Thursday, October 22, 2009

No 'poo update: Week 3

I've fielded a lot of questions about this no 'poo experiment, most commonly "Why?". There are several reasons, but these are the big three:

1) Commercial shampoo and conditioner creates a lot of waste. The industry of it, the packaging of it, the transport of it, the use of it, what gets washed down the drain, what stays on your skin and in your hair, the disposal of empty packaging...

I am not a holier-than-thou, not-green-is-so-wrong, you-deserve-to-burn-for-your-wasteful-ways environmentalist, but neither am I in denial about the negative impact waste has on this planet, not just on ecosystems but also on all those who depend on those ecosystems, people included. The wealthier you are, the more disconnected you are from waste and its harmful effects. Just think of how many disposable products are available these days that weren't a few years ago, and how many we take for granted that our grandparents would never have considered when they were young. A close older friend told me her son wore cloth diapers because she simply couldn't afford disposables. She had a set number of cloth diapers (around a dozen) that she had to make last until he was potty-trained...and I bet she even used the cloth for cleaning after that. The sheer amount of waste we generate for luxury's sake is appalling. Some things just make life a lot easier (there's a lot to be said for disposable diapers), but some things are just downright ridiculous (consider individually wrapped, one-time-use, full-of-chemicals-yet-"flushable" toilet wipes). Even if you leave out the whole cycle of the shampoo industry from creation to use, you as the consumer know that on a regular basis, you toss out empty shampoo and conditioner bottles made from plastic. How many do you toss out a year? How many do we all toss out a year? Over ten years? Twenty? You see where I'm going with this.

2) Shampoo itself contains some pretty nasty stuff, albeit in minimal quantities.

Shampoo is a detergent, just like other detergents. It is very effective at removing oil, and it uses a lot of the same chemicals for this process as does dishwashing, laundry, and other detergents. Further, shampoos add shine because they contain mineral oil, a byproduct of distilling gasoline from crude oil. This byproduct exists in such vast quantities that it is cheaper to build it into an astounding array of daily use products than dispose of it safely. I personally am a bit over those first two things (probably more than I should be), but this last stuff caught my attention when I learned about it when baby Stephanie was a newborn: sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLFS). These are foaming agents in shampoo, body wash, face wash, toothpaste...and they are also severe skin and eye irritants. There are lots of scientific studies you can read if you want the low-down, but it is generally held as truth that all commercial products containing SLS and/or SLFS use such minimal levels that there is no issue for that particular isolation. However, recent studies have questioned the real safe level of usage, given the amount of products that are regularly used in combination and the fact that these chemicals pass into the skin and build up internally. I learned about them as a parent of a newborn, because there are real concerns about infant and child eye development. Eye tissue also absorbs these chemicals and young eyes (especially newborns' eyes) are developing at such a rapid rate. There are concerns about long-term damage, and these concerns are gaining momentum because so many products contain the stuff. And if you look, you might be surprised at how many products you use (including most mass-produced "safe" baby products) contain either SLS, SLFS or both. My reading on the subject led me to further understand the potential harm these chemicals have on people with severely depressed immune systems, particularly people undergoing chemotherapy. On the bright side, there are commercially-available brands of shampoo that do not contain these chemicals. You can find lists of them online, or you can start reading labels. It's not a bad habit, though it can be time-consuming (and often discouraging).

3) I am curious.

This experiment, like almost any other, was prompted by curiosity. An alternative exists to the what is it like? Using baking soda and apple cider vinegar generates less waste (comes in recyclable cardboard and glass, respectively), is healthy for skin, doesn't leave build-up in my body or the shower, the pipes, or the sewage system, and (unlike most environmentally-responsible alternatives) is a LOT cheaper than the standard. I have the flexibility and interest to try it, so why not?

How went week 3?
It was interesting. My hair did really well in Bali, because the air was so humid that my hair felt more nourished than it really was. I got back here and had a major case of "ick" (as you read in the last update). I decided to treat my hair to a homemade hot oil treatment: 1/2 cup of olive oil heated with 1/2 cup dried rosemary, strained, applied to hair and left on for 15 minutes. The regimen said to "wash hair twice" to remove excess oil. Hardy-har-har. On the upside, this treatment did indeed nourish my hair. It feels very soft and luxurious, and it is nice to know this can be achieved with natural ingredients. HOWEVER. After four washes in two days, my hair was still so full of olive oil that it looked wet when it was dry. I felt and smelled like a veggie ready to be tossed into the oven for roasting. The attempts to wash it out also coated my entire body and shower in olive oil residue. It's been slippery around here. I finally broke down and gave it a single wash with shampoo. And you know what? If you want to appreciate what they say about shampoo being a detergent, use it to try to wash out copious amounts of olive oil from your hair. Much to my surprise, I hated the way it made my hair feel. For the first time ever, it really felt like a detergent and I didn't want it on my head. So even though a second wash with shampoo would have gotten out the rest of the oil, I decided to return to the baking soda and wait it out. Here we are four days later, and yes, I still have a bit of olive oil in my hair. Maybe that's why it is so soft and luxurious-feeling.
The hot oil experiment was not a total flop. I still think it could be a great idea if I were to use a LOT less oil (maybe a tablespoon or two), and I learned a surprising lesson. Now, into the home stretch...


Christine said...

Good for you sticking with the experiment - I had to laugh at the roasting veggie comparison :)
I had lots of scented oil put onto my hair once in India as part of a head massage and it took ages to get out, maybe as my hair is finer than they were used to... anyway, I can sympathise!
I'm interested to see how you get on. I don't think I'll do it though - I just use Aveda products and recycle all the plastic. Surprisingly this part of Houston has more extensive recycling than Den Haag and our local Aveda shop collects any bottle top for recycling too.
Good luck :)

Anonymous said...

This has all been quite fascinating to read, but I am not in the least bit enticed to try it for myself. Even though shampoos are detergents, I LOVE them!! I applaud you for your efforts, but I am going to continue in the evilness of my ways! I do plan to refill at Aveda with containers I already have, so that helps a little wee bit.


schlelly said...

I'm glad you posted this with your explanation. I was trying to explain your experiments to some family this weekend. I tried to explain you had many reasons you were trying this, including curiosity and green benefits. My family is pretty right leaning and they immediately jumped on the green idea and asked if you use plastic razors and shaving cream. Any attempt to do one thing green was automatically dismissed if you weren't perfect in every other aspect of your life. It was very frustrating for me and I tried to explain that every little bit helps and you aren't the holier than thou type but they were all very negative about it. I sent some of them your links because I think you explain your philosophy very well :-) Not to mention the fact there are many people who won't ever change and that's ok too. I use Aveda but I have to alternate it with Herbal Essences in order to get the oil out that Aveda leaves behind... I'm just an oily girl :-(