Friday, April 1, 2011

This One's for the Ladies

Hello again!  I've been having an internal debate about this post, but have decided to just put it out there.  If there are any gentlemen reading, however, trust me when I say that this post is for the ladies.  I'm going to talk about "girl stuff," and not the type of deep-dark insights into the psyche of women that men wish they understood.  If you are not comfortable with mention of "that time of the month" and what to do about it, please stop reading right now.  I'm going to talk about feminine hygiene.  I've made that as clear as I can, so if you read on and this post makes you uncomfortable, you can't say I didn't warn you.

As a woman, there are a few days each month when I generate a lot of extra trash.  Disposable feminine hygiene products are quite convenient but, whatever your product of choice, it has to be disposed of in some way.  Personally, I've always been a tampon girl.  A couple of years ago, we had some pretty major sewer issues at our business.  While trying to find the problem, our plumber called me into the room where he was working to show me everything he had pulled out of the line.  The bulk of the completely disgusting pile was tampons.  Apparently, though they are "flushable" in that they will go down when flushed, they do not degrade or break up like toilet paper and can stay in the line indefinitely.  The other disposable options go straight to the trash, almost all involve plastics, and many contain chemicals.

But what's a girl to do, right?  I'm so glad you asked!  About 6 months ago I stumbled across the menstrual cup, which is just what it sounds like - a reusable cup to collect menstual fluid.  Admittedly, I first thought, "NO. WAY."  I started reading reviews just to see what kind of crazy lady wants to use such a thing.  However, most of them didn't seem crazy at all, and some were awfully convincing.  I almost gave up on the idea when I read one review that suggested this may not be the best product for those who are squeamish about their own body fluids.  But, I have made a commitment to myself to try new things, so, reluctantly and with low expectation, I bought one. 

Several cycles later, I am a true convert.  The first month, my poor husband had to listen to an endless litany of my surprise and wonder at how comfortable and convenient the cup is for me.  Though I do find it a little gross, it's no worse than the disposable options and the benefits far outweigh the gross factor.

So, what is this thing and how does it work?  There are several brands on the market, but I have the Diva Cup since that is what was available where I was shopping.  It's a medical-grade silicone cup that is inserted similar to a tampon.  Rather than absorbing the menstrual flow, it is collected in the cup.  The wearer will then empty the cup into the toilet periodically, wash the cup, and reinsert.  No wrappers, insertion tubes, tampons or pads to flush or throw away!

Now, I love the earth-friendly benefits, but I wouldn't be using it if there were not also practical benefits.  It is just as comfortable as a tampon, if not more so.  I got lucky in that the first brand I bought "fits" me comfortably, but some reviewers suggested that you may need to try more than one before you find the best one for you.  There is a small learning curve on how to insert it correctly, but, trust me, you will know if it isn't right before it makes a big mess.  I also recommend a little water-based lubricant to help with insertion, especially on less heavy days.

My favorite benefit is that it only needs to be emptied about every 12 hours.  Because it simply holds the fluid rather than absorbing into a fibrous material where bad stuff can grow, there is no risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome.  You can wear the cup while sleeping all night!  On my heaviest day, I empty it first thing in the morning, around mid-afternoon, and before bed.  The other days I only need to empty it in the morning and before bed.  I no longer have to stock my purse and make sure I have enough supplies every time I go to the restroom.  I have not had any problems at all with leakage or unexpectedly needing to empty the cup, but it would be easy enough to do just about anywhere if I did. 

There are other benefits as well!  No more running out of supplies at inconvenient times, unplanned trips to the store to buy supplies, or worrying if I have enough with me when I'm out - in fact, I don't have to carry anything extra with me at all.  No more nighttime messes or bulky nighttime protection.  And, because the fluid does not come in contact with the air, there is very little odor.  Once in place, I can forget about it for 8 - 12 hours at a time.  It is just as discrete under clothes or bathing suits as a tampon.  I haven't given it the full swimming test but I have bathed with no leakage and no water held in the cup afterward.

