Potions, Unguents, and One Shot Wonders

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.

Am I looking younger yet?

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.

The Lush bar is the cute little round yellow one on the right. Little. Yellow. Different. Haven't I heard those words somewhere before, on some commercial or other?

The Lush bar is the cute little round yellow one on the right. Little. Yellow. Different. Haven’t I heard those words somewhere before, on some commercial or other?

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.

Three of 4 that I bought to try. These appeal to my inner hippie, the part of me that wants to build a straw bale house someday.

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’).

Say ‘bye bye’ to all these bottles when we move aboard. There is no place for this kind of clutter on board Galapagos.

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!


6 thoughts on “Potions, Unguents, and One Shot Wonders

  1. Great post! I have been doing similar research. One thing that is stumping me is that I keep reading that solid soaps leave more of a residue on shower walls… Sure, I will be taking salt water showers when we head out, but until then I don’t want to have to clean soap buildup in the heads. That has led me to try and find a liquid shampoo/combo cleaner. Bronners is great for a lot of things – but it doesn’t work on my hair. Or dishes… Maybe I will stick to my liquid shampoo while we are still at the dock and then go to bars when we leave.

    Thanks again for sharing your research!

    I’m going to go make sure my liquid “natural” shampoo doesn’t have SLS in it!

    • I have been concerned, too, about residue buildup in the shower. But I wonder if vinegar will do the trick there? Or perhaps Dawn dishwashing soap, which is something I probably will just buy a huge jug of and then refill something smaller because, frankly, it works too well for so many things to leave it behind. Choices, choices. As long as we are at the dock and I have access to a marina shower, I can do the ‘as usual’ stuff. But truly I hate walking up to the bathroom to take a shower and would prefer to just shower in my own space aboard the boat. So already I need to be concerned about that grey water issue. Our shower sump is easily accessible under the floor of the shower, covered with a teak grate. So cleaning that is not really an issue. Plus, how often am I going to actually shower inside once we get to warm weather? I envision using the hose attachment on the back deck. It’s connected to our fresh water supply.

      • Exaaaactly – showering off the back should eliminate the problem. Now let’s all just set sail already! (I am NOT trekking to the marina for a shower unless absolutely necessary 😉 )
        And the Dawn? I’m keeping that too! Have had absolutely NO luck in finding a safer alternative.

  2. These posts always make me cringe because I have long(I mean really long hair) I have to wash it at least every other day and use conditioner. Then there is shaving also an everyday thing. I love marine life and swimming what I don’t love is dreadlocks. I don’t have the face for them. There has to be something that will work but I sure haven’t found it. Looking forward to some amazing advice on here

    • I hear you on the dreadlocks look. Just say no to that one. My hair is long and fine, although likely not as long as yours. Researching the natural conditioners out there, I notice Lush has several that use things like avocado and cocoa butter, things like that. Unfortunately their spiffy bars and creams add a number of emulsifiers that rate moderately high on the toxicity scale on the site I’m using, which is Environmental Working Group (EWG.org). People on WWS have talked about this issue on a number of occasions. You might find something that will work for you in that group’s collective wisdom. Also I’m seeing that people sell their own versions of natural conditioner bars on Etsy, so if you are in the US you might look there. Perhaps I will experiment with making my own, but my hair may be different than yours. I’m enjoying my long hair for now, and I cannot see ever going completely short like some women do. But who knows how I’ll feel later?

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