Saturday, August 18, 2012

Cleaning Up

I've stopped shampooing my hair.


No, I'm not kidding.

Here's the thing: the cosmetics industry pisses me off.  Just as much as--if not more than--the pharmaceutical industry.  They are the modern manifestations of what were previously purveyors of hair tonic and snake-oil.

My mom used to say, "They make a fortune selling glorified water and sugar pills and, if you're lucky, they won't have put anything in them that might kill you."

The cosmetics industry bothers me even more than the pharmaceutical industry, though, because at least there's some ostensible purpose to manufacturing medications to combat diabetes or hemophilia or what have you.

The cosmetics industry has absolutely no reason for existing.  None.  Wash your face and the rest of yourself on a semi-regular basis, laugh frequently, smile regularly, eat well, and you'll be fine.

You do not need to smell like a floral-scented rain forest.  My guess is, the rain forest itself 1) isn't floral-scented, and 2) even if it is, it doesn't smell like that.

The only thing that pisses me off more than the cosmetics industry is the all-natural cosmetics industry.  At least the cosmetics industry is making a profit by selling me crap I can't make myself, like dimethicone and parabens and all other kinds of floral-scented toxins.

The all-natural cosmetics industry is making a profit selling me things I could actually acquire entirely on my own, and they're charging me 10 times as much.

About four years ago, I stopped buying laundry detergent.  I make my own.  Buy a box of borax, a box of washing soda and 4-6 bars of Fels-Naptha yellow soap or plain old Ivory soap, and you're halfway there.  Grate the soap, mix it with some of the borax and some of the washing soda, and you now have about a year's worth of laundry detergent, all for about 5 dollars.

And it doesn't smell like whatever it is that they make detergents smell like--"tidal rain mist" or "fractured fruity sunshine" or whatever--your clothes are just clean.  It works in high-efficiency washers, because it doesn't do all of that sudsing that manufactured detergents do--so no, you don't need to buy the special HE detergent at all, actually.

The sudsing isn't the soap, it's the crap they put in the soap to make you believe it's "working."  "Look at that rich lather!"  Yes, it's wonderful, except that's what's polluting our rivers and streams, and it's not at all necessary.

The only drawback to the homemade detergent is, you can't use it on wool or silk.  If you do, your garment will shrink.  Trust me on this one.  So, I buy a bottle of the natural detergent and keep that on hand for when I need it.  Even so, the yearly cost of laundry detergent for myself alone dropped from about $75 to less than $10.

If you're interested, you can find a recipe for homemade laundry powder here.

So on the heels of that, I became increasingly disgruntled with soaps and lotions in general.  And when you find out what's in them and what it can do to you, you get more upset.

But here's the thing: if I don't wear sunblock, I burn almost instantly and get melasma all over my face.  Not good.  Given how much I swim, if I don't use lotion, I won't have any skin left.  So I needed to make the switch to the (expensive) all-natural products for those items, if I wanted to get away from the chemicals.

But as God is my witness, if I find a way to make my own... they're history.

I tried to switch to all-natural deodorant, and I can't speak for anyone else out there, but it didn't work.  At all.  I know it's not an anti-perspirant: I wasn't expecting to stop sweating, but I was expecting not to stink when I did.

For those of you who don't know this already, anti-perspirants contain aluminum that blocks the pores in your skin.  That's the only way to keep you from sweating: stop it at its source.

But it isn't actually the sweat that's the problem: it's the bacteria on your skin and hair that interacts with the sweat.

Sweat itself doesn't smell.  Think about it: you can have sweat pouring off your face and it may be uncomfortable or unpleasant, but it doesn't stink (at least not at first).  The sweat glands on your face, hands and feet are eccrine glands.  The sweat produced by these glands doesn't contain fatty acids or proteins.

The sweat glands in your armpits and genital area are apocrine glands.  The presence of hair follicles usually indicates apocrine vs. eccrine--it's easy to remember, because you don't have a hairy forehead or feet or hands.  (I hope.)

Apocrine glands produce sweat that contains fatty acids and proteins and when the bacteria on your skin has a field-day with that, well, then, you stink.

Unlike anti-perspirants, deodorants don't use aluminum to block the pores in your skin; instead, they neutralize or mask the metabolized bacteria and kill the smell.  For years, they did that with parabens.  Parabens are preservatives, and they're in nearly everything: they're kind of like the cosmetic "high fructose corn syrup."

Even products listed as "all-natural" may contain parabens.  You have to check the label and look for the specific names of the specific chemical compounds.  It's a royal pain in the ass, to put it mildly.

