No ‘Poo Rules: On Breaking Up With My Shampoo

gbt_no_poo_products

Originally published on The Green Beauty Team

I have long been a user of toxin-free, better-for-you cosmetics and personal care products—and routinely check Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database before making new purchases. I learned to read labels and avoid chemicals that are known to cause harm and are linked to a range of health issues, from allergies to cancer. But I had never considered actually giving up shampoo until I read Michael Pollan’s Food Rules. The rule that stuck with me most: Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.

Have you seen the ingredients label on a bottle of shampoo? Even the purported good-for-you ones aren’t that great.

Yes, I know there are shampoos available that are non-toxic, but I was also interested in scaling back on the product front. You know, minimizing all the stuff. I am nowhere near giving up my lip gloss or mascara, but shampoo? Why not?

How natural could I go?

I had already heard about the “no ‘poo” movement—yes, it’s a bit of a movement. Go ahead and Google it and you’ll find lots of greenies out there doing it, not all of them granola-hippie types (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). I read about how it takes weeks for your scalp to adjust to the process and that it gets worse (oily, listless, dirty) before it gets better (no need for shampoo).

I decided to go for it and prepared myself for non-glam days with greasy hair. Because I suffer the fate of fine-haired girls everywhere, my hair can look oily after just one day without washing. Conditioner? Never an option. I reasoned that it would be similar to dealing with the awkward in-between phase you face when growing out bangs or that short haircut you regret the second you cut it.

Well, I have grown out bangs countless times and even pretty gracefully grew out a pixie haircut with the creative use of hair bands and scarves. Each time I tried going “no ‘poo,” I found that no hair band or scarf could hide my oily locks. My hair was heavy and slick. There were unplanned pleats. My pillowcase was disgusting.

The first time I gave up

It was for a vacation—because did I really want to look dirty in my vacation photos?

Still, I was determined. Or maybe not.

The second time I feel off the no ‘poo wageon

I was two weeks in and simply forgot, reaching for the bottle of shampoo that remained in the shower. (Lesson learned: Drink coffee before taking showers.)

I resolved to give it another try. Again, I felt a little dirty after two weeks but carried on.

Third time’s a charm, right?

This last attempt was thwarted when I began a new job search and was called for a job interview. Could I show up for an interview with oily hair? I asked a friend about it. “Do you want them to think you’re a dirtbag?” she asked. “Go wash your hair.” She spoke with authority. (Dirtbag?)

I decided to wait until the morning of the interview, but looked back at myself in the mirror and knew I didn’t want a first impression to look like this. So I washed it. (And I got the job.)

It seemed like it was time to rethink this no ‘poo thing. I realized I wasn’t opposed to washing my hair—I was simply opposed to using shampoo to do it. I didn’t want to use anything on my head that was chemical-based and I wanted to cut back on products. Why not try a shampoo alternative? And why not look right in the kitchen?

It made perfect sense. I had already started using my own homemade beach hair spray using ingredients from my pantry (see my post on DIY beauty products and treatments using kitchen items).

The solution seemed so simple: I already used baking soda, apple cider vinegar, and honey on my face—to exfoliate, tone, and wash—so I tried using them on my head in the shower.

Like a mad greasy-haired scientist, I took to experimenting each separately to see what worked best.

A baking soda paste made with water worked well when rubbed gently into the scalp, but felt a little drying on my hair. But a bottle filled with equal parts baking soda and water felt better to rinse through hair. I found the apple cider vinegar to clean hair, but it left my roots looking too slick. Honey gently rubbed on my scalp and through hair also felt cleansing and gentle.

My easy, all-natural formula

Now, I use the baking soda or honey to gently massage into my scalp and hair.

I also started using a homemade dry shampoo composed of equal parts corn starch, baking soda, and cocoa powder, applied to my roots with a makeup brush. (Mmmm, chocolate.)

I still find I need to wash my hair most days—and to count on the dry shampoo—but I don’t think anyone would know I broke up with my shampoo. In a happy twist, my fine hair actually looks like it has more body and bounce.

