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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Opting Out

I started making my own personal care products a few years ago. I took an Herbal Medicine Basics workshop and began experimenting as soon as I got home. Trying new recipes for things like cough syrup and lip balm became one of my favorite weekend hobbies. Living in NYC, I was spoiled with access to myriad health food stores and local herb farms where I could find virtually any natural additive I needed.

When we moved to Grenada, I thought I would have to put my hobby on hold. Where would I find the exotic oils, clays and herbs that had become my staple ingredients (and how would I afford them anyway)? I went back to using store-bought shampoo, deodorant and face wash, but couldn’t quite make peace with the ingredient labels.

Through some online research and a very informative video, I learned that many of the chemicals listed on the labels of my products are known neuro and reproductive toxins, many have been linked to cancer, learning disabilities, asthma and other health problems. Despite the scientific research espousing the dangers of these chemicals, the FDA currently doesn’t assess the safety of personal care products, and there are no laws banning the use of toxic chemicals. Many companies oppose banning these dangerous toxins because, they argue, the doses in their products are too insignificant to pose a health threat. However, most people use a combination of many different products every day. For instance, women use an average of twelve different products daily, each of these produces has an average of twelve chemicals. Inevitably, all of those tiny doses of ‘safe’ products accumulate in our bodies to form a dangerous toxic stew.

In place of government regulation, the industry has been entrusted with forming its own committee for policing the safety of its products. We all know how effective self-regulatory committees are when big business is concerned (i.e. the recent BP oil spill catastrophe and factory-farm product recalls), so it comes as no surprise that the recommendations of this committee, as industry-friendly as they are, are optional.

After making these disturbing discoveries, I had a renewed sense of distrust of commercial products and decided to make my own Peace-Corps-budget friendly products using only the resources available in the local market and grocery stores. Another round of online research, followed by lots of trial-and-error (think bad hair days), have finally resulted in a handful of cheap, safe, and effective recipes featuring...baking soda!

As it turns out, baking soda is a miracle product. In addition to its ability to smother fires, cause dough to rise, soothe heartburn, clean tarnished silver, and relieve itchy rashes (including poison ivy and bug bites), it’s also super effective as the main ingredient in my homemade shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, and multi-purpose cleaner recipes. For about $5EC (~$2US), I can purchase a box of baking soda in any local supermarket and turn it into a month’s supply of cleaning products. Even better than the savings, I don’t have to worry about the health concerns caused by commercial products, or feel guilty about polluting this beautiful island as I watch our grey water flowing into the ravine next to our house.

*This is my favorite of my new recipes. I think it’s more effective than any of the commercial deodorants that I’ve ever tried. That’s saying a lot considering that we live in the tropics and very little activity can cause a whole lot of sweating.

Baking Soda Deodorant:

Mix 1/4 cup baking soda and 1/4 cup cornstarch in a bowl. Add 15-30 drops of lavender essential oil (lavender has anti-microbial qualities to help fight the stink bacteria). Slowly add olive or coconut oil and mix until the consistency becomes spreadable (4-6 tbsp.)

Store in a small Tupperware container.

Spread a pea-size amount under arms to keep smelling fresh.