Dhwani Kathotia on creating a sustainable beauty routine

Dhwani Kathotia holding flowers

By Deepali Kini

I first met Dhwani Kathotia of @mylittlecupboard, a content creator from Bangalore, India, a couple of years ago. She had just completed her Masters in Fashion Marketing at the London College of Fashion, University of the Arts, London. Her hair, which she was wearing naturally, was the stuff made of shampoo ad dreams––long, shiny and noticeably healthy. My curiosity piqued, I asked about her hair care routine and found out that as part of her journey towards sustainability, she had cut her routine down to a single product––sulfate–free shampoo. Behavior change is notoriously hard, and resource and time consuming, but Dhwani has made an impressive commitment to making choices that are better for the environment. She was one of three winners selected from across University of the Arts, London to present their work on sustainability to the Kering team at their Paris HQ last year. Here, she shares her sustainable beauty journey with Kulfi.

Q1. Why is sustainability important to you?

I was part of a beach clean-up in Bali about two years ago. There were four of us, picking up litter on a small patch of the beach and surprisingly filled up 4 big garbage bags worth of waste in the span of 20 minutes. And this was a relatively ‘clean’ secluded beach! Just physically seeing that much waste made me realize how much we overlook what we consume, what we discard and where it ends up. Out of sight, out of mind, you know. The majority of trash we collected were plastic cutlery, straws, and tubes of lotions/soaps etc. 

The decision was almost instantaneous, I had to start cutting down plastic packaging, anyone who was there would probably do the same. I began with the items I use most frequently like my personal care products, skincare and cutlery. I’ve committed to this lifestyle in many ways and am still figuring my way around many things—it's an ongoing journey. But a rewarding one.

Q2. What is your current skincare and grooming routine? What sustainable choices have you made?

I’ve spent about two years trying and testing products. Having lived in London and Bangalore over these two years, my go-to products are a mix of Indian and international brands. This is what my daily routine looks like now. 

When I have early mornings, or during summer nights, I start my skincare routine with my Jade roller (which I keep in the freezer most of the time). Honest truth? I don’t know what it does for my skin but it feels so effing good!

Soap was probably the easiest switch, I am so comfortable using bar soaps and now I travel with them in tin containers too.

I am constantly mixing it up when it comes to the soap I use on my face. But currently I’m using the Bare Necessities Turmeric Spa Bar. I keep it in a tin box by my sink (sometimes I pick one with oats just to add exfoliation) to wash my face and cleanse off my makeup. 

Coming from India, I don’t think I’ve ever invested in a toner, because we’ve got GULABJAL! (aka rose water). It’s pretty much the same thing, without the fancy names and plastic packaging! And my mum’s used it all her life, my grandmum’s used it all her life too so it’s gotta be right, right?

I swear by The Ordinary 100% Plant Derived Squalane. I would recommend this step for dry and combination skin  as it is quite a concentrated oil. Cheeky tip? It also does the job of (natural) highlighter.

Dhwani Kathotia's skincare routine

photo credit: Dhwani Kathotia

I got introduced to the Sukin Facial Moisturiser by a friend and it is actually extremely effective and light on the face. It's natural, cruelty-free and vegan with recyclable packaging. I used to use the Clinique Moisturizing Gel which I occasionally use instead of my moisturizer on humid days because it's extremely cooling and light––perfect for my combination skin. A single pump goes a long way - this is one of those products that lasts ages!

The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG seals the deal every night—it’s the best product I’ve tried in the last two years. I believe no under eye product really gets rid of dark circles (since it's partly genetic) and if you’re anything like me and heavily binge on Netflix before bed, we gotta keep our expectations realistic. BUT! I’ve actually seen a reduction in my really deep dark circles with this solution! Okay, correction––Bare Necessities Busy Bee Lip Balm is the best product I’ve tried in the last two years. Or ever. They’re my favorite zero-waste brand and this coconut, vanilla lip balm is deeply moisturizing. It’s too perfect.

All of these products have been a result of trial and error. I’m still on the lookout for more brands and products and always like to switch things up every few months to see if something works better for my skin. 

Dhwani Kathotia with a flower in her mouth
photo credit: Varsha Lakshminarayan & Dhwani Kathotia

My makeup routine is still a work-in-progress––I still have a lot of products that are gifted to me by brands that I want to use before buying sustainable products. I use Glossier Future Dew which I think is a good base to get a natural, dewy glow. When I’m going out I use the Mac Studio Fix Liquid NC 25* and i mix it in with a little bit of the Armani Fluid Sheer Bronzer* so its a closer match to my skin.  I love the Glossier G5 Under Eye Concealer, which I feel is the first concealer thats ever really worked for my dark circles and skin tone without giving me a white cast or making me look like a ghost. I then use the Colorbar Just Black Kajal*. I also really like the MAC Light Festival Eye Shadow Palette––I use the dark brown shade to create a light eye liner look and gold in the inner corner of my eyes. I've stopped using eye liner and I enjoy how natural and subtle this looks. I really like the Chanel Les Beiges Stick N21 if I’m in a pink mood. I’ve realized orange tones look better on my skin when I’m tanned and pink isn’t the “natural” blush that works for all of us. Recently, I’ve been using Glossier Cloud Paint in Dawn which is the shit. While I’m still trying to finish products that have been gifted to me (all the ones marked with an asterisk), I’ve bought a bunch of Glossier stuff recently because although its not zero-waste, its at least cruelty free!