Now, I have also been trying Lunapads pantyliners - a cotton, washable, reusable pantyliner - as backup in case of leaks.  Since I have very little leakage - just the occasional spot or two - I haven't really put them to a true test.  Given my squeamishness, I don't know how I would feel about reusing them for heavy flow, but as a backup for the cup it isn't really different than washing and re-wearing underwear.  They are pretty bulky compared to disposable pantyliners, though, so I don't use them as often as I could.  But, if I only throw away 4 or 5 liners each cycle, that's a big improvement!

So how does this balance for me?
Heart/Body/Mind:  Healtier for my body by avoiding the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome.  There are also often chemicals used in the production of feminie products which remain in the final product (such as bleach which remains as dioxin, a carcinogen) that are not healthy for the body.
Time:  I can skip the unplanned trips to the store and shopping on the feminine hygiene aisle.  Less time spent changing product throughout the day as well!
My Wallet: The upfront investment is a good bit higher, but over time I'll save the cost and then some!
The Earth:  Reducing the chemicals and almost zero waste cycles!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Lunch Kit

When I was about middle-school age, I remember asking my mom if I could start taking my lunch to school.  She told me I could if I wanted to get up early enough to pack it myself.  That wasn't going to happen, so I ate school lunches just about every day.  Most of the time I even enjoyed it. 

When my son started school, that sounded like a good rule to me, too.  However, he was always VERY hungry (and cranky!) after school.  When I would ask him what he had for lunch, he would say, "one chicken nugget," or something similar.  He said he just didn't have time to eat more.  I was skeptical until I spent a lunch period with him.  At least at his school, the lunch period is very short and those that stand in line for school lunch only have a very few minutes to eat once they sit down.  I suppose it's still enough time if you expect the kids to only eat and not talk, but these are kids we're talking about. Lunch is one of the few times when they are not required to sit quietly and listen to the teacher.  I noticed those who brought lunches had a lot more time to both eat and visit with friends.  Mom-guilt started to nag at me and I decided to find a way to send a healthy lunch with him every day.

My first approach was to make it as easy for myself as possible.  Those individual snacks and fruit packs are soooo convenient - just grab and go.  I was using zipper storage bags for sandwiches and other items and plastic spoons or forks when needed.  Toss in a juice box and a paper napkin and he can simply throw away everything at the end of lunch. 

Once I was over my "I don't have time for this" feelings and settled into the routine, my eco-guilt started to get to me.  He was using a re-useable lunch bag, but everything else was disposable and wasteful.  He often did not eat everything in the pre-portioned packages, but the left-overs were rarely in any condition to use again the next day, if they even made it home instead of into the trash.  When I packed all his trash back into his lunch bag one day while on a field trip, I realized one little person can make a lot of trash in just one meal!  I resolved to start reducing that waste and find some alternatives.

It's taken some time, but he now has nothing to throw away after lunch, except on the days when he takes a yogurt tube.  I haven't figured out an alternative to that one, yet, and he really loves them.  Here's the gear we use:

- Sandwiches are packed in reuseable sandwich boxes.
- A small thermos is perfect for soup and pasta, but we also pre-warm ours and use it for chicken nuggets and other bite-size items.
- I use very small plastic bowls for some fruits and other snacks.  These also offer the advantage of some crush protection so uneaten snack crackers or pretzels can just stay in the lunch bag for tomorrow.
Go Fresh reuseable snack envelopes are a great alternative to zipper storage bags.  My son loves the way these open to a tiny placemat so he can dump out the contents.
- Small GoToobs are wonderful for condiments.  He loves a tube of dressing to squirt on veggies or ketchup with nuggets.
- I found some sturdy plastic 8 oz drink bottles that fit nicely in his lunch bag and hold up well in the freezer.  I place them in his lunch bag frozen to help keep everything else cool and they are thawed but still cold by lunch.
- A cloth napkin and a "real" fork or spoon and he's ready!

I worried at first that he would throw away or lose things, but he's been great about keeping up with everything.  Since he doesn't really throw anything away, nothing gets confused or accidentally thrown out with something else.  Everything just goes back in the bag.  I do have to wash everything, of course, but most of it goes in the dishwasher and emptying his bag and washing up take less than 5 minutes each evening.  As an added benefit, I get to see exactly what he's eating each day - everything he didn't eat is still in the bag at the end of the day.

I bought enough of each type of container that I can make up portions for several days at a time, in quantities I know are right for him.  Having the various containers on hand also expands my options on what to send with him - I'm not limited to only things that come in single servings.  I even bought myself a lunch bag and am more likely to pack my own lunch occasionally. 

