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Beauty & the Environment

How COVID-19 beauty protocols inspire new solutions to reduce plastic waste.

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The last seven months of Covid-19 protocols have forced me to confront the uncomfortable fact that I have been leading a double life — environmentally speaking, at least. On the one hand, I am a fervent environmental activist who tirelessly crusades against single-use plastics; on the other hand, I am a woman in Los Angeles who treasures the traditional feminine respites of manicures, facials, and visits to the hair salon.

Before Covid-19, I generally told myself I was making my beauty appointments with as much environmental consciousness as possible by bringing my own non-toxic COTE nail polish to nail salons and skipping the blow dry after getting my hair colored each month. However, after four months of quarantine in which I was forced to color my own hair, do my own nails (mani & pedi!), and even learn how to apply my own hot wax, it has become clear to me that I was kidding myself. My previous beauty routines were an environmental disaster.

The first realization came when I started doing my own aesthetic procedures and realized that I was using the same pair of reusable gloves every time. The re-usable glove forced me to consider the amount of single-use plastic that goes into just a single manicure/pedicure. Each technician wears a fresh set of disposable gloves for every appointment, and they also place a disposable plastic bag into each client’s foot-soaking tub. The sanitized mani/pedi tool sets are removed from disposable plastic pouches, and then the job is rounded out by a parade of single-use nail buffers and foot scrubbers. This all adds up to a shocking amount of disposable plastics for even a single client visit. Now consider that in 2019, 20.2 million people had a manicure an average of 4 times a year. That’s over 80 million visits.

Perhaps even more troubling than the manicure epiphany was the revelation that occurred when I started doing my own waxing. The salon I had frequented was impeccably sterile (no double dipping in the wax pot), so to do a single leg wax meant using and discarding about 50 wooden sticks, as well as a pair of disposable plastic gloves. On top of that, countless additional strips of disposable plastic were used to remove the wax from my skin. That is a lot of waste for a single waxing appointment. Now consider that, in 2019, nearly 7 million people visited waxing salons.

In learning to do my aesthetic treatments at home, I discovered that a lot of this waste is entirely unnecessary. I can use a single wooden stick for an entire waxing job, as well as a hard wax that peels right off and makes all those disposable plastic strips entirely unnecessary.

I recently sat down and did an honest calculation of how much waste I used to create in a single year of aesthetic self-care. I would on average visit the colorist once per month, the manicurist twice a month, and the waxing salon once per month. Just my visits alone accounted for the following yearly totals:

85 pairs of plastic gloves
24 plastic sterilization sleeves
600 wooden sticks
12 plastic bags for pedicure tubs
1000+ plastic waxing strips

I love my beauty and self-care routines, and have great respect for the professionals who do a much better job than I will ever be able to manage on my own. I don’t mean to suggest that we must all boycott our beloved salons at a time when those dedicated workers are already struggling. I do want to suggest, however, that there might be a better way to collaborate with those salons.

What if we kept our salon visits local, and took more of a BYO approach to our equipment? If we each had our own kits and sets to take with us to our appointments then there would be no need for all the disposable plastic. Some nail salons already do this, and even offer to hold your own kit for each visit so that there is less hassle to remember it each time. Expanding on this practice and making it standard across the entire beauty industry would prevent tons of plastic waste every year.

The Coronavirus pandemic is causing many of us to re-evaluate everyday things – like the need to commute to an office every day – that we had previously accepted as givens.

It has certainly taught me that, when it comes to our beauty and self-care routines, we can and should do better a much better job at controlling our unconscious habits of waste.

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