Sunday, 5 May 2013

Experimenting with homemade synthetic-free shampoo and deodorant

Possibly the second part of the title might put some of you off reading this post, I hope not.

I've been interested in "natural" approaches to life and living for as long as I can remember. Part of this is born from a deep-rooted concern over the increasing quantities and types of synthetic chemicals that we are exposed to on a daily basis. This is particularly the case when it comes to cosmetic products (makeup, soaps, shampoos, deodorants, toothpastes).

A quick google search demonstrates the toxic nature of many of these synthetic chemicals, a large number of which are hormone and central nervous system disrupters. Another google search underlines just how unnecessary they are- you can get by perfectly well (better) without them.

Long story short, we got rid of all of these types of ingredients from our home and immediate environment years ago and have lived happily and healthily without them, until this week when two salutary reminders raised their ugly heads.

The first thing that happened was M, who cycles to work, returned home smelling like a tart's parlour. It turned out he hadn't been cuddling up to the ladies as work, instead he'd borrowed a colleague's shower gel. He used it at 8.30 in the morning, it was 6.30pm by the time he got home and I could smell it the second he walked in. It didn't take long for it to pervade the entire house; you could even smell it in the attic (and he didn't go in the attic, which just shows how horribly strong these things are).  He duly went upstairs and showered twice and it still clung to him. I reckon it took a couple of days to wear off properly. Yuk.

Synthetic scents are overwhelmingly strong and pervasive things when you're not used to them. If you're interested in going synthetic-free a good test to see how much they've affected you is to get rid of them for a month or two then spray one nearby and see how it makes you feel. It may give you a headache, it might make you feel sick, it may makes your eyes sting, your throat sore, and I bet you notice the strength and artificiality of the smell in a way you wouldn't have done before. Synthetic scents are over-whelming, over-powering and about as subtle as a brick. They are no-where near as lovely as the scent from plants or natural cold-pressed or steam extracted oils. I can't stand them and they make me feel ill after a relatively short exposure.

The second thing that happened was my fault. 

I haven't worn deodorant all winter but with the hotter weather comes more sweat (apologies to anyone wrinkling their nose at this but I'm afraid working as a healer for 17 years enures you to pretty much anything when it comes to the basic workings of the human body!). I have got a natural deodorant but to be honest it really doesn't work and you can't wash every minute of the day, so I went out and bought as natural a mainstream one as I could find, checking to make sure it was paraben and perfume-free. I stuck it on, was pleased with the results, and thought no more about it. Job done, or so I thought.

The following morning I applied it again and drove to Winchester for some retail therapy. On the way there I became aware of chest pains- a tightness in a band around my ribs. My lungs felt uncomfortable and my muscles were tender. I found myself wriggling about to try and stretch it out. Odd, I never get things like that. I put it down to the start of a viral coldy thing and got on with the day. 

I was fine next morning, and forgot about it. The anti-perspirant went on again, an hour later the pains were back, only worse, and I started to wonder if it could be the anti-p because it was the only new thing I'd introduced that coincided with the onset of these pains. I dismissed the thought because I'd specifically bought one with no nastys in it and couldn't see what would be triggering the symptoms. 

The following day I used it again and within the hour was in a lot of discomfort and even started to wonder if I was having a mild heart attack.

I got out the anti-perspirant and looked at the ingredients. Aluminum chlorohydrate (here's a bit about it on the Planet Organic Website- scroll down to "aluminium"). Hmm, that rang bells, and sure enough when I checked on line it pinged back with links to breast cancer, rashes, shortness of breath, chest pain to name but a few. I didn't put any on this morning and low and behold have no pain or discomfort at all today.

I decided it was safer to experiment making my own. I remembered reading years ago that bicarb of soda is a good natural deodorant (not baking powder-it has traces of nasty things in it) and set about mixing up my own dry deodorant using 1 part bicarb of soda to 6 parts corn flour. Dab it on clean dry armpits with a blusher brush and Bob's your uncle, it's that simple. You're not clogging up vital lymph glands preventing them from doing their job so it should work with your body instead of against it, and there shouldn't be any nasty reaction to the ingredients either.

But does it work? Well, it is early days yet but so far so good. This is the first morning I've used it and the family aren't running away from me holding their noses in disgust. We have lunch with the in-laws later today so that'll be a good experiment won't it?!! 

