Putting Food on My Body: Making Personal Care Products

I’m really going to let my freak flag fly in this one.  First, let me preface by saying that I don’t think that my friends and family* perceive me to be a dirty hippie.  I appear to be a generally washed, groomed, and put-together grad school student, perhaps not as fancy as some since I have a penchant for blue v-neck shirts, black skinny jeans, and black canvas shoes.  I just don’t think that people look at me and think, “Man, she needs some SOAP!”  So with that noted, let me draw you into my magical world of making my own personal care products.

It doesn’t seem super necessary at first, right?  I mean deodorant, face wash, shampoo, lotion, and conditioner is everywhere.  You’ve bought and used them your whole life and you’ve never thought of doing things differently.  That’s what I’m for, folks, gonna shake up your mind just a little.

I like making my own personal care products because they’re cheaper, usually a minute fraction of the cost of store-bought products.  Also they’re healthier, all those polysyllabic names in shampoo ingredients can’t be good for you, right?  And I think they work at least as well as, and sometimes better than, store-bought alternatives.  Plus if you do it the way I do it, you’re making less waste since you can usually get many of the ingredients for these products in bulk.

Shampoo.  I’m doing the no poo thing.  It’s where you stop using shampoo, then start spacing hair-washings, to get to a place where your hair becomes naturally oil-balanced, perfect, shining, bouncing, and always well-behaved. These wonderful things have not happened yet, but I’ve seen drastic improvements in frizziness and head itchiness.  Plus I can now go a couple days between washes and I had been up until now, a religious every-day hair washer.

1 tablespoon baking soda

1 cup (8 oz) boiling water

3-4 drops of essential oil

Boil water (helps to keep the baking soda separate).  Put baking soda into a bowl.  Once water boils pour it over baking soda until well combined.  Allow to cool.  Add in essential oils as desired (I use tea tree which is good for itchy scalp/dandruff and lavender which is calming/nice smelling).  Pour into bottle.  To use: pour onto head and scrub in for a little longer than you would scrub in shampoo.  This recipe is for someone who usually would use shampoo.  Since it can be drying, if you don’t use shampoo too often you could try less baking soda maybe 2 tsp per cup.  I’m trying to cut down to wean myself off.

If you’re interested in a more shampoo-ish version, this is something you might try: http://www.crunchybetty.com/not-ready-for-no-poo-try-sorta-poo-with-coconut-milk-and-castille

Conditioner (sort-of): Apparently the acidity of the apple cider vinegar balances your hair when used after the baking soda.  This is what I use most often and it’s worked pretty well.

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 cup water

essential oils as desired

Combine water and vinegar and pour into bottle.  Add essential oils as desired.  The ACV smell will dissipate once your hair has dried (I can attest from experience) and supposedly if you add essential oils that smell will remain.

Leave-in conditioner: When I wash my hair I usually use a little of this on the ends after the ACV rinse and then rinse out lightly.  It can make your hair look a little greasy, but it’s good for dry ends.

12 oz water

essential oils

1 teaspoon honey

Boil water.  Combine with honey until well combined.  Allow to cool.  Add essential oils as desired.

Lotion: I use oil and essential oils to rub into my skin.  I’ve used olive oil (super oily) and newly acquired jojoba oil (super expensive) mixed with enough tea tree and lavender oil to smell pretty.  Apparently good, affordable oils are sweet almond and sesame.  I have yet to try them, but all four above oils can be found in bulk at my local co-op (the Wedge).

Face Wash (adapted slightly from here)

2 teaspoons castile soap

2 tablespoons vegetable glycerin

2 tablespoons water

1/2 cup olive oil

2 drops tea tree oil

2 drops lavender oil

Clean, empty bottle

Whisk ingredients together to combine well.  Tea tree oil is good for acne-prone skin as it has anti-bacterial properties.  The face wash will probably separate a bit (just some olive oil separating on the bottom) so make sure you put it in a bottle that seals well and will be easy to shake up.  This wash is a little oily, and doesn’t get your face squeaky clean, but the real dirty hippies out there will tell you that ‘like dissolves like’ and oil is actually great for cleaning your face.

