Zero-Waste Beauty, Simplified

Paris Tuileries, photos Emanuela Cervo

What did you do last week? I sold my hair straightener and quit makeup. Makeup is a kind of clothing for your face, so it seemed disingenuous to write about "my simple wardrobe" without streamlining my physiognomic one.

This isn't a radical change. Many Parisians forgo makeup for various reasons- personal preference, motherhood, age, profession. However, I'm surprised I lasted this long. I don't have the skin to pull off the no-makeup look. My prominent buccal fat pads never quite disappeared, my pores enlarge every year, and I've struggled with gluten-induced acne since 5th grade. In summertime and on vacation, when I'm reasonably dark and my face feels like it could melt off my body, I do well without makeup. Mascara and straight hair aren't suited for rainforests and sea water. This is Paris, though. To ride the Métro- especially during Fashion Week- entails standing nose-to-nose with porcelain-skinned women who probably never picked a pimple in their life. I'm still not convinced going barefaced while smog obscures the Eiffel Tower is the best thing for anyone's complexion.

Before: My three-product makeup routine. RMS Beauty Un-Coverup, Lip2cheek, and mascara

Going makeup-free isn't even the hard part. It's facing the world with naturally textured hair. Until high school, I was the only girl without a hair straightener, and I had the thickest, bushiest mane in town. It seemingly accretes matter with no regard to the Chandrasekhar limit. Not surprisingly, I walked into a Korean/Japanese salon this week and they ran me out. In Thailand, four girls shellacked my curls into unnatural, rebonded submission before saying, "Now you normal."

This experiment brought back horrifying memories of middle school. I wasn't allowed to wear makeup before 10th grade, so I'd sneak it behind my mother's back and spend all my free time in front of the mirror. In Japan and the US, some makeup lines are specially aimed at children. Little girls used to apply lipstick to play dress up- now, the age at which they suffer an inferiority complex is astonishingly low.

Bangkok
The history of women's beauty practices is similarly alarming. Egyptian women applied lead ore to their faces for color and definition. Romans used sheep's fat and blood as nail polish. In the 15th century, France became a leading center of cosmetics manufacturing, turning arsenic into highly profitable face powder. We balk at 20th century preparations for lead-based hair dye, but to this day, measurable levels of mercury are found in favorite department and drugstore brands.

My susceptibility to beauty conventions is largely cultural. Never mind the "You're ugly," messages propagated by mass media and the CW network. In Seoul, family members incorporate a flurry of creams, serums, powders, lasers in their regimens. Friends visiting Korea with age spots and scars come back ten years younger, baby fresh. I just don't have the patience for that sort of thing. All winter, I've washed my face with plain water and a washcloth, or the same olive oil soap I use on my hair and body. I can't get away with low-maintenance if I'm caking my face in Un-Coverup everyday.

Last year, I started feeling guilty about my energy-intensive beauty routine. I couldn't call it zero-waste when somebody else was generating waste for me. It wasn't particularly effective, either. A year of baking soda and vinegar damaged my hair (well, just the baking soda. I still love a vinegar rinse). Makeup seemed to highlight flaws rather than conceal them. Constant touchups were depressing and disillusioning. Then, last Sunday, I saw pictures of myself bare-skinned and natural. Frankly, I didn't look any different. What was the point of it all?

After: Grooming tools
I remember when I gave up nail polish years ago. At first I felt like I would die, appearing in public with naked toes. Then I got a grip. Now my nails are beautiful, clean, glossy and pink.  It's only been a week since simplifying my beauty routine, but I'm already happier. I wake up, wash my face and go. I drink tons of water, avoid milk products, and eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and legumes. People call me "mademoiselle" again. A man on the street gave me a rose, no strings attached. Women complement my clothes more, and I strike up more conversations (apparently lifeless, poker-straight hair isn't approachable). I don't avoid my reflection in car windows anymore, and I walk straighter, buoyed by newly bouncy, manageable curls (I use olive oil, lemon juice, and a silk scarf to tame frizz).

If it counts for anything, I was mistaken for Parisian more this week than ever before. Looking French was never my goal, but I'm glad people aren't calling me pejoratives anymore. This post contains Shopstyle affiliate links. If you click on them, I make a commission. Thanks for your continuing support!

