My most recent "project" for making a healthier family is to get rid of sodium lauryl sulfate in our personal care products. This quest started when my toddler asked me for bubbles in his bath. I wandered down to the grocery store to pick up some bubble bath, but something about the look of Mr. Bubble on the pink bottle made me pause and read the ingredients on the label. I'm sure you've seen these same ingredients on the back of your shampoo bottle, the long list of . . . what is this stuff anyway? If I don't know know what it is, why should I put it in my child's bath? I have often wondered about the ingredients in our soap, shampoo, and conditioner. In the past I have just shrugged and assumed that the soap companies are the experts and they must know what they are doing.
I decided to try the "organic & natural foods" aisle at the store to see what they had to offer. I picked up a bottle of body wash and looked at the ingredients. Hey, this has a lot of the same stuff! Sure, they have some additions of natural good-for-you ingredients like essential oils and honey, but what about all these chemicals that I can't pronounce?
I finally decided it was time to do some research on the subject. I went home and did some reading on the internet about sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate (SLS) (the main ingredient in most of our soaps). I learned that this is a cheap detergent that causes skin & hair irritations and may even cause hair loss & other health problems. Simply put, it is a chemical detergent that harshly strips your body of its natural oils. There was even a rumor that SLS is a cancer-causing agent, but that seems to be somewhat of an urban legend. Cancer or not, it is obvious that SLS is not good for your body. Common sense tells me that a chemical detergent that is good for cleaning oil off my driveway is not what I want to use for cleaning my skin or hair.
What about all the other strange ingredients in our soap? I haven't taken the time to google all of the other chemicals, but I do know that our personal care products usually contain preservatives and artificial colors (why do we need colored shampoo & lotion??) that aren't good for you either. I want some skin-care products that are going to clean me without any weird side effects.
Reading about SLS was enlightening to me because it validated the baking soda & cider vinegar system I have been using to wash my hair for almost two years now. In my past, I was probably the worlds biggest consumer of hair conditioner. Once I quit using shampoo, I suddenly didn't need conditioner anymore. Now I realize it was probably the SLS (and other things) in shampoo that was wreaking havoc on my hair and keeping it addicted to the conditioner. The conditioner in turn made my hair more greasy so I had to wash more often with more shampoo, it was a vicious cycle! Anyway, I quit using shampoo, but my husband hasn't been willing yet to try the baking soda method on his hair. I also found it difficult to use on my children (vinegar in my baby's eyes, yikes!).
So what are the alternatives to SLS? and where can I find them? Well, you can make your own soap. This has always been an interest of mine, but I haven't found the time and energy to start this project yet. So I turned to the next best thing to making your own stuff: Etsy.com, the online market place for handmade crafts. Just browse their Bath & Beauty section to find natural alternatives to any potion you could use in the bathroom. I first found a shampoo bar (added bonus of a bar: less garbage in the landfill because it doesn't come in a bottle) and read the list of ingredients: Saponified oils of olive, castor, palm, coconut, sweet almond, camelia, jojoba and shea butter, dead sea mud, kelp, and essential oils. Wow, that's more like it! (Just because it is handmade doesn't mean that it is natural! Make sure you always read or ask for a list of ingredients when shopping for handmade soaps.) According to their description, using a shampoo bar will most likely mean that you won't need conditioner because your hair will be clean without being stripped of its natural goodness. If you find that you still need conditioner for your hair, you can find those on Etsy too (leave-in conditioners are great). Or make your own leave-in conditioner by rubbing a tiny drop of essential or olive oil through your hair. Just a tiny drop! A little bottle goes a long way.
I've also found on Etsy natural bars of soap that replace my bottles of body wash and hand wash. I got some wonderful bubble bath for my toddler from Morning Star. If you use face wash, you can find natural alternatives that will leave your skin so soft that you might not need moisurizer anymore. I have been using my own concoction of 1 part baking soda mixed with one part ground rice or rice flour to wash my face. You can also add some dried herbs or lemon rind to this mixture. I put a small amount in my hand, mix with water to make a paste, and then scrub my face. It works so wonderfully that I have thrown out all the dozens of facial care potions & moisturizers that I have collected and tried over the years.
If you browse through the listings on Etsy, you might say to yourself, "okay, these handmade soaps and things are great for rich people, but all I can afford are the $1.50 bottles of Suave." I live on a tight budget too and have the same concerns! But consider that using these natural soaps will most likely mean that you won't need to spend money on conditioner & lotions anymore. You can also save even more money by using a combination shampoo/body bar. Imagine taking a shower where all you need is one bar of soap instead of all those bottles of stuff!
Another suggestion is to search out a local provider of handmade soaps. Many sellers on Etsy list their location; you might find someone in your own town that will let you do a local pickup to save the shipping costs. Also try browsing through local farmers markets and art fairs; you'll probably find someone in your own neighborhood that makes & sells soap. I was at a local art fair here in Ketchikan and found Debbie of Alaska Lather. Now whenever I need soap, I call her and she lets me browse through her basement filled with her huge stock of wonderful soaps & body creams. I can't explain how wonderful it feels to buy something I need directly from the local artist instead of buying something from Walmart that was made in China! But best of all is the feeling I get when I bathe myself or my children with soap that is natural & good for the skin.
For additional reading, please look at the FAQ Page at Mountain Sky Handcrafted Natural Soap. It has some very enlightening information about the differences between handcrafted soap and the soap made by large companies.