De-chemicalising the house, part one: the bathroom

March 25, 2008 at 1:01 pm 2 comments

Scientist Boyfriend being, more specifically, Chemist Boyfriend (he did a masters in something to do with hydrogen fuels), whenever I talk about there being ‘chemicals’ in things, I usually get a withering look and a reminder that, technically speaking, water is a chemical. Therefore, I would like it to to be understood that, for the purposes of this post and the following post on cleaning products, when I refer to ‘chemicals’ I am referring to synthetic chemicals, probably derived from petroleum, which I have decided I don’t want in my house any more.

Why not?

What’s wrong with these things? Well, working from the general principle that when deciding what to put in my body I tend to go for stuff with short ingredients lists, composed of things I could source myself, grown with ecological sensitivity and sustainability in mind and bought with as short a chain as possible, it seems sensible to apply it to the things I put on my body too.

I have next to no understanding of biochemistry and how these things actually work, whether these things are actually bad for us, but in the interests of sustainability, I can confidently declare that I would far prefer our remaining petroleum reserves to be used to synthesise, say, insulin for my diabetic granny, or hormones for contraceptive pills to keep the population at a sustainable level and allow women a greater degree of independence, than for making oven cleaners, conditioners and anti-bacterial soap.

Anti-bacterial soap is fantastic stuff; I love the fact that people who might need to operate on me at some point will be using anti-bacterial soap. But (unlike a story told to me by friend of mine who had her knee stitched up by her boyfriend’s mum (a surgeon) using a large glass of wine as anaesthetic) I don’t tend to operate on people on my kitchen table very often, and I firmly believe that a bit of everyday dirt is good for the immune system and can easily believe that a lot of asthma and allergies are a consequence of too-clean houses (not all, of course, but a lot).

Purely anecdotally, my skin is also much softer since I’ve been moisturising with hemp seed oil
and my mirror sparkles after a clean with white vinegar and newspaper (and no, it doesn’t leave smeary newsprint marks on the mirror).

Therefore, since I can by and large clean my body and my home with other things, there is no reason why I shouldn’t try and wean myself off petroleum-derived, mass-produced products, not to mention the packaging/waste issues.

Where am I now?

I still feel bad throwing perfectly good shampoo or cleaning products in the bin, so I’m slowly working my way through what we already have in the house.

This is my bathroom cupboard:

As you can see, I still have plenty of mainstream, petrochemical-filled products, but (which is more encouraging) most of them were gifts. Aside from toothpaste, face scrub and hemp seed oil, I haven’t bought any toiletries in about a year.

The long-term goal is to use as natural products as possible. (Sadly, I don’t think there’s an eco-friendly substitute for Jolen bleach. I hate that I use it, for various reasons, but I can’t face giving it up yet, at least while my job occasionally requires me to meet people, be confident and look smart. If you want to harangue me about it, please take it up with my mother, who gave me a massive complex.)

Soaps and shampoo

On a daily basis, I use a face scrub from Lush, which is made from things I could source myself if I had the inclination to make it, and moisturise with hemp seed oil from Innocent Oils. I use solid soap instead of shower gel, although just bog-standard soap I got as a gift, but still use nasty mainstream shampoo. I will go over to solid shampoo and conditioner once I’ve finished the remnants of a some Herbal Essences 2 in 1. Switching shampoo is a big wrench, I’ve been using this one for five years – in fact, they briefly discontinued it and when I first saw it again I stockpiled about five large bottles cos I liked it so much! Funny how when I first started using it I loved the flowery smell, now it just smells artificial and chemical.

However, I have just ordered some shampoo soap from the Barenaked Soap Company, because I was enchanted by all the beautiful-shaped soaps (so shallow!), although I was tempted by this one as well. I’ll try it next time and compare them. I’m going to try conditioning once a week with avocado oil (or olive, or hemp) as suggested by this video. I mean, if a proper model can do it, it can’t be a filthy, hippie thing, can it, now?! =)

I’ll also look into shaving soap (or even go back to just using normal soap!) but I don’t think I’m ready to give up the razor and use a blade yet. Or go wild and hairy.

