Natural Products For Personal Care
Toiletries Made from Easy to Find Natural Ingredients
Over the past few months I have been experimenting and trying to make my house as chemical free as possible, with a new baby on the way, there is no time like the present. When it came to personal care products I had no idea how hard it would be. I have been preconditioned to think that I need to feel squeaky clean after a shower and that lotions and potions should last forever. Boy was I wrong! I set about making my own shower gel, shampoo, moisturiser, face masks and more using easy to find, natural and cheap ingredients, in a few cases I was disappointed with the results. Below I have tried to be as honest as possible about my findings but please bear in mind that these are only my opinions and each person has different tastes, ideals and preconceptions.
I’ll start with why it isn't a good idea to use standard toiletries. The skin is porous and absorbs a a high percentage of what is put on it, including the water you wash with, creams and soaps. The head absorbs even more, including hair styling products, shampoos, conditioners and again the water you wash with.
For these reasons it is very important that we clearly understand the quality and content of the skin care products that we put on our bodies every day. Unfortunately again it is the ladies who tend to use more toiletries than men and so are most likely to absorb more chemicals. However marketing campaigns are slowly targeting the male audience too so soon enough their cosmetics bag will be as big as ours.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate
Many toiletries and cosmetics used are dangerous cocktails of hazardous waste. Most of the chemicals which go into our toiletries are no different from the harsh toxic chemicals used in industrial cleaning products. The most common and probably the most harmful chemical contained in most personal care products is Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLS) a synthetic detergent. This substance is used to help create a lather in toothpastes, shampoos, shaving foam, soaps, bubble bath and just about every personal cleaning product on the market. As well as in garage floor cleaners, engine degreasers and auto cleaning products. I don't know about you but I certainly wouldn't want something on my head which is strong enough to clean my garage floor.
What is the damage caused by SLS? It can retard the healing properties of the body, it may damage the outer layers of the skin, causing dermatitis, dryness and blackheads and can also enhance the absorption of other chemicals and who knows what else.
There are tons of other harmful chemicals used in every day personal care products but that would be an article in itself. SLS is enough to put me off using standard toiletries, that is why I am moving towards natural products.
Natural Products For Personal Care
Natural products are on the rise in both food and personal care, there are dozens of brands that offer either a natural product or an entire line of ‘all-natural’ products. The word ‘natural’ is often used quite loosely with the problem being that the product itself may not be all that natural. Many "natural" brands contain the same chemicals as regular brands, either in lesser quantities or with certain well-known additives removed (e.g. SLS and aluminium). Therefore it is worth the time it takes to seek out a good natural line and read the labels to ensure that all the ingredients in the products you use are truly natural and safe. There is usually a health food store in most towns that will stock natural products for bathing and washing, take time to read the labels. If there is something on the label which you do not recognise or understand the likelihood is that it is not good for you either.
So without any further ado I’ll get to the moment you’ve all been waiting for... Where do I start?
I think I will start in the shower, you know what they say, ‘cleanliness is close to godliness’.
Natural Body Wash
Finding a decent shower gel was my first step. My first attempt saw me using the following to wash my body:
- ½ cup of water
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 tsp jojoba oil
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp aloe Vera gel
- 4-6 drops each of lemon and orange Essential oil
All the ingredients were mixed in a glass and stirred with a spoon until well mixed. Then poured into a squeezy bottle and used in the shower.
I found this too greasy, even though my skin felt lovely and soft afterwards I didn't really feel clean and my lovely white towel had grey streaks afterwards from the oil when I dried myself, not attractive I know. The good thing about it was that I didn't need to use a separate body moisturiser afterwards because my skin was already well moisturised, however I wasn't too happy with it. So, attempt no.2 saw me using the same recipe minus the jojoba oil:
This smelt lovely and so did my skin afterwards and this time I felt clean. This amount yields enough for about 4 washes and took seconds to make. Because of the nature of the ingredients I would advise making a fresh batch every 5 days. If you are one to shower everyday this is ok, if not half the ingredients.
*You can put the squeezy bottle by the sink after your shower to use up as a hand wash as and when needed. Aloe Vera
contains saponins which is a surfactant and has properties that enable it to attract dirt and oil from the skin. Honey
contains humectants which attracts moisture from the air and transfer it to the skin Cornstarch
is used as a natural thickening agent. Sea salt
is used as a mild exfoliating agent to slough off dead skin. Lemon and orange essential oils
are natural preservatives and antiseptics and smell lovely.
