Sunday, 29 August 2010

How I Ditched the Chemicals in my Bathroom Cabinet

This was no walk in the park - I am an office-based professional so I need to appear presentable and not smell bad. Yet I also do a lot of sport, do an hour of walking per day (to and from work) and live in a climate that can get fairly warm for half of the year.

Yet at the same time, I do not want to continue using chemical-laced, ill-tested products.

I have found alternatives for: toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, soap and moisturiser. In each case I tell you why I wanted to ditch it and my experiences finding an effective alternative.

Articles on websites Mark's Daily Apple (for example, this one) have repeatedly highlighted that it's not just what goes into our bodies that matters. The pharmaceutical and other companies are just as reckless with the chemicals they ask us apply externally as those they expect us to swallow.

I was also inspired by this widely read post by Richard at Free the Animal, in which he described his ditching of soap and shampoo.

Before and After Photos
New Portability
Other Things I have Ditched

My Bathroom Cabinet Before and After

These are the photos before after I removed from my bathroom cabinet the things I would no longer be using... and a photo of the pile of crap I threw away.

Bathroom cabinet BEFORE.
Bathroom cabinet AFTER.
The things I threw away.

Okay, so I also took the opportunity to tidy it up, which it look better too! But I did ditch a whole load of soaps, creams, shampoos, toothpaste and other sundry crap I would no longer need.

Shampoo & Conditioner

This was where my journey started. Last month I once again stopped washing my hair with conventional shampoo, which was stripping it of its natural oils. I knew that after 2-6 weeks my hair would 'clean' itself naturally and stop looking greasy.

So I chose a holiday period to start the process. After 4 weeks, it had recovered from the initial greasiness and looked okay. Then, it started to get dirty again. I live in the city, so perhaps it was pollution. Whatever the reason, this was a familiar problem, because this had happened on previous attempts to go shampoo free.

Mrs M quickly began to warn me about my appearance, so I did some reading. There had to be a better way. I found this article. Baking soda and apple cider vinegar are all you need, said the author. You simply create diluted solutions of each to use as shampoo and conditioner. They don't strip your hair of its oils, and it looks and feels good.

Without telling Mrs M (or my Mother, her co-conspirator in the pro-shampoo lobby), I tried it out.

"How is my hair looking?" I casually asked them one day, having used the new solution.

"Good, actually" they both replied - "you've started using shampoo again, right?"

When I explained what I was doing, Mrs M was intrigued and my Mother was not surprised. Apparently it's what her mother used to do. They are both considering trying it, especially Mrs M, who currently spends big dollar on supposedly safe alternatives. To my untrained eye, the ingredients of these knee-tremblingly expensive products appear every bit as suspect as those in regular products.

Below are the photos of my set up - one bottle of vinegar and one tub of baking soda - cost: negligible. For each, two smaller bottles which I periodically fill with a dilute solution of each.

In the shower, I splash them on in the usual order, rinsing and massaging in between, and hey presto, good feeling, good looking hair. The bottles go in the shower with my olive oil soap - more on that in a moment.

Conditioner from apple vinegar.
Shampoo from baking soda.
The full shower kit!


I have been using soap made by Simple for years. Recently it struck me that for a 'simple' product, there were an awful lot of ingredients in the soap. I wanted to be able to clean myself without worrying about whether that list of chemicals contained any that give cancer to mice.

First, I read this article on how to make your own soap, but realised it way more effort than I was prepared to put in.

What the article did confirm, was that the ingredients required to make simple soap are fewer than I had been finding on the packaging of soap I was buying. After a little searching, I found some soap that was genuinely simple.

Olive oil soap.
Ingredients: genuinely simple.


Having read about the work of Weston A. Price, I am very aware of the impact of diet on tooth health. Moreover, I had been told by my own dentist that the brushing of teeth is important primarily because of the gum stimulation it provides, and that cavity and decay prevention are a function largely of diet.

Sure, toothpaste has a proven protective effect against decay and cavities, but if you have a diet that does not promote those things, it's not needed. Paleo/Primal is such a diet.

There are ingredients in toothpaste that can be found in other personal hygiene products, such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, which my Mum had been warning me about for years and which this article suggests may cause problems.

My conclusion was that I should stop brushing with toothpaste.

