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March 3rd 2021 / 0 comment
From the material they're made of to the packaging they come in, there are ways to make this single-use product more sustainable
When I set about looking for sustainable sheet masks I thought finding them would be a doddle. I was looking for biodegradable sheet masks, which came in recyclable packaging, not attached to plastic backing. How hard could it be? Quite difficult, actually.
“Sheet masks are always problematic because they have been designed as a single-use item and need to be packed in an outer sleeve that can be difficult to recycle,” says Caroline Jacobs-Graf, founder of A Little Find, a platform for conscious brands.
There are skincare brands making an effort to ensure their sheet masks are eco though; Doctor founded skincare brand Decree, created by dermatologist Dr Anita Sturnham launched its SOS Revitalising Sheet Mask, £120 for six, at the start of this year, which is the UK's first vegan fully recyclable sheet mask, while peat-infused skincare brand Bog Skincare now send its sheet masks with a free-post returns bag to make recycling the packaging easier.
“Should you want to use a single mask check the packaging and look for recycled/recyclable materials,” suggests Caroline. “Look for masks made of biodegradable bamboo, kelp or plant cellulose. But equally, make sure the mask does not include plastic polymers in ingredients because these will break down in micro-plastics, a material that will not decompose."
Biodegradable masks should be made from natural fibres that aren’t blended with plastic microfibers; sheet masks also sometimes contain plastic polymers, which break down into microplastics - which we know are responsible for much ocean pollution.
Watch out for green-washing too, as Caroline points out: “There’s a lot of green-washing as really most sheet [eco] masks are not fully compostable or recyclable.”
Biodegradable can be a misleading term as technically everything is biodegradable eventually, she says, even if it takes decades. "Check if the mask is compostable which means that it breaks down within a certain timeframe. However, composting only works under certain conditions such as having the necessary temperature to break down.”
Though reusable if you DIY soak them in serum, cotton sheet masks tend to divide opinion. "Cotton is huge industrial polluter as the production of cotton is incredibly heavy on pesticides and water," says Caroline.
Organic cotton could be the answer though, as Georgia Barnes, head of business development at Soil Association points out: "If you're looking for a sheet mask, we recommend choosing those that use organic cotton. It’s a natural fibre so it doesn’t release hazardous or toxic particles as it breaks down, making it a safer alternative for the environment than non-organic products often contain harsh and environmentally damaging ingredients."
As well as the mask itself, look at the packaging it comes in. Check if the sleeve is recyclable. Sheet masks tend to come in tearable plastic packets which might have the 'recyclable' logo on but also may not be widely recycled.
Eye gels are particularly problematic when it comes to packaging. Because they’re so delicate they’re often attached to a little plastic tray to protect them from tearing. To get around this we recommend Pixi’s FortifEYE patches, £22, which come in one big tub filled with 30 pairs of under-eye gels. Yes, the pot will need to be recycled, but it’s a lot less plastic-waste than a tray for each pair.
By the same token, give Givenchy’s Hydra Sparkling Sheet Masks, £43.50 for 14 a whirl. They look like facial wipes in that all 14 live inside one wallet, minimising packaging waste.
There's still a long way to go to before sheet masks will be considered 'good' for the environment, but with companies making strides towards recyclable packaging and new biodegradable materials, we're well on the way.
Irish brand Bog Skincare harness the anti-ageing powers of peat in their products to help skin hold onto moisture. All of Bog's products are sustainably sourced and 5 per cent of every sale is donated to Friends of the Earth, a charity working to protect the natural world. Even better, they've teamed up with Teracycle and every order is sent with a free-post returns bag so the packaging can be recycled correctly,
Mij Masks have been flying in and out of stock ever since presenter Maya Jama launched them in December 2020. Well aware of the number of sheet masks and their packaging that create landfill, Maya worked hard to make hers as sustainable as possible. The face masks are made of bio-cellulose, a compostable carbon-positive fibre, produced through the fermentation of coconut water. The foil pouches are non-recyclable (as with most sheet masks), however the face masks are free of disposable plastic inserts and the boxes are made from FSC card, ethically sourced from responsibly managed forests. They're sent out in non-toxic and home compostable mailer bags from sustainable packing brand Noissue. Plus for every order placed Noissue plants trees in areas of need.
Launched in February 2021, Decree's sheet masks are the first vegan, 100 per cent recyclable sheet masks in the UK. Similarly to Maya Jama's Mij Masks, Decree's sheet masks are made from biocellulose made from coconut fibre and can be either put in your recycling bin or the compost heap. The outer packaging is recyclable paper so can straight in the recycling bin too. The masks themselves include a bevvy of skin-boosting ingredients including niacinamide, hyaluronic acid and ceramides to work on pigmentation, inflammation and to minimise transepidermal water loss.
These brightening masks are made from biodegradable fibres and should be disposed of with your household recycling – the sleeve is recyclable too. However, Pixi has a recycling point in both the London and LA stores where people can take their used sheets masks and old packaging if you want an excuse to visit the store.
Hemp seed oil soothes and moisturises the skin making this biodegradable sheet mask made from natural fibres a godsend for stressed out, irritated complexions. It’s not attached to any backing and should be put in compost bin to decompose. The outer sleeve isn’t recyclable but Simple is working on it – the packaging for the biodegradable face wipes from the brand is now recyclable.
This biodegradable mask is made from cellulose fibre derived from renewably sourced wood pulp. It promises bouncier youthful skin in just 15 minutes. It has no plastic backing (tick) and delivers a great amount of serum to refresh your skin. The outer-packaging isn;'t
Yes, you read the price right… but can you put a price on saving the world? In all seriousness, Orveda’s serum is very costly. It comes with a silicone mask to wear over the product to lock it in while it works it magic and stops it evaporating. Once the serum is finished the mask will be good for layering over other serums and masks to seal in the ingredients.
As well as looking pretty magical and revitalising and brightening your skin tone, the Maskologist masks are created using oils and water-soluble glycerin, making them fully biodegradable in minutes. This purple mask is created without the plastic mesh base structure of other hydrogel masks, so is fully dissolvable in water and can even be dropped into your bath afterwards as a body treatment. The mask and cardboard box are both recyclable, the foil packet isn’t currently but the brand is looking into alternatives that are recyclable while also keeping the mask moist.
This two-part mask is made from bio-cellulose, a material first used for wound victims that creates a second-skin seal on the skin - perfect for sheet masks as it saturates the skin. This mask, which treats spots and calms inflammation (I’ve tried it, love it), begins biodegrading as soon as it’s exposed to air and will fully decompose in about two months. The mask is housed in an aluminium sachet which is endlessly recyclable, effectively making it an inexhaustible resource. Nowadays almost all aluminium is second-use aluminium. The mask is attached to a gauze backing which isn’t biodegradable, but 111 Skin is working on repackaging the mask with a bamboo fibre but it is tricky as they don’t want to destabilise the formula of the mask.
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