About a year ago I stopped washing my face. Sounds gross and dirty, right? Well, that was my first reaction too, but in the end it was, surprisingly, not such a big deal. It all started on a Sunday morning hike in LA with an unofficial “meetup” style group. In this particular group, there happened to be three dermatology residents whom, when questioned on skin care, informally suggested that cleansing the skin, generally, was overrated. Um, what? (For the record, this was not official medical advice.)
In the interest of full disclosure, I had an agenda that day, at least in this conversation. For several years I had been trying (and failing) to address a persistent skin irritation with a variety of commercial products. But now, these dermatologists, they were implying that my skin was self-cleaning, that all of my efforts were, in essence, redundant.
I decided to try not washing.
Instead, I rinsed with warm water, splashed my face with witch hazel, and applied a tiny amount of natural oil (almond, apricot, jojoba, safflower, whatever). That’s it.
And…. my skin was totally fine, better even. It was so startling how unnecessary those facial cleansing products suddenly were, that I immediately wondered what ELSE I could drop from my shopping list. So I stopped washing my hair, replacing shampoo and conditioner with rinses made up of raw ingredients like aloe vera and apple cider vinegar. My hair became softer and lighter. No one noticed a difference. If anything, I got more compliments. Nowadays, I rinse about once a week.
I understand that these substitutions may not work for every person, in every climate, but my own straightforward success had me taking inventory in the bathroom, diving down one of those rabbit holes on the internet filled with people like me hell-bent on freedom from packaged products. For example, I learned about and quickly acquired a box of Himalyan “soap berries,” which contain natural saponin. Now I wash my clothes with five dried berries in a small muslin bag. Yes, that’s right, no more detergent no more detergent bottles in the landfill either. Can the world wash its clothes on soap berries? I'm not sure. Maybe we just need to grow more soap trees?
My most exciting project, though, and by far the most contentious, was deodorant. I know, you’re thinking, that’s a socially significant item, you don’t want to take any chances. I assure you, this stuff WORKS. Really well. There are a few variations circulating in the aforementioned rabbit hole, but the recipe I’m currently using includes baking soda, arrowroot powder, shea butter, coconut oil, and essential oils. Did I mention that it works really well? I have also made tooth powder, perfume, and moisturizers of various consistencies.
What I discovered in these recent domestic adventures is that there is something very liberating about blending my own personal care products. Much like cooking from scratch, working with raw ingredients feels intrinsically nourishing and creative. It’s very satisfying to know exactly what is in the jar, how it got there, and what it’s for. It's an empowering act to produce the physical agents of self-care with one's own physical hands.
And there’s one more bonus that I didn’t expect. As one who is easily overwhelmed by too many choices (restaurant menus, indoor malls, Costco) anything I can do to restrict my mundane, everyday options is a welcome relief. Shopping, for me, is a particularly fraught example of choice overload. Of the sixteen “natural” deodorants on the shelf, which one smells nicest? Which one is the best value? Which one works? Which one is most ethically produced? Which package is most pretty? This is my brain on shopping. Not fun.
But making my own stuff at home with raw ingredients has provided an exit strategy from this madness. I noticed, also, as I was learning to make things at home, that I had unconsciously been giving a sort of legitimacy to packaged products that I did not extend to homemade ones. I used to hesitate to try soaps and creams made by real people at farmer’s markets, questioning whether they would "work," while assuming that any item in a mass-produced container was by definition "good." Now, this perspective seems utterly backwards to me.
Worse, it seems destructive, both personally and socially. Why do I trust corporations more than real people? That's not how I want to live. Trust is critical to both personal and societal health. If I don't trust my neighbor to make a decent moisturizer, how can I trust her to stand up for something arguably more urgent, like my civil rights? On the other hand, when I do support and appreciate the skills and knowledge in my community, I feel more a part of that community. It's less me against the world and more us creating the world together. Peace through tooth powder? Perhaps not, but neither do I think the two are completely unrelated.
So, lately, when I do buy personal items, I more often look for locally made ones, and I’m fortunate to live in a place where a lot of them are available (kambucha, upcycled shelving, elderberry syrup). If you don't live in such a community, but your curiosity is peaked, I would recommend moving to Long Beach, CA, or, alternatively, searching the crafty and marvelous Etsy database. :)
Have you made any of your own stuff? Please share in the comments!