Zero waste mascara, part two (soap free recipe)

zero waste mascara DIY

I knew it was possible to make a cake mascara without soap, but never had a reason to try until this spring. It’s beautiful here in Sydney, now on the first day of summer. The Jacarandas are in full purple canopy, and the air smells of jasmine. I don’t know which beautiful flowering tree to blame for my sneezing, watery eyes. The soap in my cake mascara was stinging me when I’d rub my itchy eyes. Even though I have been using the soap based mascara formula for years without issue, I had to stop wearing it.

Anyway…I’m smiling again, because I made a waste free mascara without soap that works great.

zero waste mascara soap free

I used very similar ingredients to my last cake mascara formulation, minus the soap, I’ll credit my years of tinkering with all sorts of personal care formulas for helping me develop a sense of what would work. I’m not saying there isn’t yet a better way, just that this worked for me.

How to make soap-free cake mascara

Here’s what I used to make a soap-free zero waste cake mascara:

  • 3g charcoal powder
  • 3g bentonite clay
  • 1g beeswax
  • 1g shea butter
  • 1g vitamin e oil

I measured each ingredient one by one in the same jar I used to melt the ingredients, then tared after adding each ingredient.

The method is the same process as in the older soap-based cake mascara recipe:

  • put everything in a heat proof glass container.
  • place the jar it in a saucepan of simmering water to melt, stir to combine once melted.
  • Pour into a clean shallow mould or old makeup container and it’ll set within a minute.

I used an old MAC bronzer case, which I like for the width and the mirror. It’s easy to rub the wand into the cake. I apply to lashes by wetting the mascara wand then rubbing the brush into the cake to moisten. I use more water for this formula than my soap based recipe.

This mascara has lighter, dryer texture on the lashes than the soap based version and because there’s no soap in it I can shimmy the brush closer to my eyelid for a thicker overall look. Once on, it doesn’t move around. At the end of the day, it comes off with my usual few drops of oil.

mascara soap free

I’ll use up the rest of my soap based mascara when allergy season has passed, but this is a great alternative and recipe I’ll probably use from here out. I had all of the ingredients on hand already, but if I didn’t, there are now shops in Sydney where you can find them for refill and buy only what you need.

Bulk store beach waves with magnesium oil

beachy waves DIY

I like my hair best after I’ve swum in the ocean and rinsed in an outdoor shower –  wavy and piece-y. Yet we’re nearly six months away from ideal Sydney swimming conditions. Many continue to swim daily through winter, but it’s called Icebergs for a reason, friends.

No matter – if you can’t get to the beach, bring the beach to your hair. A bit of magnesium oil does the trick. I don’t do much or add much to my hair because I don’t have the patience. This trick passes muster by being only one ingredient and available in bulk. And for reminding me of summer!

Magnesium oil is magnesium chloride dissolved in water. The compound comes from seawater. I bought some in bulk because I thought I could apply it to my skin to absorb magnesium as a remedy for occasional nighttime anxiety. I’ve since learned that magnesium ions can’t be absorbed through the skin barrier, except perhaps minimally through hair follicles, so the benefit of magnesium oil on the skin is likely placebo. Taking magnesium orally is well studied for efficacy, and the method a medical doctor would recommend if you were actually magnesium deficient, which I’m mostly likely not. Live and learn.

zero waste
The texture I’m going for.

So instead I use the magnesium chloride to texturise my hair. The crystals liquified in the jar with no encouragement from me, saving me the trouble of dissolving them in water. I pour a small amount of this liquid into my palm and scrunch with my hands into the ends of either dried or nearly dried hair. The magnesium oil encourages the wave and adds definition and texture. For extra pizzazz I might tie my hair in a bun for a bit. A little goes a long way. I used to store the mix in a spray bottle, but the salt content rusted the metal parts. Oops.

Skip the drugstore with simple staples for face, body and hair

zero waste DIY body scrub

Cleanliness doesn’t depend on an overstuffed bathroom cabinet. I know that now.

I used to love the drugstore aisles and all the shiny, colourful packages. I’d restock colour specific shampoo before I was even close to running out. Since transitioning to a low waste lifestyle, I still wear deodorant, shampoo my hair, and shave my legs. But differently. I skip the hormone disrupting chemicals, and micro-plastics. Some of the products I used pre-zero waste aren’t important enough to me to find an alternative for. I can say with utter certainty that nail polish added no value to my life.

