In Which I Muse About Avoiding Toxins (and the Lost Art of Shaving)


May 18, 2011 by Leah

The GAPS diet isn’t just a diet. Big parts of the regime are: listening to your body, taking probiotic supplements (or at least making sure to eat a lot of probiotic foods), and avoiding chemicals. The theory there is that the chemicals in our environment to which we are constantly exposed take a toll on our immune systems. This is not cool. I need my immune system to be healthy again, ASAP.

Even though a lot of chemicals we use have been rated “safe” by the companies that make the products, there is a cumulative effect from using multiple products that is not accounted for. There is also the fact that our regulatory agencies allow manufacturers to use chemicals in products until they are proven unsafe. No prior testing required. (This link, which I recently posted on Facebook, talks about BPA in baby products but the larger message supports my point.)

I got interested in avoiding chemicals as part of my “homemade initiative” (or whatever we want to call the obsession that befell me last fall). I discovered that homemade concoctions (cleaning products, personal care products, etc.) are about fifty* times cheaper than store-bought, tend to last longer, and are usually free of toxins, unlike store brands.

One of the trends that’s been bouncing around “green” bloggers over the past few years is the “no-‘poo” regime. The premise is, you swap out your shampoo for a baking-soda-and-water combo, and your conditioner for the same sort of combo, except using apple cider vinegar in place of baking soda. It’s cheap and easy, and theoretically, after a week or a few weeks, your hair will rediscover its natural oils and get all shiny and manageable. I tried this last fall, but didn’t give it enough time to see if it really worked – I was swimming a lot and therefore using either purloined hotel shampoo or the soap in the dispensers at the gym.

(Speaking of swimming, the GAPS regime tells people to stay the heck out of public pools because of the chemicals used to keep them germ-free. So I’m not really swimming anymore, because the Pacific off the coast of Long Beach is freezing and occasionally closes due to environmental and health hazards. Luckily, I am spending six days this summer near some great swimming lakes in the French countryside.)

I’m currently about a week into my second real attempt at swapping out shampoo for baking soda. I’m a little vague on the length of time because I tend not to wash my hair much, anyway. (Reasons for this include not having a job and the fact that I’m too cheap to pay for a haircut more than once or twice a year so my hair is always up anyway. Currently, my haircut includes some awful layers that I was bullied into by a stylist, so it looks ridiculous when I leave it down, no matter if I try to style it or not.) The first weeks of this “no-‘poo” thing would probably be very difficult for someone who actually cares about her appearance (although I do find it pretty easy to simulate the ponytail Victoria Beckham wore to the royal wedding, as well as the French-braid-with-pouf hairstyle popular amongst fundamentalist Mormon women).

Even given time, the no-shampoo thing doesn’t work for everyone, and yet some people swear by it. There are also people who don’t use soap (except on, say, hands and underarms). I don’t find this to be too alarming – in fact, I tend to not use soap unless I’m actually dirty, smelly, or covered in toxic slime (in which category I include some soaps, anyway, so it’s a moot point).

Homemade deodorant is another popular concept these days, but unlike no-‘poo, it seems to be universally adored by people who’ve tried it. (Note: these are not scientific observations, these are general conclusions based on my reading far too many blogs.) The recipe I found and have been enjoying is: mix 1/4 cup of baking soda with 1/4 cup of arrowroot powder (or cornstarch). Mash in 5-6 T of coconut oil. Store in lidded container and apply with hands or use empty deodorant container. That’s it. No nasty aluminum. I like it better than any other deodorant I’ve ever used.

With all of the changes I’d already made over the past few months, I didn’t think I had too much to worry about when it came to avoiding toxins while on GAPS. This turned out not to be true, and there have been a few surprises. In the past week I’ve noticed that Seventh Generation dish soap gives me an uncomfortable rash. I’m going to need to switch to a combination of castile soap and water. The other thing I’m trying to figure out is what to do about a razor.

Aaron respectfully asked that I not go all mountain woman on him, saying he has more than enough body hair for the two of us. While some people might think that this is an outrage and goes against all feminist principles, I don’t mind being nice to my husband by honoring his request. Plus, I wear a lot of skirts and would feel uncomfortable with hairy legs after 19 years of shaving. The problem is, I’m going to have to give up my favorite razor – you know, the one that’s basically a disposable razor head embedded in a bar of soap, or solid shaving cream, or whatever. It’s perfect for lazy people like me.