*Essential oils are very concentrated and should never be applied directly to the skin.
Hair care has been top of my list for some time, ever since I had to cut off my beautiful long curly locks in 2002 because of bad hair care and the over use of bad products and the hair dryer. I thought I was doing enough by washing it using a standard shampoo and conditioner, using olive oil instead of mousse and gels and letting it dry naturally, indeed I discovered otherwise when I started researching this article. The olive oil can stay in my routine it is the shampoo and conditioner that are the problem. I searched long and hard for a natural home brew for shampoo and the best I could come up with which didn't require soap flakes or glycerin, (both non-existent in my corner of the world) was good old baking powder. Having done my homework I discovered that this is the preferred choice for many people.
Apparently massaging baking soda into the hair and scalp absorbs oil and loosens the dead skin on the scalp and is ideal for washing the hair. I decided to give it a go and also figured that with thick curly hair like mine that I’d need some sort of conditioner otherwise there was no way I would be able to get a brush through it.
Experiment No.1 entailed me making up a pre-wash leave in conditioner of 2 tbsp honey and 4 tbsp olive oil smearing this through my hair as well as possible and sitting with a plastic bag over my head for about half an hour, my husband’s face was a picture when he came home to see me sitting like this, he is now used to my experiments and just rolls his eyes at me. I then jumped into the shower armed with baking soda and vinegar. I rinsed my hair of the oil and honey. I then made a paste with baking soda (BS) and water, massaged this into my scalp. I did the best I could given that my hair was still matted and sticky from the honey. After rinsing out the BS thoroughly with water I used 1 part apple cyder vinegar to 4 parts water in the ends to give me shiny hair. For those with blonde hair apparently a Lemon Hair Rinse is more suitable and probably smells a lot nicer too. Use 1 part lemon juice to 8 parts water in your final rinse when washing fair hair to increase shine.
Job done or so I thought. I stepped out of the shower dried myself off and then thought the hard part would be brushing it. Surprisingly enough brushing my hair was easy but this was due to the fact that it was still full of oil, the baking soda was unable to deal with so much oil and didn’t wash it out properly. Plus my partner who always takes a big whiff of my hair when I have just washed it turned his nose up at it and told me I stank of vinegar. Very much the same response I get when I have cleaned the house; but rejecting the house and rejecting me are two completely different things. The amount of grease in my hair was ridiculous so I resigned myself and went and washed it with normal shampoo. However I didn't use a conditioner and my hair was still manageable, easy to brush and shiny; I didn't need to use extra oil to stop it frizzing. So attempt no.1 wasn't a complete failure, but I don’t think I will be reaching for the the baking soda the next time I need to wash my hair.
Since my crazy experiment I have discovered Tonya Zavasta's Your Right to be Beautiful hair products and by using the Volumizing Shampoo and Revitalising Conditioner I have finally found products which are natural, smell beautiful and leave my hair feeling lustrous and looking shiny and healthy.
As mentioned before I use olive oil as a styling product which prevents frizz and softens my hair. I have also tried almond oil long term and found I got the same results, almond oil doesn’t really have a strong smell so some may prefer it to olive oil, however I don't find that olive oil smells once in my hair because of the minute amount I use, plus it is cheaper and easier to find. On washed towel dried hair pour about 5 tiny drops of oil into the palm of the hand, rub your hands together and then gently scrunch the hair all over to transfer the oil from the hands to the hair. I have very thick curly hair so if you have thin straight hair you may not need anything or you may want to try 2 drops to begin with and see how you get on. A little goes a long way. And it takes adjusting to get it right for your own hair.
Natural Facial Products
I have never been one for facial products. I guess I am too lazy and can't justify spending money for a toner, cleanser and moisturiser. I tend to just wash my face with hot water when I have a shower and then moisturise. I naturally have dry skin so without moisturiser I tend to get slightly flaky skin and this is probably why I don't and never have suffered from spotty skin, however I am a common sense person and common sense tells me that the more junk you put on your face the more you feed irritating spots and cause flare ups, therefore make-up can cause bad skin by not allowing the skin to breath and clogging pores etc. In the past when I have tried commercial face masks which are specifically for dry skin I have actually noticed that my skin is even drier for a week or so afterwards which completely defeats the object of using it in the first place, commercial face masks are now a thing of the past for me, there is no need when there are so many lovely natural alternatives which are better for me and my skin. I have recently discovered face loofahs from the Body Shop, these are great for gently removing dead skin and leaving the face smooth and clean. Using the body wash recipe listed above; wet the face and sponge the liquid onto the face, then use the face loofah in circular movements to gently exfoliate the face and finally rinse it off. For those that think they will be removing sun tans etc by exfoliating both the face and body, think twice, I think that is a myth, the skin renews itself every 28 days or so, so buffing or exfoliating will not make any difference. Also if your skin is clean from dead skin cells to begin with it will retain the colour for longer because the fresh skin will have tanned and not the old skin which is likely to disappear in a few days.
