Sheet masks – the beauty industry’s single-use Achilles heel

Sheet masks – the beauty industry’s single-use Achilles heel

As the world and his wife continues to fight the good fight against global climate change (with the odd exception to the rule), governments and industries across the world are looking at ways to lower carbon emissions – plastic bags are now either paid for or banned altogether, sustainable garments are a hyper-focus of fashion houses across the world, and you’re now hard pushed to find a restaurant or home that uses plastic straws. Perhaps the tip of the iceberg in the war on single-use plastic, regardless, the message is getting through. However, while the world is waking up, it seems the sheet mask trend is bucking the eco-conscious movement as the lust for the masks continues apace – sales of the product rose 47% between August 2017 and August 2018 according to market research Kantar. However, dubbed the ‘new plastic straws’ by Vogue, sheet masks are seemingly the latest sustainability blunder made from the beauty world, and one that needs to be cleared up fast if its to shake the reputation of being a key industry contributor to the global packaging waste problem.

A trend kickstarted in Korea and adopted henceforth by Western consumers in gusto, sheet masks are a mainstay of subscription beauty boxes with celebrities from Chrissy Teigen to Sarah Hyland donning the masks on their Instagram feeds, no doubt hoping to benefit from the ingredient-infused, hyper targeted skincare products. However, little is said about the not-so-ideal drawbacks to the latest K beauty trend to sweep the world. First up, the aforementioned single use element. While much has been mentioned about the harm of face wipes, sheet masks are predominately individually wrapped, which, as we know, is a big no-no. Luxuriate in the bath twice a week, face basking under a sheet? That adds up to a lot of waste going to fester in landfill. Likewise, there’s concern about the sheet itself. While some companies are taking note of the sustainability concerns surrounding them, creating the masks and packaging out of biodegradable materials, this isn’t in fact a fail-safe solution. Quite often made from cotton, this causes its own problems given the hugely detrimental effect the cotton industry has on the environment. Talking to Vogue, Susan Stevens, the Founder and CEO of Made With Respect, agreed, “Ongoing production of non-recyclable, non-compostable, and non-biodegradable products will have a considerable impact on the environment.”

With the zero-waste movement coming on leaps and bounds, and the likes of consumer publications Vogue and Refinery29 highlighting the environmental perils of sheet masks, it’s hopefully a trend that will run its course. And for those die-hard mask fans? Brands need to better cater to the demand by taking responsibility for what they are producing. If they must create sheet masks, make the product and the packaging compostable and ensure the ingredients are sustainably sourced. With the climate crisis escalating daily, the industry must take responsibility for what it puts out and the impact it has on the planet.