I clicked over to the Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetics Database and found, to my surprise, that the 2005 “sensitive skin” formulation of this razor/shaving cream combo was rated “1,” which is almost the least toxic on a scale of 0-10. Cool, but I currently have some fruity formulation rather than that meant for sensitive skin, and the last edition that was rated on the database (2007) was rated “4.” My sarcoid (autoimmune) skin patches appear all over my arms, upper back, and on my right calf. Where I shave. So, even if my preferred shaving device is rated “4” on the EWG scale, I don’t think that’s good enough. Therefore, I’m looking into razors.

(While you’d think that companies would be making their products less toxic as time goes on, that is not always the case. Seventh Generation dish soap was recently reformulated to include sodium lauryl sulfate, a chemical which produces suds and to which some people react badly. Seventh Generation says SLS has been proven safe and makes their dish soap more effective at cutting grease.)

Aaron has been wanting a non-disposable razor for some time now (since before last Christmas, actually, when a “real” razor was on his list and I couldn’t figure out what, exactly, that meant). Neither of us like adding disposables to landfills, and you would think there would be high-quality razors out there where you could just swap out the blades. People had to use something after the era of straight razor and strop, but prior to our current era of disposable everything.

I’ve discovered that, in general, non-disposable products require a higher up-front investment than disposables, but turn out to be totally worth it over the long haul. Sometimes, though, you wouldn’t know they exist unless you look really hard. At the recommendation of a friend, I switched to Lunapads washable menstrual pads about a year ago. While I paid like $100 for a small supply up front, they are cute and cozy, non-toxic, more effective than disposables, and I never have to run to the store in an emergency. I also have a Divacup for travel and such, which offers similar benefits (except for the cute and cozy part). You’d think that such innovation would exist for razors, as well.

Turns out, it does. A little bit of research convinced me that I must have been stressed at Christmas because it was actually pretty easy to figure out that what Aaron wants is a classic, double-edged safety razor. Artful shaving with good quality products is, apparently, making quite a comeback.

Maybe Aaron and I can get each other some swanky, good-quality razors for our birthdays. Heck, maybe we will even find some in a drug- or specialty-store in Europe (where we will be on our birthdays this year). Until then, I should probably swap out my well-beloved but chemical-laden razor for something disposable, but chemical-free.


*Possible exaggeration.


5 thoughts on “In Which I Muse About Avoiding Toxins (and the Lost Art of Shaving)

  1. Elizabeth Price says:

    My husband recently switched to the double-edged safety razor and LOVES it. After his face got used to it the shave was much closer, lasted longer, and was less irritating. I’ll ask him what brand he recommends if you’re interested. I’ve been secretly jealous of his razor but also a little scared. I’m not sure how well it would work on legs.

    Do you have any recipes for homemade shaving cream? I’m sure the stuff I use on my legs is all kinds of toxic.

    • I’d love to know which brand he has and likes so much. I was planning on using olive oil as my “homemade shaving cream” – I already keep some in the bathroom for occasional use on my face. I read somewhere that plain aloe vera gel works, too, but I’m not sure where you’d find that – maybe a health food store? Or drain an aloe plant. The stuff I bought from Target that is called “aloe vera gel” is actually full of scary ingredients (I learned after I applied it to my last sunburn, sigh).

      • Elizabeth Price says:

        He has a Merker Classic Razor with Feather razor blades, a badger hair brush, and Geo F. Trumper shaving cream.

  2. Marla says:

    thanks for all the great info, re deodorant and shampoo. my epiphany on cleaning products came when i took master gardener training and found that cleaning products have the same warning labels as pesticides. (warning, caution, or danger based on toxicity or ability to cause certain kinds of damage to the user).
    as i recall, the old style razor is doable on legs but requires a little more care than our newer multibladed ones. (if we are talking about the same ones). a number of years ago i bought Aaron a shaving mug, brush and some lovely shaving soap. he was not ready for them and left them behind. i am using them now and would give them back except i broke the cup in the bathtub. the soap i have is Burt’s Bees which purports to be 99.89% natural, whatever that means. the lather is nice when shaving.

  3. Kristina says:

    I think I heard on NPR several years ago, some-sort of specialist claiming that sudsing doesn’t really do anything to help except give the impression that the soap is working. But, I don’t remember who said it, or have anything to really back it up, save my hazy memory…

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