If my discussion of the environmental impact of shaving and the toxic chemicals in shaving cream has you stroking an increasingly long beard in a contemplative manner, don’t worry, there are non-toxic and eco-friendly ways to remove body and facial hair.
You might be tempted to just opt for laser hair removal, waxing, or other hair removal products, such as Nair, but bear in mind that there’s very little safety data on laser hair removal, and hair removers and waxing products often contain a rather dubious chemical cocktail all of their own.
Sugaring is one good option that will work for some. Just be sure to use sustainably sourced sugar!
Sugaring for hair removal
If you’re sick of shaving, you might want to give body sugaring a shot. Sugaring is not recommended for removing facial hair, however, so the usefulness of sugaring will depend on where you’re planning to remove hair.
Sugaring is an ancient method of hair removal similar to waxing but without the nasty chemicals. Instead, you mix up boiled sugar, water and lemon juice to create a tacky substance, let it cool enough to spread on skin, and then rip it off using strips of organic cotton or another natural textile. This pulls the hair out at the root, which may help make it grow back thinner and softer.
If you don’t want to make your own body sugar at home, you can buy eco-friendly, non-toxic waxing sugar. Always patch test to make sure your skin can tolerate this process.
If conventional shaving is still the order of the day, however, you do have options in the form of non-toxic, eco-friendly shaving creams, oils, gels, and aftershaves.
Shaving creams, oils, and gels
If you’re looking for a safe, non-toxic shaving cream, your best bet may be to start with your favorite brand for other natural and organic toiletries. Chances are they also make non-toxic shaving cream that will nourish your skin. And, if they don’t, why not write to them to ask?
If that doesn’t work, look for products that contain natural ingredients such as jojoba, coconut, sesame, olive, and macadamia oils to give your razor some glide and to condition your skin. Quality shaving creams also often feature soothing aloe vera and essential oils like chamomile to help calm and heal skin. Marshmallow root extract is another good ingredient to look out for as this has natural anti-inflammatory properties and can help prevent razor burn and skin irritation. Similarly, calendula (marigold) extract and evening primrose oil can help ease shaving discomfort.
And, if you’re missing that tingle on your skin from the alcohol in your old shaving cream, consider adding a few drops of peppermint essential oil to your new cream or buying one where this is already included.
We should also note that using natural shaving creams may take a little adjustment. Those chemical toxins can make for a more convenient product that spreads quickly and evenly for a fast, efficient shave. If you’re shaking up your shaving routine, then, it’s best to switch to a new razor and products on the weekend or when you’re on vacation, so you can take a little more time and care while you get used to how a new product lathers and performs.
Another good option is to ditch the shaving cream entirely. Depending on your skin and hair, you might not need it and may be just fine using a hot towel to get your hair to stand up or shaving after a hot shower.
Aftershave continues to be a popular Father’s Day gift, but is a bottle full of toxins really the best way to demonstrate love?
The main purposes of aftershave are to prevent infection from nicks and cuts after shaving and to add a splash of scent. Both of these needs can be met naturally, by using antibacterial essential oils such as frankincense and tea tree mixed with a little aloe vera and/or coconut oil.
If the DIY route isn’t for you, consider a natural shaving balm, conditioning pre-shave oil, and shave cream.
It should go without saying that disposable plastic razors are a terrible idea, both for the quality of your shave and for the environment. Even an electric razor will eventually become obsolete and, as with most technology these days, such products seem to have a degree of in-built obsolescence, so you’re forced to keep that pesky growth economy ticking along. And, of course, you’ll likely need to replace the head of an electric razor a few times, not to mention the electricity used to operate an electric razor.
I’ve already discussed the environmental impact of shaving products, so suffice it to say that my recommendation is to get a top quality safety razor or straight edge (cut-throat) razor and an eco-friendly, cruelty-free shaving brush (if you like to lather) made with a wooden handle and natural, biodegradable bristles. Once you get the hang of shaving with these, your morning shave might take you less time than it does with disposables or an electric shaver, and be a closer, smoother shave.
At a push, go for the one brand of recyclable and recycled disposable razors, which I include here, along with my other recommendations for companies making eco-friendly, non-toxic shaving products.
Shaving brushes are a lot more problematic than razors and creams, at least when it comes to finding eco-friendly, non-toxic, and cruelty-free options. In fact, I haven’t been able to find a single shaving brush that truly fits all three conditions (but I’ll keep looking!).
Many shaving brushes are made with plastic handles and either boar, horse, or badger hair bristles (the term bristle is almost always associated with badger hair). Some shaving brushes are made with wooden handles and synthetic fibers, and some are made with recycled aluminum, bamboo, chrome, resin, metal, and other materials. Wooden handles are almost always treated with resin, varnish, stains, or paints, and companies don’t seem to like listing the chemical composition of these, which makes me very wary.