As a side note, I have to give credit to for all the great ideas on ways to reduce waste and invest in reuseables.

So how does this balance for me?
Heart/Body/Mind:  Packing lunch for my son lets me make healthier choices for him.
Time:  I can't deny that this is more time consuming for me than school lunch or using pre-packaged convenience items.
My Wallet: The upfront investment is higher, but I save by not buying disposables, not wasting when the portions are not right, and avoiding single-serving packages which are typically more expensive.
The Earth:  Less waste of food and less trash to throw away!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Hot, Steamy Love

I have a new love in my life - homemade bread.  Like many people these days, I am trying to be better about what I feed my family and myself.  I try to pay attention to the ingredients in the products I buy and to at least limit the junk in our house.  I've made a commitment to myself to always consider if I can make a food myself before buying something pre-made.  If I make it myself I can control what goes into it, and it's often better and cheaper that way.  I'm also a busy (and sometimes lazy) mom, though.  If it isn't quick and easy, it probably won't last in my house.  This is why I absolutely L-O-V-E my bread machine.

I first received my bread machine as a gift probably 8 years ago.  I had great intentions when I unpacked it and tried a couple of the Quick-cycle recipes in the book that came with it.  The bread was good, but not great, and I soon lost interest.  The machine then sat on a shelf for years collecting dust.  When I started preparing for Thanksgiving 2009, however, I pulled it out again and tried a couple of full cycle recipes.  WOW!  The warm, fresh flavor and fluffy texture was soooo much better than the quick loaves.  I started experimenting with a few recipes and, within a few months, decided to try making all of our everyday bread.  Without the bread machine I would NEVER have even considered doing all the kneading and rising cycles by hand.

I don't think I've bought a loaf of sliced sandwich bread in close to a year.  Using the bread machine is as easy as measuring in a few ingredients and usually takes less than 10 minutes to assemble most loaves.  Then I just hit Start and forget about it for about 3 hours.  Mine has a timer so I assemble the ingredients in the morning and schedule the loaf to be ready when I get home after work.  It's such a nice welcome to come home to a house that smells of baking bread!

I did go through several less than stellar results and even a few complete failures.  I've learned a few lessons and figured out a few tips for more consistent success.  I've found 2 or 3 recipes that make great sandwich and toast bread and have tweaked them to be just right (for my taste, anyway).  I also have a couple of special occasion recipes I enjoy making for company.

It doesn't end there, though.  Once I had the basic loaf thing down, I started thinking about what else I can make with the bread machine.  I've made a variety of sweet breakfast/fruit breads.  I often use the Bake cycle to make delicious fresh fruit jam or jelly.  I've made homemade pizza crust, fresh baked pretzels, crusty french rolls, hamburger buns and hot dog buns using the Dough cycle to do most of the work, shaping by hand and then baking in the oven.  And the more success I have, the more confidence I have in trying new bread and dough recipes using the bread machine and even a few mixed by hand.

Many of the recipes I use make a large batch so I can have some now and freeze some for later.  Since homemade bread doesn't have any preservatives, it won't keep nearly as long as packaged loaves, but most freeze beautifully and thaw quickly.  I place what I expect to use in 2 - 3 days in my bread box and then freeze the rest immediately.  Then I can pull just what I need from the freezer and never have to run out for bread to finish a meal or make a sandwich.

If you have a bread machine collecting dust or have thought about getting one, I encourage you to give it a try.  I'd be happy to share tips and recipes, though I am no expert.

So how does this balance for me?
Heart/Body/Mind:  Having control over the ingredients lets me eliminate many preservatives and other bad stuff from our diet.
Time:  It takes a few minutes to make, longer for the things I shape and bake by hand, but it's easy and I really enjoy it!
My Wallet: I think it's a little cheaper, but not a huge savings.  I personally buy higher quality, often organic flours and such, so my loaves may be more than the cheapest pre-packaged loaf you would find, though definitely cheaper than many with comparable ingredients.
The Earth:  Honestly, I don't think that commercial bread manufacturing is a huge ecological problem, but every small step helps, right?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Doing the Dishes

