Hand and body cream refill options — the eco-friendly consumer's guide

Hand and body cream refill options — the eco-friendly consumer's guide

5 minutes read

It’s no secret that the traditional way of selling moisturizing creams uses an excessive amount of single-use packaging that is often made of plastic. Plastic takes lifetimes to decompose and even glass and metal containers, which are better for the environment, still take energy and resources to create.

Many consumers are shifting to more sustainable options for purchasing moisturizers including buying refillable products. Refills are often sold in larger quantities, which not only is better for the environment but can also be cheaper. Rebuying the same container only to dispose of it creates harmful waste, uses energy, and creates an expense that is always passed down to the customer in the price of the goods.

There’s a growing number of options for refillable moisturizers, including:

Pod refills

Sol de Janeiro makes these pods for refilling their Brazilian Bum Bum Cream. Photo: Sol de Janeiro

Hand and body creams come in a lot of different containers, often due to their varying viscosity. Thicker creams that come in tins and jars can be refilled with pods that slide in and out of the original container. Refill pods usually use significantly less material than the original container and are clean and easy to use. The only drawback is that pods only come in the size of the original container instead of bulkier packaging.

Sol de Janeiro offers refills for their Brazilian Bum Bum Cream. Their plastic pods use 89% less plastic than the original packaging and allow customers to continue using the convenient and resealable jar without having to buy a new one each time.

Bottle returns

Plaine Products offers a variety of products in returnable aluminum bottles. Photo: Plaine Products

Bottle returns utilize the “milkman model” to refill moisturizer. Customers send in their empty bottles and the moisturizer company sends back a full one. Bottles are usually made of recyclable materials like aluminum or glass.

Plaine Products utilizes this model for lotion refills and offers pumps that screw on to the top of their aluminum bottles. Customers keep their pump and send the empty bottle back in to be replaced. The only downside is having to print out shipping labels and send in bottles.

Instore refills

The Refill Market lets customers bring in their own containers to fill up on lotion, hand soap and more. Photo: The Refill Market

Another option is going into brick-and-mortar stores to get lotion containers refilled. Many refill stations have bulk dispensers that significantly cut down on packaging and allow customers to get moisturizer in differing quantities. These refill stations often offer a range of goods including moisturizers, hand soap, and shampoo and conditioner. Some are stores specifically made for refilling like The Refill Market, while others are retailers that have partnerships with refill companies. Common Good is one such company that offers refill stations within a range of other retailers.

The only drawback is refill stations aren’t available everywhere. The good news is that new ones are regularly opening.

Lotion bars

Kate McLeod offers several moisturizing bars in wooden and fabric packaging. Photo: Kate McLeod

Lotion bars are another form of moisturizer that is relatively easy to refill. The bars are like soap bars and are easy to apply to skin. The solid state of the bars means they can be stored in cardboard and wooden boxes and don’t need plastic, glass or metal containers like liquids do.

New York-based Kate McLeod sells lotion bars in wooden holding cases and refills in minimalist packaging. The company began when its founder was looking for a moisturizer that could be applied like cocoa butter in its raw solid form. Luckily, this led to the creation of moisturizer that is easily packaged using lightweight recyclable materials.


Concentrates from Ethique contain a lot of moisturizer in minimal packaging. Photo: Ethique

Lotion concentrates are great for minimizing plastic use and packaging. Concentrates come as solid blocks and are added to water to create a substantial amount of moisturizer. They are often sold in cardboard and paper packaging, and the customer uses their own container to mix the concentrate and store it once it has been transformed into moisturizer. Lotion concentrate retailer Ethique uses entirely paper packaging including paper ‘bubble wrap’ and paper tape.  

Liquid refill pouches

Pouches are one of the most popular refill options because they are easy to use and hold enough product to refill normal-sized bottles two or three times. The resealable lids and light and flexible material make them easy to store and transport. They use considerably less plastic than normal lotion bottles and are often considerably cheaper than buying lotion in bottle form. Their main drawback is that they aren’t always recyclable curbside so make sure to check with your municipal provider.

At Element Brooklyn we sell our liquid products in refill pouches, and we are excited to announce that we will soon be offering hand and body moisturizing cream refills in addition to our hand and body soap refills. Make sure to sign up for our newsletter to get notified when they launch this summer.

Last thoughts

There are a range of moisturizer refill options, and they all are considerably more sustainable than traditional single-use moisturizer containers. Changing how we consume goods is a great way to shift to a more sustainable economy and a greener future.

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