What I use on my face, body and hair

I ‘need’ fewer products overall, and those that remain have fewer ingredients. Often one or two, from the pantry. Let’s bust that myth that reducing waste is time consuming and difficult. Here’s what I use on a daily or weekly basis:

Deodorant: I make this recipe.

zero waste deodorant

Face cleanser: jojoba or rosehip oils or castile soap (a mild olive oil based soap, in bar or liquid form).

Face scrub: a sprinkle of bi carb + water works wonders. You can read more about other plastic microbead-free exfoliation options in this post.

Makeup remover: jojoba or coconut oil.

Face moisturizer: any of jojoba oil, rosehip oil, piece of aloe vera or I make this lifesaving rosewater serum in the winter.

zero waste skin care rosewater

Acne spot treatment: dab of tea tree oil or green clay + water to form a paste. Leave on 15 min.

Hand soap: unpackaged bar soap or liquid castile soap in a pump dispenser, diluted with water.

Body soap: unpackaged bar soap.

Shave soap: unpackaged bar soap. Not a fancy shave soap either.

Body moisturizer: fresh aloe vera, shea butter or sesame oil with a few drops of lavender essential oil.

Body scrub: white sugar + coconut oil to form a paste (pictured topmost), or a hemp mitt or loofah.

Lip and cuticle balm: I make this recipe.

zero waste lip balm

Shampoo: refilled liquid shampoo or a shampoo bar.

Conditioner: diluted apple cider vinegar rinse – a spray bottle is useful. More about my hair care routine in this post.

Dry shampoo: arrowroot powder (or cornstarch) with a dash of cocoa powder.

Where to find unpackaged DIY ingredients in Sydney

I aim to source all my ingredients unpackaged. In Sydney, most bulk food stores will have the ingredients you need, and selection is getting better all the time. Another option is to buy a larger amount to split between friends. And even if you aren’t able to buy your ingredients in refill, you’re still reducing your chemical burden, becoming more ingredient literate and hopefully spending less time in the drugstore.

In pursuit of zero waste dental floss

zero waste dental floss

I floss my way through some zero waste dental floss brands, and then I get on my soapbox.

This is a post I’ve held off publishing for a while. It feels…unimportant. Dental floss quite literally operates in dark crevasses.

And yet, I can recall feeling so strongly about floss at one point that I seriously considered developing a biodegradable option myself. I also bothered to buy and test these zero waste floss options, so…let’s not dismiss it. Let’s talk about it.

A ‘hot’ need is so powerful it catches you up and makes you consider doing crazy things, like online shopping, or buying laundry balls. I once bought a laundry ball at a green living expo, then realized I was totally duped by my own desire never to use laundry detergent again. I did it again more recently with the CoraBall to catch microfibres from my washing machine. In hindsight wished I’d analyzed the ‘research’  more closely. It’s not that these items don’t work (well, jury’s out on the CoraBall), it’s that I didn’t need a CoraBall as much as I thought I did when the crowdfunding campaign appeared in my Facebook feed. Don’t dismiss these hot needs in yourself, or others, but try to identify them for what they are. For these are the circumstances where greenwash and unsubstantiated claims prey on our good intentions. So my caveat to this post is this: if you’re looking for a zero waste floss brand, please read all the way to the end. Onward. 

Zero Waste dental floss brands I’ve tested

This isn’t a place about products and brands, but it is about sharing useful information, which may include items I’ve tried and liked (or not). And although I’m all for minimizing the scope of toiletries to save time, money and packaging, I’ll never give up dental floss. Floss is more than a spinach remover. It helps prevent gum disease caused by bacteria accumulating below the gum line, which can eventually cause bone loss (eek).

I’m always on the lookout for lower waste floss, with recyclable or compostable packaging and product. Until recently, nothing much was worth recommending.   

I have normally spaced teeth plus a permanent retainer (just a metal bar) on the inside lower front teeth, under which I need to be able to shimmy the floss. Here are some options I’ve bought with my own funds and personally tested over the past year.  It would be impossible for me to meaningfully compare production methods, so that’s not evaluated here.

