Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Green Hair Care, Part 1: Cleansing and Conditioning ("No-poo")

Here's what happens when you use conventional shampoo: you completely strip all of your scalp's oils from your scalp and your hair, leaving them dry, then try to replicate their effects using conditioner. Most conditioners contain silicones, which make your hair shiny, but which can only be removed from the hair with conventional shampoo. The end result is that you damage your hair with an overly-harsh detergent, then mask the damage with a coating that can only be washed out with more overly-harsh detergent. It's a nasty cycle, and one which shampoo/conditioner producers would very much like you to perpetuate.

As I said in my post on facial oils, if you aren't completely stripping your hair and scalp of all of its natural oils, it won't feel the need to overproduce them and become greasy by the next day. Don't worry, there's an incredibly easy, cheap solution to this problem, which I know you are waiting for on the very edge of your seat!

The first thing you have to do is get past the notion that you need lots of foam and lather to be clean. Just toss that right out the window and don't look back. I mentioned sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) in my last post as being a Bad Thing. It is, as I just learned on Wikipedia, an amphiphile; this means it has a molecular structure that makes it attracted to both water and fats/oils, which explains why it pulls all the moisture out of your hair. I just thought that was neat. Basically, it's a foaming agent and a detergent, and as I have mentioned a few times, it's not great for you or your hair.

There are plenty of shampoos that don't contain sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and won't be as harsh, but why spend money on those when you can whip something up at home in less than a minute that costs you next to nothing?

If you're sick of hearing me talk about baking soda and vinegar, you're in luck, because that's exactly where this is headed (I didn't say it was GOOD luck).

To clean your hair, all you need is a little bit of baking soda and water. I do mean a little bit: just mix one tablespoon of baking soda with one cup of water. That's a 1 to 16 ratio, if you're into fractions. What I do is just put a little bit of baking soda in an old, well-rinsed shampoo bottle, fill the rest with water, and then shake it up before use. To use it, all you have to do is pour some on your head (focusing on the roots of the hair), then scrub it in with your fingertips, then rinse out. That's it. Just like regular shampoo, except I focus more on the scrubbing aspect. Despite that, I find that far fewer hairs fall out and end up in the drain than ever before.

Now, since baking soda is a base and it can rough up your hair shafts and even build up over time, it's important to rinse it out with an acidic compound that will neutralize it and smooth the shafts back down. That's why you take another empty, well-rinsed bottle, pour some apple cider vinegar in it, then fill the rest up with water and use that as your conditioner rinse. It seals the hair shafts right up and leaves your hair real shiny. And as long as you're very careful to rinse it all out, no lingering smell of vinegar will remain.

Should you start using this method to clean and condition your hair, you may find that your hair is still greasy at first. As your scalp adjusts to the fact that you're not attacking it with SLS every day, that greasiness will slow way down, and you may find that you don't even need to do the baking soda/vinegar routine every day. Most days, I just scrub my scalp vigorously with my fingers for a few minutes in the shower, then do a little vinegar rinse on the ends. If my hair starts looking weighed down after a few days of this, I'll do a full wash with baking soda and rinse with the diluted vinegar, and I'm right as rain.

Full disclosure, I do still have a couple of bottles of regular conditioner I'm trying to use up. Before I transitioned to baking soda and vinegar, I was using SLS-free shampoos and silicone-free conditioners, and I still have some of the conditioner. On my finger-scrub days, I'll use a tiny amount of the conditioner to smooth on afterward and it leaves a faint, pleasant smell and probably some extra moisture. Nothing wrong with that, and no silicones to build up and need stripping.

Basically, just do what feels right at the time, and don't be afraid to try new things. Eventually you'll stumble upon a routine that works for you... hopefully one that leaves your scalp, hair, and wallet happier than when you started!

For more information, here's an Instructables about how to go no-poo.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Flying time and my "no-poo" adventures

What do you know... I got sick for a few days, then family came into town for Thanksgiving, and now it's the end of November and I don't understand how that happened. I feel like I spent the last week stuck inside a hamster ball. I'm all disoriented and have a bizarre urge to drink from a drippy water bottle.