Deodorant: The deodorant/antiperspirant I make can be found here. It’s a good tutorial with pics.  I think it works better than what I was using before, but granted that was the crystal stick and was a deodorant only.  Anyway this deodorant smells really pretty.  One commenter on a blog I read said that after using a similar recipe she smells good all the time and feels like she has ‘sunshine coming out of her pits.’  So you know, that could happen.

Disclaimer: For all of these there can be a ‘detox’ period, especially if your body is used to really intense detergents that get you squeaky clean.  Your hair and face might be slightly oilier, and your pits smellier, for a little while but it doesn’t last long!  If you can get through the detox period, you can totes do this.  Maybe start while you’re camping?  I don’t know, I believe in you.

Are you trying any all-natural homemade recipes?  What has your experience been?  If you’re interested in more recipes with more in-depth tutorials and such, check out crunchybetty.com.  That lady is super crunchy!

*With the exception of my mother.  She cannot stand any grease in my hair whatsoever.  I have actually come to prefer my hair a little dirty.

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Learn How to Focus, it’ll Give You More Energy

Do you ever come home from a long day of school, work, bicycling around, hanging with your friends, or you know, generally doing interesting and tiring things, and feel really burnt out but still feel the need to immerse yourself in the internet or otherwise generally waste time?  And do you later realize that the time wasting made you feel more tired?  It’s because when you waste time by watching TV, poking around the internet, or getting sucked into some other form of entertainment, you’re burning up limited cognitive resources.  You’re burning the candle at both ends, friend, and it’s probably why you feel so tired all the time.

Energy is a limited resource.  What’s the point of working an 8+ hour day, getting to and from work, if you get home just to watch TV, end up exhausted, and not have enough energy to cook dinner, see friends, or do things that you really enjoy?  I think there’s very little point.  Then you’re living only for the weekend and 5/7 of your life is lived in an information clogged stupor.

So how do you avoid it?  Realize that you have a limited supply of cognitive resources.  When you spend several hours surfing blogs, checking Facebook, Googling endlessly, you’re burning up your energy supply which means that later you won’t have as much energy to see friends, exercise, cook dinner, or generally do healthy and fulfilling things.  If you realize that your energy is limited, you will begin to understand that spending your time in certain ways prevents you from spending your time in other ways.

Prioritize.  Set limits for yourself.  I personally installed an app to Google Chrome called StayFocusd.  You can mark certain sites as ‘blocked’ and allot yourself only a certain amount of time for each of them.  I get 25 minutes per day for Facebook, Twitter, and the Mr. Money Mustache Forum (what can I say? I’m a frugality nerd).  When I began this, my mind fought against it wanting to waste time and goof around.  The longer I’ve had it (I even cut down from 30 minutes), the less I feel the need to go on those time-suck websites since every time I’m on there I constantly remember that I shouldn’t be.  I also decided to make my bedroom a computer-free zone.  This means that my computer now lives in the living room and is much less available for casual time-wasting, especially since its battery life is terrible.

Energy management is also very important in work settings.  When you interrupt yourself to visit various websites or check your phone, you’re burning up resources that otherwise could have been spent finishing tasks more quickly.  If you’re feeling burnt out at work, do you really think that reading something online is going to make you feel refreshed?  When I’m feeling burnt out at work I do a couple of things, depending on where I am and how much time I have.  If I have a little time I like to take a walk, or go to a private area and do 10-15 minutes of yoga.  If I don’t have much time, I’ll simply sit still and meditate on my breath for a couple of minutes to focus myself, and then return to the task at hand refreshed.

Mindfulness practice can help you refresh your energy and make better energy decisions.  Since I’ve started monitoring how my energy is spent, I sometimes can really see the forces at work in my body.  Recently I came home from a busy day and felt very strongly that I wanted to go read some blogs and watch a couple TV shows on my computer.  I thought, “Man, I’m tired, I want to waste time.”  I actually thought that!  I was able to catch myself then and say, “Okay, I’m tired.  Wasting time probably won’t make me feel better.  Maybe I’ll take a nap!”  And nap I did and it was wonderful.  I woke up refreshed and able to have a great evening with friends.

