What’s The Alternative?

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There are so many products on the market for making people feel clean and smell nice. Most of them are overcomplicated, overpriced and kind of superfluous. But making the switch to more natural and simpler bath and body products can be a bit of a minefield.

Even for those of us who don’t get into perfumes and cosmetics, or who know better than to use a shower gel or antibacterial soap, it can be hard to know where to start or which alternatives actually work. Luckily for you I have tried a few. So here are my experiences, the products I use or buy and why, and a few examples of things that didn’t work for me.

In the Laundry

For years I found that regular washing powder made me itch. Growing up we had whatever was cheapest to wash our clothes in, which was usually some kind of concentrated powder. We never had fabric softener, and to this day the smell of fabric softener is so foreign to me that I can recognise it on a person from metres away.

After becoming the mother of a child with sensitive skin, I started looking for alternatives. We tried Lux soap flakes, which helped but were a pain to use because they had to be dissolved in hot water before use and can create a build-up of soap in your washing machine. I eventually settled on ionic laundry balls, which change the pH of the water in a similar way to which soap does. I have now been using laundry balls for something like ten years.

laundry ball

You don’t get whiter whites and brighter colours, but you get clean clothes. I use a stain remover for grease stains that don’t shift on the first wash. For extra dirty things I dissolve home-made soap shavings in water and let it sit for a couple of days until it forms a sort of gel, then add this to the wash.

Between this sort of washing and hanging wet clothes out to dry in the sun you get clothes that remain fresh for years even if worn very often.

In the Shower

As you will already know, I make my own soap and use this in place of shampoo as well. It is not uncommon for us to have up to ten different soaps in use around the house, between all the hand-washing stations and the showers.

Recent studies have shown that antibacterial detergents and hand-washing products (I won’t call them soap because they are far from it) can cause skin problems and leave us susceptible to infection as they kill the microbes in our skin. The skin microbiome is a relatively new discovery, and is considered to be as important to our health as the gut microbiome. Antibacterial products kill protective microbes and there is currently a push to discourage people from using them on their skin.

Real soap, made using the natural process of saponification rather than slapping together some sudsy chemical by-products, does not kill off your beneficial skin microbes. Real soap is slippery by nature of its alkalinity, and this causes germs and bacteria to be rinsed off or rubbed off when you dry your skin after using soap. Alkaline substances will cause your skin to become dry, which is why soap is made with a lelve of what is called a ‘superfat’. Superfatting soap ensures that even after the sodium hydroxide used to create the chemical reaction with the oils is all consumed, there is enough oil left in the soap to moisturise the skin. This is where skin-loving oils like olive oil, avocado oil and cocoa butter produce a soap that moisturises as it cleans. Natural ingredients like honey, tea, milk and oatmeal, as well as clays, botanicals and essential oils, can be added to real soap for extra healing, soothing and nourishing of the skin while you wash.

I’ve had people complain to me that they use body washes and hand washing detergents because they don’t like the slippery feeling that soap leaves. But this slippery feeling is what lets you know that you are getting clean without losing all your natural skin flora and moisture.

So now that you know a bit about real soap, you can understand why we use it so extensively. For hand washing, body washing and hair washing, even sometimes laundry use. You can use pretty much any soap to wash your hair, but things like avocado oil might leave it a bit greasy. We mostly use plain soap for hair washing, but the varieties with Rhassoul clay are a nice alternative.

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Here is the shelf in my shower. It generally contains a hair soap as well as whatever varieties Matt and myself have in use at the time. Also note the apple cider vinegar. Those of us with longer hair use this to reduce tangles. It removes some of the fat from your hair and neutralises the alkalinity of the soap. And once it is dry I guarantee that you don’t smell like old apples.

I have tried bicarb and vinegar for hair washing, as well as just rinsing, but using soap works for me. And the rest of the family have adopted it as well. I have a few people who buy my soap specifically for washing hair, including one woman who says that it is the best thing she has ever used for washing her dreadlocks.

In the Bathroom20170407_203620

We are still using regular toothpaste, but for antiperspirant we have settled on alum stones. I tried a natural paste deodorant, which while not preventing perspiration at all did completely eliminate the subsequent odour. Unfortunately I developed a reaction to it after a couple of weeks so had to try something else.

I had been uncomfortable using commercial antiperspirants for a while. Roll-ons only really work for bare armpits, and the spray options caused an alarming stinging sensation that made me feel like my pores were shrinking away in terror. I believe that antiperspirants cause your pores to pucker up so that you don’t actually sweat, which can’t be good for you. Also, despite all the claims of offering ’48 hour protection’, not one antiperspirant I tried was able to keep me dry for much more than a few hours. Add to that my increasing distaste for the marketing around these products – I once found myself having to choose between two varieties named ‘Sexy’ and ‘Invisible’ and the irony struck a little too close to the bone.

