Raise the bar a bit more

Last week, I wrote about how I switched to a simpler body-cleaning regime. This not only saved some plastic bottles from ending up in landfill (or at best at the recycling factory) but also saved me time and money. Here are some more suggestions on how to green your beauty routine.

Lotions

I read about some people who stopped using all types of lotions and moisturisers and their skin recovered to the point where the natural oils are enough and they don’t have a need for any creams and lotions. I do get it as my boyfriend has never used any lotions and his skin is perfectly happy. I do think, however, that girls’ skin has a different structure which can benefit from lotion and let’s be honest, the cosmetics ads have this down – it feels pretty damn good, to massage a blob of nice smelly stuff into your skin after a shower! In the future, I might consider trying to go without any lotions but for now, I keep at it…

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My hand cream and moisturiser

 I have some The Handmade Soap Company body lotion I bought last year but even though it smells and moisturises really nicely, it is packed in a plastic bottle which I’d rather avoid once I use this one up. I got two ‘massage cubes’ from Ponio which look like a really promising replacement. (I spoke about Ponio in my previous post.) These cubes are solid blends of shea and cocoa butters that will melt once warmed up in your hands. They can be used as a lotion for your face, body and all limbs. Basically, imagine slathering some chocolate over your body. Yep. That good.

The Burt’s Bees hand cream I got recently as a gift and I am happy that it’s in a metal tube which is recyclable. A little goes a long way here and it’s made from natural ingredients. I tend to have dry skin which is sensitive to too much water, so having a good hand cream is important. To be perfectly honest though, I am not too mad on the smell. Maybe I am weird. But I do find it a bit overpowering. Once I use this one up (or find someone to give it to?!), I will experiment with other alternatives and making my own hand cream concoction…if I don’t decide to go without in the meantime!

With winter coming soon, a lip balm is also essential, even though I found out that when properly hydrated from inside my lips get chapped much less. I got an artisan beeswax balm in my hive-share pack from the Brookfield Farm earlier this year. It’s packed in the cutest little tin and smells amazing. Hopefully it will work too!

Tools – brushes, razors & co.

The two worst landfill offenders from the bathroom are toothbrushes and disposable razors.

There are a lot of problems with plastic toothbrushes and this infographic says it all…

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The best solution to date are toothbrushes made from a sustainable resource like bamboo. Bamboo happened to be the fastest growing plant on earth. It also contains naturally-occurring antimicrobial agents hence there is no need for using fertilizers or pesticides during its cultivation. It’s a tree so the toothbrush handle is biodegradable. As for the bristles, Nylon 4 (a synthetic polymer) is believed to be biodegradable in about 3-4 months in an active compost. There are brushes with Nylon 4 infused with bamboo fibre which are also said to be compostable. Other sources say that the only option for the bristles to be natural and biodegradable is boar hair which is a questionable source. I suppose the the next best thing is a plant-based material that can be recycled. There are a good few companies that produce bamboo toothbrushes so it comes down to what is available where you live. I got some WooBamboo toothbrushes some time back as they were the only brand I could find to be sold close to Ireland (in the UK) so the transportation costs would be minimised. What I didn’t like about these brushes was that they were single-packed in a PET blister with a cardboard back. They actually answer the question why plastic packaging on their website. I mean I do get their point but still, the next time, I will buy ones that are packed in compostable packaging, probably from Brush with Bamboo.  

tools

The tools. 

Statistics say that, in the United States alone, 2 billion disposable razors are thrown out every year. Now, that’s a lot.

Thankfully, there are alternatives. You can either go total badass and master the use of a straight razor but if you, like me, prefer not to bleed to death every time you shave, a ‘closed-combed reusable razor’ is a much better option. The blades are from metal which is recyclable, however, you would need to find a local recycler who accepts them. They do exist though so have a look around your area… (Mental note: look for one around Dublin!) Once you buy the handle though this will, with proper care, last you a lifetime, may I say. I actually got mine at my parents’ house, which my grandma bought for my grandpa years ago but he never got to use it. That’s why mine has added emotional value for me as I always remember him when looking at it!

The collection of tools is completed by a nail clipper, scissors, tweezers (have these for ages) and a pumice stone I got last year in an amazing shop in Belgium last year. Seriously, if you ever close to any Dille & Kamille shop, do pay them a visit. It’s like in heaven.

To complete the full list, I need to add a hair brush, plastic but very durable, a blow-drying-brush which I got about 5 years ago in Barcelona (memories!) and a small hairdryer. I got it as a gift for travelling but it’s so small and handy it became my ‘main one’. Even though since I swapped to the solid shampoo bar, I don’t even need to blow dry my hair as it actually looks respectable just air-dried. In my case having short hair means also much less maintenance…happy days.

In summary, I have to say immodestly that I am pretty happy with myself and the fact that I eliminated almost two thirds of cosmetics products once I used and swapped the ones I was using for better and greener alternatives.

Did you take the plunge and tackle your beauty routine? What was the easiest and the hardest?  Let me know in the comments!

