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A Review of LastSwab: The Reusable Alternative to Cotton Buds

This review of LastSwab is not sponsored, but the result of my journey to ridding my bathroom of single use plastics. 

While this particular corner of the internet initially began as a space dedicated to travel itineraries, hotel reviews and inspiration for weekend adventures, over the past twelve months it’s taken an unexpected turn. In a twist that even I didn’t see coming, I’ve developed a new passion: reviewing sustainable products dedicated to some of life’s most intimate bodily functions.

The more awkward, the better.

It all began with a review of Wuka Period Pants – the words ‘menstruation’, ‘groin chaff’ and ‘clammy’ making their debut on the pages of Twin Perspectives. Nothing but inspired by the fact I’d managed to dedicate nearly three thousand words to the equivalent of an adult nappy, I quickly moved onto my next assignments: writing about Dame’s reusable tampon applicator, Nuud’s natural deodorant and sustainable toilet paper.

I was – apparently – in the midst of some sort of writer’s epiphany. Was this how J.K Rowling felt tucked away in her Edinburgh cafe? Probably.

After years writing about beautiful travel destinations – from the martian landscapes of Cappadocia, to the winding alleyways of Marrakech, I finally felt at home. Revelling in descriptions of sweaty groins, damp underarms and the softness of bamboo toilet roll against one’s derrière, I enjoyed the challenge of seeing just how many adjectives I could attach to a sanitary towel.

However, my original reason for writing about these products went (of course) beyond my new found fondness for waxing lyrical about bog roll.

Last year, I made a pledge to reduce my dependency on single use plastics. From products I used to cleanse my face, to how I shaved my legs, I wanted to replace my usual throw-away items with new, innovative designs that were not only good for me, but great for the wider environment.

After making a few fundamental and life-changing swaps, I decided to tackle one final hurdle: my dependency on cotton buds. Although I understood that they were notorious single use ‘baddies’, I was finding it impossible to break up with them. From how I applied my make-up, to how I corrected smudged nail polish, these pesky little sticks had made themselves an indispensable part of my life.

Until, that is, I came across LastSwab.

Curious as to how you might make your time of the month more environmentally friendly? Take a read of our reviews of Dame’s fantastic reusable tampon applicator and Wuka’s revolutionary period pants.

A Review of LastSwab: Why Make the Swap?

Why give up traditional cotton buds?

Small and innocent looking they may be, cotton swabs punch far beyond their weight when it comes to environmental damage.

On average, it’s estimated that in the UK we use 1.8 billion single use plastic, cotton swabs every year. While this statistic would be improved if cotton swabs were the sort of thing you used time and time again, the sad reality is that they’re used on average for less than a minute before being thrown out.

Which, of course, is when problems begin.

Cotton Swabs and Our Oceans

Like many of you, I clearly remember seeing the photograph of a beautiful, tiny sea-horse near Indonesia dutifully dragging behind it a waterlogged cotton swab (captured by Justin Hofman). It was an unsettling photograph and underscored the impact our single use lifestyle is having on the environment of these tiny, vulnerable creatures.

Although cotton swabs should be put in the bin (although their degradability is yet another challenge), they are normally thrown down the toilet. In the UK, it’s thought that at least 10% of cotton buds are flushed – or 180 million a year.

As a result, cotton swabs account for up to 6% of all plastic pollution found in our oceans. Regularly ingested by sealife, their sharp ends can pierce these animals’ organs and their small and easily swallowed plastic stems are often found in the stomachs of seabirds.

If they don’t settle on the ocean bed, they are instead washed up onto our coastlines, where an even greater number of animals can digest them. A 2018 survey found that 27 cotton buds were found for every 100 meters of UK beach.

Pervasive, damaging and flushed into our oceans at a terrifying rate, the humble cotton swab is far from harmless.

Environmental Damage: Cotton & Fossil Fuels

Although diminutive in size, cotton swabs are made from two of the world’s greediest ingredients: cotton and plastic.

With 1.8 million cotton buds manufactured every day (worldwide), the industrial effort that goes into the creation of each swab is enormous. One pound of plastic requires 22 gallons of water to make, whilst one kilogram of cotton requires 20,000 litres. The byproduct of this is thousands of gallons of polluted wastewater, much of which is flushed into our rivers and oceans.

Lastly, and even if cotton buds are taken to landfill, they can take up to 300 years to fully decompose. As it stands, 29% of the 90% of cotton buds collected by local authorities (in the UK) are sent to landfill – laying waste (quite literally) to endless environmental damage.

One of the best swaps I made was to Nuud’s entirely natural and sustainable deodorant. Read my full review here.

A Review of LastSwab: What Are They All About?

