The No-Plastics Challenge – Personal Care

It seems that everything we use to enhance our physical well-being is made of or contained in plastic. Shampoos, liquid soaps, toothbrushes, combs, hair brushes – all are plastic or contained in plastic or wrapped in plastic.

I have switched to all natural locally made soaps. I developed a rather painful rash on my scalp and back from the shampoo I was using, a commercial brand in a big plastic bottle. This has happened before, so I knew the culprit. I had been using a commercial, “mild” bar soap, and couldn’t get near it without sneezing. Again, I knew the problem, as I have had fragrance sensitivities since my bad episode with a penicillin reaction a few years ago. I’ve bought a bar of laundry soap as well, against the time when the very weak scent of the laundry detergent starts to bother me. Right now, we are using a super-concentrated detergent that comes in a container the size of a drugstore cologne bottle. Four little pumps, and the whole load is clean, with almost no fragrance residue. That’s good for now, but sometimes I need a bar soap for the laundry, espcially if I am doing it in washtubs.

Soap is easy. Anyone can make soap. You can find hundreds of books on making soap. Even lye isn’t that hard – rainwater trickled through wood ash. Saponification is a chemical process that turns fats into soap. A chemist could tell you more, that’s about as far as I can get. Your great-grandmother made it from tallow or cooking fats. It is harsh at first, but mellows as it ages and the alkalines dissipate.

I use a bar soap on my hair. It has no artificial fragrance or colourings, and I just work up a lather between my palms, rub it in, rinse it through. ThenI follow with a rosemary vinegar rinse – cider or white vinegar (I only use Heinz because it is not made from petroleum) with dried rosemary steeping in it for a couple of days, filtered into a spray bottle (which is plastic – I’d use a metal one if I had one.) I spray my hair, rinse it out, and spray it again, which is left in. The vinegar smell evaporates as my hair dries. (You can use other herbs -lavender, chamomile, sage or calendula.) The vinegar cuts any soap residue. Vinegar will work in your laundry rinse, too.

Vinegar isn’t hard to make either. It takes a special kind of yeast called mother of vinegar and some clear fruit or vegetable juice. It is a bit like beer or wine making, with a more sober result.

Toothbrushes that aren’t plastic are hard to find. Here are some resources for either recycled toothbrushes or wooden/boar bristle ones:

http://lifeonplasticearth.blogspot.com: Good post on toothbrush alternatives.

http://fakeplasticfish.com : Excellent blog on learning to live plastic free, with stuff on toothbrushes and toothpaste.

To purchase products: http://lifewithoutplastic.com/boutique : Wooden toothbrushes and alternatives, lots of containers and such, wooden hairbrushes. Expensive, but might be worth it. I would get their wooden toothbrushes.

I have a wooden hairbrush, but I think the cushion that holds the boar bristles is a plastic of some sort. I’ve had it for years. In twenty-five years, I’ve had maybe three hairbrushes, all wooden handled, with natural bristles. I’ve only worn out one, and lost the other.

Combs used to be made of wood, metal, bone or even of amber or tortoiseshell. Amber is anti-static, but that would be a bit pricey. Tortoiseshell is considered endangered, although not all turtle species are. Still, who wants to kill the cute little guys just for a comb? Nice wooden combs are still around, and are quite a pretty accessory. My guess is that a good woodworker could make some combs in different sizes and types, polish them up, finish them (tung oil?) and sell them at craft fairs or farmer’s markets. I’d buy one, especially a wide-toothed detangling comb. Mine gets drafted for combing out warp on the loom quite a bit. Bone is up to you; I’m not opposed to it.

Toothpaste comes in plastic based tubes, no way around it. Even Tom’s of Maine has some plastic to it. They will let you return the empty tube for recycling, though. Toothpaste alts are usually made from baking soda, sea salt, and essential oil. I recommend 3/4 baking soda, 1/4 sea salt, and a couple of drops of myrrh or rosmary or sage essential oil. Myrrh is especially healing to mouth ulcers and inflammations. I rinse with a few drops of myrrh tincture in a 1/4 cup of water every night. The myrrh tincture was made by my local pharmacist, but you might be able to find it at an herbalist.