Raise the bar

Before I embarked on my Zero Waste journey, my cosmetics arsenal would have included on average 20 beauty products and I’m not counting the likes of samples, hotel souvenirs and free-with-purchase miniatures that were mostly collecting dust in my bathroom anyway. My beauty routine involved lotions, tonics, creams, gels, pastes, mousses, sprays and more lotions. All to make me feel cleaner, softer and, as advertised, possibly even younger!

The catch is that all conventional beauty products have a few basic flaws. Firstly, from the plastic-free and zero-waste point of view, they all come in plastic bottles (with the exception of some more luxury creams that come in glass)…but mostly, cheap plastic is the go-to packaging. Secondly, the conventional cosmetic products contain some rather questionable ingredients that may negatively affect our health, like petroleum-based ethoxylated surfactants, optical brighteners and so on. There are numerous articles pro and contra synthetic ingredients in personal care cosmetics but I like the simple method of determining if I should get a product or not – if I can’t pronounce the ingredients on the back of the bottle, it’s probably not worth it!

This video from The Story of Stuff may be a bit outdated as there has been progress in raising awareness about the issue but still, European laws are (thankfully) still much more strict and protect consumers.

There is a great project called Skin Deep of the US Environmental Working Group (EWG) (http://www.ewg.org/skindeep) that contains a database of the vast majority of chemicals and their safety ratings. So, if you are unsure about an ingredient in your shampoo/conditioner/moisturiser, you can easily find about its properties.

Myself, in the pursuit of a simpler solution, eager to find alternatives and equipped with Bea Johnson’s book, I gradually made a switch to fewer products which are versatile and also nicely natural.

 

Facial routine

The main part of my plan was to reduce the number of products used daily. Using the first ‘R’ – refuse – I simply stopped using face cleansing lotion, toner or serums. Pure water and a bit of bar soap do the cleaning job perfectly (surprise!). I swapped my well-known-brand moisturiser for a local Irish product that uses only natural ingredients and, most importantly, does a great job and smells even better. I am not only feeding my skin the best food but also supporting a small local business (Bia Beauty) which is a nice bonus. The moisturiser is packed in a glass jar and I’m planning to contact them to see if I could send them my empty containers to be refilled and sent back packaging-free… Even if not, the containers are recyclable or would make a great candleholders 🙂 I experimented a bit with my own moisturiser concoction but it was still a bit too rough for my face so I’ll leave it to professionals!

beauty-routine

Beauty regime streamlined somewhat…

Dental routine

Toothpaste is something I still have to persuade myself to make at home. I tried a few versions with clay and baking soda but haven’t been impressed yet. In the meantime, I picked a natural brand with no petroleum-based ingredients in it and it’s doing pretty well. Yes, it is packaged in plastic but at least it’s recyclable… I saw a video recently about the ingredients in toothpastes – it’s interesting to watch! Especially when you know that a mixture of baking soda and coconut oil can (allegedly :)) do the same thing…

I swapped the alcohol-laden conventional mouthwash for a much simpler homemade version. This might need to be made more often as the essential oils used in it change the taste slightly with time but, since it takes all 2 minutes to mix together, I really don’t mind. Find the recipe here.

Hair-care routine

The change I was most happy with was swapping a traditional liquid shampoo for a solid shampoo bar. I tried one that was soap-based along with some Dr. Organic conditioner (instead of the apple cider vinegar rinse which I still find a bit messy in the bathroom) and it was ok but I wasn’t blown away. My hair was a bit dull and without any volume. I then found shampoo bars that were not soap-based (they contain other plant-based surfactants than soap) and didn’t need any acidic rinse. They were made by a small Slovakian company called Ponio which makes small batches of homemade soap bars, shampoo bars, solid deodorants and ‘massage cubes’. All their products are packed in minimal paper/cardboard packaging and they have great customer service. I ordered some products when I was visiting my parents in Slovakia to minimise unnecessary transport costs! The shampoo bars (I got Sugar Peony and Orient Chai ones) smell amazing and last me a good while which is always a plus.

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Solid shampoo bar from Ponio

Shower routine

From the same folks at Ponio, I also got the Shea Mild Soap which is an unscented soap that lasts ages and effortlessly replaced my shower gel, face cleanser and shaving foam all at once. Streamlining where and when you can. Love it.

Anti-sweat routine

Another item on my cosmetics shelf is a deodorant. I tried a few natural brands like Alverde or Green People which don’t contain any aluminium salts and parabens (some researchers linked these to cancer, some not but sure why risk it !) or alcohol and some of these deodorants are packed in glass. Once I use them up though, I’d like to try making my own with coconut oil, soda and essential oils. (Goals!)

Next week, I will continue with some more tips and tricks for a streamlined beauty regime!

Ups and downs

Switching to a simpler life came with one added bonus – I can engage my creative skills in making things myself. Being made from simple ingredients, they are better for me – and I get the satisfaction of making something with my own paws.

However, as with everything, there are successes and failures. I want to share my experience with homemade potions to encourage you to try something new (and not be discouraged if something doesn’t work)!!

