As a new mom, you have a lot of responsibilities. But perhaps the most important one of all is teaching your little one how to be a responsible human in the world. That trickles down to the smallest details--even your skincare routine.
This guide gives you a step-by-step breakdown of sustainable skincare, including a definition, the benefits for new moms, steps to building your sustainable skincare routine, how your diet and lifestyle impact your skincare, and how to make your existing skincare routine more sustainable.
What is Sustainable Skincare
Sustainable. Ethical. Vegan. Clean. All-Natural. When starting a sustainable skincare routine, it’s hard to know where to begin with the verbiage, never mind navigating the available options.
Part of the problem is that there are many different standards of what sustainable beauty looks like and hundreds of eco-labels around the world, 66 of which are relevant to the cosmetics industry. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that cosmetic products in the United States do not need FDA approval before going to market.
Brands can also tweak wording to dance around strict labeling rules. For example, brands can put “cruelty-free” on products but not the Leaping Bunny certification if they have parent companies that test in China.
Basically, sustainable skincare means more responsible beauty products. It starts with making sure the ingredients are high-quality and well-sourced, but also thinking about their long-term environmental impact. It’s also about an end-to-end process, making sure every step in a product’s life cycle makes the tiniest impact possible.
Benefits of Sustainable Skincare for New Moms
For new moms, there are tons of benefits to sustainable skincare.
Once you delve into the world of sustainable skincare, you start touching on other terms under the umbrella, like vegan, vegetarian, and cruelty-free. The gist of it is that sustainable beauty is all about making sure your products are good for you and for the environment in equal measure. And since your baby still gets nutrients from you, that means you both get healthier ingredients.
Sustainable skincare also sets a responsible example for your kids. They can grow up in a household where taking care of the environment matters, right down to products we don’t think about like lipstick or lotion.
Plus, sustainable beauty feels better. Trust us--when you take the time to invest in products that were designed with your health in mind, your skin will feel (and show) the difference.
Building your Sustainable Skincare Routine
Want to set a better example for your kids and get your skin back in harmony all at the same time? If so, it’s time to revamp your skincare routine to be more sustainable.
The tricky part is knowing where to begin, especially because everyone’s skin is different. We’re here to make that easier. Here’s a quick guide to help you get started building a sustainable skincare routine that works for you.
Ingredients to Avoid
While different skin types benefit more from some ingredients over others, there are certain ingredients that should be avoided at all costs. Think of them as the toxic 12 of skincare. Chances are, you’ve heard of some of these before:
- Formaldehyde releasers (Bronopol, DMDM hyatonin, and imidazolidinyl urea, to name a few)
- Synthetic fragrances
- Mineral oil (sometimes labeled as paraffin)
- Polyethylene glycol
- PFAs and PFCs
- Carbon black
Keep in mind that this isn’t a comprehensive list, just a list of the biggest hitters you’re likely to see in drugstore beauty products.
For a complete list of ingredients, take a look at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Chemical Ingredients List, which breaks down various chemicals by their functional class. This skincare ingredient dictionary is also a handy tool to look up every unpronounceable chemical on your skincare labels.
Best Ingredients by Skin Type
With that in mind, let’s talk about ingredients you should be using. The best way to approach this is by skin type: dry, acne-prone, sensitive or redness-prone, hyperpigmentation, and aging skin.
For dry skin, moisture is your number one priority, and bringing moisture back into balance will help breakouts too. One of the best ingredients for that purpose is hyaluronic acid, a molecule that can hold 1000 times its weight in water. To seal it in, reach for ceramides, a naturally occurring fat that forms the mortar holding the bricks of your skin cells together.
For acne-prone skin, vitamins are where it’s at. Reach for anti-inflammatory, powerhouse antioxidants like vitamin C. Combine it with a moisturizer and a non-comedogenic SPF to help your skin breathe.
For sensitive skin, first and foremost look for products with as few ingredients as possible to lessen the risk of irritants. Use hyaluronic acid and ceramides combined with a niacinamide serum. Niacinamide is one of two major forms of vitamin B3, which is anti-inflammatory and occlusive (it helps shrink your pores).
For those staving off hyperpigmentation, bring in moisturizers like hyaluronic acid and ceramides, a powerhouse antioxidant like vitamin C, and a fantastic SPF for daily use. You should also reach for retinol, a superstar anti-aging product that increases skin cell turnover.
Finally, for aging skin, you need moisture, a collagen boost, and added protection against free radicals. Sunscreen is the name of the game, as is an antioxidant serum like vitamin C. Ceramides are also your BFF, since they help rebuild your skin structure with essential lipids you lose as you age.
Here’s the good news: with a rising trend in individual-ingredient products, it’s increasingly possible to democratize your skincare and DIY a sustainable routine. There are a few tricks to make this work.
First, apply the scientific method, i.e. only change one thing at a time and allow enough time to see the results. Aim for at least two weeks before making a decision about whether to keep or dump a new ingredient.