Toothbrush alts, if you simply couldn’t get a soft bristled small-handled brush, are fragrant twigs – sweet birch and licorice root are two old standbys. Chew on the end until it frays out, then rub over the teeth like a brush, no need for toothpaste or water – many people still do this around the world. Simply cut away the frayed bit when it is too worn. Rinse and set to dry just like toothbrush.

Olive oil and other light vegetable oils are the original skin softeners. Lanolin is an old emollient, used by the Egyptians, but not everyone likes sheep oil on their skin. (It’s precipitated out of the wool, not rendered out of the animal.) Beeswax and olive oil melted together with some essential oil for fragrance is the oldest cosmetic ever made. I still use it.

As for hair dyes, make-up and other popular beauty products – just don’t. Someday soon they may not be available, so don’t get dependent on them. I never use hair conditioners, they are quite unnecessary if you do not dye your hair or expose it to the sun. Many of these products are made of harsh chemicals, including petroleum. The best way to get over them is to get rid of all your mirrors but one small one for brushing your hair and pinning on your cap.

Men who must shave (and it is far from necessary – Nicholas has given it up completely now, saying he doesn’t need to spend time staring at himself) may need to invest in a straight razor or the old-fashioned drop-in disposable of the King Gillette type, although someday the blades might be hard to find; they are mostly a mail-order product now. Shaving cream and gel are just expensive alternatives to hard shaving soap and a brush.

As for feminine shaving – what do I need to say? Why bother? I’m so completely covered from neck to ankle that no one but my husband knows what is underneath. If the man in your life objects, there are natural beeswax methods for hair removal.

I’ll cover feminine hygiene products at a later date; this is a particularly sensitive topic amongst women!

Less attention to self and more attention to others, a cheerful and good-hearted acceptance of oneself as God made thee, and a life rich in work for the Lord will replace the need for self-adornment.

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23 thoughts on “The No-Plastics Challenge – Personal Care

  1. Brilliant!!

    I have owned natural bristle timber brushes at times over the years; even Guide Dogs used to issue these as part of the grooming kit one receives with their dog; I still have my second guide dog’s timber bristle brush; beautiful!! As for timber hairbrushes, body Shop sells these in australia; the timber ‘teeth’ of the brush are embedded in a rubber cushion (that smells like natural latex – hope it is natural latex… they also sell metal combes, though it is said metal can split hair. the last time I encountered a timber bristle tooth brush was in a high end department store here in sydney 27 years ago; so wanted to buy it!! if one wishes to purchase ‘twig’ toothbrushes, search for ‘Muslim Toothbrush’ on-line; many Muslim online clothing retailers sel these. Though Body Shop has substituted traditional glass containers in many cases with plastic, they will take back the plastic containers, which are recyclable grade (if one has a recycling service in their area).

    I remember toothpaste and creams used to come in aluminium tubes with little metal caps. As for shampoo, around a third of the population has a hairtype that responds well to a radical but doable ”no poo’ approach. I’ve gone down this route for the past three years ever since a prominent ABC (Australia) radio announcer bit the bullet; he has used it once in the past three years. if one has an oily complexion/hairtype this will likely not work. the trick with it is getting over the first six weeks, as the scalp regulates its natural oil-production. You’l go through a greasy itchy period, but by the sixth week, it should have balanced out nicely. I have very long hair, down to the tailbone, and would give it a hot water wash (ehm, that’s a secret).. let us say, seasonally at best) and I do not have lank, odourous hair, no scalp flaking or residual smells after cooking; I wear it in a bun with buncover every day and the weathered ends are bearing up very well (haven’t visited a hair dresser in five years) and its still fluffy kitten soft. It gets a jolly good brush twice a day, and fine metal combout (this hasn’t split my hair, thankfully, and clears out loose strands excellently) once a week. As I’ve mentioned, only around a third of people have a skin/scalp complexion that makes this possible. I have also tried rosemary infusion as a hair tonic; it was lovely, but I hadn’t warmed it up after it’d steeped…silly mistake!! 🙂

    There are some excellent lye and non lye soap making sites on the net; as the soap cures, the harshness dissipates. As for moistureiser, I use cocoabutter but if it isn’t fair trade, this has some pretty ghastly background to it… let’s get off of plastic as much as we can, so in the event, as oil becomes more expensive, it can be used where it is needed most.

