My husband remembers the time, way back in our very early days of dating, when we took a holiday together and almost half of my luggage consisted of toiletries. I would like to tell you he remembers this fondly, but rather he shakes his head at the memory and tells me he was thinking: “who is this girl?!” Such was his despair (although I didn’t know it at the time) that it’s probably a miracle our relationship made it beyond the holiday…
The skincare and body products I use today are such a far cry from back then that now I find it hard to believe myself. In those days, I bought into plenty of the marketing ploys. I figured expensive products were better for me. I reasoned that beautiful celebrities endorsing a product was a reason for me to buy it. I trusted the assistants that told me I needed several different products to do the same job. What this really meant: I gave big multinational pharmaceutical companies my money (far too much of my money) in order to purchase (mostly) unnecessary products with questionable ingredients. I consumed a lot of wasteful packaging, and my bathroom was always cluttered. I was locked into a cycle of buying and stockpiling products.
Today, I’ve reduced what I use to the essentials. I’ve simplified. Mostly I use ingredients, and I can find almost all of them at the grocery store, and at bulk stores. I tend not to buy pre-made products: nothing I use has more than a handful of ingredients that I mix together as I need. There’s no pressure. Ingredients are rarely on sale or marketed cleverly in an attempt to make me buy more, so I do not buy more than I need.
My Chemical-Free (Edible) Skincare Routine: Then vs Now
When I talk about chemicals, I’m referring to man-made, synthetic and petroleum-derived products. For me, chemical-free means natural and safe. Not everything that occurs in nature is safe, of course. My rule is: if it’s edible, then I use it. If it’s not, then I don’t.
THEN: Back in my pre- plastic-free and pre- zero-waste days, I used eye cream, a day moisturiser and night moisturiser, usually purchased from one of those fancy counters in the shopping malls. I used cleanser and toner. Occasionally I would be persuaded to buy some other nonsense product by the sales assistant like skin brightener, or serum, or whatever they were trying to plug that month. I often had random packets of “free sample” cluttering my space that I rarely used. I used a face scrub to exfoliate, usually purchased from a chemist or supermarket. I purchased lip gloss, but rarely used it.
NOW: I replaced all of the moisturizers with a single product: oil. Moisturisers are made with oil, water and emulsifier to bind them together, whereas oil is just that – one ingredient. Water-based products like moisturisers need preservatives to stop them going bad, whereas oils are fairly stable and do not. Almond oil is my staple. If I’m away from home, or I have run out of almond oil, I will use olive oil or coconut oil.
To clean, I use bar soap. I don’t make my own, I buy from a local lady who specialises in natural skincare. It’s made from a blend of coconut oil and olive oil and doesn’t dry my skin out. I don’t use a product to exfoliate, I use a flannel. It works much better, I find.
THEN: I used store-bought deodorant, body moisturiser or lotion, a razor with refillable blades and shaving foam. I used handwash to wash my hands, and shower gel to wash in the shower. I had a separate hand & nail moisturiser. I used store-bought toothpaste to clean my teeth.
NOW: I make my own deodorant using bicarb, corn flour, coconut oil and essential oil (you can find the recipe I use here). I never had much luck with store-bought chemical-free brands but this stuff actually works! (Added bonus: I can buy all the products packaging-free.)
I no longer have a separate body lotion or hand lotion and use almond oil. Ditto with the shaving foam. I use an epilator mostly which is used on dry skin, but if I use a razor blade then I use almond oil. I use a body brush to exfoliate rather than products with “exfoliating properties” (usually plastic microbeads).
I use bar soap (the same as I use to wash my face) to wash my hands and body.
I make my own toothpaste using very similar ingredients to those in the deodorant (you can find the recipe I use here, and it has been approved by my dentist). When I first made it I used peppermint essential oil, as I do with the toothpaste, but I’d get confused which container was which, and I didn’t enjoy smelling like toothpaste, so now I use a different one.
THEN: I used Herbal Essences shampoo and Herbal Essences conditioner (the one in the yellow bottle). They changed the packaging and then tried to discontinue the product at one point, and I remember trawling all of the discount chemist stores in a mild panic trying to stock up on these two products. I used a hair serum that was a salon-owned brand only available in the UK and only at the salons, so getting it was a real pain. When I moved to Australia I purchased 6 bottles to bring with me, and when my sister came to visit she brought some with her too (this was all pre-Plastic Free July 2012). My haircare routine caused me so much stress, but I was terrified that my curly hair would be unmanageable without these products. I did use Frizz-Ease serum on special occasions, too. I guess you’d say their marketing campaigns were very effective on me!
NOW: I wash my hair with rye flour, and I use white vinegar as a conditioner. It makes my hair soft, shiny and manageable, without the need to apply any other products. I have used bicarb soda in the past but I prefer rye flour – it’s plant-based (bicarb is mined), has a gentler pH, is easier to make a paste in my hand, and makes my hair shinier than bicarb. If rye flour is not available, I switch to bicarb. I prefer white vinegar to rinse my hair over apple cider vinegar. The smell dissipates far more quickly, and my hair feels and looks better. White vinegar has a lower pH than apple cider vinegar (meaning it is more acidic) so I dilute white vinegar with water more than I would dilute apple cider vinegar with water before using.
I don’t use any hair serums or gels. I find the vinegar does a good job on its own. If my hair was particularly frizzy I would just rub a little almond oil in my hands and run my hands through my hair.
A summary of all the ingredients I use now:
The products I use in my bathroom are: rye flour, sodium bicarbonate, white vinegar, corn flour, essential oil, coconut oil, almond oil and bar soap. Just a handful of ingredients (8, in fact) that do the jobs of a much bigger handful (or small suitcase-full) of products, all with many ingredients of their own. Most ingredients I use live in the kitchen, where they are also utilized, and my first stop when I run out of something in the bathroom is always my own pantry.
And the benefits? I could tell you about not using chemicals, about supporting the local economy rather than the big multinational pharmaceuticals, about stepping off the consumer treadmill and no longer being sucked into the marketing campaigns. I could talk about no longer buying more than I need, and the reduction in clutter in my bathroom. I’m going to tell you the most surprising benefit of all: simplicity and freedom. When I first gave up plastic and began looking for alternatives, I thought I’d have to learn how to make my own shampoo and moisturiser. I thought it would be difficult, and time-consuming. Rethinking what I was using, and why, and then looking for suitable alternatives made me realise it was only as complicated as I made it. Ditching all the products that were unnecessary, and choosing the simplest options for what remained was all I needed to do.
Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have a natural and chemical free skincare routine? Can you eat your beauty products? Do you make any of your own products and would you like to share the recipe(s)? Have you had any dismal DIY fails or bad experiences along the way and want to share the lessons you learned?! Do you find it hard to let go of those store-bought products? Is there a particular product you struggle with replacing? Tell us your experiences and please leave a comment below!