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  • Writer's pictureMeredith Holland

What is Fast Beauty and How is it Damaging to the Environment?

Many of us have heard the term fast fashion (if you want to learn more, reference this blog series I did on the topic). A less widely known or talked about concept is fast beauty.

Fast fashion is characterized by a brand’s desire to cut production costs, increase profits, and tailor products toward the latest fashion trends, often at the expense of humans and the environment. This same approach of cutting corners and utilizing unsustainable sourcing characterizes fast beauty as well. Many beauty brands produce products using cheaper and harmful ingredients; ingredients such as palm oil, animal by-products and other additives which are available to us at the expense of humans, wildlife, and the environment.

Like me, you may have been conditioned to believe that you can never have too many face creams/serums/cleansers, lipsticks, makeup palettes, etc. I hope that this blog post gives you the knowledge to reconsider this.

Fast Beauty

Fast beauty is the approach to designing beauty products using cheaper, often harmful ingredients which impact the planet and we humans negatively.

The Rise of Fast Beauty

I want to first acknowledge the positives of the beauty industry evolution, such as the inclusivity and creativity of women (and men) using makeup to express themselves. However, I think it’s important to highlight how detrimental the consumption habits and waste associated with this evolution are.

The rise of the beauty influencer has radically revolutionized the beauty industry. From the start of Youtube “beauty gurus” to today’s influencers on Instagram, this type of promotion enables brands to connect with customers at a faster rate thereby increasing sales. It also normalizes the idea that there’s no limit to the amount of beauty products one can own. This doesn’t just stop at makeup, but hair and skin care as well.

Similar to the fast fashion industry, the fast beauty industry uses “limited edition” or short sale times to elevate a customer’s need to purchase a product out of ‘fear of missing out’. This results in consumers purchasing more products than the average person needs and more products than can be reasonably used within the product shelf life.

Understanding Shelf Life of Beauty Products

This brings me to another important and often misunderstood point: understanding the shelf life of your beauty products. Many products hiding under the sink for later use don’t last nearly as long as one might think. With this knowledge, perhaps consumers would limit the amount of products they buy or at least wait to finish one product before buying the next. A general rule of thumb is that liquids and creams expire faster than powder products do since the more wet a product is, the easier it can develop bacteria. With this in mind, here’s the shelf-life of most cosmetics that have been opened:


  • Mascara: 2-4 months

  • Eyeliner: 6-12 months

  • Eye shadow: 2 years for powder and 3-6 months for cream products

  • Lip products: 1 year

  • Foundation: 18 months for powder and 6-12 months for liquid

  • Concealer: 6-12 months

  • Blush and bronzer: 2 years for powder and 1 year for cream products

Skin and hair care

  • Face cleansers: 6-12 months

  • Face creams/moisturizers: 1 year

*Important note: Certain active ingredients like retinol, hyaluronic acid, glycolic acid and vitamin C should be kept away from heat and long exposure to oxygen, so make sure they’re sealed tight.

  • Shampoo/conditioner: 2 years

  • Fragrances: 3-5 years

*Most unopened products have a shelf-life of 2-3 years.

Impact on the Environment

The major issue with beauty products is that they are incredibly difficult to dispose of sustainably. For example, small containers are hard to clean, multi-compositional packages need separating at the material level, color and opaque plastics have low demand in the recyclables market, and the small size of the caps, pots, wands and trays of makeup and skin care fall through the cracks at recycling facilities. The global cosmetics industry produces more than 120 billion units of packaging every year—contributing greatly to the growing plastic waste and ocean plastics problem.

The issue isn’t solely about what we buy, but rather how much we buy. Next time you’re thinking of adding yet another eye palette, face serum, lipstick, etc. to your collection, consider finishing up what you already have first. If we all worked to cut down on the number of products we buy each year and instead focus on using up the products we already have, then we can reduce the amount of overall waste that is contributed to the environment.

Look out for future blog posts on my favorite sustainable beauty brands and how to properly dispose of beauty products at the end of their life!



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