We tried naturally formed alum stones, but these tended to erode, break and leave sharp edges. More recently I bought a stone from eBay, which you can see in the picture. It is dense and carved to a useful shape and it has been really great to use, as well as durable.

When I am at home working around the farm and garden I don’t use any form of antiperspirant or deodorant, I just sweat freely and rinse it off later. Often I can go a whole day without applying anything to my armpits and as long as I wear something well-ventilated, like a singlet, I don’t even smell at the end of the day. I think having actual armpit hair might work in my favour in this regard. Let the body do what the body does.

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Some other products I use are made by friends with goats. Both the Glenafton Goat Milk and Alpine Goatsmilk moisturisers are beautifully light and last for ages. Which one I buy basically comes down to who I see at a show when I need to stock up. I leave lotions to the experts and stick to basic soapmaking, because these producers make great quality and excellent value products. I also have arnica salves from Glenafton and Alpine that I use on my frequent bruises.

You will see also in this photo that I use a body spray. I have a bit of a paranoia about people finding me smelly, so I still use a body spray in social and work situations. Many body sprays have dodgy names and creepy themes (like ‘Temptation’, ‘Tease’ and ‘Instant Crush’…), but I found one called ‘So…?’ which sounds like an awkward silence or an expression of ambivalence, and decided that was the one for me.

Due to the way I live and present myself there are a lot of things other people buy and use that I just don’t. Things like disposable razors or make-up removal products or protection for heat-treated hair. I don’t have a complicated personal maintenance routine, I just wash with soap, condition my hair with cider vinegar, apply some goat milk moisturiser and run a comb through my hair. It’s pretty minimalist, but it saves me heaps of time and money, and I’m not unnecessarily applying chemicals to my body.

 

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GTGMY

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I invented a thing, at least I think I did. There is no short way to describe it, so it gets a blog post.

I use a lot of essential oils in my soap varieties because I like things that smell nice and I like creating combinations of colours and scents and names in my soaps. But not everyone likes a scented soap, and some essential oils are contra-indicated in pregnancy or can cause irritation in some people. So I wanted to make sure that anyone who prefers not to use essential oil soap has plenty to choose from as well.

My soaps are made with 25% whole raw goat milk. I had heard that yogurt was great in soap, and had that in mind to try. I know many soapers use tea in their soaps as well, and green tea in particular is said to be great for the skin.

I don’t know how I got the idea to combine milk, yogurt and green tea in a sort of perfect storm of soap liquids.

It starts like this. The milk needs to be heated to 90 degrees and then cooled so that the yogurt culture can digest the proteins. During this heating and cooling I infused the milk with regular green tea.

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Infusing the milk with green tea, prior to adding yogurt culture.

The next step was to wait 12 hours for the culture to do its work, then measure the yogurt into containers and freeze it.

After that all that remained was to make soap, substituting my usual 450g of milk for 450g of yogurt. I wasn’t sure what colour I would end up with, so I decided to add a 10% green mica swirl so that if it came out very pale I would be able to easily distinguish the yogurt soap from plain milk soap.

Everything went fine… until I started adding the lye to the yogurt. Then this happened…

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Green tea yogurt plus lye…

It started to turn a nasty orange. Thin, with lumps. It reminded me of some of the worst nappies I have ever changed. I thought ‘What on earth have I done?!’

Even with the lye fully dissolved and the yogurt completely melted it still looked nasty.

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Yogurt and lye mixing complete… ew.

For comparison, here is the plain milk and lye mix from today’s batch of citrus EO soap…

plain milk and lye

Normal milk and lye mixture.

The oils were ready… the stick blender was on standby… I decided to press on. I mixed it all together and it started to look less like dysentery and more like soap.

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In the jug, at trace, ready to pour.

I separated 200g and added the mica colouring with a bit of olive oil, then poured the soap into the mould. A little bit of artistic fiddling and it was starting to look okay.

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The soap in the mould.

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And with the dividers inserted.

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And cut, tidied and on the curing rack.