As a moisturiser i would still recommend Tonya Zavasta's Anti-Aging Facial Cream with Sea Buckthorn Oil. Or pure almond oil can be used, it is light and easily absorbed, only a couple of drops are needed as a little goes a long way and this will leave your skin soft and moist all day. Otherwise you can make the following, this is my personal favourite and is great for moisturising dry skin around the face:
- 25g Shea Butter
- 25g Jojoba oil
Melt the shea butter in the dehydrator or Bain marie style and mix in the jojoba oil using a small blender. The results are a light butter which glides onto the skin beautifully and leaves it soft and smooth. Again a small amount goes a long way. This recipe will last forever. Jojoba oil is an emollient which smoothes and softens the skin. Shea butter contains Vitamin A which can be helpful to improve a number of skins conditions, including blemishes, wrinkles, eczema, and dermatitis. It is also said that Shea Butter promotes and accelerates wound healing from sun burn to skin cracks and helps to prevent stretch marks in pregnant women. Shea butter also contains Vitamin E which has been described as an effective anti-aging, anti-free radical agent.
Shea butter is easy to find online and relatively cheap when you consider that a small amount will last a long time.
If you live in a particularly hot climate it might be best to store in the fridge as it will melt.
A fantastic face mask to be used once a week is:
- 1 tablespoon (tbsp) Honey
- 1 teaspoon (tsp) Almond oil
- 2 drops Rose essential oil
- 1 drop Vitamin E oil
Mix the ingredients together and smooth over your skin to rejuvenate and replenish. Almond oil, which is light and easily absorbed, softens and nourishes the skin, and honey is a natural moisturiser which leaves even tired skin incredibly smooth and refines pores. Massage the mixture onto a clean face and neck with the fingertips. Try to relax and sit still for 15 minutes because the honey can drip, then rinse off with lukewarm water. Gently pat dry to reveal a fresh, soft complexion. You will be amazed at the instant results.
Another good face mask is almond pulp and honey. If you make almond milk regularly and don't know what to do with the left over pulp it can be used as a face exfoliator. Mix 1tbsp almond pulp with 1/2tsp honey and smooth over face, leave for 15 minutes and then gently rub the almond pulp in a circular motion into the face to exfoliate the skin before rinsing off.
Natural Body Moisturiser
I don't usually use a body moisturiser I have been through the baby oil stage and the cocoa butter stages and I found that my body became dependent on lotions and when I didn't use any my skin became really dry. I eventually let my body adjust to using nothing. Therefore until recently I didn't tend to moisturise my whole body like I used to and just used it when I felt necessary. However lately with pregnancy hormones some parts of my body have become very dry, plus I have noticed a huge difference in my skin between Greece and the UK. In the UK my skin tends to dry out much quicker and needs a daily moisturiser. This could be for many reasons including the water type and temperature, the weather, central heating; it may even be the plane journey that triggers it, who knows.
This recipe is my favourite and my skin feels silky smooth after every use.
- ½ cup of grated cacao butter 30g
- Shea butter 30g
- 2 tsp distilled water
- 3 tbsp sesame oil
- 2 tbsp coconut oil/butter 20g
- 1 tbsp olive oil
Melt both the shea butter and cacao butter in a dehydrator or bane marie style, gradually add the coconut, sesame, and olive oil. Using a small blender to mix the ingredients thoroughly together with the water. Pour into a glass jar and put in the fridge to cool, the mixture will thicken as it cools down, if kept out of the fridge the water will separate, but the small particles which remain in the butter keep it light and fluffy, so try not to pour away the water. Once hardened it is ready to use and does not need to be stored in the fridge unless you live in a very hot climate. Apply to the body where needed.
Coconut oil is rich in vitamins and fats that soften the skin. Cacoa butter combined with coconut oil protect the skin from the wind and cold.