Now for the other products I use for grooming: 

I swear by the Kama Ayurveda ones (they smell like a dream!), but bar soaps are so easily available everywhere now. Try and find one that comes in low impact, paper packaging!

For years I used a roll on deodorant, but it’s been a year since I switched to natural, balm deodorants. In London, I picked up a glass jar of organic orange and bergamot deodorant from a zero-waste store (which also did refills). Here in Bangalore, I’m currently using the Juicy Chemistry Blood Orange & Geranium Stick which is handmade, vegetarian and comes in paper packaging so it pretty much ticks all the boxes!

Shampoo is a bit tricky. I’m still on the lookout for a good sustainable, plastic-free shampoo option! 

I tried the Lush shampoo bars for a few months last year but felt like it didn’t clean my hair out as well as I have an oily scalp. I would recommend it to someone who doesn’t have an oily scalp though!

For moisturizer in London, I would alternate between the Lush Moisturising Bars, which are actually so cool because it's a zero-packaging block of moisturizer that you can just rub on. Even though it was so cold in London, the warmth of my skin would make the bar glide. Other than this, I also used the & Other Stories Perle De Coco Body Oil which is heaven in a bottle (I mean it's warm vanilla, coconut and caramel scented!!). The bottles are glass and they take them back for recycling too! I haven’t found substitutes in India yet, so maybe I’ll start making my own moisturizer at home soon!

I’ve used Johnson & Johnson Baby Oil for years now to remove my makeup, and yes, it comes in a plastic bottle but I’m not prepared to make the switch just yet. Maybe when I find something that does the job as well. I just take a little bit on my hands and massage my entire face with it. You want to do it until you look like a little unrecognizable monster. And then rinse it off.

I’ve invested in a cloth makeup remover instead of using cotton and wet wipes to remove my makeup. I feel using a wet cloth after using oil is far more effective and doesn’t push a lot of the makeup into the skin like wet wipes often do.They’re easy to handwash and dry and I chuck them into the wash every few days. 

There are a lot of natural substitutes that I find more effectively and environmentally friendly than packaged face masks. I think a lot of brown kids will relate to our mums using besan (chickpea flour) and malai (cream) and fruits etc. on our faces since we were babies! And in all honesty, that works! I use besan and malai packs or sometimes rub a tomato on my face to reduce patchiness or some multani mitti (Fuller’s Earth) maybe a mashed fruit with some oats as an exfoliant or sugar + oil for a quick lip scrub. Honestly, have a field day with it because there are so many possibilities.

Dhwani Kathotia with her back to the camera
photo credit: Varsha Lakshminarayan & Dhwani Kathotia

Q3. If you could only use three or four products in your skincare and beauty routine what would they be?

Hmm, I’d say a face soap (because my skin gets quite oily), face moisturizer, face oil, under eye concealer and lipbalm. That was five? Well, I cheated, that was five.

Q5. What are your top three pieces of advice for people just starting to look into switching to sustainable products?

Read Read Read! Read about people’s experiences, read about our impact on the environment, read product labels, read about brands and what they’re doing, read about greenwashing. The more we educate ourselves, the easier it gets to pick products that work for us and actually reduce our impact in the long run.

It's challenging to go from our usual habits to suddenly be completely zero-waste. Respect the process and know that it’ll come slowly and naturally.

Trial And Error: Be open to things just not working out for you. Because that will happen. And remember that the shift is a slow process. I started out wanting to be zero-waste and would get frustrated when something didn’t work for me (like the shampoo bars). Moving to sustainable products can be a shift in behavior, brands and budget. But taking a step back and slowly making shifts in have made it a lot easier and I’ve found solutions that I can retain in the long term.

Find your balance: I feel it's easy to fall into the skincare trap, especially when beauty bloggers are constantly blogging about god-knows-how-many-step routines and all of these “essential” products. My word of advice is don’t take anyone’s review as gospel and trust what you’ve tried. For example, I have eliminated conditioner from my hair routine because I have really fine hair. So I don’t let hair conditioner reviews lure me in. Also, substitute products instead of stocking up. If I want to try a body oil instead of a moisturizer, I only invest in one after my moisturizer is over. Keeping a limited number of products that work for you and only replenishing when your supply is over, is a good, minimalistic strategy to make the shift without being overwhelmed. 


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