Brushing with just water is okay, but I was missing the 'minty fresh' post-brushing feeling. So I investigated alternatives. And guess who popped into the frame once again? Good old baking soda. I read this article on a dentistry website, which seemed to suggest it was entirely safe. They suggested using a fluoride rinse to protect against cavities, but for the reasons above, this would not be necessary. Another article suggested caution because of the abrasive effects on the enamel.

I tried the baking soda. It was anything but a 'minty fresh' experience... but it was still vaguely satisfying relative to water. I decided to brush twice a week with baking soda and the rest of the time with only water.

One final hurdle: I was getting pressure from Mrs M about breath freshness. She seemed to be under the impression that toothpaste is the only way to avoid bad breath. I dispute this. Bad breath may be fleetingly mitigated by cleaning your teeth with toothpaste, but it merely creates the brief illusion of fragrance.

Ever smelled the breath of someone trying to disguise a heavily garlic-laced meal with breath freshener? Not pleasant. Halitosis originates from the stomach, not the teeth. And you don't need toothpaste to ensure your teeth and mouth are clean - water is fine.

I regularly floss my teeth too, which avoids food getting trapped between teeth. Brushing does not always remove all of this, leading to bad breath even after brushing, as the food decays in the mouth.

If you are interested in exploring the alternatives (e.g. coconut oil, xylitol), read this article. Now that I have 'let go' of the minty fresh experience, I am happy with water and intermittent baking soda - but you may prefer to experiment more widely.

Baking soda in a pot for toothpaste.

Deodorant / Anti-Perspirant

First of all, I tried wearing nothing at all. Mrs M went deodorant-free for a while and never seemed to smell. For a few days I was fine. Then I started to catch the odd whiff of 'man' through my shirt during the day. Not good for your confidence in the office.

It had obviously taken a few days for the chemical deodorant to work itself out of my pores and for the bacteria to realise it was party time. Towards the end of the week, after I had been walking home from the station for 20 minutes, I'd managed to generate quite a stink. So not using deodorant or anti-perspirant at all was not an option.

I did some reading, and came across this article in which the author says our old friend baking soda worked wonders for her.

A week ago I started using baking soda under my arms in the morning - just a splash, as if it were talcum powder. A week later, no stink. It works.

Baking soda in an old talc dispenser as deodorant.
Baking soda ready to apply to the armpit.

The lady who wrote the article does talk about getting some itching with the baking soda. She recommends a baking soda + corn starch mixture, but I have not found the need for this.


I have been an obsessive user of moisturiser on my hands and face for years, but had become increasingly concerned about the list of chemicals in the ingredients. As with the soap, I had been using a brand whose 'simple' ingredients were its main selling point. Yet there still seemed to be a lot of them, none of which I knew much about.

A visit to Mark's Daily Apple yielded this article, proposing almond oil as an excellent, natural and cheap moisturiser. So I bought some.

Initially used too much and found myself facially 'oiled up'. Once I realised how little was required, I was able to apply it to my hands and face in a way that left me feeling moisturised but not greasy. That bottle is going to last a long time.

I use a smaller bottle as a more convenient container keep on the bedside.

Almond oil as moisturiser.

New Portability

The nice thing about my new personal hygiene products is compactness. I get to choose the containers they go into. No more too-large, too-heavy containers, designed to give the impression of quality and volume... instead, I use my own, home-selected containers.

Here is a photo of the products I now take to the gym. It weighs a fraction of the previous stuff. A small plastic pot of baking soda will last for weeks as deodorant, as will the small bottle of almond oil as moisturiser.

Travelling light is important when you walk for an hour between home, gym, train station and work.

My portable version for the gym. I bother with hair on those days.

Things I have Already Ditched

Sunscreen. You may have spotted some sun screen in the pile of stuff I threw away. This had been lurking in my bathroom cabinet since I stopped using it last year. If anything I am more afraid of this than all the other products, which explains its early exit from usage. This post from Richard on Free the Animal shows some disturbing stats.

Aftershave. To be honest, I never really used it so there was not much to ditch.

Shaving Foam. I've used an electric razor for several years now.

So that's it. I now feel mostly chemical free in the bathroom. I would be interested to hear your own experiences and suggestions in this area.

