They’ve seen first-hand the damage our plastic waste can do, so what’s in their beauty cabinets? Judy Johnson meets two marine vets who are trying to change the world one plastic bottle at a time
You can watch umpteen episodes of Blue Planet and tut at the headlines about face wipes as much as you like, but believe me when I say seeing a turtle that’s had its fin amputated up close is when it really hits home: plastic pollution is an epidemic, and it’s our fault. I was lucky enough to visit the marine turtle sanctuary on a trip to Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu (courtesy of Coco Collection ) in the Maldives earlier this year, where vets are rescuing injured turtles and, hopefully, nursing them back to good health before setting them free into the oceans. Being eco-friendly is hugely important to the resort, with canvas recycling bags around the many paths and beaches, paper straws emblazoned with turtle illustrations (lest you forget) and an eco-conscious approach to cleaning and laundry in the rooms.
The crystal clear waters of Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu
My week in the Maldivian resort coincided with the completion of the Stand Up For Our Seas challenge, an initiative sponsored by Coco Collection in which four women travelled on stand up paddle boards around 100km of the Baa Atoll for seven days, stopping off at islands along the way to help with beach clean-ups and educating locals and guests alike on the importance of reducing plastic waste.
Dr Claire Petros and her Stand Up For Our Seas paddleboarding team
Two veterinary surgeons, Dr Claire Petros and Dr Cal Major, took part in the expedition (Dr Cal previously set a breathtaking new world record for stand up paddle boarding from Land’s End to John O’Groates in 59 days), having seen first-hand exactly what kind of devastation our reliance on plastic is causing to our seas and marine wildlife.
The map of the expedition route, displayed at the finishing ceremony on the island
I had the chance to meet the pair the day after they completed their challenge - and right before they were due a much-needed open air massage in the resort’s on-site spa. As a beauty journalist who back in London is surrounded by product and plastic, I was humbled by their passion to make a difference and their dedication to it; Dr Cal had even experimented with making her own sunscreen, having become frustrated with the use of chemical filters - some of which as we now know are not reef-safe - and the fact they’re all packaged in plastic (a combination of zinc oxide powder, shea butter, coconut oil and olive oil was what she used throughout the expedition).
While we’re not all about to raid our kitchen cupboards and become formulators in a bid to ditch every beauty product housed in materials that can’t be recycled, a quick glance at your bathroom, dressing table or even your desk is sobering when you realise just how much we rely on it. So just how much is our love of all things beauty destroying the planet?
“Plastic is a problem but I don’t think it’s fair to put all the pressure on the consumer to make these changes,” says Dr Cal. "I personally feel as society we should be looking towards consuming less, rather than just switching the packaging - it’s the transport, it’s the production of materials. So, looking at what you’re using and trying to reduce what you need in your life, and then understanding why it’s important not to be using plastics. All of our beauty products come in plastic and it’s a massive industry yet [the brands] are not the ones paying the price - the environment is, and we’re paying for it in our taxes for having it removed and that’s not OK. We have to make the brands answerable to that, but that’s only going to come from consumer demand - so until people are saying we want you to create your great products that we love without plastic, until they do that and people don’t feel they have to compromise, I don’t think it's going to change.”
It’s not fair for people to have to compromise if the brands can do something to make it easy.
Like it or not, going plastic-free would be a huge compromise - a look inside my makeup bag makes me realise just how much I’d have to give up, whereas for someone who is less of a beauty hoarder like Dr Cal it’s not so bad. “It’s OK for me, I don’t wear much makeup and I don’t mind spending a bit more on something without plastic, I don’t mind going without stuff - but I understand people have specific needs, like you with your sensitive skin , and people want to wear makeup. It’s not fair for people to have to compromise if the brands can do something to make it easy for us.”
Fellow vet Dr Claire Petros agrees, and thinks that by promoting the brands that are doing it well, the industry will slowly change - and it could be as simple as having refill stations in store. “People who go to Space NK or Selfridges will probably go back to the same place as they know the brand that they like, so if those brands - especially [premium] brands - have the option of bringing in your containers to replace your products that makes it easier [for the consumer] and reduces the plastic.”
Dr Claire Petros
As we talk through the products we use on a daily basis, it soon becomes clear that makeup is going to be the hardest area to crack - black plastic, Dr Cal informs me, is not recyclable, so even if the thought had struck us (it hadn’t for me) we can’t throw our mascara tubes in the recycling in the hope of doing our bit. So where can we even start?
“The first thing to do is to do an audit of what you’ve got,” Dr Cal tells me. "I’ve actually been working with one of my mates down the road on converting our bathrooms to plastic-free - it's one of the easiest sections of the house to do. I think if people understand why they’re doing it they can feel proud of it, because you know it’s good for the planet."
