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Having kicked off Zero Waste Week with some ideas on how to slim down cleaning supplies to cut out unnecessary waste, I’m now turning my attention to how to stay fresh and dainty with minimal waste. I know that some people can get quite touchy about this subject. After all, most of us dread being a social pariah due to a lack of personal hygiene and look to toiletries to avoid this. And others are just very fond of ‘attractive’ bottles full of lotions and potions and wince at the suggestion of foregoing these little luxuries.

Before I go on I should stress three things:

  • I’m no hippie or tomboy. I like to look well-groomed, a little polished even;
  • many of my friends, even younger ones, are slightly envious of my complexion; and
  • my super stylish friend R. was so amazed at my personal care products and practices that she encouraged me to share them.

As with cleaning products, my first step is to cut out unnecessary products, pretty packages or not. This is a lot easier when you consider that most toiletries, even many with “natural” blazoned across them, are derived from crude oil. I suspect using them once in a blue moon will not do too much harm but every day for decades…? I’d rather not risk it.

As with cleaning products, there are many recipes on the Internet for waste-free home-made toiletries, but I prefer to stick with single or minimal ingredients wherever possible: a basic soap, a gentle astringent, a quality oil, a mild abrasive and a natural deodorant. So what do I actually use?

I have never been a fan of liquid face or body washes. They always left my skin feeling itchy, sometimes even burnt. Instead I use luke warm water and simple olive oil (also known as castile soap). This is one of the oldest types of soap, made from olive oil, lye and water.* Generally these no-nonsense traditional soaps are available with minimal packaging, if any.

To moisturise I use plant oil. As I’m allergic to nuts, I avoid almond oil, which is light, readily available and affordable. Instead I rely on apricot oil, but others like argan or jojoba oil are equally good. There is no need to mix the oil into a concoction. Just apply a few drops to damp skin and rub it in. I use it on my body and face. I even dab a single drop on my eyelids in the evening as it removes make-up and moisturises at the same time! These types of oil are usually sold in dark bottles, which I re-use as bud vases.

After washing my face in the evening, I dab it with distilled witch hazel. This mild astringent has a soothing effect and a calming smell, which is super after a day in London’s polluted air. Because I am not completely ascetic, I also have a bottle of rose water for use on days when London has been particularly grinding. Once again, the only packaging is a glass bottle (and cap) that I either re-use or recycle.

Simple luxuries for the skin

Simple luxuries for the skin

Exfoliating products tend to annoy me, especially the overly packaged ones that contain plastic microbeads, which disappear down the plug hole and end up in marine and river animals. Of all the products sold, these are probably the most unnecessary as there are many natural and/or waste-free ways to exfoliate. I use half a teaspoon of pinhead oatmeal mixed with luke warm water on my face, soap and a loofah for my body and a pumice stone on my feet. As I’m a real geek, I also put an old tea strainer in the sink when exfoliating my face to catch the waste oatmeal.

For deodorant I use an alum crystal. I know they don’t work for everybody** but I have used a crystal for years and it stands up well, even when I am running or working out. Some crystals are sold loose, others come in a plastic container but as a single stone easily lasts three years, the packaging waste is minimal.

My other treatments and unguents are equally simple or come from the pantry or garden.

I prefer showers to baths but on the few occasions I soak my bones, I either use a few drops of lavender essential oil (a natural remedy for scalds and burns) or tie a few springs of rosemary under the tap to release its heady scent and oils. In the winter, when my skin is at its driest, I might drop a tablespoon of fine pinhead oatmeal in the bath to sooth my skin. Once again, I use the tea strainer when emptying the bath. If I were a more regular bather, I would probably make an oatmeal sachet for the bath.

Simple products with many uses

Simple products with many uses

On a summer’s morning, I rub a segment of lemon over my legs and arms after showering to help repel mosquitos. (Obviously, don’t do this if you have just shaved your legs!) And tea bags or slices of cucumbers on the eyes are a classic but they do ease tired, puffy eyes as they are slightly astringent.

My standard hair wash routine is similarly waste-light… but that’s a tale for another occasion!

Please do share your tips for waste-free/-light personal care in the comment box below.


A quick word about water

No amount of toiletries makes up for a lack of hydration so I drink a lot of water! I also shower in luke warm, rather than hot, water as it is kinder on the skin. If, however, you prefer a steaming hot bath or shower, don’t waste the steam! Make sure you hang any clothes that need ironing in the bathroom and iron them after bathing. This will save you having to use the steam function on the iron, which is very energy and water intensive, and will make the garments easier to iron!

* I always check labels to avoid bars containing palm oil. There is nothing wrong with this product per se but the ever greater ‘demand’ for this oil has led to deforestation.

** See @zerowastechef’s recipe for a minimal waste natural deodorant.

  • growing snowballs | Glenda Smith September 4, 2014, 7:01 am

    I too am no hippie but I took the No Poo Challenge at the end-Feb and haven’t looked back since: http://growingsnowballs.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/no-poo-shampoo/

  • Wendy Shillam @rooftopvegplot September 4, 2014, 8:32 am

    Simple is definitely best in the beauty stakes. I wonder whether we could conjure up our own rosewater, lavender oil and witch hazel from the garden?

