Eco-friendly beauty

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As times goes by, I realise I’m very much going back to basics with my beauty products.

It made me smile recently to realise quite how much my bathroom is beginning to resemble my kitchen.

Partly it’s to do with money – the desire to not keep sending it down the drain has sent me in search of cheaper, easier options for things like washing and cleaning. But it’s also to do with not wanting to constantly surround myself with chemicals. Little by little, I am stripping chemicals out of the house and out of my beauty routine. 

Firstly, to cleaning. I now use only five things in the whole house: white vinegar, alcohol, washing soda, essential oils and detergent (basically washing up liquid). These five items can be used for every type of surface – loos, sinks, floors, work surfaces, windows etc. A quick spray of white vinegar works as well to clean the tub or the toilet as it does to neutralise cat odours or brighten up the windows, while washing soda will remove dirt and grease like nothing else in the world.

No more toxic soups under the sink – no more Dettols and Dettoxes, Zofloras and God knows what else, combining nastily together to fug up the house. In the flooding that Britain was subjected to last year, under-sink chemicals became a major health hazard and water polluter and I don’t want to be responsible for anything like that. 

Even our air-freshener is eco. We gave up on commercial air fresheners many years ago, due to my asthma, but I forget sometimes how generally it isn’t known that you can simply use essential oils. In each room, I have a small glass spray bottle with water containing about 10 drops of essential oil: shake it, spray it and Bob’s your uncle. A recent visitor was incredibly impressed with how effective this is – he’d never come across anything like it. My favourite oils, personally, are clove, cinnamon, citronella and lavender, but this method means you can use whatever you want – in winter, it’s quite nice to turn to eucalyptus or pine to help prevent colds.

I hadn’t realised until last week quite how many of my beauty products I’ve also changed. The realisation came as the cat sat beside me on the edge of the bath and munched his way through my body scrub. I make this up every couple of weeks, from equal quantities of honey and almond flour, plus a few drops of lemon juice. Basically, as any cook might note, this is marzipan, and not only is it completely harmless and very cheap, it smells beautiful and leaves your skin delightfully soft. I can’t imagine ever again buying a face or body scrub – they all smell disgustingly fake to me nowadays. 

Some months ago, too, I finally gave up on talcum powder altogether. I’ve known for a long time that you shouldn’t use it because it’s a suspected carcinogen, but a description I read of it being ‘exactly like powdered asbestos’ was what brought it home to me. Talc is a mineral, and it’s not generally a good idea to grind up minerals and rub them all over yourself, especially if there’s any danger of breathing them in.

I’ve switched instead to corn starch. Admittedly this has disadvantages – it has no perfume (though you can add some easily enough); it cakes, so you can’t shake it; and it feels a bit squeaky on your skin. But lack of effectiveness isn’t one of its drawbacks: corn starch is actually more absorbent than talcum powder ever was or could be. I keep mine in a nice old Edwardian era powder-puff container and apply it with a big fluffy puff but if you fancied something a tad more modern, Lush make body powders based on gram flour, and they’re lovely to use, though you have to devote a bit of time to rubbing them in. 

When I ran out of conditioner recently, rather than shell out 5 euros for a new jar, I went back to an age-old method and simply made up some mayonnaise. It’s not like commercial mayo, of course – it’s simply an emulsion of egg yolks and olive oil without the vinegar or mustard. Apply it like any normal hair conditioner and leave for three minutes, then flush it down the drain as per. No parabens, no alpha-hyrdroxi-whatsits to bother the environment. It doesn’t keep, though, so I only make up a small batch at a time, using a single egg. Between washes, I condition my hair with oil – any oil will do, but mine happens to be sweet almond. Just a drop on the palms of your hands, and combed in works well as a styling product and tames flyaway ends. 

On the side of the bath is also a bottle of cider vinegar. If you suffer from thrush, as I tend to, you really need cider vinegar in the bath, but even if you don’t, a good splash of it helps to preserve the acid mantle on your skin. One friend, who is a roofer, uses it neat, rubbed into her hands and washed off, as a skin softener. You can also use it as a hair conditioner, rubbed well into the ends of your hair and rinsed out again. No, you don’t end up smelling like a chip shop at all – it has a clean, pleasant smell that fades quickly in any case. 

And finally deoderant. I gave up anti-perspirants a long time ago, when I developed fibroid breast tumours. There’s a suspected link, and it’s only suspected, but why take the risk? So for a long time now, I’ve used a deoderant stone. This cost about 12 euros, and at the rate it’s going, it will last a lot longer than I will. Mine is quite a sophisticated type, with a smooth top and you roll it on like any normal deoderant. I also made myself up a body freshener with witch hazel and essential oil of rosewood – a fresh-smelling oil that many of us associate with soap. And I also buy a commercial alum-only spray-on deoderant for days when I feel I need a bit more protection.

There’s only one major snag to these kinds of natural deoderants – they don’t work as well as anti-perspirants. So to be on the safe side, I always keep eau de cologne in the house, my handbag, and the car. A fantastic killer of bacteria (including the kind that breeds in your armpits), nothing kills pong faster than eau de cologne, liberally applied, as I learned when training as an aromatherapist. (It’s required in French hospitals for bed-bathing and you have to bring it in yourself.)

Sadly, though, for those really anxiety-inducing days when you have to visit the ob-gyn or somesuch, I still haven’t found a non-antiperspirant deoderant that can really cut the mustard, and I end up falling back on Dove or somesuch. So I’d be grateful for any tips if anyone else has found something that works. 



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