DIY Shampoo

Seven years ago, I learned that many of the substances used in conventional toiletries were harmful. I’ll admit that I was shocked and surprised. I’d believed that modern scientific knowledge, together with regulation, guaranteed greater safety in our shampoos, soaps, and toothpastes.

It was a jolt to discover that this was not so.

I was particularly interested in the fact that sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate are profoundly irritating to the skin. These two chemicals were in nearly every cleansing product on the shelf and inescapable in shampoo.

The reason for my interest was that my scalp had been chronically irritated for most of my adult life. The only shampoo that kept the irritation down to a manageable level was Selsun Blue. And even that was not 100% effective. There was always a small patch somewhere – behind one ear, behind the other ear, right at the crown, or wherever – that was itchy and scaling.

With my new knowledge, I suspected that SLS was causing the irritation. Which meant that most shampoos would be problematic for me, and explained why Selsun Blue was less than ideal. The active ingredient, selenium sulfide, soothed my irritated scalp, but the SLS inflamed it.

My search for an alternative was arduous.

Many of the alternatives had substances in their ingredient lists that were just as harmful as those in conventional products. And those that did not proved to be even more irritating to my scalp.

I blogged about my search in 2012, hoping that my experiences might save someone else all the trial and error. Finding a safe and effective shampoo was much more difficult than finding a good lip balm, a good hand lotion, or a good soap.

SLS was the main ingredient used to provide the slipperiness that removes dirt from hair.

Then I stumbled upon Terressentials hair wash. It’s not a soap or a shampoo at all. Bentonite clay, formed from the weathering of volcanic ash, serves as the basis of its cleansing power.

The hair wash worked for me, and for the first time ever, my scalp healed fully and stayed healed. I was delighted.

There was just one hitch: the consistency of the hair wash was very thick, which made it difficult to work through my below-the-shoulder length hair.

The Terresentials instructions said not to add water to the bottle. I suspect the reason for this was that if the hair wash were stored for a long time, the added water would provide a medium in which bacteria could grow, since there were no preservatives in the ingredients list.

The liquid proportion of the hair wash seemed to be provided by aloe vera juice.

So I purchased a bottle of aloe vera juice, figuring that I could add it to the hair wash myself for greater liquidity.

It didn’t work at all. Oh, it made the hair wash more liquid. But it also left a strange residue on my hair, yielding a slightly tacky feel.

I abandoned the addition of aloe vera juice and learned instead to apply the hair wash immediately after ducking my head under the shower, so that my hair was sopping wet. This allowed me to work the hair wash all the way through my tresses.

It was somewhat cumbersome, but worth it for the fantastic results. I loved having a fully healthy scalp.

I eventually learned that I used the hair wash quickly enough that I could add water to the bottle without any bacterial growth occurring.

I was set!

Until Terressentials changed their recipe.

They never announced any change, no doubt because the ingredients in their hair wash did not change. But the proportions changed. The hair wash gradually became more liquid, and it started to leave that slightly tacky residue on my hair that I’d noticed when I myself added aloe vera juice.

This made me very unhappy.

I continued to use the hair wash, because my hair was clean. It still looked good, and my scalp stayed healthy. The tackiness on each strand was very slight. Still, I didn’t like it.

I started scrutinizing the ingredient lists of alternative shampoos again. None were the least bit promising.

Then I remembered a book on my shelves that I’d purchased long before my Great Soap Quest of 2010. I believe I’d obtained the book just for the sheer fun of experimenting with mixing up my own beauty potions, but I can’t really recall much. 😉

I’d used one recipe to give my mother an at-home “spa” experience, when she complained that her hair was as dry as straw. Not only was that fun, but it worked wonderfully well.

Her hair really was as dry as straw. After I’d applied the Refried Bean Hair Masque (a combination of avocado, refried beans, and various oils), it was entirely restored.

Perhaps there would be a shampoo recipe in that book that would work equally well for me.

There was, but only one.

Out of the 14 shampoo recipes in the chapter on hair, 13 used a base of commercial baby shampoo to which other pantry ingredients were added. (Banana, apple juice, beer, et cetera.)

The recipe without commercial shampoo had the following ingredients:
• 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
• 1 tablespoon lemon extract
• 3 egg yolks
• 1/2 cup lukewarm water

I whisked up a batch and tried it.

I could tell almost as soon as I rubbed it into my hair that it would not work. My scalp hurt!

