There are probably just about as many ways to wash your face as there are faces: water only, bar soap, pump soap, oil cleansing, masks, and on in infinite combinations of ingredients and products and options.
There isn’t just one zero waste way to wash your face; any of the above can be slowly transitioned to a slightly less wasteful routine by taking note of packaging and disposables. However you wash, notes on choosing wisely, below.
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-Water only: Skin hero Adina Grigore notes in her book Skin Cleanse that for many people, washing with water only might be less irritating and just as cleansing as washing with soap. She recommends doing 10 to 20 splashes, moving your hands up and down your face once per splash. The simplicity appeals, though for heavy make-up wearers and others it might not suit.
-Face soap in a pump bottle: What I’ve used for years, though I’m trying to transition away as I eke out the last few drops of my current bottle. Though most face soaps come in plastic bottles, there are a few companies packaging theirs in glass or metal. Plaine Products offers bulk face wash (and facial moisturizer) online in refillable metal bottles that they’ll take back for reuse, or non-bulk options packaged in glass or metal include face wash made by S.W. Basics, evanhealy, or Goddess Garden. While glass and plastic can of course both be recycled in most municipalities, the pump itself is made from multiple materials and is almost always trash. With glass bottles, I try to save and reuse them myself, or pass them along to a friend to do the same.
-Bar soap: Entering the world of bar face soap is a little nerve-racking, as bar soap can be so drying. I’ve been on the look-out for bars that are specifically formulated for faces. Meow Meow Tweet sent me a bar of their pink rose clay facial soap to try, pictured above, which I’ll do once my current bottle is empty. Other folks making bar soap for faces include Little Seed Farm (local to the Midwest) or Sappo Hill (local to the West Coast).
-Oil cleansing: Though these usually come in packaging as well (the ones at my local co-op are almost all bottled in plastic), at least they’re just one single, simple ingredient, and they feed thirsty skin. I use rosehip or jojoba oil to cleanse a few times a week, and I wipe the remainder away with warm water on a thick washcloth. (My favorites, the pillowy versions shown here, are a gift from Natural Linens made from organic cotton fabric and organic cotton thread, compostable!). You might find a different oil works better for you; again I’ll recommend Adina’s genius Skin Cleanse from the library or elsewhere.
-Buy it in bulk: You might be able to find bulk oil or face wash near you (check here). Bulk options let you try a small sample before you commit, choosing to fill a very small container at first before going back a week later for more. For containers, you can refill a plastic or glass pump bottle left over from a used-up product, a reusable squeeze bottle like a silicone GoToob, or fill a glass jar and screw on a pump top.
-Etc: If you use cotton rounds for make-up removal or anything else, they are such a great reusable to keep on hand as opposed to the plastic-packaged single-use kind. (The cotton rounds pictured were a gift from Natural Linens, or you can also make your own). Mine kept getting stuck in the door of our front-loading washer during the spin cycle, so I recently purchased a small mesh bag from Fillgood to keep them together in the wash. (Anything to make life 0.0005% easier).
Other suggestions for a lower-waste routine?