Before and After Photos
New Portability
Other Things I have Ditched

See also:

Ditching the Bathroom Chemicals - Update


Finally, a question - I have used some new image 'technology' in this post. When you click on the small pictures they open as a larger 'overlay' on the page. Did this work on your browser/PC/phone? Do you find it better or worse than the normal linking method? Did you notice that you can use the arrow keys to go through the images like a slide show?
... Read more

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Barefoot in the Hills, Sun & Paleo/Primal Spread

I had such a textbook paleo/primal morning today that I felt it had to be posted here as well as on the training blog.

I ran the hills glorious sunshine, barefoot (practically naked in fact), and enjoyed the pleasures (and suffered the irritations) of nature, before coming home to a primal/paleo spread, having not eaten since the night before.

The write-up on Train Now Live Later, is here.... Read more

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Recipe: Coconut and Nut Energy Bar

This is a simple recipe - only a few ingredients and easy to make, but a really neat way to package up an energy-rich, nutrient dense meal for consumption on the move. I made it for the first time to take on a long mountain race recently, and it was so good I had to share the recipe. Enjoy.

... Read more

Friday, 6 August 2010

Dear Tropical Sun: "Why is there Crap in my Coconut Milk?"

For a few years I have been using Tropical Sun coconut milk.

Coconut milk is the result of squeezing the coconut flesh to create a creamy liquid. It's sometimes also called coconut cream. It typically comes in a tin.

It's quite hard to find a brand that does not have crap in the ingredients. Usually it's things like xanthan gum or corn starch, designed to thicken the liquid and make it more creamy. Often, preservatives and other chemicals are added to prolong shelf-life.

Tropical Sun
's ingredients were simply "Coconut, Water". Great. Here is a screenshot from an online store selling the product.

When you opened the tin, the product would have settled, so there was a thick plug of thick cream at the top, with watery mixture at the bottom. You could scoop out the thick stuff and refrigerate for use as a dessert cream, and use the more liquid stuff for cooking. Or you could mix it all together and use as a double cream consistency for all things.

Every so often, a tin would taste a little tangy - perhaps because it was past its shelf life - but we were happy to take that hit for a pure product. When we were forced to use the more adulterated versions you could tell the difference. It did not feel authentic.

Coconut milk/cream is key ingredient in my Paleo/Primal breakfast of champions, and I even included a photo of the brand in the recipe post.

A few weeks ago, Mrs M and I commented that the coconut milk tasted different. It was creamier, and somehow nicer. We thought nothing more about it. Perhaps they had changed their processes to grind the flesh more finely, I thought to myself.

Last week, I decided to buy in bulk. My normal source was hard to get to, so it would save time. I found I could buy crates of 12 from the AffriCarr online store. They were very efficient and within two days, two crates arrived.

We noticed that this batch too, tasted especially creamy. Imagine our horror when we checked the ingredients and saw this:

Coconut Extract (60%), Water, Thickener Corn Starch, Stabilisers E446, E407, and E412, Acidity Regulator E330.

It is all about profit, of course - if you can thicken the product with cheap corn starch then you need less coconut in there. You can also make it taste 'nicer'. It certainly fooled us. And with all those preservatives you can keep tins in the supply chain and on the shelves for longer.

Thus, the consumer starts thinking that proper coconut milk is homogeneous and creamy and never goes off. This forces the other manufacturers of coconut milk to consider adulterating their own product so they can complete with the price, taste and shelf life.

Here is an open letter to Tropical Sun to find out why they did it. I will copy the AfriCarr website, just so they also hear the voice of the consumer.


Dear Tropical Sun,

I have been a big fan of your coconut milk for a long time now, and was dismayed when your ingredients changed from being pure, to being decidedly impure.

I eat coconut milk precisely because it does not contain things like starchy carbohydrate, so the idea that you have adulterated the product with corn starch seems like madness. Was it commercial pressures that led to your decision, or a genuine (albeit in my view, misguided) desire to create a better product for the consumer?

Perhaps I am in the minority in caring about these subtleties, but in a world where awareness of additives and a desire to eat real food is growing at a fast pace, your decision appears to be a retrograde step. My blog readers and I will be interested to read your response.



See Also:
"Why is there Crap in my Coconut Milk?" - Tropical Sun's Perplexing Reply
Tropical Sun Replies - "Our Additives are Okay"
After Much Searching... the Perfect Coconut Cream
... Read more