But I was also sure I knew what the offending ingredients were: the apple cider vinegar and the lemon extract. What if I simply used lemon juice instead? I’d been using a homemade lemon rinse for months (made with lemon juice, not extract) and found it very soothing.

So I made adjustments to the recipe:
• 2 tablespoons lemon juice
• 3 egg yolks
• 1/2 cup lukewarm water

And it worked!

My hair was shiny and clean and with no tacky residue. My scalp was calm.

However, over the course of three of four hair washings, I found my hair became ever so slightly oily. Not badly so, but still.

At that point, with the DIY bit firmly between my teeth, I remembered something I’d read while researching my lemon hair rinse. The author of the Kanelstrand blog had developed a hair wash based on rye flour. What about that?

I returned to her site and read up.

The nice thing about a rye flour slurry is that it possesses the properly acidic pH, just like the lemon hair rinse does. But would it really work to clean my hair?

It took me a while to acquire rye flour. Would you believe it: my ordinary supermarket no longer carries it!

Back when I still ate bread, I used to bake my grandmother’s Swedish rye bread several times a year. Was I the last woman baking rye bread in my locality or something? When I stopped baking, did the market then stop acquiring rye flour? Probably not! 😉

But I had to make a special trip to the health food store to get some.

The Kanelstrand blogger didn’t specify measurements, merely explaining that she added water to a portion of rye flour until she achieved a thick slurry similar in consistency to most shampoos: liquid enough to pour, not so thin that it would seep through the fingers of your cupped hand.

This worked out to be a one-to-one ratio when I tried it for myself.

I make 3/8 cup at a time, right before I’m going to wash my hair:
• 3 tablespoons water
• 3 tablespoons rye flour

I use all of it. There’s no soapy, slippery ingredient that will allow a small amount to spread easily through a large mass of hair (which I have). So I need a large amount.

But it works!

My hair is shiny and clean, and the slight oiliness from the egg-based shampoo is gone.

I suspect, however, that I might be most happy if I use both DIY shampoos in some pattern of alternation, because as I type this my hair feels a little dry.

Perhaps every third washing should be done with the egg shampoo. Or the reverse. I’ll be experimenting with what works best.

I’ll leave you with some notes on the storage needs of these DIY shampoos. They really cannot be stored on the edge of the tub or in the bathroom cabinet, because they are food. They’ll spoil at room temperature.

The egg shampoo is much slipperier than the rye shampoo, so I get two hair washings from one batch. Therefore, I divide the batch in two, using one portion immediately, and freezing the other.

When I was using only the egg shampoo, it lasted fine in the refrigerator. But now that I plan to alternate between egg and rye, the interval is likely to be too long for refrigerator storage to work. Thus, the freezer. It’s very easy to quick thaw by immersing the ziplock bag in warm tap water.

I use the full batch of the rye shampoo, but it also lasts several days in the refrigerator, as I discovered when I made my initial (and larger) batch.

If I were traveling, I would simply bring the bag of rye flour, which does not require refrigeration, because I could mix it with water when I needed it. No doubt I’ll see how that works in practice when I next go up to my parents’ home for an extended visit. 😀

For more about alternative toiletries, see:
Great Soap & Etcetera Quest
Great “Soap” Eureka!
Why To Add a Lemon Rinse to Your Hair Care Routine

 

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Why to Add a Lemon Rinse to Your Hair Care Routine

beautiful hairSome years ago I learned that the soaps and lotions and shampoos we moderns use can be nearly as harmful – over the long haul – as the cosmetics used by the ancient Egyptians or the Renaissance English and Europeans. I looked for safer alternatives. Finding them was quite a search. Many offered on the marketplace were just as bad or didn’t work or irritated my sensitive skin.

Eventually I found a handful of products that worked for me. (Discovering along the way that conventional products had been irritating my skin in a chronic, low level way that I thought was normal for me. It was not.)

But my hair was shorter then. As it’s grown to shoulder length, I’ve found myself wishing for some kind of conditioner. Not enough so as to take up another laborious search. More as a passing wish when I combed my hair.

I’m not really sure how I stumbled upon homemade lemon rinse. Something must have prompted me to do a little googling, but I no longer remember what it was. I bopped around a few websites, and what I learned made me decide to give it a try. Naturally I’m going to share my experience with you. 😀

First some basics.

A strand of hair has layers, sort of like an onion (or an ogre, if that ogre is Shrek). At the core is a pith or marrow that is light and airy. It occupies about one-third the diameter of the strand. Around it are rod-like bundles of keratin. And on the outside is the cuticle, a layer of flat, thin cells that overlap one another like roof shingles.

hair cross-section

Normal hair is somewhat acidic.