Other products

I also use cider vinegar as deodorant, just applied with cotton wool pads (which are then composted). I’m going to cut up an old T-shirt now I’ve run out, though. I can’t remember where I read this tip, but nobody has complained about the smell yet! It comes in a recyclable glass bottle from the supermarket and is very cheap. I recommend it.

I have some muslin for making into face cloths (I bought them to wean myself off those disposable Olay face cloths, which I loved) but haven’t got round to hemming them yet. Maybe I could get some pinking shears instead. According to Glamour magazine, muslin is supposed to be a good exfoliant.

The most plastic-intensive thing is toothpaste and toothbrushes. I used some charcoal-based toothpaste from Lush, but it was sooo expensive and I used it so quickly I simply couldn’t justify it. I will get some herbal toothpaste, I think, but it still comes in a plastic tube. I’m also going to try making some from bicarb and peppermint oil – will experiment and post the recipe if it works. Various bloggers in America use the Preserve toothbrush which is 100% recycled, but it doesn’t list any stockists in the UK. I could use a wooden one, but even I balked at paying £4 for a tooth brush (I know, I know, so inconsistent).


Entry filed under: health, skincare, soap, toiletries, toothpaste.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lucy @ Smallest Smallholding  |  March 25, 2008 at 10:50 pm

    A word of warning – Lush products do contain parabens (nasty preservatives, linked to cancer)so they’re not as ‘pure’ as they market themselves.

    A great moisturiser is unrefined shea butter, also know as African gold. Of course there’s the shipping to consider (you can get it from UK suppliers but ultimately it comes from Africa), but it does come from fair trade women’s co-operatives, and is, as the name implies, unrefined so as pure as possible. Packaging is minimal – it usually just comes as a lump in a little bag. I used to get mine from eBay.

    Also, for makeup you could try mineral makeup. I’ve been using it for years and started a blog on it (hasn’t been updated in a long time). The proper microdermabrasion cloths are also a really good alternative to chemicals and skin wipes.

    It’s also worth pointing out that some essential oils can be just as damaging as synthetic oils – for intance, lavender essential oil has been linking to ‘feminising’ young boys by interfering with their hormones.

    Like the idea of your deodorant though – might give it a try!

  • 2. Hamster  |  March 30, 2008 at 10:19 pm

    Ack, I know, I’m constantly in two minds about Lush – I love that their staff are so knowledgeable and helpful when you go in, and that everything’s handmad, and they are good on packaging, and way better than anywhere else on the high street. But I get so frustrated having to scrutinise all the ingredients to see if I’m buying something that’s actually natural or just gimmicky. Grr.

    That said, even the handmade, paraben-free soap I just bought still has palm oil in. Apparently it’s to replace beef tallow, which I’m not sure I want in my hair either. I suppose perfection is a long shot…

    Thanks for the top about mineral make-up, too. I will look into it, but I wear make-up so rarely now I work from home (and have so few friends!!) that the stuff I’ve got will last me years and I use it so infrequently I don’t really think it can be doing me much harm. Will definitely consider it, though. Had been wondering what alternatives there are.

    And go for the cider vinegar deodorant! I know it sounds weird, but it really does work!


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The Heritage Crafts Network

Rob Hopkins, Transition Handbook

“Environmentalists have often been guilty of presenting people with a mental image of the world’s least desirable holiday destination – some seedy bed and breakfast near Torquay, with nylon sheets, cold tea and soggy toast – and expecting them to get excited about the prospect of NOT going there. The logic and the psychology are all wrong.”

Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

"Food is that rare moral arena in which the ethical choice is generally the one more likely to make you groan with pleasure."

Carlo Petrini

"A gastronome who is not also an environmentalist is an idiot. An environmentalist who is not also a gastronome is, well, sad."

Sharon Astyk

"I am, of course, firmly opposed to consumerism and corporatism in all its forms, and I believe that we are deeply confused about material needs and wants. Now let me explain how books and yarn are totally different than the material things that other people want ;-)…."

Raj Patel, at Slow Food Nation

"Biofuels, which is the preposterous policy that we should grow food not to eat it but to set it on fire."

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