Finding more eco-friendly versions of my favourite skincare products and toiletries has been a challenge, but not as difficult as I expected. Finding eco-friendly refillable make-up, on the other hand… well, it feels like everything is packaged in plastic.
Then I came across Zao. They make and sell organic make-up, which is packaged using bamboo casing, consists of only vegan ingredients, and is certified cruelty-free by Cruelty Free International (i.e. The Leaping Bunny). Not only that, but most of their products are refillable. Instead of buying a whole new product once you’re running low, you just buy the refill instead. It’s better value in the long-run, and you produce a lot less waste.
Sound too good to be true? I thought so as well. But then I bought the brow powder and the liquid liner—and I’m impressed.
Zao Eyebrow Powder (£17 for the product and case, £9.75 for the refill)
I nearly always do something to tidy up my brows, even if I can’t be bothered to apply any other make-up (most days then). I was getting through plastic-encased pencils at an alarming rate, and there’s only so many times you can save the empty packaging to use as a spoolie.
I’ve found brow powders to be very hit-and-miss in the past. Brown shades can lean a little too far towards the red side of the colour spectrum, which doesn’t look natural, and they can also be too harsh if the texture is particularly buttery. Zao’s powder is easy to blend, but dry enough that you can also apply it in short, sharp strokes with an angled brush. The brown shade is ashy, but not dull.
However, the colour range could be better. There are only three shades—Blonde, Ash Blonde, and Brown—so anyone with particularly dark hair is eliminated. (Incidentally, the Brown swatch on Zao’s website looks darker than the powder does in real life.)
Other than that, I have no criticism. The powder is easy to use, lasts for ages (you don’t need much), and stays put once you’ve applied it, especially if you put a lick of brow gel over the top. Refillable brow gel next?
Zao Refillable Felt Tip Eyeliner (£18.95 for the product and case, £11.75 for the refill)
I’ve had a fascination with liquid liner since I took dance classes as a kid and the make-up ladies used to apply it to our eyes backstage before shows. I had bought my own by the age of twelve, and spent a good chunk of my teenage years perfecting my cat-eye flick. I’ve had good days, I’ve had Amy Winehouse days (iconic on her, strange on my chubby-cheeked baby face).
Felt tip-style liners can be hit and miss. And I wouldn’t even describe this liner as one—it has a screw-on lid and a long applicator that dips into liquid, rather than acting like a pen. But what it does have is a nib instead of the traditional thin brush, which I think helps with precision.
The black pigment is intense—no wishy-washy grey here—and lasts all day (or night) without smudging, although it might shift if it rains. It’s a very wet formula, so you’ll need to give it plenty of time to dry before you do any other eye make-up. This isn’t a product to use when you’re in a rush.
Overall, I highly recommend having a browse on the Zao website to see if you can find any alternatives for your most-used products. You could save money and a little bit of the planet, too.
Have you ever used refillable make-up? What would you want to try first? Let me know in the comments.
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Beth, 25, South East England.
Lover of books, dogs, yoga, travelling, and gin.
I write about ethical & eco-friendly living, minimalism, and mental health, as I muddle through one step at a time. Enjoy!