    • Meg and Gosia September 4, 2014, 8:54 am

      I hope to throw my own alembic this term so I have the option. I would need access to more petals than my little garden could ever yield. I’m already eyeing up other people’s front gardens but I doubt they would agree to harvesting blooms when they are in full glory 😉

  • A lazy Girl Goes green September 4, 2014, 12:29 pm

    Thanks for sharing your routine. I too am trying to minimise the products I use and stick with a few staple items that actually work. You have just reminded me of the amazing Witchhazel that I haven’t used in years! I look forward to hearing the tale of your hair 🙂

  • theInelegantHorseRider September 4, 2014, 9:02 pm

    This post is brilliant, so many tips. I am really interested in the no shampoo idea as I just can’t see how it could work with my hair. I have made the change to deodorant from years of antiperspirant and keep meaning to write about it as I have found it pretty interesting from an exercise angle. Anyway enough rambling from me. Great post,

    • Meg and Gosia September 5, 2014, 2:46 pm

      Thanks, Steph. My hair routine is a form of no shampoo, with a few oddities. It’s on my list of blogging posts.

  • The Zero-Waste Chef September 5, 2014, 5:05 am

    Thank you for the mention 🙂 I also wash my hair with baking soda, followed by a vinegar rinse and it works well! Someone told me today that goat milk soap also makes good shampoo. My daughter makes a very nice lip balm out of beeswax, essential oil, almond oil and (I think) one other oil (maybe coconut?). It’s lovely stuff. I’ve never colored my hair and so I have quite a bit of grey now. My kids dislike it but I wear it proudly.

    • Meg and Gosia September 5, 2014, 2:48 pm

      I wish I had a skin tone that would work with my early grey/white, but my hair has aged before my skin pallor has changed so I’m reluctantly colouring my hair but with an unusual twist… More details to follow later.

  • Rachelle Strauss September 5, 2014, 8:35 am

    Wonderful post; like you I’m minimalist in the bathroom and refuse to be conned by manufacturers telling us you need a different product for different things – they are essentially all the same, just in a different bottle.

    I love rashoul (can’t spell it) clay – have you ever used it? You can use it on both skin and hair. Yes it’s messy, but it’s wonderful on my skin and I rarely need a moisturiser afterwards (despite having very hard water which causes my skin to itch sometimes). Like you, I just use a few drops of oil on my skin – perhaps some jojoba with a drop of rose in it to soothe a frazzled mind. I’m a fan of oats on the skin as well – a few oats in a bit of yogurt makes a wonderful facial ‘scrub’.

    And I like to look polished as well 😉

    • Meg and Gosia September 5, 2014, 9:02 am

      Oh yes, I love rassoul clay. I use it to wash my hair.

  • lizard100 September 7, 2014, 8:32 pm

    Really useful post. I now use soap and deodorant. I’ve given up shampoo and thinking about ways to moisturizer with less impact but still have moisturizer to use up.

  • plasticisrubbish (@polytheenpam) September 8, 2014, 6:29 pm

    Love this post! I am a fan of coconut oil! Use it for everything! I also make my own suntan lotion and fake bake – easy peasy. You can check out my pretty plastic free stuff here http://plasticisrubbish.com/2012/05/13/keep-pretty-plastic-free/.

    I use soap tp wash my hair but going to try no poo next. x

    • Meg and Gosia September 8, 2014, 7:04 pm

      Thanks for sharing your tips. You are so industrious! As you can guess from my post, I favour single ingredients to mixing lotions and potions, not least of all because it saves time. That said, you’re the second person in recent months to mention homemade sun lotion so I’m going to give that I try. I know that my skin is fine with Zinc Oxide – I use industrial quantities of calamine lotion after mosquito stings – so I’ll try that recipe.

  • Naomi December 12, 2015, 11:45 am

    All brilliant tips. I do some of them already – but I just wanted to mention that the last few times I’ve tried to get witch hazel from the chemist all the varieties had alcohol added (not just hamamelis virginiana) – and I’ve ended up asking the pharmacist to order some in for me. No idea why they add alcohol to some of them but it’s totally unnecessary.
    I also love almond oil and lavender oil – so many uses. Coconut oil is also a favourite. I use it instead of a styling product/serum on my wild curly hair!
    Oh yes, and old coffee grounds are brilliant for exfoliation.

    • Meg and Gosia December 14, 2015, 11:42 am

      Thanks for popping by and taking the time to leave a comment. I am not to concerned about a little alcohol in my toners. It is a very traditional method that has been used down the centuries as it extends shelf life, which was important in the pre-industrialised world. Witch hazel, rosewater, lavender water… degrade very quickly without it due to the chemical composition of the natural compounds.

      I know many people swear by almond oil but I avoid it due to a nut allergy, and I prefer to avoid coconut oil for ethical reasons but lavender oil I love. It is my go too treatment for burns. It is one of the few essential oils that can be applied directly to skin without being diluted and it is superb for dealing with scalds/1st degree burns.


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