This personal-care startup wants you to ditch single-use plastic products - I tried its bar shampoo and mouthwash tablets and was pleasantly surprised

Product SuiteBy Humankind

  • By Humankind is a personal grooming line that aims to eliminate single-use plastic. Once you use up a stick of deodorant or mouth wash tablets, you can order refills online without an added container.
  • Products are free of ingredients that have been linked to harmful health effects, so they're safe for daily routines. Find all the ingredients explained here.
  • I tried By Humankind Shampoo ($12.95), Mouthwash ($9.95), and Deodorant ($14.95) to see how they perform in real life. Overall, they're a good option for personal grooming. They won't be for everyone, but they perform well if you're willing to adapt to a slightly new process.

If you were so inclined, you could measure our lives in a breadcrumb trail of plastic bottles. Months and years accumulate into piles: shampoos, deodorants, laundry detergent bottles, cleaning supplies... the list goes on.

It makes sense. Plastic is one of the most convenient materials in the world - it's lightweight, strong, and cheap. Some have said it's what made modern life possible. But it takes an estimated 450 years for one bottle to biodegrade. (For context, if the Mayflower's pilgrims had discarded plastic six-pack rings when they arrived, they'd likely still be around.) And while recycling seems like a solution, a 2018 report found that the vast majority of plastic - 79 percent- is actually in landfills or discarded as litter.

One of the most prolific offenders is personal care items. They're part of our daily routines, and that $10 shampoo bottles is often partly or fully unrecyclable. Instead of being reused, it becomes a discarded relic of a 3-week portion of our lives.

Enter By Humankind, a startup co-founded by Brian Bushell and Joshua Goodman to eliminate single-use plastics from daily routines. To do it, they created a line of high-performing products that utilize safe ingredients and come in refillable containers. When customers run out, order refills arrive in paper-based pods.

By Humankind offers a range of grooming products priced from $10 to $15.

As of now, By Humankind offers shampoo, mouthwash tablets, cotton swabs, and deodorant ranging in price from $9.95 to $14.95. Customers can choose their favorite scents, and the color of their refillable containers.

Mouthwash tablets ($9.95) are formulated with baking soda, menthol, and natural flavoring among other natural ingredients. Just drop one into a bit of water to use.

Shampoo bars ($12.95) are cold-pressed through a process that includes three weeks for bars to cure, which creates harder bars that lost longer. They contain all-natural ingredients and are free of sulfates that can strip hair of natural oils.

Cotton swabs ($9.95) are 100% biodegradable, made from bamboo and cotton.

Deodorants ($14.95) are made from all-natural ingredients. The startup cites research from an independent certified lab that their particular formula is 40% better at killing Staphylococcus hominis (the bacteria that causes body odor) than other leading natural deodorants.

For curious, in-the-know shoppers, By Humankind is transparent about their ingredients and lists them here on the site.

By Humankind formulas were designed first and foremost to pass performance tests.

One major concern with alternative products is that what you gain in safety you lose in performance. But By Humankind's natural formulas were designed to pass performance tests. According to Bushell, "For the deodorant, that meant killing body odor-causing bacteria faster than the leading product. For the mouthwash, that meant a clean that lasted, without the burn typically associated with mouthwash. For the shampoo, that meant a thick lather that cleaned thoroughly without stripping hair of the natural oils that give hair its vibrancy."

Beyond refillable containers, By Humankind aims to minimize your impact on the environment.

For every purchase of a product that comes in a plastic container, one dollar goes toward removing plastic waste from the ocean. By Humankind containers are also guaranteed for life.

On top of using refillable containers and sending refills in paper-based pods, Bushell told Business Insider the company has other eco-friendly practices in place, including using recycled pulp whenever possible and avoiding seasonal products.

Over the course of a year, Bushell estimates that anyone who subscribes to the site's current offerings will eliminate approximately 5 pounds of single-use plastic waste.

The company is young at 6 months old, but its founders have a veteran eye.

Bushell and Goodman both have an impressive track record of investing in the right new ideas. Bushell was the founding CEO of Baked by Melissa, and Goodman led marketing efforts for Bonobos and Outdoor Voices as well as the e-commerce arm of both presidential campaigns for Barack Obama.

Products that address plastic waste - designed for a burgeoning wave of eco-minded shoppers - are their latest effort.

To see if the products could live up to the worthwhile company ethos, I tried By Humankind shampoo, mouthwash, and deodorant.

BarSuite2By Humankind

Shampoo, available in three scents, $12.95

Order refills here

I'm a fan of shampoo bars because they're eco-friendly and economical - without the unnecessary addition of water, the super-concentrated bars last far longer than traditional options. They're also easier to travel with, though you'll want to also get a soap dish for your at-home shower. This one smells good, foams up nicely, and leaves my hair feeling both clean and hydrated. As someone who has had keratin treatments in the past, I also appreciate the versatility of it being sulfate-free. Like all shampoo bars, it'll require newcomers to adapt slightly to a new process, but this bar lathers well. If I could only buy one thing from the line again, it'd be this.

MouthwashInCupBBy Humankind

Mouthwash, available in two container colors, $9.95

Order refills here

These were ideal for camping and traveling since they come in a compact container and aren't liquid, but it took me a while to get used to them. You drop a tablet into a bit of water and swish that combination around in your mouth. You won't have that my-throat-is-on-fire feeling associated with a lot of traditional brands, but my mouth did feel cleaner after using.

DeodorantKindfill+ContainerBy Humankind

Deodorant, available in four container colors, $14.95

Order refills here

I love the idea of natural deodorants, but most of them simply don't perform as well as formulas that utilize aluminum or parabens (the potentially harmful ingredients required by the FDA to call a product an actual antiperspirant). By Humankind's deodorant worked well enough for me on days with minimal activity, but didn't entirely combat stink on New York's hot summer days. I relied on traditional antiperspirants for times when I really couldn't get by with smelling slightly musky. All in all, I'd recommend it if you're committed to the cause or are looking for a passable-but-not-perfect option, but not if you're expecting it to perform like Degree at the gym.

Bottom line

Overall, By Humankind addresses environmental concerns with good products and perks for shoppers. If you're not willing to adapt your habits slightly, though, you probably aren't going to appreciate them enough to keep buying. I'm a fan of shampoo bars and like By Humankind's bar enough to keep buying it, and the mouthwash tablets are small miracles for things like traveling and camping. If you're curious and open to making your routine more eco-friendly, you'll probably like what you're getting yourself into.

Shop By Humankind personal care products here

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Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Insider Picks team. We highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partners. We frequently receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We operate independently from our advertising sales team. We welcome your feedback. Email us at insiderpicks@businessinsider.com.

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