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Why Good Package Design Matters

The pros, the cons, the solutions.

issue six : the shape of things to come

Remember when cosmetic packaging was handcrafted to perfection and so magnificent you would never want to get rid of it? These perfume bottles from the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection makes me so happy.

I have always been a sucker for a beautifully packaged product. However, my appreciation for packaging has changed over these last few years and beautiful packaging has a completely different meaning to me. Now, I look for well-designed packaging for my beauty products. What is well-designed packaging you ask? Well, in short, it is packaging that lives on (and on, and on).

We ALL assume conclusions based on assumptions that most of us have not put in any effort to research beyond simply, face value.

Let’s take a deeper look so we can start making more informed choices. Ultimately, there is no perfect solution, only more conscious ones. 

It’s in a plastic bottle, it must be bad   

I get quizzed all the time on why some of the products I use are still in plastic containers. The fact of the matter is that plastic is still the most practical item for most (not all) products. As a professional makeup artist, I simply wouldn’t be able to carry my kit if everything was in glass. That aside, truly untainted brands have considered their options and any plastic packaging they use is PBA-free and are either made from recycled plastic or the packaging is recyclable after use. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying this is ideal by any stretch of the imagination, what I am saying is we need to really look at other “eco-packaging” and understand that not everything is always as it seems, and sometimes, what you think is the devil, is the most thought out option. 

So what about biodegradable plastics?

As with everything, bioplastics and biodegradable plastics come with their own set of environmental and social problems. Even just understanding the difference can cause confusion.


  • Bioplastics are made from plant-based materials such as corn starch or sugar cane.
  • Land that could be used to grow food is being used to grow raw materials to make more plastic. This could cause a significant rise in food prices.
  • Potentially requires more resources to manufacture than just making regular plastic.
  • Cannot be recycled.


  • Biodegradable plastics made from non-renewable petrochemicals. They are “engineered” to break down more quickly.
  • Biodegradable plastics decompose in landfill, which produces methane gas and adds to global warming.
  • May still take decades or centuries to break down as conditions still need to be right for the plastic to decay.
  • Cannot be recycled.

Eco / Recycled 

  • Recycled plastics made from recycling other plastics instead of using raw petrochemicals.
  • Can be recycled, however the more plastic is recycled the more the quality degrades.

As you can see by just these few bullet points, the often “obvious” solution is not always the best solution.

It’s a glass bottle, that is better than plastic packaging any day!

Or is it? Before you get all excited about how sustainable your favourite beauty brand is because they package their untainted products in glass, take a closer look. Take a moment to consider the environmental impact of producing glass in the first place. One of the major environmental impacts of manufacturing glass is the CO2, SO2, NO2 and dust particle emissions produced while melting the non-renewable raw materials. Yup, sand and minerals are finite resources too. The other considerations are water waste, solid waste and the release of VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) when producing mirror or special coatings.

Of course, one of the great benefits to glass is that it can be recycled over and over again without diminishing its quality.  This does require you to actually recycle your glass containers. If you just get rid of it in the regular trash, it too just goes to landfill. It also means that you need to be sure that the glass bottle your product has come in is in fact recycled glass and not brand new glass.

Image credit: Unsplash

Paper, paper, you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind

Hold your horses there, Sally. Before you go galloping off into the distance on your high-horse because you’re favourite beauty products come in paper or cardboard. Did you now that it take 40X more water to produce a paper bag than it does a plastic one?  Also, unless your paper/cardboard is free from any plastic coatings (are they covered in a film to protect them?), they are not in fact recyclable. 

Also, if looks matter to you (and it is totally okay if they do) then products that come in cardboard very rarely hit the mark.

Just like with recycling in the kitchen, we, as consumers need to play our part. That means, if a product package is recyclable, we need to dispose of it correctly. 

So, what’s the solution?

Before you purchase any new beauty product, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do I really need this? Is it something I will use until it is finished?
  2. Can I reuse or re-appropriate the container?
  3. As a last resort, has the packaging been made from recycled materials and can it be recycled when I am finished with it?

Ultimately, good packaging begins with good design.

There are ten principles to good design (we’ve borrowed the following explanations from because, well, why mess with good design?):

1. Good design is innovative

The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.

2. Good design makes a product useful

A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasises the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.


The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful.


It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.


Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should, therefore, be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.


It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.


It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.


Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the user.


The design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimises physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.


Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

Based on the above 10 commandments of good design, there is a brand that stands heads and shoulders above the rest, in my personal opinion. That brand is none other than Kjaer Weis. Not to mention that the product itself is one of the best on the market.

All the products in the line offer refill options. While certain items, such as mascara and lipglosses still come in an unavoidable plastic container (the outer-packaging is what you’re keeping) they are all fully recyclable.

So, not only does it save the planet, but it’s also easier on your pocket! The refills are substantially cheaper than the full package product.

The product itself is one of the best on the market for untainted luxury cosmetics.

There are, of course, other brands that offer refillable solutions.

Zao is another wonderful brand using sustainable packaging. They use bamboo as an outer casing and many – but not all (yet) – of their products are refillable. Bamboo is also a key ingredient in their formulations. 

They have recently launched their refillable mascara in black and brown.

Canadian brand Elate Cosmetics also uses bamboo for its packaging needs, with an incentive on using pallets for reducing packaging waste. They post their individual colours out in envelopes made from seed paper. A perfect example of repurposing packaging.

Remember that the decisions we make today really can positively or negatively effect the landscape of the future. I know it can feel futile, but making small but informed choices and using your buying power wisely really does make a difference. 

This is not a sponsored post. If you enjoyed this article, please do leave your comment below.


AGC Glass

Norcal Compactors

British Plastics

Explain That Stuff

untainted |ˌənˈtān(t)əd| adjective
not contaminated, polluted, or tainted: the paper was untainted by age.

UNTAINTED is a directional beauty platform, pushing the boundaries of clean, sustainable beauty. We are inspired and motivated by the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-sabi.

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