Personally speaking…

Christmas is coming and the toiletries manufacturers are gearing up for mass sales of soaps, creams and other personal lotions and potions.  Most will have expensive packaging and be made with a cornucopia of chemicals. A few TTL friends were pondering this very un-green situation, and turned to working out some thoughts that might help others who felt the same way through considering what products they themselves use and why.   We are focusing just on a few product categories to illustrate our concerns, recounting what we use and why, hoping to open a few new avenues of thought for TTL readers wandering dazedly through the toiletries aisles this winter.

Why bother?

The shelves are groaning nowadays with stuff to buy catering for every part of your body and every kind of skin at every stage of your life.  The marketing and advertising tries to persuade us that we need all these and that our lives will be better as a result.  Yet the basic functions are quite simply to clean, to soften (skin and hair) and to protect (deodorant, toothpastes, UV creams).

The main issues seem to be:

a) Ingredients: the ‘headline’ ingredient marketed on the pack (jojoba oil, aloe vera etc) is often a mere trace amid the unpronounceable chemicals (as well as a hefty dose of ‘aqua’), which generally wind up going down our drains. It is almost impossible to keep track of the many unnatural and harmful ingredients but why take the risk when the long term effect on our bodies of these chemicals is not clear?

b) Packaging: the fancy packaging allows high prices to be charged for an ordinary product, manufacturers sometimes claiming that it’s needed for protection of the product (often nonsense). As Milly commented, the biggest challenge now is to find products without plastic, which is tough or nearly impossible, so she looks for packaging that is reduced or recyclable.

c) Testing on animals: a huge subject beyond the remit of this small piece but something we all want to avoid. Milly says look out for products branded “cruelty-free”.

d) Marketing: the messages on the packs encourage dependency on manufactured products, using fear (of teeth problems, ageing, ‘germs’) and aspiration including brand loyalty.

e) Scenting of products: scent is added to differentiate brands and inspire warm feelings about ‘natural’ products, with even some apparently unscented products having an added ‘natural’ scent that makes us feel clean

What gets us hot under the collar?

All of us who contributed to this article share similar concerns but of course we have our personal bugbears.  Julia for example would prefer to use as few products as possible and let nature take its course whereas Polly is mainly concerned with a desire to get back to basic ingredients, as well as cost being a factor.   Packaging is the thing that drives Juliet nuts.  She commented. “I was given some lovely moisturisers and face washes from a company called REN that are paraben-free but also come in totally over-engineered thick plastic pump dispenser bottles. I boxed up the empty bottles and send them back to the company’s CEO with a note saying ‘Lovely product, hate your over-packaging.’  Not sure if they took note.”  For Milly, finding products that have neither been tested on animals or contain animal products is a major factor in her choice.  And one of Vivian’s concerns is microbeads, prevalent in many beauty products and which will be around for some time despite the ban.  Check this website which lists ingredients containing plastic:

And as Vivian says, “Please don’t wash it down the drain if you do find a microbead product lurking at home and want to get rid of it! It’s unfortunately better off in landfill rather than in the water supply.”

What do you wash with?

Trying to find soaps that are kind to the skin, free of harmful chemicals and that come in minimal packaging is important to all five contributors.  Juliet is particularly irritated by excess packaging so she sticks mostly to bar soap for washing everything but her face.  She says she particularly likes the range of olive oil based French soaps in brown paper packaging stocked at Bakers the Chemist.  She has also used Dr Bronner’s Castile Liquid Soap which you can buy at Infinity Foods in Brighton and comments that “it’s pure and organic and the almond version makes you smell like a freshly baked Bakewell Tart!”

Polly’s preference is for a basic olive oil soap and she would ask for organic rose soap as a present.  Faith In Nature body wash and handwash (from Oxfam) is what Milly uses.  Julia uses olive oil soap occasionally but avoids avoids using anything much at all, just water and a flannel.

And while on the subject of cleaning, Vivian buys cotton buds made with paper sticks instead of the common plastic style.  Johnson & Johnson brand paper sticks cotton buds are widely available. When finished, she snips the ends off and recycles them with other paper.

And what do you do for skincare?

All of us are keen on natural oils and creams.

Juliet: almond oil

Julia: shea butter – from Lansdown Stores (it lasts for ages)

Polly: organic oils, camellia, rose hip etc. from Fushi Organics online though she has been known to make up her own concoctions using oils and adding in natural scents.

Juliet has highly sensitive skin so has to be super-careful what she uses. She finds that pure natural ingredients can create a much of a reaction as artificial ones – although keeping away from anything using sodium laureth sulphate (a widely-used foaming agent) is good for calm skin as well as for the environment.

Juliet also uses a commerical sunscreen (Ultra Sun) on her face every day.  She says “The ultra natural ones rely a lot on zinc oxide so you end up looking like the Tin Man!”

