Green, Low-Maintenance Beauty

My attempts to start cutting chemicals out of my life this year have naturally spilled over from household cleaning products into my personal care products. Today I want to highlight a couple of changes I’ve made to my routine so far.

First off, one of the easiest things I did was stop using body wash and start using all-natural bar soap. This cuts down on plastic that needs to be recycled, and also on chemicals. At the moment I am using Pure & Natural soap. It’s free of a lot of chemicals, and uses mostly natural ingredients. And, the packaging for the soap so biodegradable that it includes seeds and tells you to stick it in some dirt and water it. This soap has been working out just fine for me. I picked it up at Target with a couple of coupons, and I think it was on sale that day, too. They have several different fragrances, but I barely notice the smell. (I think I have the cherry & almond at the moment).

Now, on to the slightly bigger steps. For as long as I can remember, I have washed my hair every day. This is not what hairdressers recommend, as it strips away the natural oils that keep your hair healthy and shiny. However, for those of us blessed with overactive oil production, things get a little gross. I used a lot of Herbal Essences, primarily because it frequently goes on sale and there are often coupons for those products. Imagine my surprise earlier this year when my hairdresser commented that my hair was dry and recommended some essential oils to condition it. What?!

I have also washed my face twice a day, every day, another supposedly drying practice. Mostly I have used Oil of Olay products, but at various times I’ve used products from the Body Shop and Kiehl’s. As someone with very bad skin as a teenager, this was something I did without a second thought. And for a long time, if I slept in makeup I could be guaranteed to break out at least a little bit. As I’ve gotten older, that has stopped to be the case (thank heaven), but I still stuck to the routine and only infrequently skipped washing my face.

But in the last year or so, I’ve noticed that on days when I don’t shower (primarily a weekend day when I’m not going out), my hair hasn’t gotten as gross as I expected, and my skin hasn’t seemed to care one way or the other. But I kept on with my routine until earlier this year, when I started thinking more about the products I use. I started thinking about switching to all-natural or organic products; for shampoo I decided I would look for something with a built-in conditioner. This happened right around the time that NPR ran a story about the “no shampoo movement.” (I put movement in quotes because it’s silly to call it that, it’s a way of doing things, not a revolution.) I read up on things a bit and decided to try this out myself.

After several weeks of trial and error, I have arrived at a pretty good routine that works well for me. I alternate days of rinsing my hair with a baking soda solution, and using a moisturizing shampoo by Organix (picked because it was free after rebate at Target). As for washing my face, I always wash it at night to take off my makeup, but in the morning I just give it a little rub with my hands under the water in the shower. I have been doing this for a few weeks now and everything seems just fine. I’ve also switched over to an Aveeno face wash, rather than Oil of Olay. I’ll switch my moisturizer as well, once that runs out.

The switch to the baking soda rinse was, as I said, a process of trial and error. I did some googling and read up on what people were recommending. Essentially, you dissolve some amount of baking soda in about a cup of warm water, and then pour it on your head and scrub your scalp. Rinse well, and then many people follow that with an apple cider vinegar rinse as a conditioner. I haven’t done that, but posters assure one another that you don’t smell like a cider farm afterwards. The trickiest part is figuring out how much baking soda to use. This depends partly on how much hair you have. I started out with a tablespoon, which was a little too much. I cut that back a little bit (maybe 3/4 tablespoon or a bit more?), and that seemed better. Then I got my hair cut, and that amount was too much, so now I’m doing about a half tablespoon; I can probably cut it back even a bit more. Regardless of the amount I’m dissolving it in roughly a cup of water in the shower.

The trick with the baking soda rinse is that you need to rinse your hair really well — a harder thing to do than you might think, given that there’s no lather — and not use too much baking soda to begin with. When you use too much, or don’t rinse well enough, your hair feels dry and brittle (looks fine though, I think). Interestingly, this didn’t happen to all of my hair — I particularly experienced it in the hair on the back of my head, which I guess is where most of the baking soda rinse ends up. Once I washed it with shampoo the next day it was just fine. My original plan was to work up to doing two days of baking soda and one day of shampoo, but for now I will stick with alternating days. I run my hands through my hair a lot (yes, a bad (Blackstone) Valley girl habit), so it really annoys me when it’s not nice and soft. Overall, I am happy with how this is working out, and to my mind the cost savings of not going through shampoo as fast means I can spend a bit more on natural/organic products.

