe could theoretically sting your eyes if you cried and rubbed your eyes. I think you’d be okay with regular non-rubbed tears.

I’ve made this mascara twice now, and helpfully recorded the ingredients of my first batch in Evernote without quantities. Clever. The second time around I recorded more detail and have this recipe to share with you. This batch made enough to pack into an empty eyeshadow container, which should last for me ages.

Ingredients for cake mascara

  • 1g pigment (charcoal or cosmetic grade pigment).
  • 1g bentonite clay
  • 2g plain bar soap shavings
  • 5 – 10 drops rosehip oil or jojoba
  • 3 – 5 drops vitamin E oil

I use weight-based measures, but I would approximate 1g as a half teaspoon.

This is a fairly robust recipe. If you don’t have clay, just replace the same amount with pigment. I think my logic for including clay was to achieve a soft black colour instead of a black black. For pigment, I used charcoal the first time, and the remains of a kohl eyeshadow that I’d shattered for round two, and both worked equally well. Based on my notes, I might have used cacao butter in the first batch, but omitted in the second as I wasn’t sure how I’d incorporated it. The vitamin E oil is a common preservative, but if you don’t have any, just use more of the jojoba/rosehip. The fact that there is soap in the recipe is perhaps a little odd. For me, it’s been fine. I don’t wear contacts though. Do what you’re comfortable with, but please don’t add essential oils to this formula, as they don’t belong anywhere near your eyeballs.

Before you start, make sure you have a clean, shallow container ready. Any shallow, lidded container will do. I used an old eyeshadow container, which formerly housed the pigment I used in the mascara.

Method to make cake mascara

Hint: It’s a very similar method to my deodorant recipe

  1. Bring one inch of water to simmer in a pan on the stovetop.
  2. In a small heatproof jar in the pan of water, melt the soap shavings, then add the remaining ingredients. Mix together until well combined with a small, clean spoon.
  3. If the mix is too crumbly add more rosehip oil drop by drop to form a paste. You don’t want it liquid, just enough to make a malleable paste
  4. Pack the mixture into a clean container and let harden into a cake.

How to apply cake mascara

Using an old mascara wand, wet the brush and work just the top layer into a light paste, then apply to lashes as you would normal mascara. You can apply a few coats, it builds nicely. My before and after shots are just one coat. The trick is not to go overboard on the water. You know how commercial mascara gets thicker the older it is? That’s the texture we’re aiming for. You definitely don’t want to see a pool of water. Just hold the wand under a tap for a split second, shake it and then swirl on the cake. The same method using an eyeliner brush gives you liquid liner. One make at home product to replace two from the store.

After applying, I rinse the brush and keep it in a tin with the mascara. I bent the wand as you see in the pictures so it would fit into the tin, but it also works well for applying.

If you’re like, this is nuts, I’m sticking with my tube mascara, then I have this link for you, which maps public Terracycle drops spots for empty beauty products recycling. I remember excitedly telling a friend about making this mascara and liquid liner myself and she said she thought it was a better use of her time to just buy from the store. The reality is, having figured out the method, it’s quicker for me to make a batch than a trip to the drugstore and about 99% cheaper. That and no new plastic was created.

Ingredient sourcing for zero waste mascara in Sydney

Rejoice, for many of the bulk food shops in Sydney now refill bentonite clay and charcoal powder. Select few will refill oils like jojoba. Check the bulk page for more info. I’ve never found vitamin E for refill, so that one came in a jar with a dropper. Bar soap is simple enough to find unpackaged.

Good luck and tell me how you go!

3 ingredient zero waste lip balm recipe

Here’s a three ingredient formula for a versatile zero waste lip balm that I use on my lips, cuticles, and as the base for my DIY zero waste deodorant. 


3 ingredients, no packaging

This basic balm recipe uses only three ingredients, all of which can be found unpackaged here in Sydney:

  • cacao butter
  • coconut oil
  • beeswax

It’s inspired by a lip balm I had long ago from Lush (Honey Trap, I think) that was great for cuticles and lips alike. I began making my own once I found out how simple this kind of thing is, and when The Soap Dispensary opened and started offering refills of these ingredients in only the amounts I needed. My recipe is a bit simpler than Lush’s, but works just as well.

zero waste lip balm ingredients

Melt and pour method for making the balm 

Melt all three ingredients in a 1:1:1 ratio in a mason jar set into simmering water. Stir to combine, then pour into silicone moulds or small reused lip balm tins. The mixture will harden as it cools to room temperature. If you’re in a hurry, put the moulds in the fridge.