The first batch I made was in the loaf moulds. I chose this soap to try out my new slab mould knowing that in spite of the scary vomit phase, it is a fairly well-behaved recipe. It moves slowly, so it doesn’t get too thick to pour before you’ve got the colours mixed, and it is runny enough to give good concentric circles when you pour the colours alternately in the middle of the mould. It sets up fairly quickly once it starts to cool and doesn’t overheat easily, giving you time to get the pattern done and get it into the freezer. It hardens fairly quickly too, allowing you to unmould it (and cut it if done in a loaf mould) the day it is made to see how the swirl worked on each individual soap.

There are a few different ways of getting yogurt into a soap, some soapers use it unfrozen as all or part of the liquid, some simply add a couple of tablespoons to the mix at trace. I like this method of switching all the liquid for yogurt, as it maximises the amount of yogurt and green tea in each bar, while maintaining a 25% milk content.

In use I found it very cleansing, giving a really clean feeling in the shower. I expected it to be a little drying as a result, but it actually leaves that fresh, dewy feeling on your skin, similar to the super-moisturising avocado soap Holy Guacamole, but without that slightly oily undertone that comes from the high avocado oil content. Green tea is rich in antioxidants, and is said to be detoxifying and hydrating, which is certainly the impression I got from using this soap. Yogurt is claimed to be almost a cure-all when applied topically, and although the cultures probably don’t survive the saponification process, the lactic acid and other fatty acids found in goat milk are also great for the skin.

It will be sold as simply GTGMY, short for green tea goat milk yogurt. I think every aspect of the process is equally important and should be included in the title. Some customers who have bought the early release are already referring to it as ‘the yogurt soap’, but it it is GTGMY to me.

 

 

When Soap Gremlins Attack!

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I have been making soap for two and a half years now. That’s quite a long time. I wrote a post about the first batch of soap I made way back in March 2013. You can check it out here.

Since then I have made about 800 bars of soap. I’ve got my NICNAS registration and started selling to family, friends, workmates and at the very occasional public event. In a couple of weeks I’ll be at the school Christmas market, which is quite exciting.

In that time my soap has gone from looking like the ones in the link above to single colour swirls and basic natural scents to complex themed essential oil and colour combinations.

Original Fairy Garden

Original Fairy Garden

Fairy Garden Mk2

Fairy Garden Mk2

And until last week I hadn’t lost a single batch.

Soapers talk of a phenomena known as ‘soap gremlins’. It’s when soap develops a mind of its own and things go awry. Seized (super fast thickening), discoloured or overheated batches, dropped mixing bowls, missed fragrances, anything that stops your masterpiece from manifesting as you had intended. And they tend to come in a series of two or more disasters.

I’ve been stocking up on a lot of old favourites with Christmas, the school market and next year’s Rural Lifestyle Expo in mind. Two popular natural varieties, Holy Guacamole and Bee’s Knees, should have gone off without a hitch. But I made a couple of bad decisions.

Holy Guacamole features avocado oil and the flesh of a whole avocado in the mix. It turns out a kind of booger green. It is probably the ugliest soap I make, but it is super moisturising and leaves that dewy feeling on your skin without being greasy. I usually let it heat up naturally to gel phase to speed up the cure, but this time it didn’t heat up on its own. So I gave it a bit of help by putting it in the oven.

When I unmoulded it the next day I found that I had burned the edges. It had a thin layer of nasty brown goo around the top. The rest of the soap was fine, but it looked bloody awful. The best option was to slice off the top layer, leaving a smaller bar. To compensate for this, I cut the batch into 12 bars instead of 16 to make up for the lost weight. So the bars are nice and fat, with flat tops. And they should still work perfectly well.

Holy Guacamole, not a beauty even when successful, but feels great to use.

Holy Guacamole, not a beauty even when successful, but feels great to use.

My next mistake was on the honey soap. The batch stayed beautifully cool and kept the creamy look. I had the bright idea of putting it in my cute new 12-bar mould with the goat kid on it. The soft, sticky soap stayed in the detail parts of the mould when I popped it out, and left sad blurry goat kids on the top of each bar.

I had never done a rebatch before, but a newly made, otherwise perfectly good batch of milk and honey soap seemed like a good place to start if I wanted to save all the ingredients and have a saleable batch of a popular variety. I did some research and decided to go with the stove top method.

I grated up the soap, put it into oven bags and put the oven bags in a big pot of boiling water. Once it had all melted down I snipped a corner off the bags and squeezed all the molten soap into the moulds. Then it was fingers crossed and don’t look at it for at least 12 hours.

It turned out okay, some people have even said it looks better than the original (thanks guys). I’ll test it in a day or two and see how it goes.