    We can do this; these changes , small though they are, are a good thing. Grass roots and all of that.

    • Mother Kay pointed out to me that my vinegar rinse leaves a bit of a spotting effect on the bath tile – oops! It shouldn’t stain though, it’s not got that much rosemary in it. Some people do use baking soda for cleaning their hair, but my skin is very delicate, and I’m afraid the alkaline would strip it too much.

      I think we’ve been sold a bill of goods on hair care, especially, to make us buy products and services. No one worried baout these things until the last century. (One of my sisters was just speechless with anger on this subject – she used to be a beautician, and thinks I’m being – disloyal? Facetious?)

  2. I noticed that the no plastics boutique doesn’t always say what their products are made of. Sometimes they just say “all natural materials.” IMHO, this just doesn’t cut it. What are they hiding?

    • I’m with you – just tell me what it is! Don’t make me ask…As a friend pointed out recently, Asbestos is all natural!

  3. What a wonderful post…. I gave up dying my hair last summer and have been suffering the ‘halo’ effect as my hair which is naturally dark is now showing through. Thank goodness for hats and scarfs!

    Am looking forward to your feminine hygiene product post.

    • Could you use a natural dark dye on the dyed part, or is the idea to just give it up entirely? I know what you mean – I’ve done the same thing as I went from a blonde shade of my natural hair colour, and covering grey, to just not colouring anymore about ten years ago. The ends faded to a sort of weathered red, like I’d been buried in a bog for three thousand years, while my natural chestnut (and grey) colour grew out. I have no dyed hair left at this point, and it’s still a bit weathered on the ends, but it is soft and natural feeling all the way to the ends.

      Halo is a good way to put it; Hollywood types were dyign their hair to look like that and calling it ombre. More dollars than sense, I guess!

      • I was hoping to give up hair dye completely… but my son is getting married in September and….. I will have to confess…. am vain…. so I will probably look into getting a colour put on it for the wedding….

        I have been wondering about a semi-permanant shade – I shall look into it. Thanks :0D xx

      • Look for a temporary colour, or a henna-based one that will just fade out gradually. There are natural dyes that will work. So dye the growing out part the same colour as the roots, and you won’t have to worry about it again. Will it be a shock to your family?

  4. I think that petroleum based products are well entrenched in our lifestyles. Lotions, plastics, wraps, lamp oil, kerosene, propane, etc. For grooming I love Dr Bonner’s soap. I use his Shikaki soap on my hair, on my skin, to wash my hands, and on the animals. I use the dish soap in the sink. It says I can use it in the wash but I’m nervous about using it in a front loader since front loaders use so much less water. What the heck, I’m going to try it today in my laundry! I learned that you don’t need all these dedicated soaps to specific tasks. I do use lotions and moisturizers however. I don’t need a comb since I have dreadlocks.

    • I’ve lived off-grid with propane and kerosene, and having to go fetch them regularly got to be a nuisance, so last time, we did without either. Fine in the summer in the northern latitudes, but as the days get shorter, the house got kind of dark early. (We did use candles – not very good for aging eyes.) A solar charged light would have made more sense.

      I used Dr. Bronner’s years ago – I haven’t seen it much in Canada. How did the laundry experiment work?

      • Ya the laundry experiment didn’t. In all fairness the directions said use 1/4 cup and I used about 1/2 of that out of worry with front loaders using less water. The clothes did not past the sniff test and I ended up washing them again with my Purex. To be fair I’ll use the correct measurement of the Bonners stuff and try again. I do like the Shikaki soaps though.