Sesame oil is also a good way to protect from damaging sun rays as it can be used as a natural sun blocker. Olive oil moisturizes and smoothes the skin. All together making this a superb moisturiser. This recipe is more for dry skin however if you are prone to oily skin the following can be used which isn’t as oily:
- 6 tbsp almond oil
- ½ cup grated cacao butter (30g)
- ¼ cup distilled water
- ¼ cup of rose water
- 4 drops orange-blossom (neroli) essential oil
- 5 drops of rose essential oil
Melt the cacao butter in the dehydrator or bane marie style, put into a small blender with the water and blend. Gradually add the almond oil, rose water and essential oils. The mix will look like frosting and will slowly thicken as it cools down. Pour it into a glass jar and use sparingly
These lotions can be stored from between 3 to 5 months, as long as they are kept in a cool dry place. If living in a hot climate I would suggest storing them in the fridge.
Rose water is not only very fragrant it is also softening and has mildly astringent (tightening) properties.
Orange-blossom, sometimes called neroli, helps improve and refine pores as well as refresh oily skin.
Not everyone needs a powerful, sweat-absorbing antiperspirant. Unless you are a firefighter or have a job that entails a lot of sweating you are unlikely to sweat that much. However we do want to smell fresh. It can be difficult to find a good deodorant that doesn't contain toxic chemicals like aluminium, or synthetic fragrances and stabilizers. Antiperspirants are even worse because they may prevent the body from sweating out toxins. However nobody wants to walk around smelling unwashed all day! There are several options for natural deodorants, including health food store brands, deodorant crystals, and making your own. In this instance I of course opted for making my own. Here are a couple of my favourites.
Apple cider vinegar can be a good natural deodorant. Add 1tbsp of apple cider vinegar to half a cup of water and place it on your armpit using a spray or just by rubbing it on. The vinegar smell disappears within a few minutes and the vinegar neutralises bad smells all day.
Alternatively 5 drops of lavender oil in half a cup water and again gently put on the armpits, this leaves a beautiful lavender scent that can help one smell nice all day.
Natural Tooth Care
I always thought that fluoride free toothpaste was what I needed. I have been using various different brands for years now and haven’t had the need for any new fillings or to even visit a dentist. I remember the conversation I had with the Greek dentist I decided to recently visit to have my one and only amalgam filling removed. When I told him I hadn’t used fluoride for years he started to give me his take on how we need fluoride and that there are Greek villages that don’t have fluoride in their water who now have rotting teeth as a result, strangely enough the fact that half of the Greek population don’t care for their teeth at all and have rotting teeth seized to come up in the conversation. And of course when he did look at my teeth he actually congratulated me for having lovely well looked after teeth, hoorah, I wont be visiting him again or any other dentist for that matter in a hurry.
After some time however, my teeth had started to become sensitive, I put this down to the new brand of fluoride free toothpaste I had been using, because nothing else had changed, my partner reported the same thing. I then started researching alternative toothcare. I tried brushing my teeth with baking powder but found this too abrasive, I then tried brushing my teeth with nothing but a toothbrush and water and wasn’t overly impressed with the results, again that was my stubborn mind telling me there needed to be suds and a minty after taste, I even thought about not brushing them at all but couldn’t bear the thought of brown teeth and bad breath. I then read about Toothsoap it is literally what is says in the title a soap for teeth. When I read about it on their website. I was instantly intrigued, but again I wanted to try something which wasn’t commercial and was easy to find first. So, taking the theory behind toothsoap I found a fragrant free pure soap bar and brushed my toothbrush in that before brushing my teeth. My teeth did feel wonderfully clean but the taste was awful. There was no tingly minty taste in my mouth after brushing and I felt like I needed to eat something to get rid of the taste which isn’t exactly good tooth care. This lasted only a couple of days before I couldn’t bear it anymore and went back to my original fluoride free toothpaste. I went back to the Toothsoap website and read more about it before finally giving in and buying some. In January 2008 my partner and I threw away our toothpaste and switched to Toothsoap, within days my sensitive teeth were a thing of the past and within a month I could see a huge difference in the colour of my husbands previously stained teeth, even though not perfectly white a definite improvement is visible. I had planned to give you before and after pictures, unfortunately photos was something else I lost when my computer crashed a few months ago.
For more information about the theory behind Toothsoap please click here for product details and to order.
I hope you enjoyed this article, I certainly covered a great deal. I am aware that there are a few areas uncovered such as shaving and make-up etc. However these are areas I don’t have personal experience in therefore I chose to leave them out. I hope some of the information here is useful if not all of it. As I said before this is only my opinion and others may feel differently about certain things, therefore any feedback is welcome.
Happy chemical spring clean.
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