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: when it comes to Facebook or sponsored Instagram adverts, I’m an embarrassingly easy target.

If this were a fish in a barrel situation, the barrel would be bowl sized and I’d be an Orca whale.

This has had its advantages, I’ve ended up investing in some incredible products (Nuud deodorant, in particular), however, I’ve also wasted good money on a towel that claimed to dry my hair in five minutes – yet is somehow less absorbent than tarpaulin.

Nonetheless, on that fateful day that a post from LastSwab appeared on my feed, I found myself immediately sold. After some initial research into just why I should make the swap to their reusable design, I decided to take the plunge.

Who Invented LastSwab?

One thing I love about LastSwab is their story.

Belonging to the wider ‘LastObject‘ company, who have also designed the intriguingly named ‘LastTissue‘, LastSwab is the vision of sibling designers Isabel Aagaard and Nicolas Aagaard, and their business partner Kåre Frandsen. Designed in Copenhagen, Denmark, this small team is dedicated to finding ‘innovative solutions to wasteful habits’.

Having begun life on Kickstarter, LastSwab had 30,000 backers before its final release. With the team pledging that whatever product they design, it must have at least 10 times the real environmental impact versus the traditional single use products they replace, this is a company that I love for its sheer dedication and genuine desire to do good.

What Is LastSwab Made Of?

Rather than having cotton ends, the tip of each LastSwab is made from TPE (a mix of rubber and plastic). The main stick itself is plastic and the handy little case is made from PLA ,which is made of corn and is biodegradable.

While some might grumble that the majority of the product is made from synthetic materials, the entire point of LastSwab is its longevity.

These aren’t items you’ll use once and throw away, but a product you can use up to 1,000 times; therefore ridding the world of the equivalent number of single use cotton swabs. Yes, they do include plastic, but it’s important to remember that not all plastic is born equal (or evil, in this case).

What Can I Use LastSwab For?

LastSwab is currently available as two different models: ‘basicand beauty‘ (both £10).

While the basic model can be used (gently) for cleaning your ears, the beauty edition is much firmer in texture. Consequently it’s discouraged that you insert one into your delicate ear canal.

However, aside from this, LastSwab – both basic and beauty – can be used for most things. The basic version has a ‘bobbled’ or textured end, whilst the beauty model is smooth and pointed; ensuring it can accurately remove or correct make-up.

How Do You Keep Your LastSwab Clean?

Initially, I was a bit dubious of using LastSwab to repeatedly clean around my eyes and face. I had visions of developing an extreme case of pink eye.

However, it turns out that keeping your LastSwab sanitised is really straight forward. Stick it under the tap, wash it with a little soap et voila: you are good to go. Alternatively, you can use a little hand sanitiser to clean the end (something we all now have by the barrel full).

How Do I Eventually Get Rid of my LastSwab?

Although this isn’t something you’ll need to think about for a while, when you do eventually need to get rid of your LastSwab, simply send it for (what they term) ‘incineration’. If not, just include it in your recycling.

Tired of using plastic, throwaway razors? Have a read of our journey to finding a sustainable, subscription-based razor service

A Review of LastSwab: Pros & Cons

I’ve now been using my LastSwab for a month. After an initial ‘getting to know you period’ (including a few frustrations), I now feel as though I’ve got to grips with using this clever little invention.

Before I start on the pros and cons of using one, I want to make one thing clear – the LastSwab is neither an identical nor perfect substitute for the traditional cotton swab or Q-Tip.

Like many sustainable products, as traditional materials are often substituted for more eco-friendly components, the final product might not be quite what you’re used to. This is absolutely the case with LastSwab and therefore there is an element of needing to adapt to its new normal.

The good news, however, is that once you’ve got a handle on how best to use LastSwab (including learning a few of their insider hacks), you’ll soon be happy to overlook these differences.

Advantages of Using LastSwab

Sustainability Factor

It’s likely that the main reason you’re investing in LastSwab is because you want to reduce your use of single use plastics. If so, then this clever little item is well worth the expense.

The bottom line is that by using LastSwab, you’re preventing northwards of 1,000 cotton buds being thrown away each year. Furthermore, even if your LastSwab does find its way to our ocean beds, it is estimated that its damage would be less than 0.1% when compared to its single-use counterparts.

Easy to Clean

I was a little worried about how I’d keep my LastSwab sanitised, however it turns out that it’s an incredibly easy task. At most, I dip it under some water with a drop of soap and rinse. When I’m in a rush, I tend to just spray it with some sanitising spray and leave it to dry. I then pop it back in its little case and it stays perfectly clean – even when it’s mingling with all my make up and toiletries.