As to foot and hand care, Polly recommends her Ma’s recipe – olive oil with either granulated sugar (painless) or coarse sea salt (stingy).  She says “Rub it well in and then rinse.  Lovely soft hands after this!”  For foot care she uses Gehwol Fusskraft Blau from Chapple Opticians on Cliffe High Street.  Julia likes using Dr Organic Manuka hand cream (from Holland and Barrett) which smells nice and sinks into the skin well, though she’s not sure of its eco credentials in terms of origin and packaging. Milly has also used Dr Organic – she tried the ‘instant tightening eye serum’ cream which comes in a glass bottle, however she’s decided it’s pretty pointless buying any ‘anti-aging’ products, better to aim for ‘healthy ageing’, as Dr. Organic label it.

So what shampoo do you use?

Susan is passionate about avoiding using plastic packaging and says there are now loads of shampoo bars that are barely packed at all or only in easily compostable/recyclable paper/cardboard.  Juliet is currently using an organic shampoo from Infinity Foods that is mostly made of camomile and glycerine.  She likes that it doesn’t have that acrid aroma of highly commercial shampoos.   Julia has for years now used Faith In Nature shampoos and conditioners (Lansdown Health Store, Oxfam and St Anne’s Pharmacy sell them) which have transformed her hair from mousy and lifeless to thick and shiny.  She rarely uses a hairdryer because it seems to destroy all the good work the Faith In Nature shampoos do to her hair.  Polly used to use Faith In Nature shampoos but she now uses a Danish product, Urtekram ( Lansdown Health Store) and fractionated coconut oil (from Fushi online) as conditioner.  Both Julia and Juliet only wash their hair once or twice a week and both think it definitely is the key to keeping hair soft and glossy.


Julia isn’t sure what to do about this.  She uses unperfumed supermarket deodorant because she has tried several different organic/natural deodorants (doesn’t like or use anti-perspirant) but none seem to work well. Juliet is using a highly-effective deodorant stick by Ben & Anna (available from The Seasons in Lewes and Infinity Foods in Brighton). As well as using natural ingredients like bicarbonate of soda, it is 100% wrapped in cardboard, which can go into the recycling. But for Polly a potassium alum block from Salt of the Earth does the trick and she finds it lasts for ages.  Milly’s partner is a fan of this as well, though Milly herself finds she doesn’t need deodorant at all.  Susan says on the subject of packaging that there are now brands that come in cardboard tubes.


Milly’s favourite item is her Zero Waste Club toothbrush, which has a handle made from bamboo (compostable).  She says you can buy similar in Lansdown Health Store, but unfortunately the adult ones have plastic packaging unlike the Zero Waste Club toothbrushes (available online).  Susan points us in the direction of Seasons in Lewes who sell tooth tabs in jars or tins of toothpowder or paste.

To cut down on plastic, Juliet has been trying out toothpaste in a jar by Truthpaste and also toothpaste tablets by Geororganics – but appreciates that some people still want traditional toothpaste. If you do, then one thing you can do to reduce waste, is to cut open the plastic tube when you think it’s finished. “You’ll be amazed how much toothpaste can still be lurking in there,” she says. “Always cut open any squeezy tube or plastic bottle to make sure you’re not throwing product away.”  Polly and Julia need to use sensitive toothpaste and so use branded products.  Both also use an electric toothbrush though Julia feels she’s doing a bit for the planet by charging it during the day from her solar panels.

Sanitary products?

Vivian says that she has recently made the switch from conventional disposable sanitary pads (which typically go to landfill after use) to reuseable, washable ‘CSPs’ – cloth sanitary pads, which she buys online.  Alternatively, moon cups are also growing in popularity amongst her friends and becoming more mainstream, as even Boots now stock them.  Milly has considered using a moon cup but still uses tampons: there are organic cotton ones in HISBE and Infinity Foods.

And finally …

 As Vivian put it “Incorporating a little eco-awareness into your beauty regime doesn’t have to mean roughing it or going without your favourite products.  I have friends that passionately make their own body scrubs from coffee grounds and toothpaste using coconut oil, but your own contribution doesn’t need to be so zealous to make a difference. Even small changes towards more sustainable options are of value.”

Where to buy:

Lansdown Health Store  –  44 Cliffe High Street, Lewes

The Seasons – 16-17 Cliffe High Street, Lewes

Oxfam – 22 Cliffe High Street, Lewes

St Anne’s Pharmacy – 50 Western Road, Lewes

H.A. Baker Chemists – 44 High Street, Lewes

Hisbe Brighton – 20-21 York Place, Brighton,

Holland and Barrett – 216 High Street, Lewes

Infinity Foods – 25 North Road, Brighton

Peace with the Wild




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