P.S. For those that asked, I use a Merkur long-handled razor with plastic-free blades and a Mooncup.
Paris to Go

42 comments:

  1. What's wrong with being called Chinese? I'd rather be called Chinese than French.

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    1. Hi, there's nothing wrong with being called Chinese, I've visited several parts of the country and love it and have many Chinese friends. But I'm Korean, and people automatically assume I'm Chinese and call me offensive names. I definitely look more Korean than Chinese, and if they kept the derogatory phrases out of it, I wouldn't care.

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  2. Radical change or not, it's still brave after all the media mass-conditioning to buy this or that beauty product and scrap all our old makeup to make way for new trends. It convinces us that we're not good enough except for when we have enough of the right thing. Thank you for this great blog and all the practical ways to simplify. Seeing the detailed, real life application of zero waste principles makes it seem so much more attainable!

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    1. Hi Jules! Thank you so much. I know, I don't have time to follow all the new trends anymore or update my makeup for summer etc etc. Before college I had that kind of time and I changed my nail polish all the time to match my outfits. Little by little as I get rid of this stuff I realize that I wasn't so bad without all the cosmetics after all! Thank you for reading :)

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  3. Hey Girl! It's been a while! How do you do your hair??? Seriously. Funny that you are often called Chinese, I think it's what ignorant non-Asian people immediately assume any Asian person is. It would be nice if they just asked instead of trying to guess. I am Japanese, Chinese and Hawaiian. In Hawaii some people say "what do you get when you cross a Japanese and a Chinese?....A Korean person!" Asians often mistaken me for Korean...or Chinese...or Thai....it seems that even Asians have trouble figuring me out. They often think that I am what they are. I take it as a compliment, but when strangers make "ching-chong" sounds at me it's rather irritating. I live in the South now, and this is the only place that I've ever experienced such a thing. Such nice Southern hospitality (obviously it doesn't happen daily, but at least twice a year).

    Wait...I was asking about your hair! How do you style it? My hair is a mix of kinky, curly, wavy and straight. It tends to dry down LARGE and straight-ish. I have serious hair issues. It's either in a braid, a bun or heated to 400 degrees F and flattened. Do a post on hair! Cuts, products (or lack of), combing, general care. I commend you for letting go of your mu. I love my rms uncover up and feel the need to draw in my sparse eyebrows. Maybe one day I can love my face just the way it is and want to show the world!

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    1. Hi Amber! How are you and how are the cats? Hawaiian, Chinese, and Japanese- that is a beautiful mix! But you are so gorgeous, I can't imagine you needing a hair straightener or makeup at all :)

      I can't believe I forgot to put this in a post- so I coat my hair and scalp in olive oil and wash it at night with olive oil soap. I let it airdry and tie it up in a silk scarf and fall asleep. I tried rag curls too and they are very smooth and long lasting, but my cats pull them out at night and my natural curls are so... well, curly, that it's not really necessary.

      I just cut off the straight part of my hair! Seriously six inches were straight and the rest were exactly as you described, kinky and wavy, there was no rhyme or reason to it.

      I hate the ching chong sounds. But it's funny, when Chinese people assume I'm Chinese I'm often flattered... when non-Asian people do it I'm angry. I find that tourists tend to be guilty of this more than French people but I've had four real Parisians make offensive remarks. I grew up in a suburb where my sister and I were one of five non-white kids in a school of 3000 but I was only called flatface one time.

      I am making a note to work on a post about hair sometime because there are so many heatless styling methods I love!

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    2. Hi Ariana! I am always amazed at the basic ignorance in people that make degrading sounds. I was in Paris several weeks ago and our tour guide in Versailles was incredibly rude to the Asian tourist, she actually made these comments: "We need to be out of here by three as it turns into China Town." AND "These slanted eye people need to move." WHAT?!?! I was with a group of teenagers and we were appalled. That being said the groups of Asian tourist we bumped into on our trip did not line up; we were told that was a culture difference. The most notable was when we were in line for the Eiffel Tower restrooms, oh my the bathroom attendant was not happy with the chaos and we had no idea what to do, mostly we let everyone pass thinking they must really have to go, while the attendant tried to maintain order. ;o) Just because a culture is different doesn't make it wrong.