Dr Cal Major
Here are Dr Cal’s and Dr Claire's eco-friendly bathroom essentials…
“Most of the major retailers now are switching to cardboard cotton bud sticks - you can also get bamboo cotton bud sticks in cardboard boxes instead of plastic,” says Dr Cal.
This was a recent discovery for Dr Cal. “I recently switched from a plastic razor where you have to replace the head to an old fashioned razor blade - at first I was really reluctant to use it, I thought it was going to cut me to pieces! But I love it. I bought it from a co-op where I live in Devon, but there’s a really good company called Mutiny Shaving who make a lot of recycled stuff, even soap dishes made out of a skateboard; their razors are all metal, you just replace the blade. Also you can choose the sharpness of your blades, so you start with a blunt blade -which is still honestly the closest shave I’ve ever had - and then work your way up."
“For shaving foam you can just get shaving soap in a block - I tend to use normal soap, and the one I’m a particularly big fan of is Dr Bronner’s,” Dr Cal tells me. "They’re so ethical, they look at their whole supply chain to make sure they’re fair trade and supporting their workers so I really like them. Plus they do massive bars which last for ages!"
“For shampoo and conditioner I just use Lush soap bars,” says Dr Cal, who loves their minimalistic approach to packaging.
Dr Claire is also a fan, especially of their Turtle Jelly Bomb . “I always give these as a present as obviously I’m the turtle girl!"
Dr Cal has switched to a more natural toothbrush too. “For the last few years most bamboo toothbrushes have had nylon bristles, but you can now get them with biodegradable bristles.” I ask if she misses not having an electric toothbrush, but she says she doesn’t notice the difference. “At first I was using a hard one that irritated my gums, but I’ve been using a softer one for ages now and I like it.”
I marvel that I wouldn’t have even thought of floss as a plastics issue, but Geo Organics have really impressed Dr Cal. “They have plastic-free dental floss which comes in a little glass jar with a metal lid with a hole in it, and then when you want to refill they just send you the floss and you keep your tub. They also have dental tabs, which are like tablets that you chew and that’s your toothpaste."
Talking of toothpaste, Dr Cal says this is something she’s struggled with. “The toothpaste I’ve found takes time to get used to, but I started using Dr Bronner's, which has 100% recyclable packaging."
It’s another vote for Dr Bronner’s when it comes to moisturiser. “To moisturise I just use coconut oil, which I find feels amazing - I’m a bit careful with [shopping for] that as I worry about plantations in the same way as with palm oil but with Dr Bronner’s I trust them to know they’re doing the right thing."
As someone spending a lot of time out at sea on a paddle board, this is an important one for Dr Cal. “I am a big fan of Mooncups, though you can get reusable pads, pantyliners and pants in the UK. The first time I saw Mooncup was in Glastonbury and the posters were plastered over the backs of the toilet walls and now I swear by it.
"Their support is amazing if you have problems with it, as it does take getting used to; all my friends who tried it needed a bit of encouragement but after two or three months were completely converted and now literally don’t have any other sanitary products. I find, more than just being a cost saving and planet saving, that the biggest effect of it is I feel complete and utter freedom - I no longer feel at all owned by my period, I don’t feel there’s anything I can’t do. I can spend 10 hours on the water paddling and don’t have to think about it, it’s the most freeing thing!”
When it comes to deodorant, the two vets have different approaches. Dr Claire is a fan of the Lush powder version. “Lush has got a really nice one that’s like a powder - they do a bar too, but you have to rub it hard and it hurts my underarms!”
Dr Cal has weaned herself off it completely. “I actually stopped using deodorant - I had a couple of expeditions last year, one was across the desert so I was carrying my own bag and I wanted to be as lightweight as possible so didn’t take any bath products at all. Over the week I sweated a lot because, obviously, I was hiking in the desert, but it didn’t bother me - and then I kept it going from there. I had another expedition for two months and I stopped using it and I feel so much freer now because before if I forgot to wear deodorant for a day I'd just be streaming with sweat whereas now my body is used to it and I don’t feel I sweat as much... and I don’t think I smell!” (Here Dr Claire and I confirm that no, she does not smell.)
Even toilet paper can be environmentally friendly, says Dr Cal. “I love Who Gives a Crap - they send big boxes full of toilet rolls in paper wrap, and 50% of their profits go to creating sanitation in countries lacking in toilets and fresh water - it’s a good company but it’s made in China so even they’re not without scrutiny."
We were just discussing how much we enjoy lathering up with a bar of soap rather than a liquid one (and the brands we look forward to being gifted for Christmas - Jo Malone, if anyone’s listening) when we’re interrupted by one of the island's veterinary assistants taking Penny, one of the marine sanctuary’s turtle residents, out for a swim. They hope she’ll be released soon - and fingers crossed that with just a bit of effort from all of us, it’ll be to a safer, cleaner sea.