I'll do an update later in the week when it's had more of a test. What I can say is that it feels lovely when you put it on- soft and comfortable and gentle.

You can also use bicarb of soda as shampoo, which I tried out this morning. You mix it in a paste with water, apply the paste, let it dry, rinse out, then apply apple cider vinegar diluted with water, rinse that out and hey presto! Clean hair. 

I'll update on this again later this week but so far so good.

BTW- the first picture is not what my hair normally looks like when I get up in the morning, it's a paste-in photo.

And afterwards, with paste rinsed out and apple cidar vinegar having been applied and rinsed out. Not too bad I thought. It's certainly clean and feels nice. Has a nice natural smell too.

I used an old faith in nature shampoo bottle, poured in about 1/3 apple cider vinegar and 2/3 water, shook it up and splashed it over my hair. It'll keep in there fine.

You can get acv from your local feed merchant (usually the cheapest option). Try and get the "live" version which has what they call the "mother" in it- a unpleasant-looking gooey-like glob which has lots of goodness in. Yum!

Finally, this is the hair shampoo paste in a pot. It is a messy-ish job putting it on but I'm not too phased by that. The bicarb paste dries quickly into crumbs so it's easy to sweep up any bits that fall on the floor. If it works it'll mean we have another synthetic free healthy option to use, which is worth a few crumbs to me.

I'd be really interested to hear what happens if any of you decide to give any of these things a go- particularly the synthetic-smell test one. My sense of smell is a hundred times better than it was before we got rid of artificial fragrances and perfumes and I find I really appreciate the subtlety of natural scents now- rain after a period of hot dry days, freshly mown grass, blossom on the trees, bluebells. I'd really encourage you all to try it. Release your noses!


  1. No, not off putting at all CT. I thought it was a fascinating post. I am an extremely allergic person and some years ago allergy tests showed I tested positive on everything which the consultant had only ever seen once before. Consequently I have always tried to avoid anything other than natural ingredients particularly in food but also where possible in other things. My friend has just stopped colouring her hair because of the amount of dangerous chemicals in it and one of my pet hates is going into someone's house where they use one of those plug in air fresheners...yuk!

    Anyway, I admire your efforts and you must let us know about the deodorant, tomorrow's promised hot weather should be a good test ;-) Your hair certainly looked nice and clean too :-)

    1. I totally agree about the air fresheners- I can't stand them in houses or cars. I'd much rather open a window. That's very interesting about your allergies. These things are on the increase for sure. I'll definitely let you know about the deodorant. I used it again this morning as it worked well yesterday (even survived playing badminton and volleyball in the garden with L!) and it just feels so nice when you put it on.

  2. Great idea and your hair looks fab! I seem to keep missing your posts....I don't quite know what's going on. Your in my sidebar but don't seem to appear in the blogger list...anyway, apologies if you think I've been neglecting you - it's not intentional! x

    1. Hi Em, no worries, no offence taken. Blogger can sometimes have a mind of it's own I know! CT :-)

  3. What a fascinating post! I've long been worried about the chemicals used in toiletries and makeup and check that products I buy are paraben-free - but they can also be more expensive and your story shows that they may not be the answer. Homemade products are the perfect solution. Your hair looks great! I can't use strong smelling products anyway because of my bees; bees react very badly to strong smelling perfumes and products and become angry. If they don't like it, they'll sting me!

    1. That's fascinating about the bees. I do think they are amazing creatures. It does seem to support the connection between synthetics and central nervous system disruption, which would certainly alter behaviour. Do they react that way to all smells or is it just artificial/ synthetic ones? Presumably strong-smelling plants are ok?

    2. They're attracted to some strong smelling plants, for example, lavender, for forage, but then they're guided to a particular plant for different reasons - colour being one. I don't know why they react so badly to perfume, (for example); it could well be that something in artifical/synthetic products triggers this response.

  4. We too try to limit the amount of synthetic products coming into our home although we are probably better restricting the cleaning materials more than shower gel and shampoo so thank you for reminding me of that! I will look forward to reading about the results of your experiments. We use unperfumed deodorant and luckily haven't had any of those side effects I will have to check the ingredients.
    Sarah x

    1. It is easy to stick to the "obvious" things like cleaning products and e-number free food I agree. I remember being very shocked when I started researching cosmetics a few years back and discovered what goes in to them. 3 days in with the new B.O. basher on and so far so good. I still have all my friends!!


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x