I now tend to generally plan out my free time a little.  I think about the day and schedule in bicycling, yoga, cooking, and friend time.  It doesn’t give me a lot of left over time to spend on the computer and I feel much better about how I’m spending my time.  I certainly feel like it’s a journey, and no effort is too small.  Once you start focusing more in one area of your life, it will become easier to keep the ball rolling in other areas.  Certainly a regular mindfulness or meditation practice helps, as it trains the mind to become calmer and more centered, but any small effort to make your mind less tumultuous will bring you more peace and energy.

Integrating Exercise into Every Day

Here’s a confession: I used to have a gym membership.  I would shell out $58/mo for my YWCA membership to go work out on the same elliptical 3-4 times a week.  I’d sometimes take a yoga class.  I’d often lift weights.  I got in better shape, lost a little weight, but I NEVER enjoyed it.  I’d blast whatever peppy songs I’d been listening to lately on my iPod while I tried to forget about the fact that I was working out.  While I was doing this, I kept thinking, “This is it?  I’m going to have to waste 4-5 hours at the gym every week for the rest of my life?”  But I’m happy to tell you that this is not the case!  You do not need to be a slave to a gym that sucks up your money and time.

When I quit the gym something interesting happened: I stopped ‘working out,’ I got into better shape, and I enjoyed myself much more.  How?  I started integrating exercise into my everyday life and found that I get much more exercise than I did before, it’s more useful, and I actually enjoy it now.

Working out is boring.  There’s no way around it.  Working out, to me, is any individual activities that take place at a gym.  The sole intent of working out is to increase physical fitness, which is great.  I did it for 1.5 years.  While I enjoyed being more physically fit, I didn’t enjoy having to set aside time each week to spend at the gym plugging away on the elliptical machine and doing the same arm exercises.  It was so boring!

During the time I went to the gym, I biked quite a bit but never had to bike all that far.  I started discovering that biking can be an amazing useful tool to both get you places and serve as your exercise for the day.  Last summer I biked to work for several weeks, 12 miles each way, and was excited about the fact that I wouldn’t have to come home and go to the gym since that served as my exercise.

When I started grad school, I began biking 8 miles round trip 5 days a week.  I got in better shape, felt more fit, and saved time because my commute also counted as my exercise time.  The other part is that I enjoy biking outside; you get to look around and notice what people are doing and what’s happening in the neighborhood.  It’s much more interesting than staring at a wall in a gym.

Utilitarian exercise is also much more sustainable than recreational exercise.  Sure, I love to go for a sunny bike ride around the lake, go for a pleasant jog, or take a stroll downtown, but I don’t always have time to do those things.  On the other hand, I always need to get to school.  Biking is faster than taking the bus and allows me more flexibility in my schedule; therefore it is the obvious choice for school transportation.  Even when I’m not able to do recreational exercise for awhile, at least I’m still getting exercise, and usually a lot of it, because it is well integrated into my life.

I also don’t feel like I exercise all that much.  I do yoga about 5 times per week and I bike 30-50 miles per week, but it never feels like exercise.  When I bike places, it feels like I’m transporting myself while getting fresh air.  When I do yoga, it feels like a mindfulness practice that happens to move my body.  I sometimes think that I need to exercise more because I never register my physical activity as exercise; it’s simply what I do to get around or be happy.

It’s really hard to motivate yourself to do something several times every single week, especially when it’s not something you particularly enjoy.  Finding enjoyable exercise that can become well integrated into your life is a very positive way to ensure that even if you’re strapped for time, or tired, or cranky, you will still be getting the exercise that your body needs, probably without even thinking about it.  So how can you do this?  Get a bike.  Bike to the grocery store, to run errands, to work.  Walk to your friend’s house or to the library.  In the winter, go ice skating instead of sitting inside watching TV.  Spend time doing physically active things with friends: take a walk, go for a run, take a yoga class (hell teach each other yoga moves), climb a tree, or go rock climbing. Some of these things are free, which makes it a great way to be social while being frugal and healthy.

Once exercise is well ingrained into your life, you won’t even notice it’s there.  You’ll start exercising for recreation on top of for utilitarian purposes and become even healthier.  You’ll save time and money not going to a gym.  You’ll be sexier and more interesting.  I promise.