The control: any drugstore floss

Floss you buy in any drugstore is cheap, functional and made of nylon coated in who-knows-what kind of Teflon family chemicals (remember this story?). The plastic outer is technically recyclable, but in practise I bet it’s not often. It costs about $3 AUD/100m.

Radius silk floss individual sachets

Radius offers compostable silk floss embedded in single use paper sheets that you tear to open. The floss breaks if you pull too hard and it doesn’t work well under my permanent retainer. Twenty sachets come in a slim cardboard box. I think it was $4.20 CAD for 20 sachets? I bought these a long time ago in a country far, far away. This is $0.21/day option. I think. Radius also sells  silk floss in a more traditional container. That container is plastic and not refillable, so I’m not really sure of the point. 

Noosa Basics dental floss with charcoal

Noose Basics makes a waxed bamboo thread. UPDATE: their website now indicates that the floss includes polyester threads. This isn’t the strongest floss and it sometimes breaks, although I’ve learned to be more gentle. Thumbs up to this Aussie company for trying something innovative with packaging. The cardboard point of sale packaging holds the spool, there is no additional container within. The spool still uses a small plastic ring and sometimes the floss gets tangled, but overall I like it and I can use it easily under my permanent retainer. I hope the producer can find economies of scale to the cost down, because only zero waste obsessives would pay a ransom of $12.95 for 35m. I’d also like to see more floss in each container. As it stands, we really need to compare three packages of Noosa Basics floss to one drugstore floss- the latter packs significantly more into the one unit, and is effectively ‘concentrate’. I can see why Noosa Basics doesn’t, as it would make the bamboo floss seem shockingly expensive (more on that below), I’m just saying, using more of other resources to avoid plastic is an unintended, yet common, outcome to watch out for. 

Dental Lace

Dental Lace offers a thick silk thread coated with candelilla wax. The floss is compostable and the glass and metal container is refillable with spools that come in plant-based plastic sachets. The thread has no inner spool which eliminates that small bit of plastic – smart. My only critique is that there is a purely decorative plastic sticker on the outside of the package whose only destination is landfill once you peel it off, as I did. Also, the price. This was expensive at $8.75 for 60m plus shipping.

Dental floss, opportunity cost, and what it takes for zero waste

You’re not failing at zero waste if you use conventional floss for ease or financial reasons. I’d be more annoyed if you sacrificed future dental health to save this small amount of plastic. A single takeout container probably uses the same volume of plastic as a packet of floss that’ll last 6 months*. Not to mention, we sometimes create more waste by shopping ‘low waste’ when we buy online. I’m not saying we shouldn’t ask for and seek out better options, supporting upstart businesses along the way. I’m asking that we keep things in perspective and question what we think we have to do to participate in the zero waste movement. It’s not all or nothing. 

It’s also good to interrogate the overall product design and volume of materials used. Most of the time, product packaging isn’t created with the  environment or practicality in mind, but to meet a demonstrated, and ideally hot consumer need. Packaging is shaped in response to the way a consumer perceives a product. And of course, you know I would say we’re an irrational species that respond to stimuli then make up a story to explain our choices, not the other way around.  

That said, if you do want to make the switch, Dental Lace and Noosa Basics are the best I’ve tried to date. UPDATE: I no longer recommend Noosa Basics, as it contains polyester thread. Apples to oranges though, they cost way more than conventional. Per 100m, you’re paying $37 for Noosa Basics and $14 for Dental Lace, compared to $3 for your basic drugstore variety. With my curiosity satisfied, I’ll floss my way through my stockpile of Dental Lace refills before I decide if it’s a priority for me to reorder. 

I can’t see most people going out of their way and paying more to reduce this part of their waste stream, unless extremely motivated, like I have been on occasion. If it’s challenging to find low waste floss easily and locally, I’d suggest we’re better off focusing on reducing waste in other areas of life until it is. We work to zero waste, we don’t never make waste. Big difference.

What do you think – is reducing dental floss waste worth it, or destined to be just another scapegoat for the inaccessibility of a ‘zero waste lifestyle’?

*20cm used per floss means five flosses per metre, so Noosa Basics should last me 175 days if I floss once a day.