Now, to get back to the new products themselves: I didn’t actually look up any of them in EWG’s Cosmetic Safety Database until I sat down to write this post. And I feel that until you do that, you can’t really be sure how much the packaging has been greenwashed. (All of us NPR-listening, Michael Pollan-reading folks know that there are no real regulations around the use of terms like “all-natural” and the like.) When I looked up these products, it turns out that the Aveeno Positively Radiant Cleanser I switched to scored a 5 (out of 10*), and Organix shampoo and the Pure & Natural soap are not in the database. My previous Olay facewash scored a 4. So, when the Aveeno runs out I think I will try something new, with a lower score. (Ladies, recommendations?)

Of course, when you’re out and about it’s hard to look these things up (unless you have a smart phone). A good rule of thumb (which I admit to ignoring when making these purchases) is to look at the ingredient list and see what you can make of it. Now, I don’t know what a lot of the terms mean on ingredients lists, but I think it helps to err on the side of products with fewer ingredients to begin with, and in particular those with recognizable ingredients (like “shea butter”). This is a rule that I try to follow closely when grocery shopping. It started out as looking for things without high-fructose corn syrup, but at this point I’m looking more closely at the ingredients themselves to see how much food is in my food (versus what Michael Pollan calls “edible food-like substances”). I’m trying to get into the habit of applying the same method to my personal care products.

As a side note, while I was on the EWG Consumer Products page, I looked up the Aveeno sunscreen I have been using this year, and the Aveeno sunscreen products included rated either 5 or 6. (Here’s the 2009 Sunscreen Guide.)

I’ve been making these changes incrementally; partially just to use up products I’ve already purchased. (And I suppose making them incrementally is a good thing, since if I were to have an allergic reaction it might be easier to figure out what caused it. Luckily, I don’t really have any of those contact-type allergies.) Next up is shave gel, so if any of you ladies have a recommendation for that I’d love to hear it. I’d also love to hear it if you have a recommendation for an electric shaver, since I am not going to be so inclined to turn off the shower while I shave my legs once it’s back to winter. (Really, I can no longer kid myself that “it doesn’t take that long, I don’t need to turn the water off.”)

*EWG Ratings: 0-2 recommended; 3-5 caution; 7-10 avoid.

4 thoughts on “Green, Low-Maintenance Beauty

  1. Shave gel– when I remember to use it, I have a small container of Alba Botanica shaving cream that lives in my travel bag. Otherwise, I just use regular old soap. I’m using up a bar of Lush Snowcake right now (gift), but I’m not sure what’s next. BTW, thanks for the sunscreen reviews!

  2. The deal-breaker chemicals for me in body/facial care and cosmetics are anything with the word paraben in it and pthyalates (even though I love to say “pthyalates”.) I also try to avoid the generic “fragrance,” since no one is required to disclose what is included in said “fragrance,” but sometimes you have to cut your losses and I let the fragrance slide.

    I’ve started getting most of my facial care products from Spa Therapy Works on Etsy (I don’t know if I can link in comments, but just do a search). She’s actually located in Abingdon, MD, and is part of the Baltimore Etsy Street Team, so she goes to Pile of Craft and such. I’m currently using tea tree and lime soap, which seems to be doing pretty well with my acne-prone (still!) skin, and has none of that bad stuff, not even “fragrance.” Strangely enough, it even almost TASTES good! (not that I tasted it on purpose. Sometimes things just happen when you wash your face in the shower).

    I also purchased one of her “goats milk shaving soaps,” but I’ve only used it once so far. It will take further testing to determine if it’s actually superior to plain old bar soap. It does have “fragrance oil,” and I’m not entirely sure what that is.

    If you decide to order anything from her, tell her I referred you, and I’ll get a free gift! 🙂

    I wonder, can you pre-mix the baking soda and water, and just have it sitting in the shower, like a regular bottle of shampoo?

  3. Thanks for the recommendations! It seems silly but I always forget that you can just use soap to shave your legs. My mom always had shave gel around and so her routine became mine automatically.

    Tracie, I think you can pre-mix the baking soda. I’m thinking of getting a bottle in which to do exactly that.

    I bet the Spa Therapy Works fragrance oils are some kind of essential oils. Maybe there is some slight difference between the two? From her site it doesn’t seem like it would be some random chemical! I will probably hit her up for something in the future, so I will be sure to name-drop.

  4. I think the potential drawback with regular soap is that it can be drying…of course, now that I think about it, that’s probably more the case with “traditional,” detergent-laden soaps.

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