For all 0 of you reading this, I'm back now, and I think the next topic I'm going to tackle will be hair: a little bit about hair in general, a lot about curly hair in particular.

Here's a few things about my hair routine that will give you an idea of where I'm going with this:

  • I almost never use shampoo (once per month, if that, and that's only if I end up using a hair product that can cause buildup).
  • I make my own hair gel.
  • Diluted baking soda and diluted vinegar are my cleanser and conditioner, respectively.
For an idea of why I have chosen to do such a crazy thing, please see this insanely informative post. For those of you who would prefer to not read through all of that just now, here is a basic rundown:
  • Shampoo contains harsh and harmful chemicals such as mineral oil and sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate.
  • Shampoo is a detergent which strips your hair of its naturally occurring oils, which help keep your hair healthy.
  • You truly do not need shampoo to keep your hair clean, and you can save moderately-sized bucks by going without.
Tomorrow I will begin a two-part series on green hair-care, beginning with cleansing and conditioning. Some of what I cover will apply more to those with curly hair than those without, but I will try to keep everything generally informative for all hair types.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Potential Experiment: Homemade Laundry Detergent

I have been obsessing over DIY laundry detergent the last few days, poring over powder and liquid recipes until my eyes water and using every ounce of my brain power to psychically determine if using these will cause my washing machine to implode. I think it would be fine but I like to make extra sure before I go diving in.

I research things like this at full tilt on my lunch break at work, and as I have yet to develop a system for getting the most useful results back to myself at home (I know, it's so silly that I haven't just started e-mailing myself the links. What the frig is wrong with me?), I tend to forget where I found things. After a bout of rough-and-tumble cursory Googling, here are some links I remember looking at earlier that were helpful:
From what I understand, the Fels Naptha soap mentioned in most of these articles is a petroleum-based product, so that's probably something I'll avoid. I think I remember reading that the Zote is as well, but don't quote me on that. Several commenters mentioned using Dr. Bronner's bar soaps instead, which, since they are castile soaps, would eliminate the petroleum issue.

Another common additive is baking soda as part of the soap recipe and white distilled vinegar as a fabric softener. Apparently the vinegar dissolves any soap residue in the clothes, which is part of what makes them stiff without the use of fabric softener. The smell completely disappears once the clothes are dry, and it helps to keep the drains in the washing machine clear of gunk. As for avoiding static cling, Grinning Planet says you can do this by stopping the dryer before clothes are fully dry and allowing them to air-dry the rest of the way. I imagine this would save a bit on the electric bill as well!

Most people seem to find that using a food processor with a grater blade is more efficient than grating by hand. A few people said they use "Salad Shooters" they found at thrift stores. Still other people say they microwave the soap or let it sit out to dry for a long time before grating it because dried-out soap crumbles into a much finer powder.

Our washing machine is an HE model, which, if I understand correctly, needs to use soaps that don't suds up as much. Since everything I've read indicates that DIY laundry soap doesn't suds up at all, it should be a non-issue. I'll do a bit more research before plugging ahead and see what I can find. Hopefully I'll be able to try it soon!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Not into the Oil Cleansing Method?

It's cool. What works for me may not work for you. I will suggest, however, that products like Clean n' Clear might not be your best option; for instance, Clean and Clear Morning Burst Detoxifying Facial Cleanser scores pretty badly on the Cosmetics Database, meaning it's got some toxic ingredients. I also find that products like that can  be really harsh and drying on the skin.

My reasons for loving the oil cleansing method are explained in my post on the matter, but if you are really not digging the idea, there are other things you can do to keep your face clean that don't involve oil blends.