A few years ago I saw a TV show about people in the Pacific Northwest who have become smugglers because phosphates have been outlawed in their area.  Phosphates are found in just about every commercial automatic dishwasher detergent but are very harmful to the environment.  In the areas where phosphates were outlawed, only phosphate-free detergents could be sold / purchased.  The program interviewed several people who were making long trips "across the border" to other areas where they could buy traditional detergents.  They would bring them back in, sometimes in large quantities to sell to friends and neighbors, creating a black market for Cascade.  They claimed the phosphate-free varieties just didn't get their dishes clean enough and they were forced into a life of crime.  Oh, how I scoffed at these people.  How bad could it be?  Didn't they have anything better to do with their time?  So maybe the dishes didn't sparkle exactly the same, aren't the fishies worth a little less shine?

At the time, I couldn't find any phosphate-free options in our area, so I didn't have to prove it to myself.  I did check regularly, though, wondering why even at Whole Foods I couldn't find a greener automatic dishwasher detergent.  All kinds of other green cleaners were available, even at my regular grocery, including liquid dish soaps, but no detergent for the dishwasher.  When I finally found one, I snatched it up immediately, ready to prove to myself that these people were just nuts to waste their time and risk fines and other penalties for a little Electrasol.

It didn't quite work out that way.  No problems with the first couple of loads, but then the glasses started getting cloudy.  I could live with that, but then some things just didn't get clean and had to be run again or hand washed.  I stuck with it, though, until I started to get a black mold or mildew in my dishwasher.  That, I could not live with.  So I went back to the bad stuff until I found another phosphate-free brand.  That one ended just the same, though.  I tried 6 or 8 brands over the course of a few months - every single one I've been able to find around here - and they all had the same end result.  Some were better than others, but none worked for me long term.  I began to see how one might be motivated to setup a smuggling operation.

I started researching alternatives and found a few make-your-own recipes.  The first batch I made was tossed out after the first load.  I had to hand wash everything because it left a really nasty film on every dish.  The second recipe was better.  It handled the glass and earthenware just fine, but still left a similar film on plastic.  About 6 weeks ago I found a recipe that I am cautiously optimistic about.  Enough so that I am going to share it here.  It seems to work better than any of the other options I have tried, though not quite as well as my favorite bad stuff.  Here's the recipe:

1 cup Washing Soda (NOT baking soda, though Arm and Hammer makes the most common washing soda as well)
1 cup Borax
1/2 cup Kosher Salt
1/2 cup Citric Acid

Just mix everything together in and airtight container.  Use about 1 Tbsp per load, a little more for heavily soiled or extra large loads. 

If you've tried my laundry detergent recipe, you have Washing Soda and Borax already.  Kosher salt is cheap and easy to find at the grocery store.  Citric Acid may be harder to find, but my local grocery sells it in the same area as other supplies for canning fruits and vegetables.  The site where I found this recipe noted that you can use Fruit Fresh instead, but that did not work as well for me and it isn't pure citric acid.  Others have said that unsweetened lemonade powder works as a substitute (no sugar or artificial sweetner), but I have not tried that.

I came across a couple other tips to improve the effectiveness of this or other phosphate-free detergents.  First, put white vinegar in the rinse agent dispenser to help the soap rinse cleaner.  This works if you stick with the bad stuff, too, and is cheaper and greener than other rinse agents.  Also, make sure your hot water is really hot.  I have mixed feelings about suggesting that you turn up your water heater because of the energy consumption, but it will help make sure your dishes are clean.  I am hoping that any energy impact is more than offset by the eliminated chemicals.

Now, I have to admit that I still have a box of the bad stuff and use it occasionally - maybe once or twice a month.  I'm working on giving it up completely, but I'm still afraid that at some point I'll start seeing the cloudy buildup or mold/mildew again.  Some sites I've read suggest that mixing 1/2 cup or so of the bad stuff into a batch of homemade detergent will give you a bit of both worlds - a greener way to clean with that extra sparkle.  That's my next plan if this one starts to go bad.

So how does this balance for me?
Heart/Body/Mind:  I definitely feel better in my heart about having fewer chemicals on my dishes, and I would not be surprised to learn that the chemicals in most detergents are bad for your body.
Time:  It takes a few minutes to make, but I can skip the detergent aisle when I'm shopping.
My Wallet: The homemade detergent is much cheaper than the bad stuff and white vinegar is cheaper than rinse aid as well.  Even using a little of the bad stuff from time to time, I'll be saving money.
The Earth:  Fewer chemicals and less packaging is a good thing!

