Henry David Thoreau said it best: “Simplify, simplify.” Life is usually better when we keep things simple and look to nature for inspiration and solutions. However, the M.O. of the cosmetics and personal care industry might as well be “Complicate, complicate.” Most mainstream body care products contain long lists of complicated chemicals, several of which have been linked to hormone disruption and cancer. They are also usually tested on animals due to their potentially hazardous short-term reactions.
The chemicals in these products are harmful to the planet when they go down the drain and enter the ecosystem, leading to negative consequences for wildlife. And over the long term, these toxins bioaccumulate in our own bodies, potentially causing infertility, birth, defects, cancer, and auto-immune diseases.
Suffice it to say, you’re better off just going natural.
So instead of heading to your local Rite Aid the next time you go toiletry-shopping, consider going to the nearest Health Food Store or Whole Foods and discovering the varieties of brands there. They smell so much better than regular bath and beauty products, and you’ll feel better knowing that they contain natural and healthy ingredients. There is also something to be said about the integrity of these companies. Several of them are Benefit Corporations, have high sustainability standards, and contribute a portion of their proceeds to good causes such as the indigenous supply chain communities in which they were created.
I generally keep it pretty simple in this department, which is easy both on my budget and ecological footprint. Here are some of my favorite body care products, and also my two favorite holistic wellness rituals.
As a soap, I use either Alaffia African Black Soap or Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap. They’re both similar formulas, castile soap is just a little more intense, while African Black Soap is more gentle and moisturizing.
Alaffia African Black Soap is inspired by a centuries’ old technique of combining shea butter, palm kernel oil, and ashes; cooking the mixture; and curing it in the sun for a few weeks. It comes in 5 scents: Peppermint, Eucalyptus Tea Tree, Lavender Ylang Ylang, Tangerine Citrus, and Vanilla Almond. I usually go with Eucalyptus Tea Tree or Tangerine Citrus.
Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 Castile Soap is made with palm kernel oil and essential oils. It is a highly concentrated formula, so keep in mind that a little goes a long way. Varieties of Dr. Bronner’s include Lavender, Peppermint, Almond, Tea Tree, Eucalyptus, Rose, and Citrus all of which smell fantastic.
A note on palm oil: Palm kernel oil has come under scrutiny recently because of the deforestation that’s occurring at a rapid rate in Indonesia, causing orangutans to lose their habitat. While there is cause to avoid most products containing palm kernel oil, Alaffia and Dr. Bronner’s soap are exceptions as their palm kernel oil is ethically and sustainably sourced.
Alaffia’s palm kernel oil comes from West Africa, where it is an integral part of their cuisine. The palm kernel oil they use is fair trade, plantation-free, and “orangutan-friendly.”
Dr. Bronner’s palm kernel oil is sourced from small-scale farmers in Equador. Rain forest habitat and wildlife are not harmed, and the company is fair trade certified.
Shaving cream / gel
As a shaving cream, I just use soap suds from African Black Soap or Castile Soap. With these soaps, you can create a foamy lather which I find sufficient for my shaving needs. But you feel that you need something richer, I’d recommend Pacific Shaving Company’s Natural Shave Cream.
Hand & body lotion
When I’m not using oils such as almond oil or apricot kernel oil to moisturize my skin, I’ll use Buena Skin’s Pure Shea Butter. Shea butter is an ivory-colored fat, taken from the nut of a West African shea tree. It’s rich in vitamins A, E, and fatty acids, which help to nourish and moisturize the skin as well as to protect against free radicals. In addition to using shea butter as a body moisturizer, I use it on my hands at night, along with a few drops of lavender oil.
If you’re going to be breathing in a scent all day, wouldn’t you prefer for it to be all-natural, rather than laced with gnarly chemicals? There are many natural body sprays on the market using quality essential oils. In addition to being serving as a body mist, they can be used as a room an linen spray. These are my favorite body mists:
Weleda Sage Deodorant – This is usually my go-to
In addition to synthetic fragrances, parabens, and phthalates, mainstream deodorants also usually contain aluminum, an established neurotoxin. I’ve experimented with a few different brands of natural deodorant, and found Schmidt’s to be the best. It’s strong, long-lasting, and it doesn’t feel sticky as some deodorants do. It comes in Bergamot + Lime, Lavender + Sage, Cedarwood + Juniper, Geranium, and Tea Tree as well as an unscented version.
