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Month Less Plastic: Personal Hygiene

shampoo, soap, toothpaste (pale pink powder at front), coconut oil, baking soda

I am from a part of the world where it’s not unusual for people to celebrate their bodies by, say, going without deodorant, eating whole cloves of fresh garlic, growing out their armpit and leg hairs regardless of gender, and adding organic essential oils to skin, hair, clothing, and whatever else they touch. There are many here who wear unfashionably clunky shoes, go without makeup, and prize fresh-from-bed hair, and I am a member of this tribe (except for a bit of thing for toenail polish). I spent my time (three years) in the “No ‘Poo Movement“, living without shampoo. I got through the first two years on baking soda and apple cider vinegar, and added in egg yolks and coconut milk during year three. Then I finally realized that my hair was looking beyond dreadful, like trampled grass in the driest summer, and I switched back to bottled shampoos. There are pockets of natural body care believers here in the Pacific Northwest, and I live in one of them, or at least a transitional pocket, in which the Great Unwashed of today live and work side-by-side with those who wear chemical antiperspirants and synthetic perfumes. There’s an approach to personal hygiene for everyone here. Here’s mine, lower plastic style:

Bar Shampoo We ran out of shampoo over the weekend, so it was time to get serious about a plastic-free refill. We’re done with things that come in plastic bottles, and a little bit of sleuthing unearthed a bar of J.R. Liggett’s Old-Fashioned Bar Shampoo. So far, so good. We wash our hair about once a week in this family, so we’ve only got one washing with our new bar shampoo to talk about so far. It worked on Miss M’s curly-curly hair, on Miss A’s straight hair, and on my whatever hair, and didn’t need a follow-up conditioner. We let our hair air-dry, then applied a tiny bit of coconut oil to the ends. If you see us around town, you can decide how you think we’re looking; I think it’s impossible to see a difference between our old plastic bottle shampooed hair and our freshly plastic-free ‘dos. It may be that a bit of vinegar rinse will be needed once in a while to remove any buildup, but that’s easy to come by sans plastic (well, except for the plastic cap on most bottles of vinegar).

Bar of Soap Nothing fancy, just a classic bar of soap for washing hands, and yet it took me a while to arrive here. This bar of soap is a big change for us, since we’ve always had a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Magic All-One liquid castile soap by each of our sinks. Alas, as much as I love Dr. B’s fair trade & organic soaps, they come in  plastic bottles (albeit 100% post consumer recycled content bottles), and our bottle ran dry last week. I looked up recipes for DIY liquid soap, but they all involved ingredients from plastic bottles. Then I remembered the most obvious solution: A simple bar of soap. Yes, it’s going to get a bit gloppy and messy, and it does require the girls to learn a new set of hand-washing skills, but I know they’ll figure it out. I’ll try to think of the eventual goo as our own plastic-free version of liquid soap. This bar, Aptera Olive Oil Soap, is made from saponified olive oil, water, and a trace of mineral salts.  It took us some time in the soap section of our local grocery store to settle on this one. There were a couple of soaps without wrappers, but they each had artificial colors and fragrances (and one came with a plastic UPC code sticker on each bar). This brand had more packaging (a paper box without any plastic wrap), but it didn’t have any of the artificial additives we strive to avoid. As an added bonus, I think it was the least expensive bar of soap in the store.

Zero Waste Toothpaste We make this ourselves. Baking soda, finely ground sea salt, peppermint oil, and some powdered tropical fruit flavored stevia drink mix. We have a little plastic tub of the drink mix, and have been using it for the past year to sweeten and flavor our toothpaste. When it runs out, which will probably happen in about a year (this stuff is concentrated!), we’ll switch to powdered xylitol from the bulk department of our grocery store and some fruit extract from a glass bottle. Stevia does not promote tooth decay, and may help inhibit it, and there’s even more evidence that xylitol can reverse tooth decay as well as inhibit it.