Substances that are acidic have a pH between 0 and 6.9. While those that are alkaline have a pH between 7.1 and 14. (A pH of 7 is neutral.) Human hair varies between 4.5 and 5.5.

This natural acidity of human hair prevents fungi and bacteria from growing on it. That’s critically important, obviously, but the acidity serves one other important function. When the hair strand has its proper acidity, the cells of its cuticle lie flat and tight, creating a smooth outer surface. When the hair is less acidic than it should be, the cuticle cells loosen and flap, creating a rough surface.

For this reason, a vinegar or lemon rinse serves as a beautiful conditioner.

Electron microscope scans of human hair

Reading about it, I wasn’t sure I believed it. It seemed to simple. Too easy. But I decided to try it.

I purchased some ReaLemon® juice and mixed 2 tablespoons of it with 1-1/2 cups water, and poured the solution into a ketchup dispenser.

homemade hair rinse(You need to dilute the lemon juice with water, because undiluted lemon juice is too acidic. You want a rinse that will put your hair right smack in the middle of its natural range.)

When I next washed my hair, after I’d rinsed out the hairwash under the shower, I poured my homemade lemon rinse over my tresses, gently working it into the strands and into my scalp (which should also be mildly acidic).

I was astounded to notice that my hair did indeed feel slippery, just like with using a conventional conditioner, except without that super gooey, gunky feeling. My hair felt slippery, but still clean. Once I was out of the shower, dry, and in my robe, I took a comb to my hair. And was delighted to have the comb slide through the strands easily. Yay! Total success!

ETA: I did rinse the lemon rinse out of my hair after I’d worked it in. You don’t want to simply hop out of the shower leaving the lemon in. Let it do its work of making the hair strands properly acidic and then rinse the lemon away.

That experiment was 6 months ago, and I’ve continued to be very pleased with the results of my lemon rinse. It works. Simple as that.

I do have one caution, if you decide to make your own lemon rinse experiment.

I like to keep my rinse right in the shower with my hairwash and soap. I can do so when I use ReaLemon® as my source for lemon, because it has preservatives in it. But one time I ran out of ReaLemon® and couldn’t find it at the grocery store. I purchased the type of lemon juice that must be kept refrigerated. After 3 days of sitting in my bathroom, my rinse had a nasty coating of mold floating on the top, and I had to throw it away.

So, if you prefer to avoid the preservatives (and I do in the food I eat, but I’m willing to suffer them in my hair rinse for the sake of convenience), keep your lemon rinse in the fridge, pull it out for your hair washing, and put it back after. 😀

For more about my hunt for safe and effective soaps and shampoos, see:
Great Soap & Etcetera Quest
Facial Soap Eureka

For more info about alternative hair care, see:
Kanelstrand.com

 

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Facial “Soap” Eureka!

Two years ago I wrote about soap and shampoo and lip balm. I’d recently discovered that modern toiletries weren’t as safe as I’d always believed. I was dismayed and wanted to share my new-to-me knowledge with others.

Especially because I’d hunted up alternatives that were both safe and effective.

You can read that blog post here.

safe bath products

Now I’ve got an update!

I’m still using the same wonderful Terressentials hairwash, Bubble&Bee lip balm and “bodyButta” lotion, pure castile soap from the Blue Ridge Soap Shed, alata soap from SheAyurvedics, and Bubble&Bee deodorant. These products have worked for me over the long haul.

But, at last I’ve found a solution to my face soap dilemma!

Cetaphil and Equate Gentle CleanserBefore my toiletries revelation, I’d been using a generic version of Cetaphil® Gentle Cleanser. It worked well. The Gentle Cleanser kept my face clean without drying my skin. Perfect! Until I checked the EWG Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database.

Amongst Cetaphil’s ingredients:

Propylparaben – developmental/reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, allergies/immunotoxicity – EWG score of 10, the worst

Butylparaben – biochemical or cellular level changes, developmental/reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, allergies/immunotoxicity – EWG score of 7, not good on a scale of 1 – 10

Methylparaben – biochemical or cellular level changes, endocrine disruption, allergies/immunotoxicity – EWG score of 4, still not great (I like products with ingredients that score 0 or 1)

Propylene Glycol – enhanced skin absorption, allergies/immunotoxicity, irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), organ system toxicity (non-reproductive) – EWG score of 3, better but not the range I prefer

I gave up my Gentle Cleanser, but my face suffered.