Unlike with disposable razors and blades, where you buy them again and again, month after month, the hope is that your choice of shaving brush and razor will last a good few years, if not the rest of your shaving life. As such, the environmental impact of this single decision is fairly low. That said, it is still a good idea to look for a shaving brush that is either reclaimed or vintage, uses recycled components, is biodegradable or recyclable itself, or has some other eco-credentials. As well as buying a whole brush, you can also buy just the handle or just the knot (the bristle, hair, or fiber part).
If you’ve had a bad experience with a synthetic shaving brush before, now might be a good time to give it another go. That’s because a lot has changed in the world of synthetic shaving brushes in the past few years. Since the early 2000’s, companies have pretty much continuously improved the quality of cosmetic brushes and paint brushes, which has had a beneficial effect on the quality of shaving brushes. Instead of the scratchy nylon fibers of old, newer synthetic brushes use fibers that feel and act a lot more like softer, natural animal hair.
Folks in the know often talk about which ‘generation’ any given fiber belongs to. Most shavers strongly prefer second generation knots to first generation knots, for example, and a lot of the research and development done by, mostly German, companies seems to have led to improvements across the synthetic fiber industry as a whole.
Most quality synthetic fiber shaving brushes now use knots pretty much identical to those developed by a well-regarded company called Mühle, but the classification of synthetic fibers is unregulated, so reading reviews and trying out different brushes seems to be the way to go. The Plisson type of knot is a perennial favorite and a good one to look out for, whether you’re a novice or an old hand at wet shaving.
There are several advantages to synthetic fibers over animal hair (aside from the bonus of not rubbing dead things on your face). Synthetic brushes dry faster (which makes them a good choice on the coast or in humid locales) and resist calcification better than animal hair, and they don’t soak up water, meaning you can get a better lather with a lot less product.
Synthetic fibers are also stronger and more consistent than the bristles from animals, and these fibers can handle higher temperatures than animal hair (but you still shouldn’t expose them to boiling or near boiling water). Other benefits to synthetic fibers include the lack of, well, wet badger smell, and the elimination of worries about allergic reactions to horse, badger, or boar hair.
So, while I don’t normally endorse plastic products at Leaf Score, my top picks for eco-friendly and non-toxic shaving brushes are those that feature either a wooden, bamboo, metal, or recycled plastic handle, with synthetic bristles.
Animal hair shaving brush bristles
While it would be nice if I could repurpose all the hair my dog sheds daily, border collie hair isn’t the best for bristles. Instead, the most ethical of the bunch or bristles seems to be horse hair, which is typically (but not always) sourced from horses that are still alive and not being raised for meat. If you’re fine with the by-products argument (which I’m not), you could consider pig or boar hair that comes from carcasses used for meat. Badger hair, however, is almost always going to be a result of animal cruelty for the main purpose of harvesting the hair.
Most, if not all, of the badger hair used in products such as shaving brushes, paint brushes, and makeup brushes comes from Eurasian badgers kept in captivity or captured and killed in the wild in China. Badgers are a protected species in most of Europe and North America. In China, however, badgers are used for meat, but badger hair is the main export from these animals. Badgers in China do not even have the meager protections farmed animals get in the US or Europe, and badgers processed for hair and meat are routinely abused, as seen in uncover investigations over the years (R). So much so that companies like Procter and Gamble are phasing out their use of badger hair in brushes.
Some proponents of badger brushes point to economic reasons to support the trade, claiming that wild badgers, considered pests in China, may be killed by impoverished Chinese citizens who sell the pelts to European manufacturers. Global trade and ethical economics are tricky beasts indeed, but I’d still think twice before massaging my face daily with the bristles of some poor beleaguered badger, especially as badger bristles (and boar and horse hair) have a tendency to fight back after death by causing skin irritation and allergic reactions.
After reading far too many first-person shaving accounts recently, I’ve reached the conclusion that there seems to be a sense that once you go badger you never go back; the bristles are firmer and hold more water, so you get a longer lather without much effort. With synthetic bristles, and even with boar and horse hair, a little more effort is required. The benefit of synthetic, though, is that there’s no breaking in period like there is with bristles, boar, and horse hair.
Fans of badger brushes may find horse hair brushes too soft and lacking durability. The main company selling horse hair shaving brushes is a well-regarded Spanish company called Vie Long, who have been in business for decades. Customer reviews of their horse hair brushes don’t seem all that great, however, with complaints about bristle loss, poor construction, and an atrocious smell to the hair that is hard, if not impossible, to eradicate.
Boar shaving brushes may be a decent compromise, if you can stomach the provenance of the hair. Again, though, there’s a real smell factor to all of these ‘bristle’ brushes, which you just don’t get with the synthetics, and quite a few folks find that these brushes irritate skin in a way that synthetics don’t.
All in all, my top recommendation for a shaving brush is… something second hand. I’m serious. I think your best option if you’re looking for something eco-friendly, non-toxic, and cruelty-free is to buy a new knot (probably from Mühle) made with synthetic bristles and pair it with a handle from a thrift store, flea market, or vintage store (or a hand-me-down from a relative or friend).
Check out all of my recommendations for companies making eco-friendly, non-toxic shaving products here, with links to individual product reviews.