Sunshine on Tap: Treating Vitamin D Deficiency

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Originally published on The Green Beauty Team website

The most surprising prescription I’ve been given by a doctor wasn’t something I could pick up at my local pharmacy. Instead, she told me to get out in the sun more—and to go easy on the sunscreen. The advice from my doctor came when a blood test revealed I had a vitamin D deficiency. As someone who has been a devoted sunscreen user for years, this sounded as nonsensical as being told to take up smoking or eat more deep-fried foods.

It has long been established that exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) increases your risk of skin cancer and causes signs of premature aging. I wear a moisturizer with an SPF of 15-30 every day to prevent skin cancer, sun spots and wrinkles. (Health is a top priority, but vanity is another great motivator.)

HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH D?

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin found in some, but not many, foods. The National Institutes of Health recommends 600 IUs (international units) of vitamin D for adults 19-70. The trouble with getting D from your diet is that it’s found in limited quantities. For some perspective on amounts of vitamin D in foods, one cup of fortified milk has 115-124 IUs and 3 oz. of salmon has 447 IUs. The best food sources of vitamin D are fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines. Egg yolks, cheese and mushrooms also contain small amounts, and some milk, cereals, cheeses and yogurts are also fortified with vitamin D. You can also get vitamin D from supplements.

Alternately—and this is where my doctor’s advice comes in—your body can naturally synthesize vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun, without sunscreen or windows to block the rays. According to the Natural Institute of Health, most people get enough D from regular sun exposure.

WHY YOU NEED PLENTY OF D
Those of us who wear sunscreen regularly are at risk for a vitamin D deficiency, but it’s important to take steps to maintain the recommended levels, as the role of vitamin D is not to be dismissed.

Let’s begin with bones. The body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium, which is essential to maintaining bone health. If your body doesn’t have enough vitamin D, it cannot absorb calcium and you can develop osteomalacia, a condition which causes bone pain and muscle weakness. A calcium deficiency also puts you at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis, a disease that weakens the bones. Each of us naturally loses bone mass as we age, which is why it’s critical that we get enough vitamin D and calcium.

Vitamin D has other vital roles in maintaining overall health: it helps our immune system fight off bacteria and viruses, and works to make sure muscles and nerves function properly. Though not yet conclusive, recent studies have also been conducted on vitamin D’s role in preventing cancer and other diseases and conditions.

GETTING BACK THE D
Just as my doctor prescribed, I am now trying to spend 10-20 minutes of unfiltered sunlight several days a week—not long enough to get burned, but long enough for the body to produce vitamin D. (Lucky for me, living in Southern California makes this possible year-round.) Of course, those especially at risk for skin cancer need to take greater care in protecting themselves and no doctor will carelessly recommend that people get too much sun exposure. I’m also taking a daily vitamin D supplement and taking care to add more fatty fish to my diet.

You never have to twist my arm to go out for sushi. These days I’m also making my tried-and-true favorite of tuna and capers with pasta weekly (penne with fresh or canned tuna, a handful of capers, tossed with fresh lemon juice and olive oil). Plus I’ve added these vitamin D-packed recipes below to my repertoire.

Sicilian Style Pasta with Sardines
Salmon with Herbed Mustard Sauce
Baked Salmon in Foil
Roasted Mackerel with Avocado Salad

Raid Your Kitchen for DIY Hair Care

Originally published (slightly edited version) on the Green Beauty Team website

Many of the same all-natural and good-for-you ingredients in your fridge and pantry are also healthy and effective applications for your hair. When tending to your tresses, here are some DIY hair care products you can make with common ingredients from your kitchen. Good enough to eat? You bet: Ingredients listed in the concoctions below are edible.