    • The chlanege here is to find things that can be re-used or recycled. It’s the little bits of plastic that add up – clingwrap, overfilm – those tiny plastic tubes that flavourings and drink mixes come in. I’m trying to be more practical about things like that.

  5. You know I have been thinking a lot on this subject since you first posted about it. Jack and I had bloodwork this morning and it got me to thinking. A dangerous thing I know but I still do it. Think of all the things in the hospital or doctors office made with plastic. It boggles the mind!

    • When Nicholas was in hospital, I was astounded by the amout of non-recycled waste that could have been recycled – I know contaminated products have to be incinerated, and there’s the possibility of infection, but somehow infection control and waste management need to be balanced.

  6. I think just trying to use less plastic in life is the best thing. Locally we can purchase laundry detergent from an Amish store that buy it in bulk, they purchase a 55 gallon drum, you can then purchase the amount you need by taking your own container. I have not tried this, since we are going to use a recipe to make our own laundrey detergent. But whether making it, or purchasing from a bulk supplier the laundry detergent bottle we currently have will last a long, long time. We do not purchase trash bags, instead we use our plastic grocery bags – the plastic bags are saved, used initially to put our homemade bread into, we double bag the loaves in the plastic grocery bags before freezing, once the bread is used we then put the outer bag away for future bread storage, and when the loaf is used up we use the inner bag for our next trash bag in the kitchen. So we are not purchasing trash bags, and we don’t buy bread so we don’t bring home plastic bread bags. We don’t buy bottled water and only purchase soda once in a while. Our biggest plastic waste is gallon milk jugs, unfortunately we do not live where we can recycle, but we do use them twice over, once the milk is gone my husband rinses, fills with water and freezes – he then takes the gallon of ice to work, he works outside, and drinks the slowly thawing water throughout the day.

    • I wish we could buy our milk in plastic jugs – ours comes in bags that require their own little fancy pitcher. When I do get the gallon jugs, I fill them with water and either stow them in the cellar, or right now, in an almost empty freezer. This is our emergency water supply. I try to keep about ten gallons – when I had animals, I kept about thirty gallons. If we lost our power, I had an at-hand supply until I could get to a spring or well. I love the idea of freezing them and carrying them. I’ve done that when I have taken food on a long trip.

  7. Coconut Oil in a glass jar = greatest body product in existance. My tattoo artist (!) wanted me to use aquafor to protect my skin. But it’s petroleum based. I used the coconut oil and he was astounded at how well it works. I wash my face with it every other day, the days in between I use dr bronnor’s. My hair is weird. It dries easily and it’s oily. I tried washing it with just soap – a disaster. I’ve tried the no-wash – same. So I’m currently stuck with shampoo and conditioner.

    • I haven’t used it in years – I didn’t care for the fragrance, but it may have been just that product. I always have olive oil in the house. As for tattoos – my tattoo artist wa a boyfriend, so I’v got a really primitive one and I don’t think I put anything on it. (It’s in a place that is always covered, it’s not offensive in any way, and it was part of my life before I was Plain – I’m not ashamed of it). Unlike some traditional Christians, I don’t object to tattoos. There was some controversy around them back in St. Paul’s day because they were commonly used to identify members of cults, the Roman army and slaves.

  8. I have tried washing my hair with only baking soda and lemon juice and it did work but I was not too fond of it as I always got lemon in my eyes, every time. I can only use 3 brands of shampoo as far as I know and one is very bad, one works very well and one is OK when it comes to how my hair looks. I get a terrible itch from all others I have tried and I have to choose from the ones that do not make me scratch my scalp like I have lice… I cannot use any conditioner so I just have to live with having ‘electric hair’ and I am used to it now but it is sad to always have hair that looks less shiny and flies around like I don’t know what. I must say that since I stopped coloring my hair it has gotten much more lush and seems to have a little natural shine which is intensified now during summer when it is slightly lighter and gets a gold tone. I will put some lemon in my hair next time I am outside for a couple of hours to get some additional highlights but that is as far as I go when it comes to coloring. If I would become terribly sick of my hair color I will color it with henna but I do not think I will do that for several years.

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