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    3. Tonette, that is just crazy! It's funny they said that about the cultural difference because my husband (who is French) always gets mad at the way French people don't line up at the movie theatre, airports, the opening of exhibitions, etc. My friend Nobué worked at Versailles and some of her coworkers were racist, even telling her she couldn't wear the scarf that is part of their uniform because of her ethnic background. I guess I shouldn't be surprised!

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  4. Hi Ariana, what would you do if you had grey roots on your hair , would you colour or surrender to the grey? I am in this dilemma I am 53 but still feel young but I am sick and tired of touching my roots up every 4 weeks, you are full of wisdom and I love your advice I am still on the shopping ban in fact I am beginning to dread the thought of shopping, thanks for your previous advice Jo x

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    1. Hi Jo! Actually- I just noticed in the mirror today- I do have a new grey hair! I'm 25 and I found several this year :( I think I would go grey. My mom has long hair, and she doesn't color it at all. Ever since she let her hair turn white (not all of it, but nice flecks) she says people start being more respectful to her at work. She is a lawyer in an Ohioan suburb and I'm telling you, it is such a boys club. She looks beautiful too!

      Henna would be a nice option too, I've been reading the long hair community forums, and it's a wealth of information on natural hair dyes. What color is your hair now? Grey hair is a crown of beauty I think! And if you still feel young it doesn't matter what color your hair is.

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    2. I had the same dilemma with upkeep and chemicals and let my hair go grey (I'm 50) - it's dark at the back with white temples, which my cousin calls "fetching"! My hair gets curlier all the time.
      Go for it! People still tell me I look too young to be a 3x grandmother ;)

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    3. Little Miss Know-It-All, I love that look! It is so French. Thank you for the real life experience, I have no business advising on these matters haha :)

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  5. my hair is very light blonde dyed of course so henna would not be an option, I am comtemplating letting my grey crown of glory just make her show, the dying process is so tedious and chemically laden , which does not match my new lifestyle , I will be brave and just do it.

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    1. That is so awesome Jo! In case you would want to try a natural dye- although the process would probably be similarly tedious- I read rosemary and sage, quassia chips, turmeric, chamomile, and rhubarb are effective for blond hair. Still I think you will be beautiful either way! It is so brave of you to stay committed to a new lifestyle!

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  6. Ariana you sweet gorgeous thing, thank you for the compliment. The fur babes send their regards to Kar and Toffel. A post on heatless styles with picture (or video) tutorials would be great, especially since we have sister hair. Although, yours sounds much more manageable than mine. I end up with giant 80's style poodle hair when I do rag curls. More detail on how you oil your hair would be great too. I occasionally use coconut oil as a prewash, but most of the time I use a silicone free conditioner to "wash" my hair and scalp. I wonder how your hair differs when you wash it with olive soap vs shampoo. I hope you do a post on this!

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    1. Ok, I'll get something in the works! and Kar and Toffel are very pleased they remembered them :) In the meantime, I liked this tutorial:

      http://www.refinery29.com/retro-hairstyles?crlt.pid=camp.0vsNPZqB3lHz#slide-1

      Rag curls are in there towards the end of the slideshow, and I really had to watch Youtube and get the right width rags and wrap my hair carefully and do 1 inch sections before the rag curls ended up looking presentable. It doesn't sound very simple. But once I tried it a few times it was like second nature!

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  7. Hi Ariana, Curls are great ! ! ! Loved this post. Also, is this a wooden hairbrush that I see in your drawer? I own a small one like this and the wooden spigots feel amazing. For great skin without make-up I recommend one splash of ICY water right after you wash your face in the morning. Maybe it's only placebo effect, but I always feels that it tightens my pores (and certainly wakes me up!). Cheers! I haven't posted in a while, so busy...

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    1. Yes, I love this hairbrush! It is like what my mom used on us as kids, like a massage for your scalp :) I'll have to try the icy water tip, thank you! It makes sense, if ice water flattens the hair cuticle, it should diminish the appearance of pores too... yes I've been checking your blog for new posts... I hope you do get to write one soon, they are always so interesting. But I get it, it's so hard for me to write a post and I don't even have kids!

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  8. Ariana once you embark on this lifestyle there is no going back , I have had a few slips here and there feeling I cant be bothered , but my heart is commited and keeps tugging me back, it is hard to be simple, bet posts like yours and zero waste home are such an inspiration, THANKYOU!

