4 Alternatives To Disposable Beauty Items

Let’s kick off the new year with this look at reusables, the first in a series of posts about sustainable beauty — what we can do to green up our personal care routines in 2020! Posts on Below Freezing Beauty contain affiliate links. Learn more.

You’re a smart cookie, so I’m sure by now you’re aware that humans have created a global garbage crisis — and the U.S. is one of the biggest trash generators in the world. We throw away way too much stuff. While there are some steps that corporations and businesses can take to have a major impact, as individual consumers, we can absolutely make a difference by changing our own habits.

Sometimes news about the planet and climate can feel overwhelmingly bad, and it seems like there’s nothing we can do. But little steps do add up! I might not be able to re-freeze the polar ice caps or singlehandedly scoop up the Pacific Garbage Patch, but I can reduce my own personal waste and keep some unnecessary trash out of the landfills (and oceans, beaches and other places it doesn’t belong). Here are a few disposable beauty items that can be swapped out for reusable alternatives.

Makeup remover wipes

I take my skincare routine pretty seriously these days, but everyone has One Of Those Days sometimes when you’re just too exhausted at the end of the day to stand up long enough to go through double cleansing and toners and ampoules and serums and, and, and… It’s still really important to take off your makeup at night (even if it’s only so your skin doesn’t feel gross in the morning). I used to keep a pack of disposable facial wipes in my nightstand for those evenings when I was just too wiped to keep up. But those wipes generate a lot of waste — even if every one of us only uses one pack a year, imagine that one pack multiplied times the number of makeup-wearers living in your city — and are often made of materials that don’t biodegrade or take a long, long time to break down. (Don’t forget the plastic packaging, which will basically never biodegrade under normal circumstances.)

Replacing makeup remover wipes in the bathroom is easy — there are lots of face cloths out there, from regular old washcloths to products like Makeup Eraser and the Jane Iredale Magic Mitt. (Or honestly, save yourself some cash and just buy a pack of baby washcloths.) But unless you’ve got a sink right next to your bed, you’re going to want a waterless replacement, too.

My personal solution came in the form of Drag Off, an all-natural skincare product invented by my cousin, Sheri Olesen. (In the interest of transparency, I should mention that I get the family discount on my Drag Off… that is, I get it for free.) Drag Off is a completely waterless oil cleanser. You rub it into your face and then wipe it away with a clean cloth. It breaks down your makeup and moisturizes at the same time. (There’s also a tea tree version that’s a great exfoliant.) I’ve replaced my bedside pack of face wipes with a tube of Drag Off and a stack of face cloths for those nights when I’m too exhausted to tackle my full cleansing regimen. It is a pretty serious moisturizer, so if your skin needs something else, try a bottle of micellar water (I like Pacifica’s waters).

Cotton swabs

I didn’t think cotton swabs seemed like such a big deal — personally I use them mostly to apply spot treatments or occasionally clean up eye makeup — and then I read this industry report that says there were more than 543 BILLION disposable cotton swabs sold in 2017. That’s almost 1.5 billion swabs trashed every single day. So much for cotton-and-paper Q-Tips seeming like a harmless nothing.

Now, on the grand scale of disposable things, Q-Tips are certainly not as bad as some things out there. According to the company, they are biodegradable (when composted; keep in mind that landfills aren’t designed to encourage biodegradation), and there are plenty of “green” disposable alternatives, too. But what’s even better than generating less harmful trash? Generating no trash! Fortunately, swabs can be replaced with beauty reusables.

I haven’t taken the leap yet, but one item on my shopping list this year is a reusable swab like LastSwab or FinalSwab. Sure, you have to clean it after you use it. (In that regard, it’s a lot like clothes and underwear and all the other things we reuse every day!) But it seems like an easy enough way to help keep some of those hundreds of billions of swabs out of the trash.


OK, OK — you may be thinking I’ve gone a bit too far here. But hear me out. Once upon a time, before “two boxes of Kleenex” became a staple on school supply lists, all tissues were reusable. They were called handkerchiefs.

Facial tissue, like Q-Tips, is one of those things that seems like not that big a deal — it’s just paper, right? But as with all things that are manufactured, it’s important to think of the whole picture. It’s not just one Kleenex; it’s the tree that was cut down to make it, the chemicals and water involved in its production, the fuel to ship it, and so on. Is it bad to use tissues? I hope not, because cold season hit this family hard this year. But are we better off using fewer tissues? Absolutely.

Now, I’m not suggesting we all start giving up toilet paper in favor of family cloth. (Although my first baby was cloth diapered and we used cloth wipes at home, and it’s a lot less gross than you’d think it might be.) But we could probably all be a little more judicious in our use of tissues for beauty purposes, me included. This is where that pack of baby washcloths (seriously, they’re like five bucks at Target) comes in handy again. Keep a stack of them on hand for all those little things you might use a tissue for, like blotting lipstick or under-eye protection while you apply loose glitter. (LastSwab is also launching something called LastTissue, but I’m not sure how it will be different from, like… a hankie?)

Cotton pads

Cotton rounds are my personal challenge for 2020. I love them. And they are mega wasteful, especially when I use one for makeup remover and another for toner every single day. So my resolution this year is to make my current bag of cotton pads my last one.

I’m currently shopping for replacements, and the great news is there are so many options out there! I’m in love with these from FarmGirlDesign on Etsy, or these vintage lemon print ones, or these gorgeous rainbow colors. (The MarleysMonsters store also sells custom cloth wipes… maybe match your reusable face wipes to your reusable cotton rounds?)

How To Get Started With Beauty Reusables

The great news about our collective growing eco-consciousness is there are more options for beauty reusables all the time! Spend some time browsing Etsy, where you can also find items like reusable paper towels (also on my list, although not beauty-related… I do think they might be great for face towels, though!). If you want to browse items in person, try your local natural foods market or cloth diaper store. Honestly, it can start as simply as tossing a pack of those baby washcloths in the cart on your next Target run (for real, I have so many of them and you can use them for EVERYTHING). Little decisions can add up into a big impact.

What other disposable beauty tools would you like to find replacements for? Are there beauty reusables you’re planning to phase in this year?Replace Beauty Disposables | Below Freezing Beauty

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