The lazy way to make reusable makeup remover cloths

zero waste eye makeup remover pads

We humans tend to criticize laziness as a character flaw.

I however, believe selective laziness can be useful. Case in point – if you’re moving to reusables for makeup removal, there’s no need to buy anything new or use a sewing machine. The lazy way is to cut one very old tee shirt into squares and store in an old jar in the bathroom, unhemmed. I’d love to learn how to sew, but that’s apartment space and a skill set I don’t have.

To remove makeup, I usually rub a few drops of coconut or jojoba oil (check the bulk page for tips on where to source in Sydney) into my face and eye area with clean fingers. Then I wipe clean with one of the squares wetted with warm tap water. Used wipes go into a small container that doubles as a pre-soak vessel. I soak the dirty wipes in hot soapy water to lift some of the grime before I add them to a towel wash.

zero waste eye makeup remover pads

zero waste eye makeup remover pads

Why not just use normal facecloths?

I sometimes do, but they’re larger than I need for the minimal makeup I wear – mostly just mascara, liner and concealer. I don’t love reusing the same towel over the course of several evenings since terrycloth is too thick to dry from sopping wet and all I can think of is bacterial growth.The smaller squares of cut tee shirt fabric have the perfect amount of surface area to clean my face, and using them instead of facecloths has a side benefit of reducing towel laundry.

zero waste eye makeup remover pads

What about those cute fluffy makeup remover rounds you can buy?

Buying new fluffy white cotton pads to repeatedly wipe dark substances off your face makes as much sense as a bike mechanic wearing a white tee-shirt. Why make life difficult? My pile of not-white-anymore cloths works best for me.

From makeup wipe, to cleaning cloth, to the compost

When they eventually become too grimy even for my face, I use them for even grubbier tasks, like dusting ledges or houseplant foliage or polishing shoes. If it’s cotton fabric and I’m not using them with any chemicals I wouldn’t want in my soil (I use vinegar, castile soap and bi carb), I can eventually compost the rags. I wouldn’t do this with blends or synthetics though.

Textile recycling isn’t an actual thing (yet)

While there are some potential benefits to what retailers like H&M and Uniqlo are doing to offer clothing collection boxes into their stores, the reality of all the research and development so far is that we’re far from a place where textiles can be recycled. It’s more accurate to categorize this process as clothing ‘down-cycling. It’s the same as most other collection donation services – a portion of what is useful and clean is sold in-country, more is sent abroad to be sold or burned, and what can’t be sold might be turned into industrial rags. We can do better by buying less to begin with, using our clothing longer and downcycling at home. My tee shirt can be demoted from being worn outside the home to sleepwear, and only then to rag.

zero waste eye makeup remover pads

It’s good to be lazy sometimes

What we buy is inexorably connected to what we throw away, so I’m fascinated by the many ways that we can enrich our lives without buying a thing, or by simply reframing waste as treasure. Less stuff to buy means less chasing our tails to earn money to try to afford what we don’t need anyway. More time to laze about with friends, in the kitchen, and in the garden. Ironically, frugality – not buying new things – is what can help us live more full lives.

My favourite winter face moisturizer: rosewater + glycerin serum

zero waste skin care rosewater

This low waste, two-ingredient recipe helped me overcome stubbornly dry winter skin. 

Winter is less than a week away and you’d barely know it here in Sydney. This autumn’s been mild enough that the frangipanis – Sydney’s fragrant summer jewels – are still blooming around the city. The plants may be confused, but my skin knows the truth. Outside of summertime humidity I struggle to retain moisture and sometimes sport visibly dry skin, especially on my chin and forehead. Jojoba and rosehip oils are my skincare mainstays throughout the year, but they can’t restore skin that’s really turned a corner. 

I like simple, multi-tasking solutions that save brain and counter space. By combining two ingredients I already had in the house – rosewater and glycerin – I brought the glow back to my skin.

A deceptively simple recipe to repair dry skin: rosewater and glycerin

Sorting through my DIY supplies, I came across a slim bottle of glycerin I’d refilled at The Soap Dispensary for some purpose I can’t recall. Glycerin acts as a humectant to pull moisture from the air into the skin, which I vaguely knew from reading my mom’s copy of Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me (remember this anyone?!). In fact, my habit of using bi-carb as exfoliant is straight from the same book. 

Rosewater is made from rose petals steeped in water. It looks and behaves like normal water and smells like roses. You could probably make it easily enough if you had a rose garden. I don’t, so luckily we had some the pantry from an attempt to re-create Black Star pastry’s famous watermelon cake. 

Rosewater and glycerin combine to make a super hydrating moisturizer. Rosewater cuts the glycerin and provides the moisture for the glycerin to draw into the skin. With only two ingredients, this is a deceptively simple recipe. I promise it’s incredibly powerful. In fact, there are some every expensive serums on the market that use these same two ingredients and sell for over $100. Reverse engineering is fun and frugal, friends.

zero waste skin care rosewater

How to make rosewater glycerin skin hydrating serum:

This recipe is make and shake. For an extra strong remedy I use:

  • 1 part glycerin
  • 4 parts rosewater

For day-to-day use, I aim for a lower proportion of glycerin:

  • 1 part glycerin
  • 10 – 20 parts rosewater

Combine the ingredients into a glass dropper bottle, close the lid and shake. I use a scant 2-3 drops per application, patting over my skin morning and night as needed, or rotating with my usual jojoba / rosehip blend.

zero waste skin care rosewater

How I deal with ultra dry skin

When my skin gets dry enough that flakes appear, I’ll lightly exfoliate with a dusting of wetted bi-carb on my fingertips. After rinsing, I’ll follow with the rosewater glycerin serum.  

