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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Get Excited About Your Period: Use a Menstrual Cup

I have not used tampons regularly for over three years.  I don’t use pads.  I don’t go sit in the Red Tent.  I use a menstrual cup, specifically the DivaCup (you can also get the Moon or Keeper cups, they’re all slightly different).  It has changed my life for the better, significantly.  Menstrual cups are made of top-quality silicone, can hold about one ounce of fluid, and can be worn for up to 12 hours.  There are a number of reasons that I love the Diva cup, these include logistical, environmental, and health reasons.

Logistical:  I have not had to worry about carrying tampons with me for over three years.  I have not had to regularly change a tampon in that time or really give any thought to my period besides in the morning and before bed.  Menstrual cups can be left in for up to 12 hours and generally removes ‘taking care of your period’ from your life.

If you do need to empty it away from home, you can simply take it out and dump it in the toilet, possible wiping it out with TP before reinserting.  At home, they can be emptied, washed out, and reinserted.  I use Dr. Bronner’s castile soap on mine, since this is a gentle and all-natural soap that I use for all sorts of things.  I’ve heard that cups are awesome for camping (I actually got mine at REI), which I haven’t done in the past three years, but I imagine they would work splendidly.  Many of the health and environmental arguments below can be satisfied with reusable pads, but cups are comfortable and, like tampons, cannot be felt once inserted properly.

It takes a little while to get used to inserting your cup, and as everyone’s body is different some people can feel it once it’s inserted.  The DivaCup has a long stem to be used for removal, but I found that cutting this shorter made it more comfortable.  If you do get a cup, give it some time to get used to it.  Additionally, they can occasionally leak, so you’ll have to figure out some way to deal with this (if you care, I don’t) like using reusable cotton pantyliners.

Environmental:  Since I haven’t used tampons in so long I can’t adequately estimate how many the average woman uses, but let’s do some estimation.  Assuming an average 4 day period, and replacement every 4-6 hours, this would result in 20 tampons used per cycle.  With an average of 521 cycles per 40-years, this adds up to 10,420 tampons per lifetime.  That’s a lot of waste, and there would be even more if you use pads.  Chemicals are used for bleaching and dying tampons that can be environmentally harmful at the front end of the process, and boxes of tampons need to be manufactured and recycled.

Menstrual cups have been certified by the FDA to be used for a year, but prior to FDA approval the DivaCup website stated that cups could be used for up to 10 years before a replacement would be needed.  I’ve used mine for three years and it has not lost any integrity as far as I can tell.  That is a lot less waste overall and a lot less stress on the environment.  Cost is another factor, if we estimate $10/50 tampons (as a quick internet search indicated), this would be $2,084 over a lifetime (or $52/year).  Menstrual cups cost $35, and can be replaced either per FDA requirements every year or every 10 years (this is my intention).

Health:  Tampons are made of bleached cotton and contain fragrances, dyes, and other toxic materials.  Depending on the bleaching process, some of the chemicals left remaining in tampons have been linked to cancer in animals.  Further exposure occurs when fibers are left behind by tampons in the vagina and take a couple of days to be naturally flushed out.  The DivaCup website states: “The DivaCup is latex free and is made from top quality silicone, a material that has been used in healthcare applications for over 50 years. This silicone is not the same type of material used in breast implants. No chlorine, dyes, colorings or additives of any kind are used.”

Tampons have been linked with the potentially fatal condition toxic shock syndrome, and menstrual cups have not.

Another benefit of cups is that in order to use them, you literally have to stick your fingers up into your ladybusiness and come face to face with the fact that your period is actually blood coming out of your body!  You have to touch it!  You don’t just take out some impersonal cotton product and discard it.  You feel more connected with your body, and less squeamish because of it.  And I don’t know about you, but being a non-squeamish person who is connected with my body is much more important to me than keeping my fingers clean.

I’m not the only one whose DivaCup has changed her life, check out this yogi.  If you’ve been converted, you can pick a cup up at your local co-op or REI!