Rebatched honey soap

Rebatched honey soap

Then on Saturday I woke with an idea. I pictured a creamy, mostly white soap, with a light brown and lilac swirl. I had been trying to figure out a way to lighten-up a combination of frankincense and patchouli essential oils, and I had the idea of adding lime. I decided to risk a hanger swirl with two colours. The essential oil combo turned out better than I expected, it smells amazing, and applying the colours turned out to be a bit of a learning experience. But in the end I am happy with how it turned out.

New, still unnamed variety with frankincense, patchouli and lime.

New, still unnamed variety with frankincense, patchouli and lime.

Here are a couple of my recent creations that I am a bit proud of. I’ve never really been much of a crafty person, but I enjoy making things that are useful, good for you, enjoyable to use and also look good sitting on your sink or in your shower. I’ve been able to help a few people with skin problems along the way.

Tie Dye - four colour in-the-pot swirl with clary sage, patchouli and lavender.

Tie Dye – four colour in-the-pot swirl with clary sage, patchouli and lavender.

Plain four-ingredient goat milk soap, dressed up just a little with this cute goat kid mould.

Plain four-ingredient goat milk soap, dressed up just a little with this cute goat kid mould.

The Miracle of Colostrum Soap

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Kidding time is always tough on my hands.

The combination of milking, feeding, cleaning pens and constant hand washing always leaves my hands very rough and dry. It usually takes months for them to return to some kind of normal.

This year I took some excess colostrum from one of my does at 12 hours post-kidding. It was amazing, thick, yellow stuff. After her three kids had consumed all they could for 12 hours, I milked off about a litre and a half. Enough for an emergency supply and two batches of soap.

Colostrum is the first milk produced by mammals, usually formed in the weeks to days prior to giving birth. It contains important antibodies for the offspring, which are absorbed through the gut in the first few feeds. This is referred to as ‘passive transfer of immunity’ from mother to baby. It provides the antibodies specific to the environment that the animal is born into.

I had not soaped with colostrum before, but I had read that it was even more of a challenge to use than milk. Milk, if you are not careful, will burn and discolour during the soapmaking process. I froze my colostrum solid and expected to get a fairly manky colour in my soap. I wanted to fast-track part of the batch by allowing it to heat up, so I decided to add activated charcoal to give a black soap and hide any discolouration. Activated charcoal is used in soap for its ability to absorb toxins from the skin, it is also a safe and easy way to get a uniform black colour.

The frozen colostrum did mix in very slowly and very thickly with the lye. I split the batch and added the charcoal to one half. I had a bit of black batter left over after pouring the uncoloured half, so I drizzled it on the top and made a bit of a contrasting swirl. I put the black one in the oven just long enough to make sure it had heated all the way through, causing it to ‘gel’ and speed up the cure.

The colostrum soaps in the moulds.

The colostrum soaps in the moulds.

But surprisingly, the white half stayed pretty white. It got an hour in the freezer to make sure it stayed cool, but it played very nicely. The large particles in the colostrum made both soaps slightly rough in texture, but once cut they turned out to be quite attractive soaps.

Colostrum soaps cut.

Colostrum soaps cut.

The white soap will get the requisite six weeks’ curing time before use, but I’ve been using the black version already. I put an offcut piece on the soap rack in the laundry and I use it every time I come in from tending to the goats or gardening. To be honest, it gives a very grey lather, due to the charcoal, but this rinses away easily.

I wasn’t expecting much, but it didn’t take long for my hands to notice a difference. Usually I try things like large amounts of hemp cream left to soak in while I watch a movie, or regular applications of my usual facial moisturiser. But all I have used for the past week or so has been the black soap. And my hands almost feel like hands. They are steadily improving, and while still a little rough they are not cracked or sporting areas of ground-in dirt.

Colostrum’s claim to fame is a component called lactoferrin, which some go as far as to claim can cure cancer. It is widely accepted as being a great immune booster. Applied topically, as a cream or in soap, it is meant to be great for eczema and psoriasis.

All I know is that my colostrum soap seems to have made a big difference to my hands.

Giving Up Shampoo – 12 Months In

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no shampoo

So my hair now looks like this.

If I didn’t tell you, you would never know that I don’t wash it daily with shampoo and condition it.

In fact, I wash it about every four to five days. This seems to make it happiest. It makes showering a lot quicker too. Thick hair takes ages to dry.

The regime I settled on was using goat milk soap to wash, and apple cider vinegar to condition. I saw a recipe for goat milk soap with tomato that was said to be good for hair, in particular to brighten your colour. So I made some, and it is great.

The ends don’t split. It doesn’t get static and flyaway. I haven’t coloured it in months.

I would call this project a success.

