I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ~ Thoreau

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Naturally....skuzzy?? EWH!

So I have been experimenting with natural/homemade hair and skin care now since September. While in PA I learned of a website called The Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org) which lets you explore just how many harmful chemicals are in the allegedly “safe” products we put on our bodies every day. If you were not of a paranoid persuasion before exploring their site I promise you will be afterwords. Since returning home from the Mother Earth News Fair I have really tried to reduce the number of chemicals I put on my body in hopes of making myself healthier and having a little extra money in my pocket.

I started out with skin care. Soap is easy, you can make soap in the crock pot with some basic ingredients from the grocery and hardware store (NOTE: some of the hardware store ingredients will get you the side-eye because, apparently, they are also popular for cooking methamphetamines). I learned how to make soap on YouTube. There are lots of different videos just search “crock-pot soap” and pick one. This is the one I use most frequently, I like it because it has everything in writing and describes exactly what each stage should look like so it is kind of idiot proofed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRoRlHMCemw.

I thought I was really up on it because I could make my own soap, detergent and lip balm. Really, I felt pretty self assured with my hippie holistic self. I also used “mineral” makeup so I figured I was pretty self-righteously safe. Then I put my favorite makeup and deodorant through the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database at the EWG’s website. Um, YIKES! All of my favorites landed in the red zone, uh oh, time to reevaluate.

I do not wear makeup everyday so that one was not a huge concern but I did wash my face with a high end drug store cleanser, I did use shampoo and conditioner every other day, I did slather on deodorant every morning and I used tons of body lotion so what’s a girl supposed to do? Smell bad and have greasy hair and alligator skin?

Thus began my quest through the magic of the internet for homemade safer alternatives. I turned to abraca-google for my answers. Let me tell you, there are some magic potions out there, all for your creation, with just some kitchen ingredients and some time. I can also attest to the fact that many of these are bunk and will leave you with stinky hair and lots of acne. Every site I researched was quick to point out that although their concoction of choice worked miracles on their hair/skin it may not work for you because of course everyone’s body chemistry is different. This is a nice way of saying good luck you are on your own.

I started with the simplest suggestions first, baking soda and vinegar hair care. According to many natural lifestyle sites this is the have all to end all of hair care. All you need do is rinse your hair in these magical basic elements and you will have shiny, lustrous healthy locks befitting a Disney princess. I am not going to call anyone a liar but…well…that is a big stinky crock of cat poo, or dirty hair as the case may be. Each site said there was an adjustment period while your hair and scalp acclimated and you worked to get the exact ratio down but I will tell you I gave it two months and my hair was both dry and brittle while constantly looking filthy and smelling like dirty gym shoes every time it got damp or I got hot.

This is how it works; you mix up one bottle of water and baking soda for cleansing I think I finally settled on a ratio of about one cup of water to one tablespoon of baking soda. Then you get your hair wet in the shower and rub this mixture into your scalp and out to the ends of your hair. You give it a few seconds to break down the oil then you rinse it out. I have relatively short hair and I can say if you stop with this step it will resemble an S.O.S. pad and you will never ever get a comb through it again as long as you live. Thus follows the vinegar.

The vinegar rinse is supposed to condition and detangle the hair and it does, to some extent, but what all the blogs and tutorials I read glossed over is the fact that your shower will smell like salad dressing and your hair, while not stinky as long as it remains dry and at a normal temperature, will immediately begin to smell like five day old socks as soon as you get caught in the rain or begin to sweat. Also if you do not get the ratio of vinegar to water exactly right for your hair it is a beast to rinse out and instantly gives you dirty-looking locks. Not to mention if you blow dry the smell will choke a dog at twenty paces.

I spend a lot of my time at home with animals that do not care what I smell like and with children who are too young to express their concern about my personal hygiene but poor Fred does have to sleep in the same bed as me, and on Sundays we go to church and our church family is a super huggie bunch and all I could think was someone was going to hug me and promptly puke down my back.

GROSS. I am sorry. It is gross. I want to make as much of my own skin and hair care as possible but this is gross. I used apple cider vinegar which I love to cook with but I do not want to smell like it any more than I want to smell like a garlic clove or a green pepper. I committed to the program for two months and over that time I became so paranoid I was afraid to hug people at church I was sure they thought “Ewh, does Autumn ever wash her hair?!” I may have stuck with it if it had provided the glorious hair of a Panteen commercial (which is what people all over the internet swore to) but it did not. I had gross smelling hair and it looked terrible. The ends split, it was unmanageable and constantly looked dirty so back to the drawing board.