Inexpensive, zero waste skincare makes my skin glow.

Since I’ve started using this recipe, I’ve been asked by several people for my ‘secret’ to great skin. For a 30-something, it’s as glee-inducing as being ID’d at the bottle shop. Surely though, I owe a portion of this newfound radiance to the joy of sidestepping unnecessary plastic packaging and avoiding overspending by making this surprisingly moisturizing remedy myself. 

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!

My unpackaged, not quite daily, hair routine

In case you were wondering, this is my approach to zero waste hair care. 

My hair is longish, wavy and there’s a reasonable amount of it. I cut it every 4-6 months at the Sustainable Salon in Surry Hills. I wash my hair once or twice a week, throwing it in a topnot while I shower. I blow dry about six times a year and don’t own hairspray except for the sugar and vodka mix I made myself, and yet barely use. I’ve carted around a bottle of Aveda texturizing spray for roughly eight years since that one time I bought product at a salon. I am determined to use it up, if only to repurpose the spray bottle.

I’m not a ‘hair’ person because I’ve never had to be. A good cut and very occasionally getting some highlights to frame my face means I can basically wake up and go.

I’m privileged that society accepts my hair as it is naturally, with the exception of that period in the 2000s when straightened hair was de rigueur, Britney was dancing with pythons, and pashminas were a thing. I obviously owned a straightener, which probably still exists somewhere in a drawer in my parent’s upstairs bathroom in Canada, a victim of disuse.

You’d think I’d be easy to please. Sort of? Curious, definitely.

I’ve tried all the things

I’ve tried all the most common zero waste hair washing methods that the internet has offered me:

  • bi carb & ACV (AKA ‘no poo’)
  • shampoo bars
  • more shampoo bars
  • other tempting shampoo bars
  • diluted castile soap (omg, no)
  • avocado pit ‘shampoo’
  • rye flour

And of course, inevitably, water only.

None of which worked out for me. My hair turned into a greasy on the bottom, dry on top, lion’s mane of Nope. It never normalized. I never ‘got through the bad period’. If you did, congrats.

I also struggled with whether some of these solutions were an improvement over shampooing. I ended up wasting water rinsing flour out of my hair, cleaning my hairbrush and pillows more often from the extra oil buildup, or using too much of an alternative to achieve a worse result (like the avo pit shampoo that was basically just diluted water with some gelatinousness). It felt like the highest maintenance low maintenance pursuit ever.

We’re all different. A good solution for me must be reduced waste and low maintenance. It also needs to work.

Shampoo, currently

So here we are. Full circle actually.

One of my first lifestyle changes in pursuing the life less wasteful was to refill shampoo from The Soap Dispensary. It never occurred to me to refill until the first time I walked into the place.

On moving to Sydney three- ish years ago, refilling wasn’t commonplace, which partly explains my foray into these alternative methods of hair washing. The rest can be explained by social media. Experimenting has been fun, but luckily, the retail landscape has evolved and it’s now pretty easy to refill shampoo. I can go back to doing what just seems to work best for me – actual shampoo without the new container every time. Maybe it’s not perfect, maybe there’s no such thing as perfect anyway, and maybe perfectionism is a trap*.

These days I refill shampoo from The Source and mix it up with a Lush shampoo bar, the latter of which does have SLS, but is packaging free as long as you gently refuse to let the staff wrap it up at the till. The bar format is great for traveling and threatens to last forever. Some people like to throw shade at Lush, for myriad reasons, but who else is doing unpackaged body care at that scale? I store my shampoo in plastic because I’m not ridiculous. Broken glass in the shower is no fun.

In the summer, I swim in the ocean a couple times a week. The salt seems to keep the grease in check and leaves me with pretty waves. The Aussie sun dries the hair, so I focus on keeping my hair conditioned, and for that, apple cider vinegar is actually pretty great. After shampooing, I spray diluted ACV onto the bottom of my hair using an up-cycled spray bottle, then rinse so I don’t smell of salad dressing. Coconut oil can help smooth the tips once hair is towel dried, but don’t go overboard.

A dash of a DIY arrowroot and cocoa mixture works as a dry shampoo if I stretch between washes, mostly in wintertime, when Aussie houses are so chilly I can’t be convinced to wet my hair. My best weapon year round is a floppy hat that both hides my unwashed hair, and protects my face from the sun.

As far as tools go, I brush with a wooden paddle hairbrush pinched from a sister eons ago. Half the bristles are missing, but one side still works. You’ll never catch my right wrist unadorned by a hair elastic – a few years ago I bought a package that I hope will last me the rest of my long life, supplemented by those I pick up from the ground. Same for bobby pins. My secondhand blow dryer broke just before a recent wedding so I made an appointment at one of those blow dry only places instead of immediately replacing the tool. I searched on Gumtree, decided to wait it out, and then like magic my sister-in-law very conveniently gave me an extra one she was getting rid of.

For now, this is my simple, unpackaged hair care routine. My teenaged self would hardly believe that it’s not necessary to shampoo daily, or care if others think my hair looks slightly greasy. My mom would approve and tell me that it’s more or less what she did growing up. Refilling and buying unpackaged is part of the story, but the core of it is doing less altogether. The whole reduce part applies to activities as well as things. Less washing and less styling, which translates to less product used, fewer containers and less water waste.

*It is a trap.