Monday, 21 November 2016

Body care without mystery chemicals

Make your own lip balm, and other things
The content of body care products has been of concern to me for many years. It started well before we came to live off the land and even before we ran away to sea. As a young lad and into adulthood, I was often troubled with mouth ulcers. Very annoying, painful and apparently inexplicable. At least, nobody I asked for advice - family, doctor, dentist and so on - had any useful suggestions.

It was only by lucky chance that I hit a long mouth ulcer-free spell and realised that it coincided with a switch in toothpaste brand. Trial and error taught me that there are a couple of toothpastes I can safely use, both of which lack the nearly ubiquitous sodium lauryl/laureth sulphate (SLS). Later, I discovered that the same ingredient in shampoo was irritating my scalp.

It seems touchingly naive now, but I was actually surprised that manufacturers would use toxic ingredients in products that people put in their mouth or on their skin. Why would they do this? In the SLS example, it's because it is cheap and foamy. For any such ingredient, you can be sure that it's used because it is cheap and _______.

Profit, as I now understand, is the only game in town. Maximising margins dovetails neatly with maximising shareholder return. As long as it's cheap, effective and most people can tolerate it without much traceable ill effect, it's in.

Plain rye flour
Now, of course, the power of the internet has made all this information easily available to anyone who cares to look for it. Not only that, but online shopping means that it's simple to get the basic ingredients needed to make a good range of body care products for yourself. Not only that, but because you're not paying the big margins, it actually works out cheaper. Not only those two things, but you can improve it further with quality ingredients from your own garden. So, wait. Better, safer and cheaper to boot? No brainer.

Plus water = rye flour shampoo
Start simple: shampoo. Anecdotal evidence suggests to me that there are a vast number of people out there with chronically irritated scalps, kept that way by the lovely expensive shampoos they use. If you can't go more than a day between hair washes without feeling itchy up top, this could be you. Hold onto your hats here, because most people really struggle to get to grips with this one. Cast away that shampoo bottle (or use it up and don't replace it, if you really must) and reach instead for the rye flour.

It really is that simple. You can just mix up a tablespoon or two of ordinary rye flour with enough water to make it a shampoo-like consistency. Even better, if you want to step it up to another level, make a very strong tea from fresh garden herbs, such as oregano, chamomile, or rosemary, allow it to cool, and use this to mix with the rye flour. The herbal extracts make a noticeable difference to both hair and scalp, and the possibilities for experimentation are infinite.

Massage the mixture into your wet hair and scalp, leave for a few minutes and rinse well. We keep a comb in the shower to use at the rinse stage for removing small particles of rye bran. It is said that rye flour contains all sorts of compounds beneficial to the hair and scalp, but the take home here is that it works. Hair looks and feels nice. Healthy scalp. No need to rinse and repeat, no need for a separate conditioner.

Deodourant is another great example. Commercial versions often contain surprisingly unpleasant stuff. The absurdly simple alternative is baking soda. When you come out of the shower with freshly laundered and still damp arm pits, rub a pinch of baking soda into each. If the pits are dry, wet your hand first. If you want to smell actively nice rather than simply neutral, just use a bit of scent.

Calendula: adds healing power
The possibilities are myriad. With a few basic ingredients: beeswax, coconut oil, olive oil, shea butter, lanolin, you can prepare safe, effective and economical lip balm, moisturiser, salve and, with the addition of raspberry seed oil and/or zinc oxide powder, even sunscreen. Jazz them up and add medicinal properties by including your own infusions of common garden botanicals like mint and calendula. I'll go into more detail on these in some future post.

The manufacturers would have us believe that this stuff is rocket science but it really isn't. For the markup, you're getting mystique and often harmful chemicals along with it. The principle is easily extended to household cleaning products in general, which I cover in a later post.

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