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.