You can usually find silicone ice cube trays at the op shop – that’s where I got these heart shaped moulds.

Variations on the lip balm recipe

For meltier bars, reduce the relative amount of beeswax. For harder bars (or in summer) increase the beeswax. You can also mix and match oils, butters and waxes if you don’t have cacao or coconut or beeswax – the trick is to start with the roughly 1:1:1 mixture of oil, butter and wax, and then adapt to your climate and preference. The more liquid your ingredients are, the softer the balm will be. I use this combo of cacao, coconut and beeswax because I can find it all packaging free, and cacao butter smells like chocolate!

Uses for the everything balm

I usually make a couple at a time since extras are great as gifts, or stored for later in an upcycled candle jar. The little bars can be remelted and mixed to make DIY paste deodorant.

What to do when your beeswax wraps wear out

Beeswax wraps are the thing, no question. But what happens when they wear out? Don’t let it be landfill – it’s pretty simply to bring them back to like-new.


Whether you buy beeswax food covers or make your own, the coating will wear out over time. How quickly depends on how often you use and wash them. It’s reasonable to expect them to work well for a few months. A year is a proper stretch based on my own experience. Unused in a drawer maybe.

Sometimes they crease, sometimes they crack, and sometimes the coating flakes off. This is all easy to remedy, and wear out isn’t actually a terrible thing (I’ll explain more below). First let me tell you why tossing your beeswax wraps is no bueno.

Could cotton be worse than plastic?

Yes, if it’s treated as disposable. Cotton is a chemical laden crop that has no great end of life option. it follows that it’s best to keep textiles that have useful life in them in use.

  • Cotton = water + pesticide extravaganza. Cotton may be a renewable resource – it is a plant, after all – but a thirsty and pesticide-laden crop. Calling cotton a natural fibre is like calling a potato chip a vegetable. i.e. only partly true. And natural isn’t synonymous with harmless anyway (asbestos is a natural fibre). Natural also isn’t the same thing as sustainable. Witness the Aral sea before and after decades of irrigation for cotton production, if you need further convincing.
  • Textiles are not readily recyclable. There are technologies here and there, but for the most part, textile recycling is not a thing yet. We can compost some materials, but that’s more of a mitigation strategy than a boon to the soil microbiota.

Beeswax wraps are a better solution than plastic wrap, but only when they are kept and reused over a long period of time. We’re not just trying to break even by making these sorts of switches, but improve things.

Here’s what to do when your beeswax wraps wear out

Here’s how to revitalize beeswax wraps that have seen better days:

A quick hit in the oven: The simplest trick to refresh your beeswax wraps is to pop them into the oven on a baking sheet on low heat to remelt and distribute the wax. This will deal with any creasing and cracking. I reuse the same compostable parchment sheet from making the wraps to do this. If there’s a bit of wax still left on the parchment from making them the first time, all the better.

OR

Deep clean and re-wax: If you want to clean up grubbier looking wraps, take the opportunity to do a hot soapy wash of the fabric. This may cause some of the wax to come off, which we normally try to avoid, but once in a while it’s okay. Hang the fabric in the hot sun to lift any stubborn stains, then follow either this simple wax recipe, or the more involved pine rosin formula to add a bit of wax back to the fabric.

OR

Keep using it in its half worn out state: If the fabric is in an awkward stage between waxed and worn out, it can still be used as a handy (and lightly water resistant) cloth for buying food on the go.

With the occasional refresh, your beeswax wraps will last a long time

If you’re thinking, this is too obvious to write about, I beg to differ. Especially since many people will be receiving these as gifts, and won’t have the experience of discovering just how easy they are to make or remake at home. I also see sellers promoting them as lasting ‘up to a year’, which implies an expiry on the wrap rather than just the coating. Also, a personal experience – a friend tossed hers after they wore out and only told me afterwards. The truth is that these could and should last an incredibly long time and are nearly endlessly reusable.

