My unpackaged, not quite daily, hair routine

In case you were wondering, this is my approach to zero waste hair care. 


I have longish wavy hair and a reasonable amount of it, which I get cut every 4-6 months at the Sustainable Salon in Surry Hills. I wash my hair once or twice a week – throwing it in a topnot while I shower. I blow dry about six times a year and don’t own hairspray except for the sugar and vodka mix I made myself, and yet barely use. I’ve carted around a bottle of Aveda texturizing spray for roughly eight years since that one time I bought product at a salon. I am determined to use it up, if only to repurpose the spray bottle that contains it.

I’m not a ‘hair’ person because I’ve never had to be. A good cut and very occasionally getting some highlights to frame my face means I can basically wake up and go.

I’m privileged that society accepts my hair as it is naturally, with the exception of that period in the 2000s when straightened hair was de rigueur, Britney was dancing with pythons, and pashminas were a thing. I obviously owned a straightener, which probably still exists somewhere in a drawer in my parent’s upstairs bathroom in Canada, a victim of disuse.

You’d think I’d be easy to please. Sort of? Curious, definitely.

I’ve tried all the things

I’ve tried all the most common zero waste hair washing methods that the internet has offered me:

  • bi carb & ACV
  • shampoo bars
  • more shampoo bars
  • other tempting shampoo bars
  • diluted castile soap (omg, no)
  • avocado pit ‘shampoo’
  • rye flour

And of course, inevitably, water only.

None of which worked out for me. My hair turned into a greasy on the bottom, dry on top, lion’s mane of Nope. It never normalized. I never ‘got through the bad period’. If you did, congrats.

I also struggled with whether some of these solutions were an improvement over shampooing. It seemed like I ended up wasting water by trying to get flour out of my hair, or cleaning my hairbrush and pillows more often from the extra oil buildup. Or using too much of an alternative to achieve a worse result (like the avo pit shampoo that was basically just diluted water with some gelatinousness). It felt like the highest maintenance low maintenance pursuit ever.

We’re all different. A good solution for me must be reduced waste, low maintenance, and also it needs to work.

Shampoo, currently

So here we are. Full circle actually.

One of the first lifestyle changes I made in pursuing the life less wasteful was to buy shampoo in refill from The Soap Dispensary. It had never even occurred to me to look for refills until the first time I walked into the place.

When I moved to Sydney, it wasn’t as commonplace to find personal care product refills, and this was only 3 years ago! So I branched out to find out if other ways of cleaning my hair would work. It’s been fun to experiment, but luckily, so much has changed and it’s now pretty easy to refill shampoo. I can go back to doing what just seems to work best for me – actual shampoo, just without the container. Maybe it’s not perfect, maybe there’s no such thing as perfect anyway, and maybe perfectionism is a trap*.

These days I refill shampoo from The Source and mix it up occasionally with a Lush shampoo bar, which does have SLS, but is packaging free. The latter is great for traveling and threatens to last forever at the rate I’m going. Some people like to throw shade at Lush, for myriad reasons, but who else is doing unpackaged body care at that scale?

I store my shampoo in plastic because I’m not ridiculous. Anyone tempted to store shower paraphernalia in glass should consider how bloody inconvenient (literally bloody) it is to get out of a shower with glass all over the floor, which happened to me when a shower shelf fell out of, unbeknownst to me, broken wall brackets.

In the summer I get into the ocean a couple times a week at least. The salt seems to keep the grease in check, with the bonus of giving me pretty waves. The sun does dry the hair, so I focus on keeping my hair conditioned, and for that, ACV is actually pretty great. After shampooing I spray diluted ACV onto the bottom of my hair using an upcycled spray bottle, then rinse so I don’t smell of salad dressing. Coconut oil on the ends works well too when hair is towel dried.

A dash of a DIY arrowroot and cocoa mixture serves as a dry shampoo if I really try to stretch between washes, which happens in the wintertime when Aussie houses are so chilly I can’t be bothered to wet my hair. My best weapon year round is a floppy hat that both hides my unwashed hair, and protects my face from the sun.

