Plastic packaging has long been the obvious choice for many liquid products you buy, such as juice, yogurt, body wash and lotion. Plastic is durable, inexpensive and -- most importantly -- doesn't absorb liquids. After all, it's not like you can use a cardboard bottle. Or could you?
Hair and skincare company Seed Phytonutrients is rejecting plastic in favor of completely paper-based bottles, that won't fall apart in your shower. I tested out a few of their products to see how well they withstand daily use and to better understand the future of sustainable packaging.
To the Test is a series where we bring products into our everyday lives and share our experiences with them.
The problem with personal care products
I'm ashamed of the ingredients list on my usual hair care products. I won't name names, but the brand I've used since high school is inexpensive, easy to find and… full of parabens, sulfates and detergents. Some of these ingredients have been associated with skin irritation and endocrine disruption.
Some cosmetic ingredients are also linked to toxicity in the environment, especially in aquatic habitats. Then, factor in the fact that most personal care products are often made of plastics that aren't biodegradable or recyclable, and are a .
Seed addresses both of these issues -- irritants to human health and toxicity to the environment -- by using sunflower seed oil-based formulas packaged in their unconventional paper bottles.
What is Seed Phytonutrients?
Seed is a beauty and personal care startup with a focus on sustainable agriculture and product development.
Leader Shane Wolf is a veteran beauty mogul whose roots are lodged in agriculture. Wolf grew up on a small farm in Kansas and now owns his own farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where he lives when he's not in NYC. There, he rescues farm animals and grows organic flowers -- how's that for a founder who lives the mission of his company?
Seed is actually an offshoot brand of beauty giant L'Oreal. Wolf put his sustainable company idea on the back burner for 13 years while he worked at L'Oreal until he and a few other L'Oreal execs made Seed a reality. Now, Seed operates as an independent venture funded by L'Oreal. The brand can do what it wants, but has access to experts in marketing, packaging and product development.
Seed operates on a slew of admirable values, such as promoting natural beauty and environmental sustainability. But the most intriguing thing about Seed is its cardboard packaging.
When my products arrived in the mail, I thought, "No way will these last."
Seed partnered with the packaging company Ecologic based in Manteca, California. Together, Seed and Ecologic created the first paper-based shampoo bottles.
Seed's bottles are composed of post-consumer recycled paper on the outside, with a post-consumer plastic lining on the inside. The result is a bottle with 60 percent less plastic than an average shampoo bottle.
Additionally, Seed partnered with TerraCycle to encourage customers to recycle their plastic pumps. You simply save the pumps from your bottles, request a prepaid recycling envelope and send your pumps off to TerraCycle.
Another impressive value is Seed's commitment to supporting independent American farmers.
I love small business, and I shop locally whenever and wherever I can. Agriculture is a business like any other, so I was delighted to learn that Seed supports small organic farmers by funding their crops up front, regardless of what they produce, in an attempt to foster independent independent agriculture and organic crops.
How I used Seed
Seed offers a handful of different shampoos, conditioners and leave-in hair products. Seed also offers a few facial cleansers and moisturizers, lip balm, body wash, body lotion and hand soaps.
I used the moisture shampoo ($24), moisture conditioner ($24), superseed serum ($55) and lip balm ($12). I replaced my usual shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer and lip balm with these four Seed products for two weeks straight.
I'd been using the same products for years on end, so I was nervous to outright switch them out without any sort of phasing or weaning. But, I figured the worst that could happen was a bad hair day, so I took the leap.
What I liked
Overall, my experience with the products was pleasant. The aroma of all four products is earthy and soothing, and reminded me of the eucalyptus lotion I used to slather on during the hot summer months in the South to ward off mosquitoes.
Seed's packaging is its hallmark characteristic. Made of cardboard, I surely thought my bottles would droop and eventually break in the shower. I couldn't have been more wrong. My Seed bottles were perfectly intact at the end of my two-week test, and I'm sure they'll remain that way until I recycle them.
The conditioner surprised me: My hair is fine and frizzy, and it tangles easily due to the corkscrew nature of my curls. I need a seriously heavy-duty conditioner to detangle my hair without pulling out chunks. Seed's moisture conditioner did the trick, though I still employed my usual leave-in conditioner after my shower.
The lip balm stole a spot on my favorites list -- a hard place to come by, as I'm a lip balm junkie and have a drawer full of nearly 20 tubes. Seed's lip balm is smooth and slightly watery compared to other brands, such as Chapstick and Burt's Bees.
What I didn't
Only a few things about Seed threw me off, most of them minor.
I was a bit put off by the lack of lather in the shampoo. Mid-wash during my first use, I wondered if I needed to add more, but then I remembered that sulfates, specifically the chemical sodium lauryl sulfate, are responsible for the lathering effect in most shampoos and soaps.
So while I can't say I enjoyed the lack of lather (bubbles just make everything feel cleaner), it's something I could get used to for a product that would benefit my hair more in the long run.
As for the Superseed Serum, I was a bit dismayed at the amount of product I needed to feel like I adequately coated my face. For such a small bottle, I thought a little would go a longer way.
What I learned
After testing out a few Seed products and researching sustainable beauty, I understand the level of difficulty present in independent and organic farming, as well as environmentally friendly product development.
As much as I admire companies committed to sustainable beauty, I don't think these kinds of products will ever fully replace what's in my bathroom. I see myself mixing and matching environmentally friendly products with traditional products because, well, the traditional products work for me, despite questionable chemicals.
I occasionally ruminate about the ingredients in my supermarket-bought shampoo and conditioner, but the truth is, my personal care regimen is inexpensive and easy, and I don't want to entirely give that up.
Should you buy it?
You should try Seed if:
- You admire and want to support sustainable companies and agriculture
- You're concerned about chemicals in your current personal care products
- You have the budget to spend more on personal care
- You're looking for a natural alternative to what you currently use
I'm all for trying new things -- you never know what you might love -- but if none of the above apply to you, you're probably OK to stick with what you have now.
Just a heads up, you shouldn't buy Seed if you're allergic to sunflowers or sunflower seed oil, because sunflower seed oil is the base of all Seed formulas.