How to Start a Minimalist Beauty Drawer: 6 Quick Tips

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A few months ago, I made an appointment at my hairdresser for a cut and keratin treatment.

My hair was experiencing some serious postpartum unstylishness, having transformed from always-gorgeous during my pregnancy to dry, brittle and frizzy when my hormone levels plummeted, post-baby.

I figured a keratin treatment could fix the frizz problem, leaving me with hair that looks good, without a lot of time or effort each day.

As it happened, I was still nursing my daughter. After making the appointment, I jumped online to double-check keratin treatments are safe for nursing mothers.

And thank goodness I did.

What I discovered about keratin treatments made me cancel mine immediately.

It also sent me down a rabbit hole of research that left me questioning everything in my family’s cosmetics and personal care products.

Cosmetics are a Disaster for Our Health

Let’s just say my research hasn’t left me feeling confident in the cosmetics industry. Or in the government regulations meant to protect us.

Some of the information I discovered made me downright angry.

I think if other people knew what I know now, they’d make different choices about the personal care and beauty products they use – both for themselves and their families.

And I expect a lot of people would come to the same conclusion I have…that is, when it comes to our beauty drawer, minimalism is the safest option.

Cosmetics Are Filled with Potentially Harmful Chemicals

Let’s start with some uncomfortable facts about “traditional” cosmetics.

Phthalates are one major concern in many beauty and personal care products. You’ll find them in many cosmetics, but also scented products, like lotions, shampoos, body washes, laundry detergent, etc.

Many phthalates are endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), meaning they can disrupt reproduction, cause thyroid issues, are linked to obesity, and more.

And women are uniquely exposed to phthalates through our beauty regimes.
Research has found that adult women have higher levels of urinary metabolites than men for those phthalates that are used in soaps, body washes, shampoos, cosmetics, and similar personal care products.”

In other words, many of the cosmetics and soaps we use are exposing us to endocrine-disrupting chemicals linked to endometriosis, miscarriage, gestational diabetes, and more.

That’s not even touching upon the many other chemicals typically found in makeup, nail polish, and similar products, like formaldehyde.

(Formaldehyde is the reason I cancelled my Keratin treatment).

But it’s certainly enough to get me questioning my own beauty routine.

6 Ways to adopt a Minimalist Beauty Drawer

Unfortunately, traditional cosmetics are filled with chemicals. And while some of them may be benign, many of them aren’t.

While a minimalist beauty drawer makes a lot of sense to me because of my family’s small-space lifestyle (we’re semi-nomadic, and currently live in a 400-square foot apartment), I also believe it’s the safest option for us.

If you’re interested in embracing a minimalist beauty and personal care routine, I’ve shared my best tips below.

1. Skip What’s Trending In Favor Of A Natural & Timeless Look

Just as the fast-fashion industry relies on customers to become slaves to the latest trends, so does the cosmetics industry. But staying on-trend means introducing an endless conveyor belt of products into your home – and the chemicals contained within.

Whereas a classic, natural look only requires a few products (think: tinted moisturizer, mascara, and lip gloss), the latest trends usually require far more. If you don’t believe me, consider what’s needed for contouring.

And then there’s the fact that new products and trends can come with health risks. Gel nails, for example, have been popular for years. However, it’s only recently the media has started reporting on the link between gel nails and skin cancer.

2. Become an Ingredient Minimalist

The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database is my go-to source for checking ingredient safety.

While the organization publishes an extensive database with ingredients and product safety information, they also have a great “starter list” of more than 20 common and potentially harmful ingredients.

Some of their top ingredients to look out for include triclocarban and triclosan, retinyl palmitate, and retinol, formaldehyde and formalin, toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), fragrance, PEG, ceteareth, polyethylene, parabens, and DMDM hydantoin.

3. Adopt a Less is More Philosophy

I don’t know about you, but for some reason, my makeup bag was one of the last areas of my life to get simplified. I held onto countless brightly colored nail polishes, eye shadows, and lipsticks for years because of a maybe one-day mindset.

Now I use just five products: foundation, an all-in-one color stick which I use as a blush, a basic black eyeliner, a brow pencil, and chapstick.

While I still use my “old” cosmetics (the ones I bought before I knew about the chemicals lurking inside), I’ll be replacing them with safer makeup products as I use them up.

4. Purchase Minimalist Products to Help the Planet

When you need to go shopping, consider the packaging and resource use of a product before heading to the check-out.

Case in point: bar soap vs. liquid.

Whereas liquid soap requires plastic packaging, bar soap does not. Add to that, bar soap is lighter than liquid, meaning it’s less energy-intensive to ship. Additionally, we actually use more water when washing our hands with liquid soap vs. solid.

For the first time in decades, consumers seem to have caught on, and bar soap is experiencing sales growth as consumers look for products that reduce their plastic consumption.

While it can be difficult to know what’s the best choice for the environment when comparing two products, it is worth shopping intentionally.

Make a list of what you need, and do a bit of research before you head to the shops.

5. Choose Reusable vs. Disposable (and Go Plastic Free if You Can)

These days, it seems as though Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns for reusable versions of formerly disposable products are popping up on my Facebook feed almost daily.

I love seeing these environmentally-friendlier products hit the market, and with tons of support from backers.

A few examples of reusable alternatives to formerly disposable personal care products include menstrual cups and LastSwab reusable cotton swabs.

You can also swap out a lot of typically plastic personal care items for plastic-free alternatives. Toothbrushes are a great place to start.

6. Become a Fragrance Minimalist

In the United States, companies treat fragrance blends as proprietary. According to current regulations, they’re not required to disclose the individual components of fragrance, meaning there could be hundreds of chemicals in your body wash, and you have no way to find out what they are.

In fact, researchers have found plenty of undisclosed chemical emissions from fragranced and unfragranced products (including personal care products).

Some of these chemicals are classified as toxic, hazardous, and even carcinogenic.

If you’re cleaning up the products in your makeup drawer and throughout your house, opt for fragrance-free versions from now on.


To me, minimalism isn’t just about the number of products you have in your cupboard at one time. It’s also about minimizing our culture of disposable consumption and minimizing our environmental footprint.

I hope my tips have inspired you to consider a minimalist beauty and personal care routine, and are helpful in getting started.

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About the author:

Katie Matthews is Founder and Editor of, Katie was born and raised on Canada’s west coast.
She became acutely aware of the toxins and chemicals allowed in products when she was pregnant with her daughter. Long an enthusiastic researcher and writer, she realized she could help other families make more informed, non-toxic purchases for their own families by sharing what she found. Prior to starting Green Active Family, Katie spent close to a decade as a travel blogger and has written for National Geographic. Katie, her lifestyle, and her products have been featured in the Washington Post, Business Insider, The New York Times, and more.

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