  • Face washes with tea tree oil are a good option for people with acne troubles or complexions that are oilier than they might like (though keep in mind that excessive oiliness may be the result of using harsh soaps to try to strip oil from the skin). I have this one in my shower right now and I use it every once in a while, though it can be a liiiittle bit drying for me. I tend to only use it when I'm having breakout issues. It's pretty inexpensive and a little goes a long way! It doesn't suds up like other face washes, but it does the job beautifully (in fact, it's best to sever the mental link between suds and cleanliness. You don't need a lather to be clean).
  • Think outside the drug store! Etsy or other sites with handmade goods often have great natural options available. This shop in particular has a few that look good. I have the Strawberry Face Scrub and it cleans and exfoliates really gently. My skin always looks so nice after I use that one. It's a bit pricier and the container is tiny, but you only have to use an itty bit of it and I also save it for special occasions because I am a cheapskate.
  • It's okay to just use water all by itself. I started doing this when I was in a hurry but I find that it's actually pretty great. Just take some lukewarm water, splash it on your face, and use your (clean) fingertips to rub at your greasy spots (sides of the nose, chin, etc.) It helps break up concentrated areas of oiliness without stripping your face. Since I've almost completely stopped wearing makeup (it's too expensive and low on the priorities list), I don't have to worry about getting that off my face, and regular old water seems to do the trick pretty well. Here's some more anecdotal support for this method, if you can call it a method. Please note that using straight baking soda on your face as she mentions there is a bad idea, which the blogger says in a later post.
There ya go! Three easy (on the wallet and the skin) ways to keep your face clean  that don't involve bombing it with the harshest chemicals you can find. And as I've noted, I use a combo of ALL of these things and the oil cleansing method, and I feel like my face looks better than it ever has. It's all about doing what works for you on any given day.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

In Search of a Substitute: Orville Redenbacher's Lime and Salt Popcorn

Somebody call Dr. Drew, because I have an addiction to Lime and Salt Popcorn. I've been hooked since my first bag, and then it disappeared and I was distraught and hoarded my remaining supply. A couple of weeks ago I was in the grocery store when a single shaft of light shone down from the heavens and I saw, to my ecstatic surprise, that it was BACK! AND I BOUGHT FOUR BOXES! OOPS!

Tasty, tasty poison.

According to Wikipedia, which we all know is the world's most reliable source of information, popcorn from the store-bought microwave bags is... how do you say... not so good for you.

In 2006, concerns were raised about the levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA, a chemical related to Teflon) in popcorn bags. The high temperatures used in popping popcorn may facilitate the transfer of the chemical, which is carcinogenic in lab animals, into the popcorn oil.DuPont has agreed to eliminate almost all use of the chemical by 2015.
Additionally, the artificial butter flavoring used in many brands of microwave popcorn has been linked with the obstructive lung diseasebronchiolitis obliterans, sometimes referred to as "popcorn lung", in factory workers and others exposed to large amounts of the substance. The chemical diacetyl, the cause of bronchiolitis obliterans, has been removed from some popcorn brands.

"POPCORN LUNG?" That ain't right, you guys. I have to figure out how to replicate this delicious flavor on my own, so that "popcorn" and "lung" may never again be in the same sentence, unless it is to say "I inhaled the delicious, non-toxic popcorn scent into my lungs before eating the entire bag by myself. The end."

I get that you can make plain popcorn kernels in plain paper bags in the microwave, and you can make them on the stovetop, and then you can add your own flavorings. It's up to me now to figure out what process and what ingredients will most closely resemble Mr. Redenbacher's wretchedly glorious creation. Perhaps items from this site could be of help. In the meantime, let's hope I don't crumble and die from eating the 4 boxes I already bought. Because I will do it.

UPDATE: I figured out how to do it myself!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

On my Mind in November

I can't stop thinking about:

  1. Making my own mineral makeup. I found a kit here that seems like it would be fairly economical. This one also looks pretty good.
  2. NaNoWriMo and my perpetual failure to participate. I am extremely bad at coming up with storylines but I think it would be fun to try. Maybe next year. Or the year after that.
  3. Establishing a day to start vegetarian freezer cooking so I can stop going out for lunch so often (two or three times a week). I have this sweet/super nerdy stainless steel lunch container that I want to use so bad.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Successful Experiment: Oil Cleansing Method

I first learned about the oil cleansing method (OCM) from general internet wanderings a few years ago. I was pretty skeptical, and also had no idea where to obtain the oils that are usually used in oil cleansing blends. This past winter, I was so sick of how dry my skin was that I decided to cowboy up and order some oils online (from Mountain Rose Herbs, to be specific) and give it a go.

