A Future Of Refillable Cosmetics

The newest addition to the cosmetics scene comes from a recent college grad Sahar Rohani. Along with her two male co-founders (and former USC classmates), Aidan Maddo and Junyi Wu, Rohani is advocating for a different approach to beauty — refillable and subscription-based. They’re starting with mascara.

SOSHE Beauty’s mascara is made differently by the entire brand and process,” she says. “I think the largest hurdle with refillable products is user experience. We designed the case to make the refill process as seamless as possible. We’ve made a mascara that is clean, effectively healthy and importantly, glamorous.”

Refillable makeup is not a new concept. Several other brands have offered it, including mascara. But Rohani hopes to offer a better overall experience, and create awareness around the excess packaging involved in cosmetics. Over 120 billion units of packaging is produced each year by the cosmetics industry, she says. That includes everything: from simple plastic encasings to lipstick tubes to eyeshadow palette containers. Much of this cannot be recycled easily either.

In order to be recycled, the items have to be clean, which is unlikely if there’s still traces of lipstick, powder, or mascara left in them.

The second issue, she says, is understanding the lifespan of cosmetics. Makeup brands do state on the bottom of the item that it’s good for 6, 12, or 18 months routinely. Yet, many women keep makeup for months, if not years, past their recommended time of use. Mascara, Rohani says, is one of the items that tends to be used well beyond its expiry date. Plus, it’s notoriously difficult to clean properly, when you are ready to toss it, because of the design.

So instead of having consumers learn how to clean out mascara tubes, SOSHE has partnered with TerraCycle, a popular recycling solution, to collect old tubes. This way, she says, TerraCycle will take on the cleaning job and ensure that the materials are repurposed.

In addition, to avoid having customers use products beyond their expiration date, SOSHE offers a three or six-month subscription (which can be amended if you don’t use up all the product). The refill tubes can be inserted into the original mascara tube. That way, consumers are just replacing one component, not all of the packaging material, which Rohani says cuts down on the overall waste.

The idea came to her as a sophomore at USC, scrummaging through her beauty drawer and seeing so many items that she realized had little chance of being recycled. So working with Maddo and Wu, who 3D printed an alternative mascara design, Rohani went to manufacturers to see if they would change their ways. Most of them said the trio were too young, inexperienced, and unlikely to have the capital to scale a beauty brand. “We heard a lot of no’s,” she says. “But then one said yes.They took a chance on us.”

The two year process of R&D was supported by funding from a college incubator and friends, family, and angel investors chipping in to help the students transition from an idea to a business. Rohani decided to focus on the ingredients as well, developing a mascara made with “cleaner” ingredients though not necessarily 100% natural. “Women are definitely becoming more conscious of what they’re putting on their skin and faces. I wanted them to see that chemistry can be clean, and they don’t have to struggle with natural ingredients that can be difficult and not as effective at times,” she explains.

Luxury organic beauty brand Kjaer Weis is one of the few cosmetics companies that started out with a similar intention to refill rather than replace. They too have a refillable mascara design.

“The Im-Possible Mascara is a continuation of the brand’s commitment to the environment,” says founder Kirsten Kjaer Weis. “It is the first-ever certified organic volumizing mascara. The product’s packaging is made from 50% recycled plastic, 100% recycled nylon bristles and infinitely recyclable aluminum, made to be refilled again, and again, and again.”

For Rohani, though, this is not about pitting one sustainable beauty brand against another, she notes. 

“We’re really excited to see other companies taking initiative on reducing waste in the industry. We want a more sustainable cosmetics marketplace and we believe that having a diverse set of sustainable products to choose from is the way to go. This is the beginning of a future in cosmetics where taking the leap on packaging innovation and implementing measures to minimize carbon footprint is the norm, not the differentiator.”

Collectively brands such as these have one challenge: getting consumers to adapt their ways, says Weis. “Education, making customers and retailers alike embrace and fully understand the system. How easy it is…We have made it easy and effortless to buy into.”

Rohani agrees. “With all the options out there, we wanted to make sure no consumer had to compromise. Our goal is to show that clean and sustainable are sexy. ”

Both brands are priced at about $30 for the first purchase and then refills are cheaper. SOSHE offers a bit more mascara in their tube size at 10 mL. And both are sent in minimal packaging to help fulfill their eco-vision. This could be a trend worth following.

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