Heavy-Duty Conditioner: When you know you’ll be hanging around the house for an hour or two, try a homemade conditioning treatment using coconut oil or olive oil as a conditioner. Simply fill your palms with oil and apply to dry hair, section by section. Pull back into a ponytail or braid and let soak. If you feel the need to cover your hair, try a hot towel or a reusable shower cap, but try to avoid wasteful plastic wrap. If coconut oil is your elixir of choice, you can leave it in when you’re going out. I simply slick my hair back into a low, sleek and slick ponytail. Regardless of which oil you use, you’ll want to shampoo well to rinse out the oil. Be sure to use a gentle shampoo free of astringent ingredients, so you don’t unwittingly dry out your hair all over again.
Quick Conditioner: If you’re short on time, but desperately need a moisture boost, apply a small amount of olive oil on a comb to wet or dry hair and leave it in. Another quick conditioning pick-up: “Tip one back” in the shower and try the age-old trick of rinsing beer through just-shampooed hair.
Conditioning Hair Mask: Avocados, mayonnaise, and eggs are well-known conditioners. Mash up a mixture of any combination of these emollient ingredients and massage into dry hair for 30 minutes, then wash out. It’s messy, but you can contain it all with a towel or shower cap.
Beach Hair Spray: For DIY beach hair spray, blend distilled water, coconut oil, and sea salt in a spray bottle. Feel free to eyeball the proportions.  I use a ½ cup of water, 1 teaspoon coconut oil, and 1-2 tablespoons of sea salt. Shake well before spraying to dry or wet hair. Then, scrunch and twirl away for more body. (I boil Brita-filtered water to make my own distilled water.)
Sexy Bed-Head Hair: The trouble with the bed-head look is that no one really wants to show off greasy roots. The best way around this is to apply coconut oil to the middle and ends of your hair, staying away from the scalp. To get this look with squeaky clean hair, apply a small amount of coconut oil, twist and scrunch hair until messed up to your liking.
Greasy Roots Controller: We’ve all had those days between shampooing when our hair maintains good form but our roots look a little too oily. So many of the dry shampoos on supermarket shelves contain artificial and toxic ingredients worth avoiding, even if the idea is a good one. Try making your own dry shampoo to use on greasy roots with corn starch, which soaks up the oil. That’s right — just corn starch. Apply with fingertips to your scalp and rub or comb through until the powder disappears.
Flyaway Controller: Rub palms with the barest amount of coconut or olive oil, and gently smooth those out-of-control hairs into submission.
Dry Ends Controller: Apply a small amount of coconut oil or olive oil to the ends of dried-out hair, wet or dry.
Lifeless Hair and Dandruff: To remove product build-up or treat a flaky scalp, rinse hair with apple cider vinegar. To breathe life into your tresses, apply to hair only. To control flaking, start at the scalp working your way through to the ends. (Don’t worry — the vinegar smell doesn’t linger.)

Choose Not to Be a Lady: Nod to Nora Ephron

Not being a lady

Reading the remembrances of Nora Ephron, I am reminded about how much I like her work. And because I was a kid who dreamed of growing up to be a writer, I also admired her.

In one piece, I stopped on this quote from a commencement speech she gave to Wellesley graduates in 1996: “I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there.”

That made me smile — and feel grateful for strong and trailblazing women like her. When I was in high school, I was told to be a lady by an authority figure and I still remember the feelings of outrage and confusion from the exchange.

“Stefanie, cross your legs,” I was told by an assistant coach of the track team. “Be a lady.” He was the grandfather of one of my teammates and was a supportive and kind man — but old-fashioned and, well, sexist.

Luckily, I had parents who raised me to be independent and to believe that I did not need to behave differently because I was a girl. I knew to assert myself and question authority if necessary (see my fashion rebellion story).

“Why do I have to be a lady?” I remember asking. He was surprised. I recall trying to explain, but I’m not sure how articulate I was. I might have asked why the boys weren’t told to cross their legs. After all, we were both wearing our shorts and track jerseys on the bus.