A non-greasy Zero Waste deodorant to make at home

I’m not sure why my DIY deodorant actually works, but it seems to and it’s easy to make. But you might not even need it. Confused? Ummm…yeah.


There are good reasons to consider giving up conventional deodorant to start making your own, including avoiding fragrance or triclosan, reducing plastic packaging waste, and saving some money.

A brief history of deodorant

Women were the first to be body shamed into buying it in the early 1900s. Adverts of the time told women that they needed to get that pesky underarm odour under control if they hoped to snag a mate. Nevermind that it clearly hadn’t stopped humans from mating in all the human history that came before it… Women were at first outraged, then bought in big and a need was born. The same story as many personal care products! At the time, male body odour was considered completely fine, masculine even. That only changed decades later when producers hawkishly realized they were missing out on 50% of the market.

Fear of body odour is at its root, fear of rejection, and probably why many people can be hesitant to try out anything that doesn’t explicitly promise “24 hour odour protection!” or similar.

I’d tell you to go without, except that I don’t, and besides, many of us work indoors – our sensibilities might not be attuned to the smells of the pre-Victorian era. And since deodorant shames each gender in mostly equal amounts these days, let’s just look at an alternative to the conventional drug store variety, just because we can.

My tried and tested formula

Anecdotally, my homemade formula works for me, but I couldn’t help but wonder why. The internet is abound with terrible advice provided by people who have good intentions, but a poor grasp of what constitutes legitimate scientific literature. It muddies the waters to call a homemade deodorant ‘chemical free’. Chemicals are neither good nor bad by definition. It’s much more accurate to say we want to avoid chemicals proven to harm biological systems, like triclosan. Not every commercially sold deodorant contains triclosan and I’ve not seen any science that supports that widely repeated claim (from somewhere) aluminum causes breast cancer.

So why do I bother making deodorant myself? I find deconstructing ingredients and making stuff at home fun and empowering. I find unsubstantiated claims that may distract people from actual risk factors disempowering. I also like spending less on things that are super easy to make.

Anyway, having relied on my homemade deodorant for a number of years now, in climates from temperate to sometimes torturously hot, I am pleased to tell you I haven’t lost any friends. The formula is a distillation of anything and everything I’ve found on the internet over the years, combined with what I’ve picked up from workshops. And then I tried to make it as simple as possible, because I am a very big fan of that sort of thing.

In any case, it’s probably helpful to start, as I did, by getting a better grasp of the anatomy of the armpit and why it’s prone to odour in the first place.

Some interesting armpit tidbits

  • Armpits are about a pH of 4 – 6 (acidic), with women having a slightly lower pH than men, on average.
  • Sweat is one way our bodies control temperature, but not all sweat is the same – our bodies have two types of sweat glads: eccrine and apocrine. The former produces a salty solution that actually inhibits bacterial growth, the latter a more protein rich sweat, which bacteria like to feast on. Hairy body parts have more of the glands that produce protein rich sweat.
  • Smell is the result of bacteria breaking down the proteins in apocrine sweat.
  • Some people don’t produce body odour. And if you have dry earwax, you may be one of the lucky ones who doesn’t need any form of deodorant. Yup, this was determined by a study done by the NHS.
  • Salts inhibit bacterial growth.
  • Our skin is probably bacterially unbalanced, much like modern day intestines. We are probably over-washing and getting rid of good bacteria. One day we might spray on bacteria instead of deodorant to keep smell at bay. But not today.

Next I looked into the most common ingredients found in commercially available so called natural deodorants.

Common natural deodorant ingredients

Here are the ingredients you’ll find in popular, raved-about natural paste style deodorant. By law, ingredients must descend in order of concentration, which makes it simple enough to reverse engineer a recipe. They usually include the following:

