Make 3 Body Care Essentials from These 6 Ingredients
First a giveaway!
The other day I happened to meet a frugal guru named Jane Dwinell in some obscure corner of the internet. She mailed me her book Freedom through Frugality. I loved reading her perspective, especially on the environmental impact of frugality. She has lots of tips that are appropriate to families and singles, suburbs and apartments, homesteads and communities.
I can’t just let this book sit on the shelf! I’ve got to share it with you, and today is a perfect chance since we’re talking about cheap, environmentally-friendly ways to meet our basic needs.
So please help me spread the reach of this blog by sharing this post (or any of the others) to wherever you share things. Your Facebook page, your favorite group, other social media, wherever you think it will be welcomed. Send me a message that says “shared to…” through the contact form, and I’ll draw someone’s name out of a hat and mail them the book. I’ll give you an entry for each place you can share.
If you don’t care to read the book please share a post anyway to help us build a community here. If you have another suggestion to help me get out there, such as a particular newsfeed that might carry Low-Carbon Life or a strategy that has helped you build your own audience, I would be very grateful to hear that, too.
Now to the melting and brewing!
Are you trying to buy less ocean-choking plastic? Concerned about nasties in your body-care products? It’s easier to make your own than you might think. The trick is to keep it simple and use some things you already have.
When I started making my own deodorant, lip balm and toothpaste I wasn’t primarily concerned about reducing packaging, avoiding secret poisons or even saving money. What? That’s crazy! I’m always into saving money! But with these three products, I had bigger problems. I badly needed something that worked better than what was available commercially.
Every lip balm I tried, from Burt’s to Blistex, caused my lips to burn and then peel about eight layers of skin. I don’t know what is in there to cause that horrible reaction, I only know it was in every. single. one. Similar issue with deodorant. From Tom’s to Degree, no matter what I used, I streamed sweat. I tried crystal and all the alternatives, but they didn’t de-stink well enough. If you’re about to tell me that giving up eating meat makes you smell better, this is true for some people, but it doesn’t work for everyone. We all have different microbiomes.
As for toothpaste, I’d followed all the dentist’s recommendations but still needed a filling in every molar before I was 20. Part of this was failing to eat enough calcium and the vitamin D to absorb it, but commercial toothpaste definitely wasn’t helping. There had to be something better.
I’m a homeschool mom of littles, a writer and a homesteader. On any particular day there might be a kid emergency and a goat emergency, and dinner still needs made. I only do stuff that is simple to make, hard to screw up, cheaper and more effective than store-bought, and also easier on the earth. Each of the following recipes meets those criteria. You probably have half this stuff already in your cupboard.
Peppermint essential oil
Powdered calcium carbonate
Melt about 2 1/2 oz of coconut oil in a 4 oz or similar-sized jar (I’m sure you have one already hiding in the cabinet). Add about 2 rounded tablespoons of calcium powder, a teaspoon or two of baking soda and 20 or 30 drops of peppermint oil. If you really can’t stand the taste of salt, add a little stevia to make it sweeter. Stir it up. Let it cool. You’re ready to go. A 4 oz jar lasts my family of four several months.
Each of these ingredients has a tooth-friendly function. Baking soda raises the pH of your mouth, stopping your teeth from dissolving. Calcium powder is mildly abrasive and provides calcium with which your teeth, now at a proper pH, can re-mineralize. The coconut oil makes it pasty and is mildly antibacterial, and the mint tastes nice and is also antibacterial. If you swallow this toothpaste it just becomes a tiny calcium supplement; all of these ingredients are edible in these amounts.
When I lived in a city I got my calcium from the fancy vitamin shop. In our rural area, I usually have to order it. This is better because you can get it in a bag rather than in unnecessary plastic, but worse because of the environmental impact of ordering everything. I lessen that impact by ordering only things I can’t source locally, saving up a list to ship together and choosing the slowest and therefore least-wasteful shipping. (That’s an affiliate link up there, as are some others in this post. My commission doesn’t raise your price, and it supports this site first and then The Cool Effect.)