The pure castile soap was gentle, but not gentle enough for my face. The alata soap was gentler yet, but not gentle enough.

Rosa MosquetaI tried using Aubrey® Organics Rosa Mosqueta® Bath & Shower Gel, but my cheeks developed a bit of red chapping in response. Plus I had concerns about the grapefruit seed preservative in it. Grapefruit seed extract may be contaminated by triclosan and methyl paraben or benzethonium chloride, unless it is processed properly.

I tried plain vegetable glycerin, the main ingredient in the Aubrey® Organics product, but it worsened the chapping on my skin.

I gave up for a while.

 

Nourish Organic Hand WashAnd then I found myself away from home during a family medical emergency. The hand soap in the house where I stayed ran out. I dashed to the local health food store and picked up a bottle of Nourish Organic Hand Wash. The ingredients looked good, but I didn’t think more about it until after my family member in the hospital was out of danger.

My hands felt great and – since I’d been using it on my face – my face felt great too! This was what I’d been wanting for the last 2 years: a gentle cleanser for delicate skin that wasn’t soap-based, that didn’t dry my skin, that didn’t irritate my skin, and that was made of safe ingredients.

Eureka!

I returned home exhausted and sick (in a minor, non-dangerous way) myself. Needless to say, I didn’t go shopping right away. When I did, I couldn’t find the Hand Wash, but the Body Wash seems to be the same stuff in a different dispenser. I’m happy!

Nourish Body WashAt this point, I’ve only been using Nourish for a few weeks. I’ll report back in a few months to share how it holds up over the long haul. I’m hopeful! 😀

For more on green clean, read:
Great Soap & Etcetera Quest
Green Housekeeping

 

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Great Soap & Etcetera Quest

hieroglyph of amcient EgyptQueens of ancient Egypt outlined their eyes with kohl made from sulfide of antimony. Roman matrons rouged their cheeks with cinnabar, red mercury. Elizabethan nobles painted their faces with white lead. Victorian women swallowed arsenic to improve their complexions and drops of belladonna to dilate their eyes.

Learning these facts as a child, I developed considerable scorn for cultures of the past and their use of poisonous substances in the quest for personal beauty and hygiene. “Of course, they didn’t know any better,” I reminded myself.

Who would have dreamed that my attitude would reverse itself? At least the kohl worn by all the Egyptians who were not queens – made with lead sulfide, instead of antimony – actually protected them from eye infections. While modern concoctions . . . are not nearly so safe as we imagine. And we do know better!

Where did my change of attitude start? Strangely, with the flap about bisphenol A. My children were very young at the time, and we had plastics galore in our household. Little ones drop so many things. Surely plastic was safer than risking tender feet cut by broken glass. Well, it wasn’t; not if the plastic contained BPA, or maybe even if it didn’t. I read up on plastic and discovered that the reason it flexes the way it does is because each molecule of plastic physically slides past the others. And in the sliding process, some of the molecules are shed like skin flakes. When we eat foods stored in plastic, we eat a little of the plastic along with the food. Hmm.

I replaced all the plastic juice glasses with glass mugs. (The handles would help small fingers keep a grip.) Our tupperware and rubbermaid received the ax likewise. Canning jars and a few Pyrex containers worked just fine for storing cheese, homemade yogurt, and leftovers. Bed, Bath & Beyond even carried some inexpensive glass pitchers (with covers) for tea and milk. Good. We were set.

Except then I got to wondering . . . what else do I take for granted as safe when it isn’t? What about soap and shampoo and chapstick?

My first forays into research turned up cause for concern, but not much solid information. I decided to try the “organic” products carried by the local health food store. That was a disaster. The soap dried my skin and irritated it. The lotions were no better at moisturizing those dry hands than were conventional ones – that is, no good. And the shampoos resulted in a scalp that actually bled. Hmm again.

cover image of book about the dangers of conventional toiletriesI returned to conventional products, while I did more thinking. Not much in the way of solutions came to me . . . but, eventually, I stumbled upon a little lilac-colored book: Dying to Look Good by Christine Hoza Farlow. It was still thinner on specific solutions than I wanted, but it sure gave me motivation to try again. My conventional soaps, shampoos, and lip balm were chemical cocktails of carcinogens. And the health food store versions were often little better. They just used a different chemical cocktail!

Besides providing motivation, the book also led me to the Environmental Working Group and their Skin Deep cosmetics database. I was skeptical at first. I’d already been burned by the health food stores. Would this be any better?