And just so you know, the term "fragrance" or "parfum" is a major cosmetic loophole that companies use to include phthalates without having to list them in the ingredients.  Phthalates are also what they use to treat faux leather products: you think you're helping the planet by not buying leather, but typically "leatherite" and other faux materials consist of polyvinyl chloride (think PVC pipes) treated with phthalates.

So all of this is a very round-about way of saying that I decided to try to make my own deodorant.  I found a place and ordered supplies (no aluminum, no parabens) and I'm going to see how it goes.

While I was researching homemade deodorant, however, I came upon recipes for homemade shampoo.  Actually, I discovered that there isn't really any reason to use shampoo on your hair at all.

None.  Whatsoever.  Seriously.

I should have known.  I'm not a high-maintenance, Vogue kinda girl, so I'll often go a few days without shampooing my 2-inch long (rapidly greying) hair.  At first, I used to worry about "getting the greasies" (we've all been brainwashed by commercials), but the funny thing was, I actually never did.  My scalp would get a bit itchy, maybe, but that was it.

Well, as it turns out, that really is it.  You have to keep your scalp clean, end of story.  Your hair produces natural oils that are actually good for it: shampoo strips those off and, if the chemicals are harsh enough and used often enough, you damage the protein strand that makes up the hair itself.

This is why you then think you need all kinds of styling products, all of which are brought to you by the same people who tell you to "lather, rinse, and repeat as needed," all so you can buy more and keep the vicious cycle going.

Your hair has a natural ph level that is specific to you, so if you leave it alone, it'll be fine, actually.   Totally fine.

Unless you get gum stuck in your hair or a bird craps on your head, of course--but personally, the former hasn't happened to me in about 35 years and the latter has only happened once in 43 years.

(I did have an incident in which I was making sticky buns and ended up getting splattered from head to toe with melted butter, honey and cinnamon, but that's another story.)

Ph levels are measured on a scale of 0-14.  0 is acidic, 14 is alkaline or basic and 7 is neutral.  Hair has a natural ph of approximately 5. 

Hair dyes usually have a ph of approximately 7-8 (bleach is an 8-9).  Shampoos, water and peroxide also have a ph of approximately 7.  Lemon juice and vinegar are a 2-3, and baking soda is an 8-9.

So, to keep your hair clean, rinse it, with water, every couple of days.  Then, you can use a mix of baking soda and water as a shampoo and a mix of apple cider (or plain) vinegar and water as a weekly conditioner.

It's a simple formula: one tablespoon of baking soda to one cup of water--that's the "shampoo" mix.  And, for the "conditioner," one tablespoon of apple cider (or regular) vinegar to one cup of water.

You want to make sure you only put the vinegar on the ends of your hair, not your scalp, and don't use it too often (remember, it's acidic).  Also, be sure to rinse your hair thoroughly after using each (same as you would after using a commercial shampoo).

Remember, your goal is a ph of about 5.  Baking soda is 8-9, vinegar is 2-3.  Water is 7.  Rinse the "dirt" out every couple of days and leave it alone and your hair will be FINE.

I put "dirt" in quotation marks because really, unless you're working a serious manual labor job, how "dirty" is your hair going to get on a daily basis?  Personally, I don't typically immerse my head in piles of filth until it congeals on my hair and I try not to let particles of debris rain down on me.

And if the oil on my hair is naturally produced, that kinda means it's supposed to be there.

I'm not the only one blogging about this: if you Google "no 'poo" you'll find all kinds of information about doing without shampoo (no, I'm not kidding).  Some say your hair will go through a transition period while it adjusts, producing more natural oils until it calms down and realizes that the days of being attacked daily and strip-searched with sulfates and toxins are over. 

That may be the case, but I can't really tell because my hair is so short.  Personally, I've never experienced a "flat" or "greasy" look when I've gone for a couple of days without using shampoo. 

People with curly hair swear by the "no poo" approach, and people with straight hair have been equally impressed.  One blogger commented that she actually didn't even need to use styling products anymore: her hair seemed to be more manageable and stay in place better than ever.  At first, I was skeptical, but I must say, that has turned out to be the case for me as well.

Various bloggers have posted photos of their hair after a few weeks of the baking soda/vinegar "no poo" regimen, and I must say, when I first saw them, I was green with envy.

(Sorry, I couldn't resist.) 

So I say, bite the bullet and give it a try.  Worst-case scenario, you freak, acknowledge your shampoo and/or conditioner addiction, and go back to doing what you were doing--but maybe a little less often.  At least you gave it a shot.

But if it works, well, a 2 lb. box of baking soda is a dollar and contains nearly 200 tablespoons.  Vinegar is also about a dollar or so and a quart-size bottle contains 63 tablespoons.

My guess is, you'll find yourself saving a lot and not missing the sulphates and the parabens at all.

(For more on giving up shampoo, check out this article.)

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."