Now that I’m used to the taste of homemade, the store-bought toothpaste tastes unbelievably gross. Nobody around here has had a dental problem in eight years, except when one of my molars cracked around a 20-year-old filling. I was able to heal the crack at home without further damage. My kids are 4 and 7 and have never had a hint of a cavity.
My dentist was nervous about us making our toothpaste. He urged me to add xylitol, another antibacterial. I hesitate to do that because there’s pretty good science that going too antibacterial can make the niche is so empty that harmful species get in and thrive. Not too scary in armpits, but frightening in the mouth. I guess my dentist hasn’t read Ed Yong’s I Contain Multitudes (you should read it! So fascinating!). Eight years of no cavities is proof enough for me that my paste works great for us.
The cheapest 40-proof clear liquor
Peppermint essential oil (or if you happen to have another essential oil you like better, use that. I like lavender or citrus.)
I use vodka. It costs about $7 for a flask that will last years and also serve as disinfectant in a pinch. It doesn’t matter that it tastes terrible because you’re not going to drink it except maybe in a worst-day-ever-after-the-kids-are-FINALLY-in-bed scenario, in which case it’ll taste like the delicious numbing of existential pain.
Drug stores sell a tiny spray bottle for about a dollar. I don’t mind that it’s plastic because I’ve had mine four years and it’s still going strong. Better yet, see if you already have something that will work. Maybe that eco-friendly bug repellent that turned out to be a bug attractant can be dumped in the yard, and the bottle washed and repurposed rather than taking up space on the shelf.
Fill the bottle with alcohol and add 20 or so drops of essential oil. Shake each time before you apply. It won’t harm your clothes like nasty white deodorant sticks. It won’t make you smell like a drunk. You won’t feel it unless you’ve nicked yourself shaving, in which case disinfectant isn’t a bad idea. This stuff works far better for me than anything on the market, but if you’re among the stinkiest of the stinky, you can boost its power by adding a quick baking soda armpit rub to your shower routine. Just rinse off good to avoid irritating your skin.
Peppermint essential oil (optional, just for flavor)
You might already have beeswax from making beeswax wraps, but if you don’t, ask around. One of your friends might be a stealth bee keeper. There are more of them than you’d think, and they have more wax than they know what to do with. Next best option is your local health food store. If you have to order it, something like this one has worked well for me, but be warned: it’s a lifetime supply. I’ve made years-worth of lip balm and hand cream (and grafted fruit trees with it) and I haven’t half-way used it up.
You want more oil than wax, maybe 3 or 4:1. Beeswax has to get pretty hot to melt, so do it in a jar or little pyrex (pots are too big). I use our wood stove in winter, but in the past I have used a glass-top electric stove, a coil-top electric stove with a pan between jar and coil, or a microwave. Add 7 or so drops of essential oil, stir, and pour into an appropriate container. A tiny empty mustard jar would work, or you could reuse a lip balm container you already have. Failing that, Whole Foods sells a little empty one, or something like this one is fine (they all come in packs of 12 or more, so you might plan to make some to give away). Ta-da!
How does all this mixing and brewing help the earth? Truthfully, it’s a very tiny thing. Let’s not get carried away and imagine it matters anywhere near as much as using electricity efficiently, driving less, political engagement or eating more kindly. But if you look at my analysis of the carbon footprint of an average US family compared to ours, you’ll see that non-food consumer spending has a huge impact, equal to driving and greater than eating.
The body-care industry’s portion of that is especially worrisome. If voting with my dollars is worth anything at all, I want to vote against the entire industry.
Sure, the ingredients for these home-made items come in packaging, but that packaging is more easily reusable and recyclable. Bulk packages result in much less packaging for the volume of product, and I was already going to buy most of these things anyway. It’s very impact-efficient to divert a small quantity from those packages, and thereby avoid buying multiple products with complex ingredients in weird little containers. And in the end, making a few things for ourselves helps us learn to think outside the box (rather than just reaching for another thing off the shelf), which is an essential habit to cultivate in these uncertain times.
What do you make yourself that’s cheaper, better and more earth-friendly than what’s commercially available? Share in the comments, and let’s build a list of recipes together.