For ear sensitivity
If you have any ear sensitivity, issues with wax, or do a lot of swimming or hot / Bikram yoga, Wally’s Ear Oil could be a big help to you. I put a few drops in my ears after hot yoga or swimming to ward off ear infections.
Beauty by Earth Peppermint lip balm is my favorite because it’s super-moisturizing, and also smells and tastes really refreshing. In the summer I use Kiss My Face SPF 30 lip balm because it protects against the sun. Watch out for natural lip balms that contain lanolin as that comes from the skin of sheep, and therefore are most definitely not vegan or ethical. Beeswax isn’t either but I consider it to be the lesser of two evils. As I will explain in my upcoming post on natural makeup, beeswax is one thing I let slide as a vegan.
Finally, I want to share with you two powerful holistic wellness rituals that I perform several times a week: dry brushing and abhyanga massages.
Unless you’re familiar with the world of holistic wellness, you probably don’t know what these terms mean. So here’s a brief explanation of what dry brushing and abhyangas are and why you may want to consider adopting them as part of your self-care routine.
Dry brushing is a method of detoxifying the skin that has been practiced in cultures around the world for many centuries. Certain Native American tribes, for instance, used dried corn cobs to brush off dead skin skills. Today, dry brushing usually refers to the holistic wellness practice of brushing one’s skin with a natural bristle brush. It is believed that this ritual:
- Stimulates the lymphatic system
- Removes dead skin
- Unclogs pores
- Increases circulation
- Improves digestion
- Improves skin texture
I like dry brushing in the morning because it helps to wake me up, and I can definitely sense more circulation in my skin and throughout my body afterwards.
Abhyangas are self-massages that involve the applying of oil to the skin. They are considered to be an integral aspect in Ayurveda, a holistic science methodology that arose in India several thousands of years ago.
According to ayurvedic philosophy, an abhyanga massage:
- Increases circulation
- Calms one’s nerves
- Lubricates joints
- Softens skin
- Leads to better and deeper sleep
- Decreases aging effects
It’s also thought that a thin layer of oil helps to keep the body warm in the colder months.
What you’ll need for a dry brushing and abhyanga routine:
For the dry brushing, get a simple body brush that’s rough without being too abrasive. I use Earth Therapeutics Fuzz Brush, made from the fibers of a Japanese palm plant. Remember to wash this brush regularly from time to time in Castile Soap or African Black Soap to get rid of accumulated dust.
Beware of body brushes made from “Boar’s bristles” or “Boar’s hair” These come from hogs used in the unregulated fur industry over in China. Plant or synthetic materials work just as efficiently and no innocent animals need to be harmed.
For the abhyanga choose an oil. There are many natural oils to choose from including: olive oil, coconut oil, jojoba oil, sesame oil, avocado oil, apricot kernel oil, and grapeseed oil. I recommend trying a bunch before you settle on a favorite. I usually switch it up between extra-virgin olive oil, almond oil, apricot kernel oil, and coconut oil.
Consider also adding a few drops of your favorite essential oils. This way, you can carry soothing and uplifting scents with you throughout the day. I keep a few different blends of carrier oils and essential oils in dropper bottles, such as almond oil with lavender and peppermint. If you’re new to essential oils, you might want to try a sampler box such as Eden’s Garden Top 6 set.
Dry brushing and abhyanga routine in 5 simple steps
1. In the morning, before you jump into the shower, quickly brush your body in an up and down motion starting with your legs. Work your way up the rest of your body, brushing your stomach in a diagonal motion – first one way, then the other. Try to brush as much of your back as possible. Then brush your neck. Use a rough towel or exfoliation mitt to exfoliate your face, this time using circular motions.
2. Follow with a shower, alternating between hot and cold temperatures.
3. After your shower, towel off the water from your body
4. Pour a small amount of oil onto your hands and rub them together, and then gently massage the oil into neck and arms, using long strokes. Continue adding more oil to your hands as needed. Use wide, circular strokes along your abdomen. Proceed down your legs, once again using long, angular strokes and finish by gently massaging your feet.
5. Carefully towel the oil off so as to avoid staining your clothes with oil when you dress.
These days there are so many amazing natural products out there, that there’s no way to really justify using “normal” skin, hair, and makeup products that are harmful both to our bodies and to the planet. Natural products are more effective, smell better, and make your feel better for using them. Believe me, once you’ve gone natural you will never, ever go back.
For more information on the devastating effects of un-natural household products, check out The Human Experiment, a documentary narrated by Sean Penn.