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    1. Thank you SO much! That is so sweet. I have these slips myself but you're right, I can't turn back now, the benefits are just too good. I will buy four things this year, but, full disclosure, it is for a happy reason, I'm going to be in a wedding! Can't get away with wearing one of my own dresses this time...

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  9. Thank you for talking about embracing your curly hair--it is refreshing to hear something different than the standard "straightened hair looks more professional." I always had wavy hair, but its gotten curlier as I've gotten older, and I finally have embraced it in the last few years And ditto on the standard line that you need to wear makeup to look "professional."

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    1. Hi Jen, you have a great point (and I hope my hair gets curlier too). I actually straightened my hair because I thought it looked more professional! Then I remembered my last corporate job in America, I wore my hair curly and didn't wear makeup most of the time because I was just too busy (went to work too early, got back too late)... and they kept promoting me. It's ridiculous to make people think they will be discriminated against because of the natural texture of their hair. Thanks for bringing that out and thanks for reading!

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  10. Thank you so much for this. I kind of hate wearing makeup. I don't like to bother putting it on or taking it off and I don't like the feel of it on my skin. The only reason I wear the little bit I do is because it feels like something I'm not allowed to just not do if I want to be taken seriously, if I want be "acceptable". Funny (horrible) story - I once had a boss tell me right to my face "You might look OKAY if you put some lipstick on". I feel like you have given me permission to just not wear any makeup and be okay.

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    1. WHAT! I can't believe someone said that to you. I just checked out your blog and you do not need makeup! I felt the same way but people treat me no different if not better. The people I felt would be the harshest actually loved it. I feel like a new person haha.

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  11. Thank you for the kind words, Ariana! In hindsight I know it was all about her insecurities and really had nothing to do with me, but words can still hurt.

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  12. Good for you! I'm not 100% there with giving up makeup -- I kind of like sprucing up for special events -- but I will say that wearing makeup leads to "needing" to buy more products -- primers, removers, etc.

    This is good food for thought.

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    1. Hi Gina, thanks! If makeup makes you feel good, I say, don't cut it out. But it felt so slimy on my skin ! I used to love wearing makeup but now it just felt gross, otherwise I wouldn't have given it up. Some of my friends feel naked without it and use it to be creative, I would never want them to give it up in the name of simplicity!

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  13. Ariana, I noticed in your apartment overview post you mentioned having grape seed oil in your bathroom, but here you mention olive oil (which I gather from reading articles many have issues with.) Do you still use grape seed and is it for moisturizer? I'm trying to determine what to use for makeup removal, cleansing and moisturizing on my normal to oily skin once my current bottle of Cetaphil runs out- aleppo soap, castor+ an additional oil (which additional?) etc. Would love to read a post on your various skin care incarnations over the years much like your "how I edited my closet" post. That is: what worked, what didn't, what you switched to etc. I realize it's contingent on many individual factors, but you clearly have walked this road before, and I would love to settle on the right system out the gate if at all possible. As an aside, I noticed that Whole Body sells beet powder in bulk for those of your readers who are disinclined to make their own. TIA!

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    1. Hi Darcy, thanks for the tip! I never saw beet powder in bulk before, that is awesome. Much easier than the dehydrated beet powder I have in my pantry now, which I don't even use anymore :P

      I was using grape seed oil because I liked the smell and read olive oil was comedogenic. It was moisturizer and cleanser for my face, moisturizer for body and lips, and hair conditioner. It didn't make me break out- in fact, it cleared up my acne- and my husband complemented the fragrance. I occasionally used sweet almond and jojoba oils.

      I stopped just because I went to the store and they didn't have it, so I used olive oil in a pinch. I didn't break out, so I just kept using it, and I love the way my skin feels, plus it saves me a shopping trip. I don't use it on my face except around the eyes. I went to a dermatologist for a gluten related problem and she said that since Aleppo is such a rich, olive oil based soap (I only use it once a day and cleanse with water the rest of the time), my skin should be fine without an extra moisturizer. Thanks for the post idea, it's a great one! I will start writing it soon...

