In 1994, at twenty-two years old, I decided to have a baby (or rather, this strong, insistent being decided she was coming into the world regardless, but that’s another story.) Just prior to this sweet surprise, I was living in Brooklyn, working at Vidal Sassoon in Manhattan, and spending most weekends at CBGB. By the end of my first trimester, a combination of pregnancy hormones and the realization that I was going to be responsible for a tiny human prompted an abrupt decision to leave New York for a quieter coastal town in North Carolina, where I began a life-long deep dive into wellness and sustainability. Bye-bye platform boots and cheap Chinese take-out; hello cloth diapers and organic food. Instead of being out at clubs until 4 AM, I was up all night feeding a newborn. While my personal transition from disposable-everything to everything-in-Mason jars was rather extreme, it was by no means perfect.
I did my best to make better buying choices within my limited financial means back then, and now, after 23 years of trial and error, I’ve learned how to be kinder to both the planet and my wallet. With climate change already affecting the world’s most vulnerable populations, and our oceans literally full of plastic, it seems the time has come to share these gleanings, which will happen this summer through a series of weekly-ish posts called…
Plastic Free, Baby!
Contrary to the name, this is not about perfection. What I mean by “plastic free” is first becoming aware of its ubiquitous presence in our daily lives, then eliminating as much single-use plastic as humanly possible and reducing reusable plastics as well. But let’s face it, it is nearly impossible to get rid of it all because large industries are heavily invested in continuing to make it prolifically and cheap, and sneaking it into the things we rely on every day (clothing and food packaging are just two examples.)
Since my personal journey to reducing plastics began in pregnancy, Plastic Free, Baby will start there as well, with ideas that can be used in pregnancy (as well as the rest of your life!) Later on in the series, we’ll get more baby-specific. Kicking it off this week…
Greener shower, cleaner body!
Not only does eliminating personal care products that come in disposable plastic containers reduce our impact on the environment, the stuff inside them has an impact, too. And not just on the planet, but on our bodies and potentially our health.
According to the Environmental Working Group (ewg.org), “personal care products contain large volumes of chemicals, natural and synthetic. Some may be benign, but others could be harmful. Some hazards have not been identified because more research is needed. Cosmetic makers are not required to assess how much gets into your body and what the risks might be. No one assesses the safety of your cumulative exposures to cosmetic ingredients.”
This includes soap, shampoo, and conditioner. The good news is, with only a few small changes, you can switch to safer alternatives. And now that plastic pollution in a growing concern, many companies are beginning to use plastic-free packaging. In fact, it is easier than ever to find bars of soap and shampoo with no packaging at all! Sadly, bar soaps and shampoos don’t work for everyone, including me. But please do try them if you haven’t already- I know many people who use them with great success! For the rest of us, below are some cheap and easy “recipes” that might work better for your skin and hair type, and will definitely save you a TON of money in the long run (and in most cases, in the very short run.) I do use refillable plastic bottles for the shower because the combination of glass and my hard porcelain tub conjures nightmares. If you want to splurge, you can use glass bottles with silicone sleeves that would be more resistant to breaking if dropped… but even that is risky with wet, soapy, slippery babies and kids.
First up, soap!
Bar soaps, and I’ve tried a zillion, tend to dry out my skin too much. So for years I’ve been using very diluted Dr. Bronner’s castille soap for both face and body, because the ingredients are safe for people and the planet (and it’s especially gentle on baby skin.) I buy a gallon at a time for about $50, and it lasts for at least a year. Many stores even make it possible to bring your container back in and refill it! I re-purposed an empty 32 ounce liquid soap bottle with a pump (in the photo above) but you can buy empty new ones as well. Simply add about 1/4 cup of Dr. Bronner’s, then fill out the rest with water. Experiment with the soap:water ratio to see what works best for your skin. Easy peasy, and so much less expensive than buying new bottles or bars of soap!
I also do this for hand soap at the bathroom and kitchen sinks, using smaller Mason jars with pump lids. You can buy just the pump itself to put on any wide-mouth Mason jar!
Next up, shampoo and conditioner…
I’ve experimented with different bottles- empty shampoo containers, even empty ketchup bottles- and these 24 oz. condiment bottles really do work best for our “shampoo” and “conditioner.” Because they are mostly water, it comes out fast so there’s no way to pour it into your hand first; you have to squeeze it straight onto your head, and these bottles make it easy to do that. Without further ado, the recipes:
Baking soda is a natural cleaner, unlike shampoo which is a detergent and strips way too much oil from the hair and scalp. You may have an adjustment period when you start using baking soda to wash your hair, but many people don’t notice much difference at all, other than shinier, healthier hair. The ratio I use is 1 Tablespoon of baking soda in a 24 oz bottle, the rest filled with water. To wash, just pour some onto your head and scrub like you would with shampoo. There won’t be any suds, and that’s a good thing.
The “conditioner” recipe is 1 Tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to 24 ounces of water, and is used just like regular conditioner- pour some onto your hair, work it through to the ends, then rinse.
With both recipes, you will probably need to experiment a bit to find the ratio that works best for your hair type.
For most babies and kids, the Dr. Bronner’s diluted soap works really well as both a soap and shampoo- no conditioner necessary! (I wouldn’t use the vinegar “conditioner” on them because it could sting their eyes.)
And if you really want to go green in the shower, you can do the No-Poo method, which means you just stop washing your hair altogether…. really, look it up!!
Until next time, when we explore more ways to reduce plastics from your personal care routine.