Great for Removing and Tidying Makeup (Especially Eyes)

One common complaint about LastSwab is its lack of absorbency. As the tip is synthetic, you won’t get the absorbing effect of a traditional cotton swab, especially when ‘tidying’ stray mascara or other makeup.

However, LastSwab – via its ‘beauty’ edition – have a solution to this hiccup.

Top tip – before you go to tidy up that pesky eyeliner, dip your LastSwab in natural oil, miscella water or even eye makeup remover. This should remove any mistakes much more effectively than when used without. Yes, it’s perhaps not as convenient as a dab of water or (dare I say it) a little spit, but it doesn’t take long to get used to the routine.

Precision

One reason I decided to opt for LastSwab’s ‘beauty’ edition was because of its design. With a slim, pointed tip and sturdy texture (designed to prevent bending), it’s incredibly easy to get to small imperfections around your eyes. I often found that traditional cotton swabs smudged more of my makeup than they removed – however, LastSwab is designed to prevent just this.

Thanks to the beauty LastSwab, I can now tidy up my liquid eyeliner with precision. It has also been great for blending out concealer under my eyes (where it likes to gather inside my wrinkles).

As such, LastSwab has easily become one of my favourite makeup tools.

The Downside of Using LastSwab

Like many sustainable products, LastSwab is not the perfect alternative to the traditional cotton swab. As I’ve slowly learnt when swapping to eco-friendly alternatives, there is inevitably a number of ‘trade offs’ to make in order to be a little more environmentally conscious.

This little gadget is no different.

For some, these compromises might be considered a deal breaker, while others will be willing to adapt. For me, I still believe that the benefits vastly outweigh LastSwab’s flaws and for that reason, I’m happy to continue to use it.

Not Absorbant

Neither the basic nor beauty version of LastSwab are particularly absorbent. For many, this has been a major disadvantage – particularly those who purchased it to clean their ears with (gently, of course).

Instead, the material tends to ‘move’ water or dirt around, rather than absorb anything. This is certainly something I found with the beauty LastSwab and it was initially quite frustrating (until I started to use it alongside makeup remover).

However, you do eventually get used to how it interacts with products like mascara. I now tend to nudge the eye makeup away from my eye and then wipe it off with a flannel or even my fingers once it’s at a safe distance. This approach is a bit of a compromise, but one I’m willing to make.

Not Heat Resistant 

Due to the plastic compounds found in LastSwab, the tip is not heat resistant. Rather than this meaning that you can’t use it alongside a naked flame (not that I can foresee a scenario when you’d need to do this), it means you cannot use it with nail varnish remover or anything containing acetone.

For me, this was a little frustrating as I regularly use cotton swabs to tidy up my nail polish mistakes. For now, I’ll just have to continue to use the odd paper-stemmed cotton bud for this particular job.

Hard Texture

Unlike a regular Q-Tip, LastSwab is surprisingly rigid and hard. While I quickly got used to this (therefore using it more gently on my face), for many it’s proven too uncomfortable to use in places such as their ears.

However, as LastSwab is made to be durable, washable and able to precisely tidy up things such as mascara and eyeliner, this texture is understandable. Yes, it’s not fluffy and soft, but it is cotton free, sustainable and ultimately effective when it comes to correcting mistakes with pinpoint accuracy.

A review of LastSwab

Interested in learning about our other favourite sustainable products for 2020? Have a peak here at our summary

My Final Verdict: Is Using LastSwab Worthwhile?

LastSwab is a clever, smart and effective substitute to the traditional cotton swab. If everyone made the swap to this product, we could prevent millions of cotton swabs being washed needlessly into our oceans every year; something that surely outweighs a few of this product’s flaws.

Yes, LastSwab is not perfect, but it’s close enough if you’re willing to a show a little patience and flexibility.

Ultimately, I’d advise buying the ‘beauty’ version of LastSwab, rather than the ‘basic’ version. For those of you that tend to use traditional cotton swabs more for your makeup routine, I think you’d ultimately be more satisfied with this as a substitute than if you wanted to clean your ears with it, perhaps.

Precise, delicate and easy to use – particularly with an added drop of natural oil or makeup remover – it’s an incredibly useful little makeup tool.  Yes, it might take a little while to get used to, but once you do I promise that you won’t look back.

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A review of LastSwab

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One response to “A Review of LastSwab: The Reusable Alternative to Cotton Buds”

  1. Very interesting, thanks! Just one small point which is a really important one. Doctors actually advise against EVER using any kind of cotton bud/swab (reusable or not) to clean your ears. At best, you’ll push more wax further down than what you get out and at worst, you could damage your ears. So while I’ve nothing against reusable swabs for makeup etc, I’d be concerned about using them in your ears.

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