  • Baking soda / bi carb is the star ingredient in most paste recipes. Baking soda is the same thing as bi carb, a type of salt. You could apply it solo, directly to your underarms. The reason many don’t is because that would be hard to apply and perhaps a bit abrasive, as well as on the high pH side at 8.5.
  • Arrowroot is moisture absorbing and has a neutral pH. I also suspect this creates a smoother consistency thanks to its thickening action. It acts a lot like cornstarch, but most cornstarch is from monocrops, and it’s also much higher pH than arrowroot, and could be irritating.
  • Clays are moisture absorbing. They can be neutral to high pH. Kaolin has a lower pH, bentonite has a very high pH.
  • Diotomaceaous earth is also alkaline, and sometimes used in place of bi carb or clay. It’s made of tiny little fossils. Actually this ingredient isn’t all that common.
  • Shea butter or cocoa butter are both moisturizing, and help form the balm base.
  • Coconut oil has antibacterial properties and helps form the balm base.
  • Beeswax hardens the mixture, which is useful for warm climates.
  • Essential oils like tea tree have antibacterial properties, and also add a bit of scent. If you’re preggers, sensitive, or a child, don’t use essential oils, and never use pure essential oils undiluted on your skin.

The best I can figure, bi-carb based deodorants work by raising the pH of the area to inhibit bacteria. The other ingredients make the paste nice to apply and also dilute the bi carb, which should theoretically bring down the pH of the formula. Why is this important? Products with a high pH can cause irritation to the skin. If you get skin irritation, you might want to reduce the bi carb or high pH ingredients in the formula. Some of the other ingredients are antibacterial.

The DIY deodorant formula I use.

Every time I make my deodorant, I make it a bit differently because I have slightly different ingredients on hand. It always turns out fine and usable because it’s a robust recipe. It’s not like soap making, which is a technical process where precision measurement of oils and lye can the difference between success and failure. DIY deodorant is melt and pour. With our basic balms and deodorant pastes, adding too much of one thing is easily corrected by adding a bit more of another.

zero waste deodorant

 

Ingredients:

  • 1TBSP cocoa butter
  • 1TBSP coconut oil
  • 1TBSP beeswax
  • 1TBSP bi carb
  • 1TBSP kaolin clay
  • 1TBSP arrowroot powder
  •  5-10 drops skin safe essential oil, like tea tree or lavender

This method uses one equal part of each ingredient (excluding essential oil), and a 50:50 overall ratio of dry ingredients to balm. Meaning, if you need to swap out the kaolin clay for 1.5 TBSP each bi carb and arrowroot. The more bi carb, the stronger the deodorant’s effectiveness, but also the potential for skin irritation.  Or you could swap the fancier 1:1:1 balm recipe for 3 parts coconut oil. Easy, right?

Step 1: Make the basic balm recipe

Start with a basic balm recipe using a 1:1:1 ratio of butter/oil/wax (this can be used on lips or cuticles or as a massage bar too). If it’s winter, decrease the beeswax by half, as I did, or altogether.

zero waste deodorant

Put the balm ingredients in a heat proof container like a mason jar and into a hot water bath until melted, then stir to mix.

Step 2: Add the dry ingredients

Combine your dry ingredients in a separate vessel. It’s a good idea to sift the bi carb or just break up any chunks. Mix this into the softened or melted basic balm mix. After it cools a little, mix in a few drops of essential oil. The mixture will firm up over the next hour or two and have a paste consistency.

zero waste deodorant

Step 3: Store and use your deodorant

I keep my deodorant in a small glass jar that formerly housed a candle. Any jar would do as long as you can reach in with your fingers, because you will need to apply the deodorant with your fingers. And why not – if you’re a lady, you should be checking your armpit regularly for lumps.

zero waste deodorant

Give it a minute to sink in before putting on clothing. If you’re getting grease stains, you could be using too much, or you may need to add more of the dry ingredients to dry out the formula for your climate and season. I use about half a pea size for each underarm. A small pea. One batch should last a few months. It’s probably worth noting that before I cracked this recipe, I used a simpler coconut oil and bi carb formula that left me feeling greasy. I much prefer what I use now, and find it worth the additional steps since I only make two batches a year. It’s also worth noting that I don’t tend to wear clingy white clothing these days. but I used to and I’d get staining from conventional deodorants anyway.

A note on Zero Waste ingredient sourcing

I used to be able to get all of the ingredients packaging free from The Soap Dispensary. Now that I live in Sydney, I can get some but not all of the ingredients packaging free. Bi carb, arrowroot powder, coconut oil and cocoa butter can be found at many of the bulk food stores I frequent. Beeswax isn’t hard to find in blocks at the farmers market or through a crop swap group. For anything I can’t easily source packaging free, my approach is to buy in larger amounts to share with friends.