Second, you’re going to have to do your homework on ingredients. The best way to do this is by figuring out your skin type (a dermatologist can help with that) and asking their advice on ingredients that may work for you. You can also do this by thinking about the three stages of your basic routine (clease, moisturize, protect).
Your skincare regimen will vary in exact contents based on your skin type. Broadly speaking, though, you should always perform your routine in the following order:
- Eye cream
- Toner/Essence (if applicable)
- Spot treatment
- Face oil
You can skip steps or repeat a step (especially moisturizing) depending on your skin, but you should not change the order. If you have a prescription from your dermatologist, put that in the beginning right after cleansing.
Your nighttime regimen will also vary based on your skin type and the ingredients you use, but it should always progress something like this:
- Makeup remover
- Eye cream
- Toner/Essence (if applicable)
- Retinol (if applicable)
- Spot treatment
- Face oil
Again, you can add, remove, or duplicate steps depending on what your skin needs, but you should always keep the same order. And if you do literally nothing else, do NOT go to bed with makeup on.
Diets and Lifestyle
Remember the old saying, “You are what you eat?” It’s true of skincare too!
If you’re eating right, you can get all the nutrients your body needs without the need for vitamins. There is no one diet to maximize your health, either, so you don’t need to go nuts cutting food out unless you’re allergic. That said, there are some foods that will help your skincare routine do a better job.
If you’re looking for line-free skin, focus on upping your fruits and veggies, but especially fruits and veggies with vitamin C. Strawberries, kale, peppers, oranges, papayas, and kiwis are all great candidates (fruit salad, anyone?)
To fight breakouts, focus on dark leafy greens like collard greens and spinach, as well as upping your fish intake. Look for fish with plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon.
For hydrated skin, swap out your morning and afternoon coffee with organic, caffeine-free green tea for a good dose of antioxidants (sorry coffee lovers!)
How to Make Your Skincare Routine More Sustainable
Not quite ready to toss out every skincare product you own? You don’t need to do a full 180 to see the benefits of a healthier, more sustainable skincare routine. It starts with small steps. Remember, when you’re shifting toward sustainability, every little step matters.
Here are a few ideas to help you get started.
Look for Sustainable Ingredients. When in doubt, start with the basics: sustainable skincare ingredients.
The list we gave you will give you a good sense of what ingredients to shop for in a healthier skincare routine. But for all the extras, it pays to pay attention to the rest of the ingredient list. This will require a bit of homework.
Take palm oil, for instance. While an ingredient you can pronounce might seem like a great addition to a skincare product, palm oil is actually a massive culprit in deforestation.
You should also pay attention to how companies source their ingredients (remember, global supply chains are a big contributor to a product’s carbon footprint). Many companies buy their supplies from large global traders, but some pay careful attention to their supply chains to benefit small local communities around the world.
Choose Sustainable Packaging. This bottle is made of recycled materials! You just can’t recycle it once you’re done using it.
Sounds pretty absurd, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, sustainable packaging is a huge struggle in the skincare industry. Shower gels are reasonably straightforward, but the active ingredients in serums and face creams have to be carefully packaged to avoid contamination. And while pump dispensers are a go-to for maintaining an airless environment, the indivisible plastic components make them impossible to recycle.
That said, there are companies that are making a push for more sustainable packaging, many going further than just a recyclable bottle. Look for bottles with pumps you can buy once and reuse on your next recyclable bottle. For face creams, some companies offer a container you buy once and refill by popping a new product pod inside.
Avoid Using Single-Use Products. Either way, single-use products are the enemy of sustainable skincare routines. These are the items you can only use one time before they have to be tossed. Looking at you, plastic pumps! Or containers that have to be replaced with every purchase.
Unfortunately, not all companies design their packaging with reuse in mind, so you’ll have to do some hunting for brands that offer these features. The good news is that the ones who do usually make a point of advertising it.
Invest in a Set of Travel Containers. You know all those tiny plastic bottles you accumulate for travel and throw away? We’re sorry to say those are bad for the environment. Remember, that’s a new plastic bottle you throw away every single time.
Instead, invest in a set of reusable travel containers that you can wash out and use again every time you travel. That way, you don’t need to buy new bottles every time you hop on a plane. Plus, you know you’ll have access to your favorite products, and you don’t need to worry about packing regular bottles to travel.
Rethink Your Consumption. The most important tip of all is holistic. If you want to create a sustainable skincare routine, it’s time to rethink your consumption.
The reality is that sustainability is not confined to one area of skincare. A truly sustainable skincare routine takes every stage into account, from sourcing the ingredients to product packaging to clean ingredients to a final toss in the recycling bin.
It’s going to take more work than just popping to the drugstore. Unfortunately, sustainability these days is incumbent on the consumer to create. But If you’re willing to invest the time and energy now, you’ll see the payoff for many years to come.
Think of it as building a better world for your kids. And as a new mom, there’s nothing more important.
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