Renuka Garg in gold and green sharwal kameez

Renuka's guide to a minimalist & sustainable makeup routine

November 2, 2020

What to consider when buying makeup—vegan & cruelty free product recs included.  

By Renuka, Contributor

Since our politicians can’t seem to make corporations stop polluting our environment, the burden falls on us to minimize our carbon footprint and live as sustainably as possible. The best way that I can think to do that is by living minimalistically, which I have taken to mean living without duplicates or excess of the things I use. 

I don’t think minimalism has to be to an extreme where you can’t wear makeup, buy clothes, or do anything to pamper yourself. 

That promotes an idea that self care is unnecessary and vain, when it’s really just a necessary part of maintaining your wellbeing. I think there is, however, a legitimate concern that fast fashion and harmful cosmetic products are heavily contributing to environmental degradation. 

For me, makeup and fashion have always been a creative outlet, especially when I stopped dancing after 12 years. I used to watch makeup tutorials on my BART rides into San Francisco each morning and try recreating those looks on myself, which is how I first fell in love with makeup. 

Over time, doing my makeup became an important part of my self care because it was time that I took out of my day, uninterrupted and for myself, to create the look that I wanted. 

During quarantine, this was even more important because it gave me something to do away from a screen that was fun and different each time. At the same time, I started trying to make my diet more vegan — I’m already vegetarian but switching to a completely plant-based diet was something I had wanted to do but never had time to focus on while I was in school. I realized that not even the makeup that I was wearing accomplished that, so I decided that all my future purchases would be vegan and cruelty-free products. Slowly but surely, I’m phasing out all my older products as they expire and replacing them with products that meet my standards. 

Renuka Garg wearing red sharwal kameez
photo credit: Renuka

In order to make sure that the products I use maximize my needs and match my values.  

Here are the key aspects that I look for when I purchase a new product:

Ingredients: First and foremost, I always want to check that the products I use are vegan and cruelty-free. Since I can’t consistently maintain a vegan diet, I make sure that none of the non-dietary aspects of my life aren’t harming animals or promoting the agriculture lobby in any way. 

Packaging: I always try to get products that use recyclable and non-plastic packaging whenever possible. For eyeshadow palettes, I love when the packaging is compostable or the brand sells refills of specific colors. 

Brand mission: If my first two criteria are met, I usually find that the mission of the brand is in line with my own values. But I love when these brands are POC-owned or donate a portion of their proceeds to charity. It’s also key that these brands offer a wide range of shades and undertones for me, not only so I can find a shade myself but also that I’m supporting brands that meet the needs of all people of color. 

Cost: With all these boxes to tick, the cost usually is higher than your average drugstore brand. However, an increasing number of brands are meeting this standard as the beauty industry moves toward an inclusive and sustainable future, bringing the costs down for us as consumers. It’s also important to look at cost vs. value — is the product I’m buying adding a significant amount of worth to my makeup collection? Do I need all the colors in that eyeshadow palette or just 2 out of the 12? 

Renuka Garg wearing a denim jacket
photo credit: Renuka

These are my go-to products that meet my requirements:

Live Tinted Huesticks (1 for $24; 4 for $80)

  • When I say I use these Huesticks on a daily basis, I really mean it. Origin and Free were the first colors I bought and I was SHOCKED at the difference I saw in my under-eye area after color-correcting for the first time. I love this brand, its mission, its marketing, and everything Deepica has done for South Asians in the cosmetic industry. Also, the fact that these are multi-use products makes them extra sustainable!
  • Pro Tip: find a friend who wants some Huesticks too and do the 4 for $80 bundle. Or buy 4 for yourself. I’m not judging. 

Rare Beauty Liquid Touch Brightening Concealer ($19)

  • This concealer is so easy to blend and provides a really nice medium-to-full coverage for the day-to-day look. I love wearing this concealer on top of a color corrector, adding a little mascara and blush, and going on with my day.
  • Selena Gomez really did wonderful with this brand. Everything about it, from the ingredients to the packaging (I love that she made it accessible to folks with arthritis) to the brand’s messaging, all make me feel like I’m supporting a brand that supports me. 

Cover FX Natural Finish Foundation ($42)

  • This foundation is FIRE if you have dry skin. It’s the fullest-coverage foundation I’ve ever used and it blends out like a dream without sticking to any of my dry spots.
  • Cover FX is one of the few established brands that has always brought a wide shade range to their collections. They also meet all my ingredient preferences! My one wish with this brand is that their packaging would be more sustainable, as all their products that I own are packaged in plastic. 

Covergirl Full Lash Bloom Mascara ($7.59)

  • I have been using this mascara since I started applying makeup, and it’s still one of my favorites to this day. It makes your lashes look longer and more voluminous while still looking natural and fluffy. Covergirl has also made huge strides in terms of inclusion and using safer ingredients without compromising on their product quality. 
  • Makeup Hack: If you have any mascara that’s drying out or clumping unusually, try adding 1-2 drops of contact solution to your tube and shake it a little. The mascara should be good as new!

Profusion Eyes + Cheeks Artistry Palette ($10)

  • This is a great brand to start off your makeup journey with. While this palette specifically is not vegan, they have a lot of vegan options for eye, lip, and cheek products that are accessible at Target!
  • I like this palette a lot because it has all my basic brown and nude shades for eyeshadow alongside some really pretty blushes and highlights. Having a couple palettes like this with different color schemes is a great way to maximize the amount of creative space you have with your makeup without spending thousands of dollars or buying hundreds of products. 
Renuka's favorite minimalist and sustainable products
photo credit: Renuka

Makeup Buying Tip: Use a Chrome Extension

Whenever I shop for makeup, I only make purchases on my laptop so I can use the Honey and Wikibuy Chrome extensions to check for any savings I might be missing. I also make it a rule for myself to leave something I want in my cart for at least 24 hours before purchasing to really guarantee that I need this product and I’m not just impulse-purchasing it. Impulse purchases usually end up being products I don’t use as often because they aren’t filling a specific gap for me. 

More and more, I think about how I can be a conscious consumer in our society where value is often equated with wealth and property. 

Taking these steps to minimize my carbon footprint has also helped me unlearn the habit of waiting at the door for a new package and purchasing for the short dopamine rush. I’m starting to buy what I need when I need it, leading toward a more minimalist and ethical life. 

About — Renuka recently graduated from UC Berkeley and now works at a consulting firm in San Francisco. She loves to explore the intersections between beauty, fashion, and identity, promoting a message of feminine power and body neutrality as a Desi-American. Find her on Instagram and TikTok at

Cover photo credit: Renuka,

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