As far as tools go, I use a wooden paddle hairbrush I pinched from one sister or another eons ago. Half the bristles are missing, so it’s a good thing it has a huge paddle portion and one side still works. You’ll never catch my right wrist unadorned by a hair elastic or two – a few years ago I bought a package that I hope will last me the rest of my long life, supplemented by those I pick up from the ground. Same for bobby pins. My secondhand blow dryer broke just before a recent wedding so I went to one of those blow dry only places to get it done instead of immediately replacing the tool. I searched a bit on Gumtree, decided to wait it out, and then my sister in law very conveniently gave me an extra one she had.

So for now, this is my simple, unpackaged hair care routine. My teenaged self would hardly believe that it’s not necessary to shampoo daily, or care if others think my hair looks slightly greasy. My mom would approve and tell me that it’s more or less what she did growing up. Refilling and buying unpackaged is part of the story, but the core of it is doing less altogether. The whole reduce part applies to activities as well as things. Less washing and less styling, which translates to less product used, fewer containers and less water waste.

*It is a trap.

3 ingredient zero waste lip balm recipe

Here’s a three ingredient formula for a versatile zero waste lip balm that I use on my lips, cuticles, and as the base for my DIY zero waste deodorant. 


3 ingredients, no packaging

This basic balm recipe uses only three ingredients, all of which can be found unpackaged here in Sydney:

  • cacao butter
  • coconut oil
  • beeswax

It’s inspired by a lip balm I had long ago from Lush (Honey Trap, I think) that was great for cuticles and lips alike. I began making my own once I found out how simple this kind of thing is, and when The Soap Dispensary opened and started offering refills of these ingredients in only the amounts I needed. My recipe is a bit simpler than Lush’s, but works just as well.

zero waste lip balm ingredients

Melt and pour method for making the balm 

Melt all three ingredients in a 1:1:1 ratio in a mason jar set into simmering water. Stir to combine, then pour into silicone moulds or small reused lip balm tins. The mixture will harden as it cools to room temperature. If you’re in a hurry, put the moulds in the fridge.

You can usually find silicone ice cube trays at the op shop – that’s where I got these heart shaped moulds.

Variations on the lip balm recipe

For meltier bars, reduce the relative amount of beeswax. For harder bars (or in summer) increase the beeswax. You can also mix and match oils, butters and waxes if you don’t have cacao or coconut or beeswax – the trick is to start with the roughly 1:1:1 mixture of oil, butter and wax, and then adapt to your climate and preference. The more liquid your ingredients are, the softer the balm will be. I use this combo of cacao, coconut and beeswax because I can find it all packaging free, and cacao butter smells like chocolate!

Uses for the everything balm

I usually make a couple at a time since extras are great as gifts, or stored for later in an upcycled candle jar. The little bars can be remelted and mixed to make DIY paste deodorant.

Safety razor pros and cons, a year on

When I first made the switch to a safety razor, I was nervous! I didn’t know anyone who shaved with one, and information I found online was confusing and made it all sound so scary. Here’s a quick update on how it’s going, over a year later. My original review is here


Pros of shaving with a safety razor: 

  • Takes no more time to shave than with a disposable razor.
  • Not sure why this is the case, but I am finally able to shave my knees properly. Sensitive areas other than knees are easy to shave without irritation too.
  • I use a regular soap and water, nothing special. The trick is to turn the water off when lathering up.
  • I find I go through blades slowly, which means it’s not costing me much. I broke down the costs in my first post about the safety razor if you’re interested.
  • Spent blades are useful to have around the house – I use the one old blade to remove labels from jars.
  • Looks sort of majestic, no?

safety razor

Cons of shaving with a safety razor: 

  • They aren’t allowed in airline carry on with the blade inside. Depending on your job/lifestyle, you might want to hold on to your last disposable as a travel backup, or just be prepared to check a bag. I can’t say this has really impacted me, but my friends who basically live on airplanes should consider this.
  • Depending on the blade brand, they might come in a little plastic container. Compared to the packaging you’d get when you buy a pack of disposable heads, it’s still less. If really bothers you, chose the blades that come in a cardboard box – Personna and Astra were in cardboard, and I think I like Personna best anyway.
  • The closeness of the shave might depend on the blade brand. I’ve been working through a sampler pack with five different brands to see which blade suits me best. The idea is to start with the beginner blades (they protrude the least from assembly) and work up to the most advanced. I haven’t gotten far, but even so, I prefer the brand I’m using now, a ‘middle’ sharpness. I remember thinking in the beginning that the shave could have been a little closer, and now I find the effect extremely smooth. This is sort of a con that became neutral.

safety razor blades

The verdict

I’m still quite happy with my safety razor. I’ll admit I was hesitant to invest, but now that I’ve used the safety razor for over a year, it’s just normal, and I don’t see any reason I won’t have it for the rest of my life, which could be three times as long as I’ve even been shaving up ’til now. Other zero waste hair removal options are sugaring or just going father in between shaves at minimum.

