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The best zero-waste facial cleansing bars

A column on the best solid cleansing bars is among my most requested, and it’s easy to see why. Environmental concerns have seen us begin to reject plastic dispensers and return to traditional soap bars in significant numbers. It’s heartening, as there’s no material benefit in overpackaging domestic soap, and rich, fatty, fragrant bars – apart from being the more ethical choice – are satisfying and somehow quite glamorous.

Face cleanser – in all its pumps, tubes, bottles and tubs – should now follow, one would reasonably think. We’re not quite there yet, is my conclusion, after testing since February.

There are some truly lovely paper-wrapped cleansers, but they’re still made mostly by luxury cult brands (Dove and imported Neutrogena aside). Ethique’s Bliss Bar (£14, 110g) is a sustainable, vegan, palm oil- and plastic-free block of loveliness that has taken up long-term tenancy in my bathroom. My face loves this rich, buttery bar of coconut cream and glycerin. Any balanced, sensitive or dry skin will likely love its silky, cosseting suds – oily skin, perhaps not.

More universally pleasing is Drunk Elephant’s JuJu Bar (£24, 120g). The texture is elegant, creating fine, milkier bubbles (there are some “exfoliating grains” but they’re neither annoying nor useful) that rinse away cleanly. My third pick is Joanna Vargas’s Miracle Bar (£18, 100g). Despite being better suited to oilier types, this doesn’t dry or strip at all – skin feels spotlessly clean, but comfortable.

I appreciate that all these very lovely (cruelty-free) bars are pricey, but there’s no waste and they last an incredibly long time – all three remain chunky after months of consistent lathering. Solid bars are so practical and economical that I’d love to tell you they replace all your packaged cleansers. But, despite their claims, I’m afraid that not one removed foundation so thoroughly as to leave a white towel unmarked after drying. I call this the Towel Test and if any cleanser fails, it’s confined only to a morning wash, or to the second step of a nightly makeup removal cleanse, following something heavier duty.

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If you’re reducing your plastic, choose as your first step either a cleansing balm packaged in glass (there are many), or a thorough once-over with a wet Face Halo cloth disc, £18 for three (each lasts 200 washes). Either will remove the bulk of makeup before lathering up your cleansing bar. To skip it is effectively to take a bath with your clothes on.

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