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Post-Holiday Challenge for the New Year

I'm back!  Things got a little hectic there with the holidays and then a few bumps in the road at work.  I think things are settled and I should be able to blog again. 

During these past few weeks, as many, many gifts were exchanged, I was really mortified by the piles and piles of trash generated just in my house from all of the gift wrap and packaging.  I really LOVE the act of opening presents - not just because I'm getting something new, but the actual tearing the paper to find out what's inside is one my favorite parts of receiving gifts.  The way a pile of wrapped gifts looks under the tree makes me smile and I'm always a little sad when they've all been opened and the tree is empty again.  However, the scales in my mind have tipped and I just can't convince myself that it's OK to keep creating so much waste.  This year I used up most of what I had stocked on holiday wrapping paper and I've made a promise to myself that I will really try not to buy more.  I've challenged myself to try some reusable or recycled alternatives I've seen or read about with the smaller holidays this year - birthdays, Valentine's Day, anniversary, etc. - so I will be ready to go at least mostly paper-free for the next winter gift-giving season.

So here's my list of 10 things to consider or try:

1.  I already reuse standard gift bags and boxes, and will use more of these rather than paper.

2.  I have occasionally given gifts in reuseable shopping bags rather than the standard gift bag.  I really love this idea and promise myself that I will find more cute ones to use this year.  The bag then becomes part of the gift and will hopefully encourage the recipient to take it with them when they shop.

3.  Other uncommon reuseable bags would make great gift bags as well, and may be something that others don't already have by the dozens - produce bags, snack bags, sandwich bags and stuff sacks would all work well and be multi-purpose.

4.  There are several pre-made fabric reusable gift bag options on the market as well.  Wrapsacks are cute and colorful and may even make the tree look just as pretty as paper.  Rewrap Gift Bags have multiple To: and From: labels on the front so as it gets reused you follow the bag's travels.  Looks like a fun way to reuse!

5.  I am "this close" to buying another sewing machine.  My last one was a victim of Katrina and a was never replaced.  It would be a very simple thing to make my own fabric bags from scraps and remnants.  I could use old clothes that are too damaged / worn to donate to charities and raid bargain bins at fabric stores.

6.  I will start looking at the packaging my other products come in throughout the year for reusability.  I could kick myself because I just threw out a fabric zippered bag a sheet set came in because I was in a cleaning fit and couldn't figure out where to keep it or what to use it for.  It would have been a great gift bag! 

7.  I will also learn to wrap with fabric.  There are reusable wrapping fabrics on the market like the Bobo scarf, Wrapagain or these fabric wraps.  If I invest in that sewing machine, though, I think I can make these quite easiliy as well.  With the right type of fabric, I wouldn't even need a sewing machine, just pinking shears to make nice edges and prevent fraying.

8.  Since I just may not be able to completely get off the paper, I will look for opportunities to recycle other papers into gift wrap.  My son's art, the comics or other pages from the newspaper, large maps or colorful brochures, takeout menus or paper placemats, old calendar pages, old posters, magazine pages and picture book pages are all possibilities.   Some of these things I have around the house, and some I could get super cheap on clearance or at thrift stores.

9.  If I absolutely MUST buy another roll of paper, I commit to choosing one made from recycled paper and I will use it sparingly!

10.  My husband tells me that in his family gifts often were not wrapped at all.  The unwrapped gifts were just put out under the tree after the kids went to bed to be found in the morning.  I'm skeptical about this as every gift I've exchanged with his family was wrapped in some way.  I think he just hates wrapping.  It is an option to consider, but I think I would really miss the suspense of opening the gifts one by one.  Maybe stocking gifts could skip the wrap this year.

Who's with me?  Anyone up to the challenge?

So, how does this balance for me?
Heart/Body/Mind: Not much impact here, except to make me feel better about my impact on the earth.
Time: I don't think there will be a significant change either way, unless I decide to make my own bags or wraps.  Since I'll only do it if I think I will enjoy it, I won't count it as a negative impact for me.
My Wallet: The fabric wraps or reusable bags will be more expensive initially though recycling some things would be really cheap or free.  We'll see how it works out.
The Earth:  Love saving the trees and landfill space!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

But On the Other Hair . . .