The logic behind the method is that your face produces oils for a reason, and so it makes no sense to completely strip all of those oils away and then try to replace the natural oil-based moisture with a water-based moisturizer. Traditional, commercial face-washes and astringents and acne treatments can be incredibly harsh on the skin, and operate on the principle that "oil is bad." Too much oil sitting on your face all the time isn't ideal, but oil in and of itself is good for your skin. If you aren't stripping all of it off every morning and night, your skin won't feel the need to go bonkers and overproduce its own oils, which is where that "greasy" feeling comes from.

I won't lie, oil cleansing takes a bit more time than regular face wash, but it feels so good and your skin will be so happy afterward. Well, probably. It doesn't work for everyone, but different oils have different properties, and if a certain blend isn't working for you, another one might do much better.

Castor oil is used to pull things (like blackheads) out of the skin and dissolve dirt. It's a fairly heavy oil, so if you use only castor oil, it's going to be hard to get off your face. That's why most people cut it with a lighter oil, such as olive oil, which helps to dissolve makeup as well as making it much easier to remove the oil blend with a wet washcloth.

I have combination skin, so parts of it are dry and parts are oily. My personal blend consists of (approximately, because I don't measure) 50% castor oil, 40% olive oil, and the remaining 10% is varying amounts of jojoba, grapeseed, and sweet almond oil. I also put in a couple of drops of lavender essential oil for smell and its antiseptic properties. I massage this into my skin for a few minutes (or longer if I'm zoned out and watching TV or something while I do it), then I wet a washcloth under hot water, wring it out, and lay it on my face. This is possibly the most relaxing thing on the earth. Then I gently wipe off the oil and, if my face feels a little dry afterward, pat on a few drops of jojoba or sweet almond oil.

This worked beautifully for me all winter, but over the summer my blend was too heavy and I stopped using it. Now that it's starting to cool off again, I broke out the oils and have started it back up. I wish I had never stopped! My skin looks better and my breakouts are under control, and the scarring on my cheeks has lightened considerably. I also find that these oils last so long and have so many other uses, I feel like I'm saving money over buying a little $8 bottle of Neutrogena or whatever. It's a larger upfront cost to buy the oils, but I think it's a good investment.

There are tons of resources available via Google if you want to figure out which oils work for which problems. A bit of searching found me this thread about essential oils and their properties from a forum apparently called Essential Day Spa or something.

If you give this a try, let me know how it works out for you! I cleaned out the bathroom closet today and found an old bottle of Sea Breeze astringent and I can't believe I ever put that stuff on my face. The smell of it makes my soul cry.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Semi-Successful Experiment: Replacing antiperspirant with baking soda and corn starch

I realize that in sharing this I risk shunning by friends and family who are proponents of antiperspirant, but hopefully none of my personal relationships are so shaky as to be severed by any underarm-related decisions I may make now or in the future. Right? ... Right?!

As a person who wants to be considerate of others, I try to avoid producing offensive body odor as a general rule. I want people to smile when they see me coming, not wince. But even though the American Cancer Society says it ain't really a thang, the idea of antiperspirants makes me nervous. Plus I hate the idea of buying and throwing away all of that plastic packaging.

Enter le Google. I found this post by Angry Chicken about homemade deodorant, and it occurred to me that I didn't have to buy deodorant from the store. I don't know why making my own never occurred to me, but it hadn't. Her recipe looks awesome, but it involves lots of ingredients and steps and it's probably not that hard but I can be lazy and I wanted to find an easier solution. I still want to try that recipe someday (soon-ish, hopefully), but what I'm using in the meantime is way simpler.