If you have any questions or want to share your own experience, feel free to ask in the comments below.

A simple Zero Waste deodorant to make at home

I’m not sure why my DIY deodorant actually works, but it seems to and it’s easy to make. But you might not even need it. Confused? Ummm…yeah.


There are good reasons to consider giving up conventional deodorant to start making your own, including avoiding fragrance or triclosan, reducing plastic packaging waste, and saving some money.

A brief history of deodorant

Women were the first to be body shamed into buying it in the early 1900s. Adverts of the time told women that they needed to get that pesky underarm odour under control if they hoped to snag a mate. Nevermind that it clearly hadn’t stopped humans from mating in all the human history that came before it… Women were at first outraged, then bought in big and a need was born. The same story as many personal care products! At the time, male body odour was considered completely fine, masculine even. That only changed decades later when producers hawkishly realized they were missing out on 50% of the market.

Fear of body odour is at its root, fear of rejection, and probably why many people can be hesitant to try out anything that doesn’t explicitly promise “24 hour odour protection!” or similar.

I’d tell you to go without, except that I don’t, and besides, many of us work indoors – our sensibilities might not be attuned to the smells of the pre-Victorian era. And since deodorant shames each gender in mostly equal amounts these days, let’s just look at an alternative to the conventional drug store variety, just because we can.

My tried and tested formula

Anecdotally, my homemade formula works for me, but I couldn’t help but wonder why. The internet is abound with terrible advice provided by people who have good intentions, but a poor grasp of what constitutes legitimate scientific literature. It muddies the waters to call a homemade deodorant ‘chemical free’. Chemicals are neither good nor bad by definition. It’s much more accurate to say we want to avoid chemicals proven to harm biological systems, like triclosan. Not every commercially sold deodorant contains triclosan and I’ve not seen any science that supports that widely repeated claim (from somewhere) aluminum causes breast cancer.

So why do I bother making deodorant myself? I find deconstructing ingredients and making stuff at home fun and empowering. I find unsubstantiated claims that may distract people from actual risk factors disempowering. I also like spending less on things that are super easy to make.

Anyway, having relied on my homemade deodorant for a number of years now, in climates from temperate to sometimes torturously hot, I am pleased to tell you I haven’t lost any friends. The formula is a distillation of anything and everything I’ve found on the internet over the years, combined with what I’ve picked up from workshops. And then I tried to make it as simple as possible, because I am a very big fan of that sort of thing.

In any case, it’s probably helpful to start, as I did, by getting a better grasp of the anatomy of the armpit and why it’s prone to odour in the first place.

Some interesting armpit tidbits

  • Armpits are about a pH of 4 – 6 (acidic), with women having a slightly lower pH than men, on average.
  • Sweat is one way our bodies control temperature, but not all sweat is the same – our bodies have two types of sweat glads: eccrine and apocrine. The former produces a salty solution that actually inhibits bacterial growth, the latter a more protein rich sweat, which bacteria like to feast on. Hairy body parts have more of the glands that produce protein rich sweat.
  • Smell is the result of bacteria breaking down the proteins in apocrine sweat.
  • Some people don’t produce body odour. And if you have dry earwax, you may be one of the lucky ones who doesn’t need any form of deodorant. Yup, this was determined by a study done by the NHS.
  • Salts inhibit bacterial growth.
  • Our skin is probably bacterially unbalanced, much like modern day intestines. We are probably over-washing and getting rid of good bacteria. One day we might spray on bacteria instead of deodorant to keep smell at bay. But not today.

Next I looked into the most common ingredients found in commercially available so called natural deodorants.

