I remember when my kids were babies. They felt so fragile to me, and I was fanatical about knowing what was in their foods, their lotions, and their soaps, anything that touched their bodies. I would only use things my pediatrician or a mom I really trusted recommended. I read the bottles and googled around to find out anything I could about a product’s safety. But for some reason, I was never that careful about what I myself used, except to make sure that all my clothes were washed in a perfume-free, dye-free laundry soap so my clothes wouldn’t irritate a baby’s skin.
I was thinking about this last week when I showed my oldest, 16, a short video by the director David Lynch. My daughter is very creative, and I thought she might be inspired by how Lynch turned a daily weather report he posts on YouTube into a short film with music and animations. We talked about his past work. Could she watch it? she asked. After telling her his longer work wasn’t appropriate for her, I paused for a second, considered, and said, “He’s really not appropriate for me to watch anymore.” Before I was frum, I loved his movies and the TV show he created. But now, 18 years into being frum and limiting (although not totally eliminating) my exposure to secular music and media, I realized my neshama had regained much of the sensitivity it had lost during my not-yet-Jewish years, and I would not go back and watch most of what he had made.
Similarly, in the past year, I have been more careful with what I expose myself to in terms of the products I use in the bathroom. I started by making my own deodorant. I got a great recipe from sustainable_diaries on Instagram that couldn’t be simpler:
- ¼ cup coconut oil
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- Scant ¼ cup baking soda
Melt coconut oil over low heat. Stir in cornstarch and baking soda. Let cool slightly and pour into an empty deodorant container. Put in the refrigerator to cool completely. Ready to use when solid.
I wanted something with a little bit of scent, so I added a few drops of lemongrass essential oil, which has a light, clean scent. I’m pleased with it, and it has worked well in both winter and summer. The only caveat is that coconut oil melts at around 76 degrees F, or 24 C. So, if you don’t have air conditioning, when the weather warms up, the deodorant will get a little goopy. You’ll need to either switch to something else or keep your deodorant in the fridge.
Once I got on board with using coconut oil outside the kitchen, I decided to try out some other bathroom uses. I now keep a small container that used to hold night cream in my medicine chest to moisturize my hands before bedtime and to use, along with a soft cloth made from a worn-out modal shell, to remove eye makeup. It’s also great for moisturizing those spots that get extra dry in the winter, like elbows and knees. My hands feel baby soft!
There seem to be many ways people come at trying to live a lower-waste, more natural life. A lot of people come at it from wanting to save animals and combat climate change. For many people, living a low-waste life is about taking back their power to make choices about what comes into their lives rather than following marching orders from the latest ads and magazine articles. Still others come at it from a health perspective, wanting to eliminate chemicals from the air they breathe and what they put on and in their bodies. My central motivation is treating HaShem’s physical resources with gratitude and respect, along with a push to trim costs out of our budget. (I still get a thrill walking by the paper towels in Costco without putting them in my basket.)
I understood intellectually that putting fewer chemicals on and in my body couldn’t be a bad thing, but it never really motivated me. But after reading a fair number of books on low-waste lifestyles, the message started seeping in about the large number of chemicals found in most makeup, skincare, and hygiene products.
Years ago, during a time I was working a lot of hours and not taking good care of myself, I developed an irritated spot on my gum. Eventually, it started hurting enough that I went to see my dentist; he recommended a new toothpaste. When the toothpaste didn’t work, he suggested I brush after lunch, in addition to in the morning and before bed. Within a matter a week, my small, uncomfortable spot had turned into something much more painful. My dentist was baffled, so I googled around and discovered that the ingredient that makes your toothpaste foam up, sodium lauryl sulfate, also causes mouth and gum irritation in some people. When I switched to an SLS-free toothpaste, I was back to normal within days. In time, I was able to go back to regular toothpaste without a problem. Still, whenever I go through a particularly stressful period of life (hello working and parenting during COVID-19!), my mouth becomes sensitive enough that I need to switch back to an SLS-free product.
The one I am using now, available from Amazon but probably a drop cheaper if you can find it at a local drug store, also contains no artificial flavors, dyes, or sweeteners, as well as no parabens (linked to increased breast cancer risk in some women). The packaging contains no BPA and no phthalates, both chemicals that have been found to leach from plastic containers their contents and that can have adverse effects on brain and organ development in fetuses and children.
While by and large I trust the FDA, the agency tends to be tolerant of a certain level of risk that I (and you) might not feel comfortable with. For example, in 2016, the FDA banned the use of triclosan in liquid soaps but allowed it to still be used in toothpaste because, while it had known health risks, it is effective against gingivitis. Most toothpaste makers started phasing out triclosan right away, but it was the main active ingredient in Colgate until 2019. When our current toothpaste supply runs out, I plan to switch the whole family to what I am using.