By now, many people are aware of the ‘no-poo’ movement, the practice of not using shampoo. There are countless testimonials from those who’ve tried it, claiming their hair is softer, shinier and healthier as a result. But they’re still in a minority, and it doesn’t look like the multi-million pound shampoo industry is going away any time soon.
My personal journey of ditching shampoo was rocky. I veered between shampoo and conditioner, just conditioner and neither, struggling to find the right balance. Eventually, by gradually extending the period between washes and combing my hair regularly, I managed to stop using both for good. It’s been almost a year now, and my hair has never felt better. As others have said, it’s strong, shiny and soft. I used to be prone to dry hair, dandruff and split ends, but not any more. People are often surprised when they find out I don’t use shampoo. I was amused when one friend asked if he could touch it and said, “It just feels like normal hair!”
Giving up shampoo and conditioner made me think about the other toiletries I used. How many of them were really necessary? The obvious next step was to stop using shower gel. I figured water would do a perfectly good job of getting off grime, and I was right. Nobody noticed. I’ve yet to be told that I smell.
There’s a lot of stigma around the idea of not using deodorant. I used it religiously until last winter, when it got so cold that it began to strike me as silly. Since adopting a plant-based diet, I’d noticed I seemed to sweat very little anyway. I stopped using it and never got back into the habit. On hot summer days, I sometimes used bicarbonate of soda (baking soda), but otherwise I didn’t bother. After doing some research, I discovered that most antiperspirants contain aluminium compounds which block your pores. Given that sweating is one way of releasing toxins from your body, that doesn’t seem healthy.
Next came detergent. I’d previously been intrigued by soapnuts, dried fruit shells traditionally used for washing clothes in India. Having had mild eczema on my arms and legs my whole life, I wondered if washing my clothes more naturally might help. I’ve only used the soapnuts a couple of times so far, but already my eczema seems improved and I love that my clothes don’t have that artificial ‘clean’ smell. The detergent I previously used was labelled with a warning not to get it on your skin. It seems perverse that the substances we use on our clothes can contain skin irritants.
Is it worth ditching toiletries? In my opinion, the answer is a resounding yes, for multiple reasons. Aside from the benefits described above, a major consideration is the environment. Conventional toiletries contain many ingredients which don’t biodegrade and end up in rivers and the sea. These are harmful to wildlife, becoming more concentrated as they move up the food chain. Many products contain palm oil; vast swathes of rainforests are being razed to the ground to make way for palm oil plantations, destroying the habitats of creatures like orang-utans. Toiletries also generate considerable packaging waste.
Some substances used aren’t good for our health. According to the Women’s Environmental Network, some commonly used ingredients may increase the effects of ageing, impair fertility and disrupt hormones. Certain substances may react with each other to form carcinogenic nitrosamines. Some toiletries even contain ingredients derived from petroleum, which can clog pores, cause allergic reactions and more. On average, 60% of the chemicals we apply to our skin are absorbed into our bloodstream. Residual amounts of sodium lauryl sulphate have been found in people’s brains, lungs, hearts and livers.
This chemical (or the similar sodium laureth sulphate) is found in almost all the toiletries we buy. They’re primarily used as they create a lather and are cheap. Though they’re known skin irritants, they’re even found in products which claim to soothe the skin, like eczema creams. Sodium lauryl sulphate also denatures proteins in our skin, making it more vulnerable to irritants and potentially causing skin problems. It’s such a powerful grease remover that it’s even used in engine degreasers! When applied to hair, it strips away the natural oils, drying it out. The main reason we need conditioner is to undo the damage caused by shampoo in the first place. It’s also been shown to cause hair loss and gum irritation, plus eye problems in children.
I’m a minimalist at heart, and using fewer toiletries appeals to me from this point of view. It means less clutter, and frees up space in my bag when I travel. The less I own, the lighter I feel. I save money this way too. Recent figures show the average student spends £5.63 a week on toiletries. That adds up to almost £300 a year!
Many toiletries are tested on animals. Although cruelty-free brands are available, most people don’t go out of their way to buy them. And there are other reasons why I’m reluctant to support these industries – I don’t like the way they play on our insecurities, implying we’ll look or smell bad if we don’t use their products. Their advertising is often misleading, citing meaningless statistics and pseudo-science, and using heavily edited images. Many women in shampoo adverts are wearing wigs, for example. Celebrities who have likely never used the product are paid vast sums of money to endorse it.
Of course, there are certain toiletries which have their place – toothpaste, for instance. It’s also incredibly important to wash our hands with soap and hot water, especially after using the toilet or before preparing food. I’m not trying to suggest that nobody should use toiletries – it’s up to the individual. But it’s good to be conscious of the ingredients in the products we buy and attempt to make the best choices we can.
Have you ditched any toiletries? What was your experience like? Let me know below!