What I knew but couldn’t say was this. When boys and men are told, “Be a man,” it is to fight for something, to reach down into the depths of their beings and emerge stronger to do the right thing. When girls and women are told, “Be a lady,” it is to delicately suggest we be demure and adhere to rules that are, frankly, pointless. Why would I want to be constrained and controlled? Why on earth would I want to be a lady?

I hope for more commencement speakers like Ephron and parents like my own to encourage girls and women to break the rules when the rules need to be broken. That’s a good kind of trouble to get into.

The Right Pink

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but you probably know that already. You’ve seen the pink ribbons on products and on apparel. If you watch NFL football, you’ve even seen players wearing pink shoes, gloves, and caps. Hoorah for pink! I will cheer from the sidelines with pink pom-poms at efforts to raise awareness and research funds for a dreadful disease that affects far too many.

But here’s where I draw the line. So many of cosmetics being sold to women with pink ribbons stamped on the packaging contain toxic ingredients on the inside — and some of them are carcinogens. I want to applaud Avon, Revlon, Estee Lauder and other companies for what they are doing to raise awareness — and millions of dollars for research to find a cure for this disease — but not nearly as much as I want to sit their executives down in a room and ask, “What the f#$%?” Or, maybe I would hold it together and take a more calm approach: “Why are you selling products with harmful toxins, including carcinogens, when you know you can make safer products — when, in fact, so many other cosmetic companies are already making high-quality products without the toxins?”

That’s right. The good news in this rant is that there are companies making personal care products and cosmetics with safer ingredients. I use them. I don’t miss the makeup I previously used, before finding out about the dangers hidden in those tubes, bottles, jars, and compacts. I don’t feel like I’m compromising by using the better-for-you choices. You can also look up individual products to see how they rank for safety at the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database.

And the practice of the other companies fooling consumers into thinking a product with a pink ribbon stamped on it is a good one? It’s know as “pink-washing” and it’s disheartening (more on that here, from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics). But we all make choices with our wallets. Here is one: Would rather buy a lip gloss from a company that knowingly uses harmful ingredients (including known or suspected carcinogens) to make its products or from a company making lip gloss with safer ingredients? I always like to support the good guys (and girls).

Added: Support the Safe Cosmetics Act.

Style Rebel: Documented by Dad

Like a lot of teens, I liked to rebel with my style. I wore a lot of black while my contemporaries were wearing bright neons, and I decided to wear my black lace-up ankle boots to my high school graduation ceremony. I recall both my grandmothers expressing confusion about my choice and trying to talk me into wearing “nice white pumps.” (Nice white pumps were not in my closet and would never find a place there.) It may be that my parents also talked to me about it, but I don’t have memories of them trying to mettle. What I do recall is the close-up photo my father took of my white graduation gown, black dress, and black boots—and then finding that photo in a frame. Dad has a great sense of humor, and (like my mom) has always been loving and supportive. On the occasion of Father’s Day, this makes me a very lucky girl.

Style Crush: Stevie Nicks

I’ve had a style crush on Stevie Nicks since I was a kid (a voice crush, too). As a teen, I found out we shared a given first name (though hers was spelled with the “ph”) and I tried to adopt the nickname of Stevie, but I discovered that nicknames you give yourself never stick. I recently stumbled upon this demo version of “Gypsy” and I’ve gone to her catalog for a refresher, also looking to old live performances on YouTube as part of my Stevie Fix. (I just found out she’s got a new album out, too.) To me, she’s always been undeniably sexy and also the kind of sensitive and sweet that doesn’t hurt your teeth. This video shows images of her many amazing looks: the floppy hats, shawls, ribbon chokers, sheer and lace layers, dresses that twirled with her movements—and that hair. I loved how she would hold out her arms, with sleeves or a shawl giving her fabric wings, like she was preparing for liftoff or maybe coming in for a landing. Her voice was enough to let you know she meant every word, but her moves made you a true believer. I remember loving “Leather and Lace” and thinking she was just like that, tough and soft in just the right balance. And that’s how I wanted to be. (Still do.)