Laundry

As mentioned in my last post, a homemade laundry gel is not only very easy to make but also much cheaper in comparison to store-bought products. I gave it a chance after an experiment with soap nuts which did not work for me at all. I bought a kilo of them when I started looking for an alternative to conventional laundry products. I closely followed the instructions on the nice textile bag. All was well until after a full 40 degree cycle, the clothes came out just simply wet. No feel or smell of cleanliness or freshness. I also probably didn’t fasten the little bag with the nuts properly so they ended up spread all over the wash. I was not impressed! Quickly after this, I decided to look elsewhere. In true zero waste fashion, I thought I would use the nuts for some second-degree laundry (rugs, mats, etc.) but never actually came around to do that. So, if anyone wants to give them a chance, I will happily send them my bag for free!! Maybe you can have better results than me. (Conclusion: Laundry gel – YES, soap nuts – NO)

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Soap nuts vs laundry gel…

 

Kitchen

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Buying in bulk 🙂

As we have a dishwasher, I searched for a recipe for homemade dishwasher tablets. After some internet research and entering the world of opinions on Borax I, luckily, found a recipe that consisted of washing soda (soda crystals), baking soda, salt and citric acid. Simple enough ingredients and simple enough instructions. Basically, mix it all together. Well…. The first batch was great. Consistency was fine, cleaning power decent as well. So I went ahead and bought a bulk pack (a 5kg tub) of citric acid. Hmm. Perhaps a slightly rushed decision. Every batch after the first one just didn’t cut it. The mixture either turned to liquid (this apparently happens in humid conditions – Ireland, duh!), turned to stone (citric acid reacting with the sodas apparently) or didn’t really wash the dishes properly (when the citric acid was added right before the wash). So, after a few trials and errors, I reluctantly went back to shop-bought tablets. I chose the Ecover brand which is supposed to be not damaging to the environment but every tablet is still wrapped in plastic. Not ideal. However, I haven’t given up on this one yet. Especially when looking at that full citric acid tub 🙂 I will try again. Perhaps the drier summer climate will help the result. (Conclusion: Dishwasher tables – MAYBE)

One more nature-friendly swap for your dishes is to change the shop-bought rinse for vinegar. I tried out red wine, white wine, malt and apple cider vinegars. They all worked perfectly and are all cheaper than the original rinse. (Conclusion: Vinegar rinse – YES)

Personal hygiene

I am not a big fan of mouthwash but here and there I like to use it. I don’t like, however, the alcohol-laden Listerine and similar products, so I searched for a natural one. The internet proved to be full of ideas and recipes which were pretty easy with simple and easily found ingredients. I followed the recipe from DIY Natural. Water, baking soda, a few drops of essential oil and you’re done. You can add some xylitol if you don’t like the salty taste of baking soda 🙂 [Recipe I use: Mix together 1/2 cup filtered water, 2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp xylitol, 2 drops of tea tree oil, 4 drops of peppermint oil]. You might need to mix the concoction more often than you buy a bottle of Listerine (big batches are not really wanted as the oils blend and the mouthwash changes taste slightly) but it literally takes 2 minutes and I am fine with that. (Conclusion: Mouthwash – YES)

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Some time back, I came across an article on Treehugger about natural body scrubs and said to myself that I am going to try them out! I picked the last one with sea salt and oil. I used some sea salt that I bought in bulk (well, bulk-ish – a 2kg tub), olive oil from the kitchen and added some dried lavender from my garden. I mixed everything in a nice little Kilner jar and put it in the bathroom. But, boy oh boy, what a mess trying to use it! Maybe I am just fussy but it just didn’t work for me. The oil was everywhere and most of it was soaked in my towel rather than by my body. Not to mention the bathtub was all oily and slippery after use. I suppose if you use very hot water for your shower (which I don’t), it wouldn’t be as bad. Either way, I was happy when I finally finished the jar. I still like a good scrub though so might try the dry one – no added oil – less mess guaranteed. (Conclusion: Oil scrub – NO).

At the local market, a girl was selling homemade cosmetic products and I was curious to try her natural clay toothpaste. I tried it twice. The second time just to reassure myself that this is not for me. I am not sure if it was the weird texture or the extra salty taste. Simply put, it was just yuck. But then again, that’s just me – my friend used it and loved it!! I happily traded her Waleda toothpaste for my clay one. Until I find something else acceptable to brush my teeth with (pure baking soda sounds like a very unlikely candidate for me), I will keep using the Kingfisher natural toothpaste. Smooth and refreshing. I like. (Conclusion: Clay toothpaste – NO)

Cleaning

If you haven’t tried it yet, the internet-praised cleaning power of baking soda and vinegar is, in fact, true. I was a bit sceptical at the beginning as it did seem a bit odd just to scrub the bathroom with some white powder and spray what is basically a sour water but it does work. The child in me also loves the fizzing when you mix those two together 🙂 There are dozens of uses for this combo but I mostly use them to get the bathroom to a spotless condition. Including that pesky black mould that is an organic part of an (c)old house in a humid country. (Conclusion: soda and vinegar – YES)

There are many more but these are just a few examples of fun stuff you can try to make yourself ! Homemade soaps, lotions, shampoos…all you need is an open mind and maybe a bit of patience 🙂