Breaking Up (With Shampoo) Is Hard To Do

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In yet another of my idealistic hippie moments I decided to give up using shampoo and conditioner on my hair.

It seemed like a logical step, since I don’t use laundry detergent and I make my own soaps. I also use hand-made moisturiser and almost never wear make-up.

Off to the internet I go, with a quick visit to an equestrian-oriented forum that I frequent for some ideas and advice.

I got a few responses of ‘yuck, I could never give up washing my hair’, which made me realise that ‘not using shampoo’ means the same to some people as ‘never washing my hair ever’.

Of course I still wash it. Because if I didn’t, that would be yuck.

The internet will tell you that if you just wait out three weeks your hair will go from sad and lifeless to beautiful, shiny and silky. It might get a little oily in between as it gets used to not having the oils stripped out of it every day.

It has been three months, and I am finally happy with my hair again. Yes, I need a trim and my roots need a touch-up, but my hair is manageable, has a good texture and I actually like how it looks and feels.

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I think it took three weeks for my hair to even notice that I wasn’t using shampoo any more. I had got down to washing about twice a week anyway. It would go through an flyaway unmanageable day while it was very clean, then settle down for a couple of days, then start to get greasy. Then I would wash it again. If I wanted it looking good to leave out on a certain day I would have to make sure to wash it at least 48hrs before.

I started out doing a bicarb and vinegar wash. Initially this made my hair feel like straw. It rebelled by becoming incredibly oily, but I could manage for a few weeks while it transitioned, I told myself. As well as weekly bicarb and vinegar scrubs I took up rinsing it every second day. This didn’t really help.

But I stuck to my resolve. I bought a good paddle brush, designed to spread the oils through the hair. I washed the brush with soap every second day. That brush cost me $25. If you had told me beforehand that you could even find a hairbrush that cost that much I would have said that such a thing was for chumps with more money than brains. I had never previously spent more than about five bucks on a hairbrush. But with all the money it would save me on shampoo and conditioner I figured it was a trade-off I could live with.

After about six or seven weeks I nearly cracked. My hair felt gross. It looked alright, but I just couldn’t find a balance. It was driving me nuts. I was frustrated and distracted by what looked like the failure of my grand gesture. For a while I was very, very tempted to grab a bottle of Pantene and scrub my head until my hair felt like the dog-fur collar lining of a cheap puffa vest. Don’t pretend you don’t know exactly the fashion item I am referring to.

But I had one more ace up my sleeve. Somebody early on in the project had suggested that I use my goat milk soap for washing my hair. I didn’t, assuming that it would make my hair fluffy, something I was very keen to avoid. In a last-ditch effort to save myself from going back to the high-lathering chemical cocktail, I took a piece of plain home-made goat milk soap and washed my hair with it.

I am pleased to say that it worked. My regime is now a wash with goat milk soap and rinse with apple cider vinegar about every five days. Sometimes I rinse it in between. It combs out easily and sits nicely if left out. I can easily pull it into a ponytail without too many fluffy bits poking out.

My hair is now, compliant, looks and feels clean, and doesn’t get frizzy. It is also the longest it has been in a long time. In the past I have not wanted my hair too long because it becomes a maintenance nightmare. It is incredibly thick, to the point where almost every hairdresser who cuts it gets about two-thirds of the way through and says ‘you’ve got loads of hair’.

I have learned to decipher hairdresser language to a degree (‘nice colour, did you do it yourself?’ is not a compliment, in case you were wondering), and being told that you have loads of hair is a double-edged comment. On one hand, it means your hair is thick and has more body and your scalp is probably healthy. On the other it means that the person wielding the scissors has just realised that it is going to take them a lot longer than anticipated to finish the job.

Since giving up shampoo my hair is probably thicker still. I definitely don’t lose as much as I used to when I brush or comb it. I have not been in for a trim and tidy-up, because I didn’t want to go in with ‘transitioning’ hair and have some scalp-expert assume I was just a grot. I think I am ready now, though. Might make that a job for this week.

My advice for anyone thinking of giving up shampoo? Unless you are really motivated, you probably shouldn’t put yourself through the angst. It could take ages to figure out how to keep your hair nice without all the chemicals. If you have a an actual hairstyle, rather than a longer cut where you can just shove it in a ponytail and forget about it on bad days, you will probably have a hell of a time getting through the transition stage.

If you are keen to give it a crack, get a good paddle hairbrush and keep it clean. Brush lots. Get a trim and have your colour updated before taking the plunge. And if one natural alternative is not working for you, have a try at a different one.