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Taking stock of our personal care products


BODY FRIENDLY Natural personal-care are better for our bodies and the environment.

Green Living
McKinley Neal

In my last column, nearly half of the swaps I covered were related to personal hygiene: soap, toothbrushes, razors and menstrual products. Today, I’m going to look at the personal care products we slather on our skin, as that is our body’s largest organ and we need to keep it healthy.
Have a think about your favourite shampoo, deodorant or even toothpaste. How many ingredients does it have? Can you pronounce them all, or figure out where they might come from? Does the product say it is free from any of the common irritants like parabens, SLS, phthalates, formaldehyde, aluminum or petroleum-derived mineral oil? Unfortunately, the cheapest products are usually made from mostly chemicals that may affect our health over the long term, and will definitely contaminate our water.
So how can we clean up our personal care routines? I’m not proposing that we all start making our potions in the kitchen, because that’s time consuming and of varying effectiveness. I can also attest, from experience, that switching to coconut oil from head to toe is not the answer!
My routine, though, is really simple now: solid soap for hands and body, and a special one for my face, a konjac sponge or bread soda to exfoliate, organic face cream and lip balm, refillable shampoo and conditioner, solid deodorant, and body butter in winter, nearly all made in Ireland. My husband has switched to the natural deodorant and toothpaste and bamboo toothbrush as well—they work for him as well as the mainstream brands. He still has his hair gel though, and I don’t have an alternative for that yet!

Three clusters
To pare down our routines, I started with a stock take/clear-out. To do the same, take out all products from your bathroom cabinets and drawers and make three clusters of items: those that you use every day, those for occasional use (facial mask or bath salts), and, finally, those that you rarely or never use.
Take the third pile out of the bathroom, and try to empty and clean any containers that can be recycled. Anything unopened, like the lotion or perfume you got as a gift and didn’t ever use, can be given to a friend. If there are any expired medicines, take them to your local pharmacy for proper disposal.
With the first and second piles, first have a read through the ingredients. If some of the items are full of nasties, try to find alternatives. There are now many Irish businesses making gorgeous creams, lotions and bath salts from natural raw ingredients, and many of these come in minimal packaging.
As you replace them, think solid: You can get soap, shampoo and deodorant in bars, blocks or tins. Make-up companies are addressing consumer concerns and using minerals instead of chemicals for pigmentation, and your local chemist or health food shop will have ranges for sensitive skin, or in organic quality.
Switch one item, for the benefit of the skin and the planet.

McKinley Neal co-runs PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic foods, reusable goods, household products, eco-friendly personal care items and gifts.