It’s hard to avoid using plastic these days. Everything from your food to your cellphone seems to eventually be covered in some (often excessive) form of it. Apart from plastic being a bane on our ecosystem, it’s also not very good for us.
Plastic products contain a variety of additives, some of which can be toxic. For example, plasticizers like adipates and phthalates are often added to brittle plastics like polyvinyl chloride to make them pliable enough for use in food packaging, toys, and many other items. Traces of these compounds can leach out of the product. (Thanks Wiki)
Those traces that leach out of the product are sometimes carcinogenic, endocrine system disruptors. Thanks, but no thanks.
And then there’s everything we buy in that plastic, and how often we have to keep buying it. If you’re a giant hippy like me, you might adhere to the “if you can’t put it in your body, don’t put it on your body” idea or it just simply freaks you out that you use so many ingredients every day that you can’t even pronounce.
So there’s that — your health.
Then, as I mentioned, there’s the planet. How many tubes of toothpaste, bottles of shampoo, toothbrushes, and cans of deodorant do you think you might throw out in a year? My partner is lucky and basically just uses a bar of soap for everything, so he doesn’t count. But if you’ve got long hair and temperamental skin, you go through a lot of bottles and end up with a lot of waste and a lot of trips back to the store.
My health, my wallet and my planet (not necessarily in that order) are the reasons why I went on a mission to end up with a toiletry bag that looks like this:
Here’s how I ended up there:
It started with the deodorant. You might have heard stories linking roll-on deodorant to breast cancer and alzheimers, which have ended up being more like an internet urban myth than anything else, but it still remains that there’s a lot of weird stuff in there.
(Did you know that the EPA in American has tested only 200 of the 83,000 chemicals regularly used to make consumer products?)
So if you do a quick ‘homemade deo recipe’ search, you’ll find a ton of blog posts talking about how coconut oil, bicarb, shea butter and cornstarch will do the trick. And that’s a pretty good start, except it’s very oily, and coconut oil is often too hard to dig into if it’s winter or too runny to catch if it’s summer.
A further search reveals you can add beeswax to your recipe to make it into one of those speedstick-style bars, which are a lot easier to use. But I obviously added too much of the wax because my shirts were left with a waxy sheen in the underarm area after coming out of the wash.
Now, you could just go and buy a pre-made organic brand of deo, but they mostly run about three times the price of a regular one, and then we go back to the ‘constantly buying new plastic’ argument. So I shopped around a lot more and eventually found an affordable pre-made brand called Earthsap. This smelled great and mostly worked to hide any odours, except I used it at about twice the rate I’d use regular deo. So it was more of a stop-gap measure than an actual solution. I went on to Bloublommetjieskloof anti-perspirant powder which came in a tin (hallelujah) but didn’t work on me at all. So I was unsure where to go on the search for a plastic- and toxin-free deo.
And then, thank the hippie lords, I found Lush. They’re against animal testing and try to use organic ingredients or safe synthetics whenever organics don’t work. The plants underneath our greywater system would be so glad!
I wandered in to a Lush store because I’d heard about their shampoo bars. A helpful shop assistant directed me to those, and I found they had conditioner bars too — hooray! No more trying to wash my hair with bicarb and apple cider vinegar! (They are the purple and beige bars in the image above and you can store them in tins.)
I then went on to try Lush’s deodorant bar — middle left in the image above. This is a bicarb-based bar that you rub up on your pits kind of like you’d use a bar of soap in the shower. It’s a bit abrasive for sensitive skin, so you can get abrasive on your fingers rather and then use them to put the deo on, but this is the only chemical-free deodorant I’ve found in many months of searching that truly keeps odours at bay with one application a day. It’s not an anti-perspirant, so you still sweat like your life depends on it, but you don’t smell like you just came out of a gym, which is so great!
The body scrub and face cream/make-up removers were an easy fix thanks to coconut oil. Plain coconut oil is my eye cream, face cream and make-up remover. You need a super tiny bit to not end up with an oily face, and it works really well. Body scrub-making is a fun experiment each time but tends to be a mix of sugar and coconut oil with some parts of bicarb and honey.
And then comes toothpaste.
I’d heard a lot in hippie circles about brushing teeth with bicarb, or bicarb-based toothpastes, but worried about its abrasiveness. Research so far has found that it’s seldom as abrasive as your regular store-bought whitening toothpaste. And there’s a new school of thought on the hippie blogs that focuses on remineralizing toothpaste.
Most store-bought toothpaste contains glycerin, which has actually been shown to weaken tooth enamel over the long-term. That’s because it layers the teeth with a film that prevents the minerals in your saliva from interacting with your tooth enamel.
By making a homemade toothpaste recipe, you can leave out the fluoride and glycerin and instead pack your homemade toothpaste with the minerals your tooth enamel needs. (Thanks Food Renegade)
And then, if you make it yourself, you can store it in a glass jar too.
But the toothpaste is the hardest part to change so far — it’s the weird grey stuff stored in the basil pesto jar in the image above. It’s grey because the recipe I used (in the Food Renegade link above) uses clay powder. Some recipes substitute this for bicarb, which I think will be a bit more abrasive, so in my next batch I’ll mix the two and see if it looks a tad more appetizing. But adding peppermint and spearmint oils means it tastes totally normal (the texture takes a bit of getting used to though), and passed the test of breathing on my partner and having him smile instead of cringe.
The toothbrush above is still an ongoing search. I use an electric one because it means less plastic to throw away when the brush head is over — potentially, for every one regular toothbrush that gets shipped here from China or wherever they’re made, you could fit three of these toothbrush heads. But I’d love to see more brands come out with non-electric brushes with replaceable heads. I know you can get bamboo toothbrushes fairly easily, but they don’t brush well for me, so I’m still looking on that.
And so sits the almost toxic-free toiletry bag. I still use store-bought sunscreen (I had a melanoma on my shoulder recently and I’m not willing to experiment in that area yet), and my hairbrush is plastic, but I’ve cut down on my plastic waste, cost, and feel a lot happier having so many of the same products in my bathroom that are in my kitchen cupboards too. You should try it some time.