It was.

The database lists every single ingredient in each product it includes, and it includes a lot of products, some with ingredient lists so simple that the words are all in English, utterly bare of incomprehensible chemical terms. Those were the products I decided to try.

And I got lucky.

photo of Terressentials hair washTerressentials’ hair wash, made with bentonite clay, was a beautiful thing for my hair and scalp. I’ve always had a twitchy scalp, prone to take offense at the slightest slight and throw out a patch of eczema. Apparently, the vast majority of shampoos – conventional and alternative – have ingredients that were causing my eczema. My longtime favorite also had ingredients that relieved it. But that’s crazy! To have irritant and remedy bundled together. My scalp has been calm over the last two years, ever since I slathered it in coconut oil (to soothe the damage done by the earlier experiments) and adopted the clay hair wash. (It’s not soap, and it doesn’t foam, but it does clean.)

photo of Bubble & Bee lip balmsTerressentials’ lip balm was another success, although it gets a little melty in the summer. But Bubble & Bee’s lip balm tends to be too stiffly solid in the winter. So I use both, the stiff one in hot weather, the melty one in cold.

photo of Bubble & Bee's body butterBubble & Bee’s body butter became the first lotion to ever have a lasting effect on dry scaliness of my feet (sorry for the TMI), and it’s pretty nice on hands, elbows, and knees too. Soft, properly moist skin is the result.

photo of African alata soap by SheAyurvedicsPure castile soap from the Blue Ridge Soap Shed doesn’t undo all the good work of that body butter. And, hey, it’s local too! It’s become my husband’s favorite soap, but I prefer something even more moisturizing: African Alata soap by SheAyurvedics. They’re both good. (ETA 2015: SheAyurvedics appears to have gone out of business, alas.)

photo of Bubble & Bee deodorantI’d had adventures with deodorants and anti-perspirants several decades ago and was leery of re-opening that can of worms. But my success with all the other toiletries, and especially with shampoo (the most unpleasant of all my cosmetic adventures) gave me courage to try again. I ordered up Bubble & Bee’s lemongrass deodorant. That proved a little too lemony for my taste, but it certainly did a fine job without irritating my skin. My husband had decided on their super pit putty, and we ended by swapping. He liked mine better, I liked his. Just recently I decided to branch out a little and purchased some lime geranium. Now my only difficulty is that I can’t decide which I like best. Both smell so nice! It’s a good problem to have.

Two toiletries still remain begging solutions.

I hadn’t used soap on my face for years, but the gentle cleanser resting beside the bathroom sink contained questionable ingredients. My problem: nearly all the alternatives have actual soap in them. And even a mild soap is too strong for my face. The one soap-free alternative I could find also has a questionable ingredient in it: grapefruit seed extract. The extract itself is harmless, but unless it is supplied by Nutribiotics, it may be contaminated by triclosan and methyl paraben or benzethonium chloride (all big baddies).

Since the main ingredient of my one alternative was vegetable glycerin, I decided to buy that one ingredient straight up and try it. I’m finding it acceptable, but still not quite right. I’ll probably start the quest again at some point. Just not yet!

Toothpaste is my other wild child. I’m currently using one of the SLS-free Tom’s of Maine formulations, but I’m not keen on its plastic container! I’ve tried homemade: arrowroot powder mixed with a few drops of food grade mint extract. That actually was very satisfactory, but messy. I may go back to it, now that my children are older. They can handle messy these days!

So why am I telling you all these rather personal details? (Too much information, with a vengeance!) Mainly because I really wanted to find a blog post just like this 3 years ago when I embarked on my great toiletries quest. I would have been spared a bleeding scalp and a lot of aggravation. Since I didn’t find this blog post (paradoxical time travel, anyone?), I’m creating it in the hope of sparing you irritation and aggravation! Luck!

UPDATE April 2015: I discovered a mild facial cleanser that works for me – Nourish Organic Moisturizing Cream Hand Wash – and blogged about it here. I’m currently using JASON toothpaste. The tube is made of plastic (alas), but I feel confidant of the ingredients in the paste.

Dying to Look Good at Amazon

Dying to Look Good at B&N

Hair Wash at Terressentials

Lip Balm at Terressentials

Lip Balm at Bubble&Bee

Body Butter at Bubble&Bee

Deodorant at Bubble&Bee

Castile Soap at the Blue Ridge Soap Shed

For more on green living, see:
Bandanna Gift Wrap
Waste-Free Lunch
Green Housekeeping

 

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