Common natural deodorant ingredients

Here are the ingredients you’ll find in popular, raved-about natural paste style deodorant. By law, ingredients must descend in order of concentration, which makes it simple enough to reverse engineer a recipe. They usually include the following:

  • Baking soda / bi carb is the star ingredient in most paste recipes. Baking soda is the same thing as bi carb, a type of salt. You could apply it solo, directly to your underarms. The reason many don’t is because that would be hard to apply and perhaps a bit abrasive, as well as on the high pH side at 8.5.
  • Arrowroot is moisture absorbing and has a neutral pH. I also suspect this creates a smoother consistency thanks to its thickening action. It acts a lot like cornstarch, but most cornstarch is from monocrops, and it’s also much higher pH than arrowroot, and could be irritating.
  • Clays are moisture absorbing. They can be neutral to high pH. Kaolin has a lower pH, bentonite has a very high pH.
  • Diotomaceaous earth is also alkaline, and sometimes used in place of bi carb or clay. It’s made of tiny little fossils. Actually this ingredient isn’t all that common.
  • Shea butter or cocoa butter are both moisturizing, and help form the balm base.
  • Coconut oil has antibacterial properties and helps form the balm base.
  • Beeswax hardens the mixture, which is useful for warm climates.
  • Essential oils like tea tree have antibacterial properties, and also add a bit of scent. If you’re preggers, sensitive, or a child, don’t use essential oils, and never use pure essential oils undiluted on your skin.

The best I can figure, bi-carb based deodorants work by raising the pH of the area to inhibit bacteria. The other ingredients make the paste nice to apply and also dilute the bi carb, which should theoretically bring down the pH of the formula. Why is this important? Products with a high pH can cause irritation to the skin. If you get skin irritation, you might want to reduce the bi carb or high pH ingredients in the formula. Some of the other ingredients are antibacterial.

The DIY deodorant formula I use.

Every time I make my deodorant, I make it a bit differently because I have slightly different ingredients on hand.  It always turns out fine and usable because it’s a robust recipe. Unlike true soap making, which is a technical process – precision measurement of oils and lye can the difference between success and failure – DIY deodorant is melt and pour. With our basic balms and deodorant pastes, adding too much of one thing is easily corrected by adding a bit more of another.

 

Ingredients:

  • 1TBSP cocoa butter
  • 1TBSP coconut oil
  • 1TBSP beeswax
  • 1TBSP bi carb
  • 1TBSP kaolin clay
  • 1TBSP arrowroot powder
  •  5-10 drops skin safe essential oil, like tea tree or lavender

This method uses one equal part of each ingredient (excluding essential oil), and a 50:50 overall ratio of dry ingredients to balm. Meaning, if you need to swap out the kaolin clay for 1.5 TBSP each bi carb and arrowroot. The more bi carb, the stronger the deodorant’s effectiveness, but also the potential for skin irritation.  Or you could swap the fancier 1:1:1 balm recipe for 3 parts coconut oil. Easy, right?

Step 1: Make the basic balm recipe

Start with a basic balm recipe using a 1:1:1 ratio of butter/oil/wax (this can be used on lips or cuticles or as a massage bar too). If it’s winter, decrease the beeswax by half, as I did, or altogether.

Put the balm ingredients in a heat proof container like a mason jar and into a hot water bath until melted, then stir to mix.

Step 2: Add the dry ingredients

Combine your dry ingredients in a separate vessel. It’s a good idea to sift the bi carb or just break up any chunks. Mix this into the softened or melted basic balm mix. After it cools a little, mix in a few drops of essential oil. The mixture will firm up over the next hour or two and have a paste consistency.

Step 3: Store and use your deodorant

I keep my deodorant in a small glass jar that formerly housed a candle. Any jar would do as long as you can reach in with your fingers, because you will need to apply the deodorant with your fingers. And why not – if you’re a lady, you should be touching your armpit regularly to check for lumps anyway.

Give it a few minutes to sink in before you put clothing on to avoid staining. If you’re getting grease stains, you could be using too much, or you may need to add more of the dry ingredients to dry out the formula for your climate and season. I use about half a pea size for each underarm. A small pea. One batch should last a few months.

It’s also worth noting that I don’t tend to wear clingy white clothing these days. but I used to and found I would get staining from conventional deodorants anyway.

A note on Zero Waste ingredient sourcing

I used to be able to get all of the ingredients packaging free fromThe Soap Dispensary. Those were the days – I had it so good.

Now that I live in Sydney, I can get some but not all of the ingredients packaging free. Bi carb, arrowroot powder, coconut oil and cocoa butter can be found at many of the bulk food stores I frequent. Beeswax isn’t too hard to find in blocks at the farmers market or through a crop swap group. For anything I can’t easily source packaging free, my approach is to buy in larger amounts to share with friends.