In my last post I shamelessly admitted my dependence on hair salon chemicals.  Between salon appointments, however, I've given up shampoo.  You read that right, I do not use shampoo.  I am a fairly new convert to the world affectionately known as "no-poo."  I'm not kidding.  Enter the term in your favorite search engine and you'll find a plethora of information about kicking the shampoo habit.

Three months ago, I would have told you I would be very unhappy without shampoo.  Every day, with only rare exception, I would shampoo, condition, add various styling products - mostly smoothers and leave-in conditioners - and blow-dry.  When I did skip a day I felt unfinished, unclean and slightly embarrassed all day.  When I first glanced at an article that mentioned the no-poo method, I just laughed inside.  No way was that something that would work for me.

Then, one day, I was sitting in the salon feeding my addiction and mentioned my everyday shampoo habit.  My colorist said, "Well, that's part of your problem."  She then informed me that she was on the third day since last washing and that was usually her best hair day.  Her hair did indeed look healthy, shiny, frizz-free and not dirty at all.  She told me I should only be shampooing once or twice a week.  I was shocked and a little speechless at the very idea!  However, I remembered another salon employee, while showing me various hair products, laughingly saying, "We wash our hair to make it clean and then add all these products to make it dirty again!" I decided to give the idea a little more thought and maybe see if I could handle reducing my shampoo dependency.

I knew how I felt when I just skipped a day shampooing, though, and certainly didn't think I could get to Day 3 with my traditional shampoo routine.  Remembering the no-poo article, I started doing a little research to get a better idea of what was involved.  I found the above mentioned plethora of information and started sifting though it.  It seems fans of the no-poo method fall into three camps - the all-natural/green crowd, those with curly/frizzy hair looking for control, and fashion divas who believe they have found the "dirty little secret" to great hair. 

The idea behind reducing or eliminating shampoo from your routine is this: Shampoo strips the hair and scalp of stuff we don't want - dirt, product build-up, excess oils - but also strips our natural oils which can be very beneficial.  Without the oils, we add conditioner, smoothers and other product to put the moisture back in.  Our body produces more oil to replace what was washed away.  Which we strip out with shampoo, so the body makes more and more.  So, we need shampoo because we use shampoo.  Of course, there are also lots of chemicals in shampoo and all those plastic bottles to manufacture/recycle/dispose.

There are several ways to go no-poo.  Some just stop using anything.  A good hot water rinse while scrubbing the scalp well with your fingers is enough for some to remove any dirt and excess oil.  A vigorous brushing once dry will spread any remaining oil evenly down the hair shaft providing conditioning, shine and frizz-control.  Some suggest using a clean washcloth while in the shower to rub down the hair shaft will distribute and remove excess oil.  I have not been thrilled with the results of this method for myself.

Another option is to only use conditioner.  Most conditioners will remove dirt and excess oil without stripping the helpful oils.  Just skip the shampoo and apply conditioner.  Rub your scalp well with your fingertips to loosen any dirt and excess oil.  Keep a comb in the shower and run it through your hair to well-distribute the conditioner and loosen dirt and excess oil on the hair shaft.  Rinse and you're done!  As a side note, my stylist recommends using a comb with conditioner even if you don't give up shampoo.  You'll use less conditioner and apply it more evenly.

The third option is to use baking soda and apple cider vinegar (ACV) in place of shampoo and conditioner.  The baking soda will absorb any excess oil and cleanse the scalp of dirt.  Apple cider vinegar will then neutralize the baking soda, soften the hair and balance the pH.  This is my favorite no-poo alternative so far.
 I put about 2 Tbsp. of baking soda in an old 8.5 oz shampoo bottle.  In an old 16oz conditioner bottle, I add 2 Tbsp. ACV and then fill it with water.  Most sources I found recommend starting with 1 Tbsp. in 1 cup water for each, but I found I prefer a little more baking soda.  I keep these in the shower for wash day.  Just before washing I fill the shampoo bottle with water and shake well.  I tried adding the water in advance but the baking soda will crystallize and clump if allowed to sit in the water for a time.  Then I was pouring rocks on my head.  I squirt the baking soda solution all over my head, focusing on the roots and scalp.  Then I scrub my scalp vigorously with my finger tips.  I let this sit a minute and then rinse well.  I run a comb through it while rinsing to help ensure I get most of the baking soda out.  Then I take the ACV solution and apply that all over my head, focusing less on the scalp and more on the length.  I let that stand a bit then run a comb through again.  A final rinse to remove the ACV solution and I'm done.  It's about the same effort as shampoo and conditioner.  The results are fantastic!  My hair feels clean, soft and manageable. 

