In the build up to our anticipated, if not yet celebrated, move aboard Galapagos this spring, I’ve been using some quiet time to think about how that’s going to change our lifestyle in terms of all the many consumer goods we use on a daily basis in the family home. We are really good consumers in our house, true Americans. I, in particular, am susceptible to marketing strategies that tell me that my hair will gleam blindingly and swing invitingly, my skin will make me look 25 again, and I will smell delicious and look good in a bikini if I use certain products. Yeah, hope springs eternal in the vast liminal space of middle age.
This consumer blindness is encouraged by the ease with which we dispose of all the plastic bottles all this stuff comes in, a denial that disappears completely when anchored at a remote location for a month. Just where do I toss that plastic bottle now, hmmmm? When you come back to port after a 4 week cruise with 4 large bags of stinky trash, as happened on our last trip on Moonrise (our Cal 34), it really brings home how much we take for granted putting that large green trash container on the curb every week, the contents to be picked up and disposed of for us by kind strangers.
Boats the size of Galapagos are required to have a trash management plan documented on board the vessel. Part of that plan for us is not bringing a lot of trash on board in the first place. And part of this plan for me is discovering things that work well that also include minimal packaging. In a perfect world, I could find one product that would do the job of many.
So you can see why I would have been dead excited to discover, thanks to my daughter, Lush shampoo bars; little palm-sized bars of shampoo that don’t come in a plastic bottle! In fact, they have no packaging at all. I bought some for her for Christmas and bought one to try myself. I tried the citrus variety, complete with a dried lemon rind in the bar. It smelled heavenly, lathered up nicely, and left my hair clean and shiny. Yay!
Everything looked hunky dory until I read the ingredients on their website. First ingredient: Sodium Laurel Sulphate. WHAATT? I was under the marketing illusion that these were ‘all natural’ or something equally organic with the prefix ‘eco’ firmly attached. I mean, when I went to their store they had huge, beautiful blocks of the stuff sitting out like large cheeses, and there’s nothing more natural that a large hunk of cheese, right? Dang it. And other strong words.
Sodium laurel sulphate is ubiquitous in most shampoos and soaps. It is a surfactant and creates the lather consumers like me have come to expect. I don’t mind a little sodium laurel sulphate in my shower at home. I like a good sudsy lather as much as any other first world adult hooked up to municipal waste water treatment. But unfortunately, on a sailboat, there is no grey water treatment system, so everything that goes down my drain goes into the lives of all the aquatic organisms trying to innocently do things like reproduce. Apparently aquatic organisms are sensitive to sodium laurel sulphate, as are many people, I found out. As much as my consumer brain likes the ‘Lush’ concept, I guess it’s a no go.
So I entered the rabbit hole of interweb searching and learning and I have learned more about soap making and shampoo bars than I ever intended. I also came across these other shampoo bars that actually ARE all natural, made with lye. They look like the soap my Grandmother White used to make, the stuff my mom always had for getting hard stains out of clothing. J.R. Liggets makes a number of interesting looking shampoo bars with only paper packaging.
As an aside, I also discovered that there is a small movement by some to stop shampooing their hair altogether. This is called the ‘no poo’ method. I am averse to this not only on principle, but because of the name. ‘No poo’? Really? That doesn’t sound healthy. It sounds like a toddler who has decided to take a stand. Converts swear by it but I’m not even tempted.
I decided to experiment. I bought 4 bars of the J.R. Liggets, which, by the way, cost about the same as 2 of the bars from Lush, and chose a couple to try. Two days ago I washed my hair with the coconut oil variety. Results: not as many satisfying suds, but I did get that ‘squeeky clean’ feeling on my hair close to the scalp. I was able to easily comb tangles out while my hair was wet, and it looked good after using the blow dryer. However, my hair felt kind of heavy afterward. It also felt thicker when I pulled a brush through it. Two days later I was ready to wash it again because it felt dirty. I can usually go three days, sometimes 4 if I don’t have to be seen by others.
This makes some sense. These soaps are all made with saponified natural oils. The lye reacts with the fats in the oils to create soap, but without the addition of the sodium laurel sulphate, the suds and lather just don’t appear. Still, my hair looked good and felt clean for two days.
Today I decided to do half my head with the peppermint/jojoba variety and the other half with the citrus bar from Lush. After ignoring the suds on the Lush side, I decided I can live with the kind of clean that the J.R. Liggets bars are offering. I understand from my research that these natural soaps without the added chemicals do not strip the natural oils from the hair and that after years of using more harsh products, it may take some time for my scalp to adjust. So fine. I’ll be okay with that because at the end of the day, having a little more oil on my hair is going to protect it against the harsh salt air environment I’m about to expose it to. This just might end up being my one shot wonder: a bar that can be used as a body soap, a shampoo, and hair moisturizer all in one, at least until I learn to make my own (that’s known as ‘foreshadowing’).
I figure I’ll have to store my one-shot-wonder soaps in a plastic snaplock container in the fridge to keep them from melting down in the warm and sunny parts of the world. Do you have any one-shot-wonder products that are environmentally friendly? Do tell!