I can't remember exactly where I came across this idea, but general googling led me to understand that you can use plain baking soda as a deodorant. Let me qualify that by saying that while using straight baking soda will work, it can be a bit harsh and irritating to the skin. So it's better to mix it with cornstarch, which makes it feel smoother and even provides some antiperspirant-like qualities, as it is somewhat absorbent. Shoot for a 6:1 ratio of corn starch to baking soda. I didn't really measure, to be honest, I just put more cornstarch than baking soda into a tupperware container, shook it up, and called it good.

It worked pretty well, but I have to say, I missed the nice smells you can get with conventional deodorant. So I took it one step further and bought a powder puff (to make me feel fancy when I apply the powder) and some scented body powder from BonnynClyde on Etsy. I take the scented powder and mix a little of it in with the baking soda/corn starch mixture. It doesn't change the texture or the effectiveness at all, but it makes it smell nice (in a pleasantly subtle way).

I still sweat a bit, which I don't mind too much because that's a thing your body does on purpose. I have occasionally noticed a bit of BO towards the end of particularly long work days, which can sometimes be exacerbated by the fabric of the shirt I am wearing, but I check myself on the regular to make sure I'm not ruining the olfactory lives of my coworkers. I'm currently trying to figure out a way to make this whole operation portable so I can do touchups if I'm going to be out for a long time. Other than that, this is an extremely cheap, "green" solution to a problem that had been bugging me since puberty, so I'm pretty happy.

Here's a post from The Greenest Dollar with a few other homemade deodorant ideas, if you're interested.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Failed Experiment: Activated Charcoal and Vegetable Glycerin Mascara

There are times when, as much as I appreciate their message, I find ReadyMade's projects to be a touch inaccessible or impractical. They involve steps like, "Find a friend who is a metalsmith and have him or her weld all of these 1950s mid-century modern metal chairs to one another to create a chair-bench to meet all of your airport-esque seating requirements!"

But this one is right up my alley. Simple ingredients, no metalsmithing, plus makeup. Bingo.

The materials:

  • Activated charcoal capsules
  • Aloe vera
  • A clean mascara wand
The instructions:
  1. Empty an activated charcoal capsule into a small bowl.
  2. Put in ¼ tsp pure aloe vera gel and mix.
  3. Using an old (but thoroughly cleaned) mascara wand, sweep it onto your lashes. Make and use (don’t store) as needed.

Mascara can be pretty expensive, plus there are all sorts of shifty ingredients I am not terribly keen on putting near my eye-zone. The Cosmetic Safety Database has succeeded in cementing my paranoia about commercially-produced beauty products.

However, since I couldn't find aloe vera gel that didn't look like it came out of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle after eating a bunch of lime jello, I tried to use vegetable glycerin as a base. It looked promising, but it just turned into big black droplets on my eyelashes and 6 hours later, it's still smearing when I touch it.

This would probably work just fine if I actually followed the instructions. I believe we have an aloe plant around here somewhere, so I can probably get some non-TMNT aloe if I look hard enough and see if that fixes the goop issue. "Hexxus from Fern Gully just sneezed on my eyeballs" is not a good look for me.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Look at me trying to be socially acceptable!

I figured today was a good day to start a blog because I got an American Girl catalog in the mail. It felt like a good omen. I haven't owned or thought about American Girl dolls since I was 8 years old, and 17 years later, they are still carrying the flame for me. That's dedication, and it's inspiring. If a dead-eyed fake child staring at me from the glossy pages of a magazine can't get me motivated, what can?

I'm not sure what this is going to be about yet. I have other blogs on which I post little bits of nonsense and silly pictures and a great deal of swear words. I hope to make this a bit more substantial and accessible and useful.

I'm interested in frugality, self-improvement, and finding the simplest possible solution for every problem. I experiment a bit with all of these things just about all of the time, but I always feel like I could be doing more. I learn just as much from my (frequent) spectacular failures as I do from my (less frequent) modest successes.

My plan is to take you through each of these experiments and detail what has worked for me, what hasn't, and the resources I used to cobble everything together. I'll also share my goals, a few deep thoughts, and maybe a swear word here and there.