I know the first thing you're thinking is, "I'll smell like salad dressing!"  The truth is, while you definitely smell the ACV in the shower, by the time your hair is dry you won't smell it at all.  Because I like my hair to smell nice, I add smell-good-stuff to my ACV solution.  Right now I have a cinnamon stick that soaks in the solution (one stick is good for a few batches) and added a couple drops of jasmine essential oil.  I've also tried no cinnamon and other essential oils depending on my mood.  When my hair is dry I have a hint of the fragrance and none of the ACV.  Scent is totally optional and does not affect the results.

On the evening after a wash I take about 4 sections from each side of my part, cross them over the part and clip each on the opposite side before going to bed.  In the morning, when I remove the clips, I have nice volume instead of flat bedhead.  Day 2 is a no wash day, so I wash the rest of me and just style my already dry and voluminous hair.  Before bed on Day 2 I clip the roots again, just in case I decide not to wash on Day 3.

On Day 3, I check the status of things.  If my hair still feels/looks pretty good or I think it will be a ponytail day anyway, I skip the wash again.  I may put a little baking soda or baby powder on the roots and brush thoroughly if it appears a bit greasy.  If I don't feel good about how it will survive the day, I do a conditioner wash.  If I skip the wash on Day 3, I do the conditioner wash on Day 4.  A conditioner wash doesn't leave my hair feeling quite as nice as the baking soda/ACV wash, so the day after a conditioner wash I'm generally ready to start the cycle again.  I think I'll get better results from the conditioner wash once the keratin treatment fades from my hair.  Right now I think it's almost too much moisture on top of the keratin.

Now that I am through the adjustment period, I have been really, really pleased with the results.  There was definitely an adjustment period, though.  Just like a nursing mother weaning a child, just because you skip the shampoo for a day, that doesn't mean your body will immediately make less oil.  You will need to wean yourself and allow your body time to adjust.  Reports are that it may take 1 week to a couple of months.  I had to try it a couple times to learn the best ways to apply and rinse the baking soda and ACV.  I also had to tinker with the amounts a bit.  The first week I felt like my hair was always too oily and kept checking mirrors to make sure it didn't look as bad as it felt.  I started seeing improvement failry quickly, though.  I did use shampoo once a week for the first 3 or 4 weeks while I adjusted.   Some people just go "cold-turkey" and suffer through the oily period.

A word of caution:  If you choose to eliminate shampoo, you will need to check the other products you use, including the conditioner you use if you do the conditioner wash, to make sure they are no-poo friendly.  Primarily, you need to look for silicones in your product.  Typically a silicone will end in -one or -ane.  A silicone that starts with peg- should be water soluble and no problem for no-poo.  If it doesn't start with peg-, none of these cleansing methods will wash it out.  You would need a sulfate to wash it out, which means shampoo.  I find that the presence of natural oils produces the same effect as many of the products I used to use.  I have eliminated many of those products as well.  I still use a leave-in-conditioner about once a week.  Instead of a separate product, however, I just took my regular conditioner, put a little in an old pump bottle, and diluted with water until it reached the same consistency of my previous leave-in.

So, how does this balance for me?
Heart/Body/Mind: Always great to eliminate those chemicals from my body and my hair looks and feels great!
Time: Wash days are about the same but no-wash days save me lots of time both washing and with the blow dryer.
My Wallet: Baking soda and ACV are much, much cheaper than shampoo and conditioner.  A bottle of conditioner will last much longer if I only use it once a week or so.
The Earth:  Love saving the chemicals and the plastic bottles!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My Follicular Chemical Dependency

I never meant for it to happen, but I have developed an addiction to better hair through chemicals.  I am not particularly hooked on day-to-day products or implements, but my trips to the salon every couple of months are one of my personal indulgences.  I'm always looking for that perfect cut and chemical combination that will allow me to just blow-dry and go, looking natural and at least decent.  I dream of hair that will survive New Orleans humidity, wind on the sailboat and rainy days without looking completely horrible.

