Sustainable Alternatives: Homemade Make up

There is a set of assumptions that accompanies employment at the Office of Sustainability. We are pegged as yoga-practicing, composting, hairy creatures that probably smell like sandalwood and/or patchouli at any given moment. Although the Office is much more diverse than that, for me, most of these assumptions are spot on. So when people learn of my love for makeup, they are quite surprised.   

Confession: I have a shelf full of bronzers and highlighters and a rainbow’s worth of lipstick, in full knowledge of the cosmetic industry’s dire environmental impact. (And, of course, of the societal implications of wearing makeup and conforming to beauty standards.) But none of this knowledge takes away from the joy of painting my face, of empowering myself to change my appearance to fit my mood.

In my constant sense for balance, then, I came up with a compromise. For the past semester, the only powdered makeup I wore was exclusively homemade from pantry ingredients.

What I used:

  • Cornstarch (covers shine and absorbs oil)
  • Cinnamon (warm brown)
  • Nutmeg (dark brown)
  • Clove (dark, red undertones)
  • Cocoa powder (light brown)
  • Edible pastry dust (sparkle)

To make the powder, start with about 3 tablespoons of cornstarch and slowly add in the coloring agents. It’s easier to add more than to take out, so start small! You’ll probably end up with a total of just 2-3 teaspoons of the various coloring agents!

I’ve found that this powder minimizes shine, adds a slight bronzing color, and thanks to the pastry dust, covers me with sparkles. And of course, my face smells like cake, which is nice. I also use the powder as eyeshadow and to add a little color and sparkle to my chest when I wear low-cut tops.

I love using this powder as much as any store-bought powder foundation.  It is lightweight and provides as much coverage as any other powder foundation, but it doesn’t include the nasty chemical coloring agents you’d find in a typical cosmetic. In addition, it’s wayyyyy cheaper. Like full dollars cheaper. And to reiterate – it is sparkly and smells like cake.


After the semester was over, I decided to phase other make-up back into my routine. I missed eyeshadow and I am so happy to have a full eyeshadow palette back in my life. I also enjoy using store-bought bronzer, which is a better shade and stays in place longer. But I still wear my homemade powder almost every day for all-over coverage! It brings me joy in a way that store-bought makeup never will.

Since making that powder, I’ve experimented with creating my own eyeshadows, blush, dry shampoo, and perfumes. I’ve found that making my own makeup is not only a fun afternoon activity, but it also enables me to customize my makeup to whatever colors and textures I want! And of course, it’s better for the environment, but that’s not a sustainable reason to engage in any act. It has to go deeper – to reach joy and fulfillment in harmony with values.
But that’s a tall order. So for now, just go home, open your pantry, and have fun mixing up some makeup!

-Olivia Cohen, Sustainability Fellow & Project Lead: Garden Apprenticeship Program


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