Want to mix up your own zero waste toothpaste? Put a cup of baking soda into a small mixing bowl, then add fine sea salt; we use a couple of teaspoons of salt to about a cup of baking soda. Mix well, then taste. Believe it or not, the salt is going to take the edge off the plain baking soda (if you’ve ever brushed with nothing but baking soda, you’ll know what I’m talking about; it can be an intense and rather unpleasant experience). You want enough salt to mellow the soda, but not so much salt that it hurts. If you’ve added too much, just pile some more baking soda in to correct the balance. Add a few drops of peppermint oil, or the extracts/oils of your choice (I like mint and lemon combined, or mint and orange, or anise by itself), and some powdered xylitol or stevia, all to taste. Don’t be scared, give this a try. Tinker around a bit and remember that you’re making this toothpaste for yourself: Make it taste the way you like it. The xylitol and stevia have high per-pound prices, but you’ll only need a tiny amount (1/4 teaspoon of pure, powdered stevia is enough to sweeten an entire rhubarb pie, for instance). When you’ve got a mix you like, store it in a small jar.

When it’s time to brush your teeth, get your toothbrush a bit damp with fresh water from the sink (shake off any big droplets), then dip the brush into the toothpaste and get busy cleaning your teeth and gums. I know other people who store this sort of toothpaste/powder in a shaker and dust their brushes, but we like a nice coating on ours. Because this isn’t exactly a germ-free delivery method, we each have our own wee jar of toothpaste to dip our brushes into. Both of my girls like this toothpaste so much, they’ll eat it straight in between brushings.

Coconut Oil or, as it’s known in our house, cocobella. I buy organic extra virgin centrifuge extracted Wilderness Family Naturals coconut oil 64 ounces at a time, in large glass jars. That’s a lot of coconut oil, and no small expense, but I use it in place of butter for casein-free baking (and I do a lot of casein-free baking, hence the large jar). Along with the baking, we have a jar just for ourselves: We use it as lip balm, all-over body and face lotion, leave-in conditioner for our hair (a light coating on the ends and damaged areas is just the thing), and a tablespoon in hot bath water makes for a very healing soak for dry skin in winter.

Plain Baking Soda Thanks to Beth Terry and her Plastic-free Living Guide at her incredible blog My Plastic-free Life, baking soda, plain and simple, is my new deodorant. I’ve been using it for years as my main household cleaner, and as a skin-soother in the girls’ bath water, but putting it on skin was a new idea to me. I’m a few days into this, so I’m not sure exactly  how effective it is, but I think it’s at least as good as, if not better than, both my beloved Weleda wild rose natural deodorant and the stick of standard, mainstream scary chemical deodorant I have stashed away for events that require a mainstream American smell (family weddings, job interviews, those sorts of high stakes occasions). The little cotton square in the photo is my DIY deodorant applicator; I’ll make a more durable powder puff when I have time, but this is working for now.

Those are our main Personal hygiene Less Plastic items. I’m sure I’m forgetting something! Oh yes, toothbrushes! And floss! We’re working on affordable plastic-free alternatives for those. So far, we have Preserve toothbrushes that are made from recycled yogurt tubs, and that can be sent back to the company for further recycling once they’re worn out. But we also use Sonicare toothbrushes, and there aren’t any plastic-free or recycled options for replacement brushes there; indeed, the whole Sonicare toothbrush is a study in electrified plastic. I once found some silk dental floss in a recyclable plastic container, but that was quite pricey. Given the way we go through dental floss, we need a big old spool of it on a cardboard core, like the bulk rolls we cut from when I was a dental assistant, but with floss made from natural fibers. Does such a think exist? Do you have other favorite plastic-free personal care items? I’d love to hear about them!

2 comments on “Month Less Plastic: Personal Hygiene

  1. [...] We first got ourselves some bamboo toothbrushes and have enjoyed them immensely. Combined with our zero waste toothpaste, they’ve been getting our teeth and gums clean in a plastic-free way. When we’re done [...]

  2. love this post! thanks for all of the plastic-free tips! i was using backing soda in my hair for a while, but it became hard to maintain while traveling. i found that a little of JR Liggett’s worked like a charm and that regular natural bar soap was good enough for my whole body and hair. i intend to never buy a bottle of shampoo again — and noy does that feel good.

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