As a teen in the late 80's - early 90's, I started chemically-treating my hair as soon as my mom would let me.  First, the perm to achieve BIG hair.  In college I started coloring.  Then it was just for fun, always using products applied at home and that would wash out relatively quickly.

I used non-permanent products for two reasons: (1) I like to change it up and didn't want to be stuck with one color and (2) I always fully intended to go gray naturally.  I never want to be one of those ladies at 80 who still dyes her hair brown and thinks it fools anyone.  I really don't think I would mind being gray, but growing out the color and dealing with the gray roots / colored ends for months seems like it would be brutal.  One day, in a moment of weakness, I decided to give myself a little treat and get salon highlights to add a little dimension to my hair.  Then I needed more highlights to blend the roots as the first set grew out, then full-color when I started to have too many highlights - I was firmly on the carousel.  Now I have a fair amount of gray and I'm stuck.  My current colorist  - the best I've ever had - tells me she can help ease me into gray, but I'm afraid.  I'm just not ready to risk it to give up the color habit.

Recently, I've added to my addiction.  After months of envy and wishing and dreaming, I took the plunge and had a keratin treatment.  If you haven't heard about this, it's a hair treatment that results in smooth, straight, frizz-free hair.  It isn't a relaxer or a true straightener, but the results are pretty impressive.  There are many varieties of keratin treatments and there is a fair amount of controversy about them.  Many keratin treatments contain high levels of formaldehyde which can be dangerous for the client and even more so for the stylist that applies the product regularly.  The stylist who applied my treatment insists that the product she uses does not have any formaldehyde and is not toxic.  She did not wear a mask, though she did open a window for ventilation before opening the solution.

During the treatment the hair is washed with a clarifying shampoo to remove any buildup and then dried.  A chemical product is applied to the hair and allowed to set for a bit.  The the stylist uses a flat iron to completely straighten and smooth the hair.  The hardest part then is the wait.  Once applied, I could not wash my hair for 72 hours.  I also couldn't get it wet at all, wear it in a clip or ponytail or even put it behind my ears.  I had to avoid anything that might crimp or kink my hair, so not even a hat.  The product is a bit waxy/greasy feeling to begin with, so by the third day I felt disgusting!

When I was finally able to wash my hair, I was astounded.  My hair is naturally just curly enough to poof and frizz, but not enough to wear it curly without a fair amount of work.  Straight is even more work, though, with a round brush, blow dryer and flat iron. I washed and conditioned as usual, but did not add any other product so I could see the unaided result.  I blew it dry with no brush at all.  When I finished my hair was straighter, smoother and shinier than I can usually accomplish with lots of time and effort.  We spent that evening at a windy, humid concert on the riverfront.  When we got home, my hair was still straight and smooth.  WOW!!  I'm now a little over a month post-treatment and can still blow-and-go with no product or styling implements.  My hair feels silky and healthy.  My son told me this morning that in the light my hair "shines like gold."  If this really lasts the 3 - 6 months promised by my stylist, I may have a new addiction.

So, what's the downside?  First, it's really expensive.  It starts at $250 at my salon.  This was a huge indulgence for me and I'm having a hard time justifying spending that much again, even with the amazing results.  Luckily, it's supposed to just fade out so I shouldn't ever have frizzy roots and straight ends to force me back to the salon.  Second, it's almost too straight for my taste.  That's getting better as time goes by, but I'm used to having a lot of volume (my stylist says too much) and it's taken some getting used to.  I now have to use a curling iron if I want the ends to turn under and for the first week or two even that didn't work.  Of course, it's also fairly counter to my other efforts to reduce the chemicals in my life.

So, how does this balance for me?
Heart/Body/Mind: All the chemicals can't be good for my body, but the results sure make me feel good!
Time: The color just takes time to apply.  The keratin means a couple hours spent in the salon, but a big improvement on the time I spend "fixing" my hair.
My Wallet: Ugh!
The Earth:  Again, all of those chemicals can't be good.