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.
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.
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.