After searching the web some more I thought I might be interested in trying to make some shampoo bars. However, this seemed like a time consuming and expensive endeavor so I figured I would order some and try it out first. I ordered half a dozen sample bars from the people at Chagrin Valley Soap and Craft Company (www.chagrinvalleysoapandcraft.com) and fell in love with the Extra Honey Beer Shampoo bar but at almost eight dollars a bar and six dollars in shipping it is kind of out of my price range for hair care although it does last much longer than a traditional bottle of shampoo. I would recommend it and I am going to try and recreate it in my kitchen. Using it allowed me to see that I do like a shampoo bar, it takes a little getting used to, and it would be a worthwhile project for me. It is important to note: you cannot leave it in the shower like you would a regular bar of soap. It melts with alarming speed. I order a full size bar of the beer-honey shampoo and a couple of sample bars of other concoctions and made the mistake of leaving the first sample in the shower where it did not last the week. Also apparently the beer-honey bar is delicious. I do not know this first hand but my Sengal parrot Simon Peter tries to eat it every time he is in the bathroom so now I have the double problem of not storing it in the shower and hiding it from the animals.

That still left the conditioner dilemma. I continued to use the vinegar rinse until I just could not stand the smell. I found some organic tea tree oil conditioner at the Healthy Life Market made by a brand called Avalon and for now that is what I am using. The joy of having short hair is that only a minuscule amount of conditioner is needed so a bottle can last me almost a year. It does not totally solve the problem. I would like to make my own but I figure one baby step at a time. Let me conquer the shampoo bar and then I will move on to the lofty project of conditioner. So far all the conditioner recipes I have found on the internet seem extremely gross and oily so I will be trying them with caution.

This takes me to the problem of skin care. I have very sensitive acne prone skin. In the past I have taken antibiotics, Accutane, used harsh chemicals, had laser resurfacing treatments and chemical peels all to varying degrees of success. But I am tired of poisoning myself via the largest organ of my body so I decided to jump head first (or face first as the case may be) into homemade skin care.

The most popular method I researched was something called “oil cleanse” ok the thought of deliberately putting oil onto my already grease prone acne laden face was enough to give me SEVERE anxiety but in an effort to be green and reduce our carbon footprint I thought I would try it. It is a pretty simple process/concoction, depending on who’s blog you read, but I thought I would go with the simplest process first which was just a combination of extra virgin cold pressed olive oil and cold pressed castor oil. (An interesting and unrelated side note: Did everyone but me know that the side product from castor oil, what is left over from the caster bean, is what is used to make the insanely deadly poison Ricin? I was floored and a little put off from castor oil when my dad brought out that little bit of shock and awe trivia. He said that eating as few as two castor beans could kill a person, makes me a tad nervous about slathering my face in castor oil.)

The science (or pseudo-science, again depending on who you read) behind an oil cleanse, as best I understand it, is this; the castor oil dissolves the pore clogging dirt and oil on your face and the olive oil replaces the dirt and oil with a pure clean alternative. You basically slather the mixture on your face, (I ended up with a equal 1:1 ratio) leave it for anywhere from two to ten minutes, then steam it off either via warm wash cloths or by placing your face over a bowl of steaming water or with a hot shower.

I am still using the oil cleanse method and although the texture of my skin is much softer and smoother and I have noticed a reduction of the fine lines that were mostly due to dry skin, it has not done much or anything to help my acne. I still look like a pimply faced preteen for at least two weeks out of the month. I blame Mother Nature not the cleansing method. The plus sides to the oil cleanse are it is seriously the cheapest form of skin care I have ever come across even cheaper than bottom shelf generic drug store cures. The down side is you have to get used to skin that feels pretty weird and slightly dirty for the first couple of weeks you try it. I think if someone is not prone to acne this is an awesome fix, if you are prone to acne it is not so great but basically nothing is. I have tinkered with tea tree oil and apple cider vinegar as treatment and toner but I have not seen any noticeable improvements and the problem, especially with vinegar, is the same as with hair care. IT STINKS.

Lots of different sites and bloggers swear by different oil concoctions. I briefly tried jojoba oil and castor oil which one commenter said was the most amazing acne cure they had ever seen. Um, no. It left me with raging acne both cystic nodules and white and black heads, yuck and painful. So the expensive bottle of jojoba oil is now sitting lonely on the bathroom shelf. Oh well, live, test and learn.

I do not mind the oil cleanse method but I have not seen the miraculous results some people claim on their blogs. I basically believe what those people say because they are not being paid to advertise generic oils (as far as I know) so I doubt they would have many reasons to lie about it. I just assume they are more genetically blessed than I. I will probably stick with it because I have not found any better, cheaper, more effective natural methods so far but I am open to suggestions.

I do know that diet plays a big part for me. The cleaner I eat, the clearer my skin. Of course I am not perfect and clean eating often gives way to convenience or comfort eating but that is another blog.

If you have a natural cleanse hair or skin care method you swear by please feel free to share it in the comment section. I would love to hear it and I am always open to trying something new. Also, if you make your own shampoo bars and have any tips those would be much appreciated.

Much love, and thanks for reading,