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  14. You're a dream! Merci! Yes, have heard grape seed is good for clearing up skin- it was the olive oil I'd heard was comedogenic. But the sheer convenience of making pasta, taming flyaways AND removing my mascara with the same product is so tempting :) I suppose it can't hurt to use the olive oil I already have first before buying anything new. There are so many oil varieties and combinations out there, and I want to keep it as streamlined as possible while also not compromising performance. Looking forward to the skin care timeline post! Again- merci beaucoup!

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    1. Yes, whenever I've used olive oil over the years I just used whatever is in the pantry. Oops, I misunderstood your first comment, yea I'm pretty sure olive oil would give me horrible zits if I used it all over my face, although some people swear by it! And in soap it works just fine :)

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  15. Sorry for the odd question, but do you speak Thai? In the picture it looks like you're reading a Thai magazine.

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    1. No, I can say hi and other little words but can't read a bit! I guess I was just looking at pictures...

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  16. Wow. I searched "minimalist closet" and came across your DIVINE blog. Your wardrobe is beautiful.

    Your lifestyle is really challenging to me. I just can't imagine a lot of the things, not buying into the materialistic lifestyle. At the same time, the need to reduce waste is truly compelling.

    I, too, am Korean, so I had to laugh about the lasers and products. So true! I live in California, so even spending as much as I do on skincare, I am still tanned, freckled, wrinkled (I'm 24...) and so on and so forth. I wear a hat and gloves when I drive or leave the office for lunch... Making me look like a grandma. I kind of do ask myself sometimes, is this all worth it?

    Another note. I find it very interesting that the French reacted as they did to your no-makeup routine. I visited a couple times and I was struck by how androgynous their fashion and grooming was (at least in my eyes). Very interesting.

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    1. Jay, I'm sure you are just gorgeous! A tan Korean is a beautiful Korean :) Thank you for this comment. Sorry I'm replying to it horribly late but it made me so happy!

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  17. Reading this post has given me the courage to go sans makeup completely now. I wore minimal before anyway, mainly concealer for the fatty deposits under the eyes (holler at the mixed Brit-Malaysian Chinese in the corner) and mascara, but I think my main concern was my ruddy facial complexion and tendency to turn red easily. Think I'm all right with it now though. I don't feel so guilty not using concealer or foundation anymore!

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    1. Brit Malaysian Chinese, that sounds like a beautiful mix! I have dark circles under my eyes so I can empathize with your pain. Full disclosure though- I am back to wearing makeup. It was a nice empowering experience but after three months I started breaking out like crazy. Now if I go outside without makeup, I get a zit, and if I wear a foundation, my skin stays clear. I hate the feeling of makeup and I use only three products though, I can't really pull off the red lip like the French girls!

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    2. Ahh, all good! If the makeup has a role, it has a role!

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  18. Hi Ariana, I just saw in your last comment on here that you are back to wearing make up again. Can you please share which products you are using again? thanks! :)

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    1. Hi Kimberley! I use this foundation: http://tartecosmetics.com/tarte-item-Amazonian-clay-12-hour-full-coverage-foundation

      Then I use kohl powder I make myself using the recipe from Zero Waste Home (just burn some almonds, it's easy!), the homemade mascara recipe from The Rogue Ginger blog (in my old RMS beauty mascara tube), and beetroot powder for blush, although I'm not wearing blush so much anymore now that it's colder- it seems like my cheeks are always pink!

      And I apologize for how pretentious and sanctimonious my last comment was... it's a topic that really gets me heated up!

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  19. I don't know if I can go makeup free. To clarify, I own makeup but almost never wear it yet when I do, I really enjoy it. I don't know why either. I haven't worn makeup in about three months and I keep telling myself to. Honestly though, I do think to some extent, it does make you look put together. I'm a black African lady with natural hair and pretty much, I didn't know I wasn't the standard of beauty until I moved to South Africa and then moved to the U.S which only continued to reinforce that. I am glad I was at least partially raised in a different country that is not focused so much on an ideal standard. On that note, I never cared how I looked from the time I was 3 to the time I was 22, now I have to because I work a corporate job and wear relatively formal wear to work. I can't just roll out of bed, brush my teeth and be the girl who would come to class in I kid you not, sweat shirt and male boxer shorts.

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    1. That is so interesting what you said about the standard of beauty! I enjoy makeup too. I went back to wearing it and I do feel more polished and respectable :) The no makeup experiment didn't last, but now I have more confidence not to wear it outside the house. It's nice having options!

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