A small, sustainable wardrobe: toiletries

A series about the clothes we wear and the impact they have both on us and the world around us.

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When I was packing for our trip to Derbyshire, I realised that all I needed to do in terms of toiletries was empty my shelf of the bathroom cabinet into my toilet bag, add a clean muslin face cloth, and I was done.

I think this was the first time that I didn’t have the odd thing to leave behind, and I put that down entirely to the effort I’ve been making to use fewer disposable plastics. There were no cotton wool pads to count out, no big bottles of shampoo to decant into something smaller, no opaque canisters of dental floss to shake and wonder at their contents. For the first time ever, I just put everything in my little bag and went.

Now, it won’t take a genius to work out that I am not a connoisseur of beauty counters. I have never been interested in spending my time and money on that sort of thing, and that’s unlikely to change now. I am quite happy to go barefaced much of the time, and when I do wear make-up I don’t wear much. But I do like to be clean, care for my hair properly, look after my teeth, and look reasonably well presented when I’m at work or socialising. And, because I love reading this sort of post on other people’s blogs, I thought I’d include it here in the spirit of sharing solutions to some of the tricker challenges I’ve come up against in creating a smaller, more sustainable set of toiletries. Without further ado, this is what is currently on my bathroom shelf, from top to bottom, left to right.

Everyone needs a toothbrush. I need a bamboo one, and will be asking a certain someone if they might pop one in my stocking. I’ve never used an electric toothbrush and I’ve never had a single cavity, so I’m going to stick with what works for me.

A little jar of homemade balm serves lots of purposes. I use mine on my face (especially before bed), but also on the ends of my hair (and any flyaway bits), and any dry bits on my hands, elbows and so forth. It’s also a great lip balm. This one is scented with lavender, but I’m going to make some more next weekend in wintry scents.

A lone remaining toothpaste tablet. We switched to these this summer, when I finally found them with fluoride (controversial, I know, but that’s our decision). I buy 240 at a time and we keep them in a little jar, as it stops them getting damp in a steamy bathroom. They are such an easy plastic-free swap, and we all like them.

Dental floss. This comes in a little glass jar with a metal lid, and refills come in cardboard. It’s made of silk, so I can put it straight into our bathroom bin after use. (Our bathroom bin is lined with newspaper and goes straight onto the compost heap.)

A wooden comb – I’ve had this for years and only ever use wide-toothed combs as I have curls.

Solid conditioner. Again, I have curls. At a recent party a man (who I later found out was a hairdresser, and not just odd) started talking to me about my hair and how I look after it. He advocated conditioner-only washing, which made me happy because that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for a couple of years. That bar had been on the go for nearly four months – they are a bit pricey but they do last.

An old lip balm tin with one remaining pill in it. My prescription tablets (nothing alarming, but essential) do come in a plastic blister pack. I can’t do anything about this. I decant them, a week at a time, into this tin, so I know that I’ve taken the right amount.

Foundation/ concealer. I don’t really want to name brands here, but let me just say that I’ve finally changed my foundation after a very long time and this stuff is amazing. It’s also plastic-free, completely natural and very moisturising. I am a convert. (And if you really want to know what it is, ask in the comments.)

Mascara, from pre-plastic-reducing days. This is on its last legs. I’m holding out until Christmas for a tin of eyeliner/ mascara and a double ended mascara/ eyeliner brush that I found on Etsy. I’ll let you know how I get on with them.

Nail scissors.

That white thing is a crystal deodorant. They last for years and years.

A muslin face cloth. I have a few which came free with various natural beauty products. They are gentler on the face than a normal flannel (which I’ve just realised I should also have included in this photograph.)

Lip balm. Like the mascara, this is from my pre-plastic-reducing days, and is nearly empty. I’m hoping it’ll last until Christmas, because I have politely requested a pot of lip and cheek colour/ moisture from the same company as the foundation.

Eyeliner. Once again, this is pre-plastic-reduction. It’s been sharpened since then, so I really hope I get that tin of kohl for Christmas…

That’s it. There is of course a box of shared/ rarely used things in the cupboard – hairdressing scissors (my sister trims my hair and that of the girls), a tin of sunblock left over from the summer, some basic medical supplies – you get the picture. Please don’t go away thinking that I am a paragon of plastic-free living, because I can assure you that I am not. There is still far too much waste generated in this house for my liking. But we all do as well as we can, for now, and have certainly reduced our consumption of single-use plastics considerably. And if you’re questioning whether toiletries are part of a wardrobe, I think they are. After all, they are part of what we use on a daily basis to present ourselves in our preferred ways. I really like the simplicity of my collection, but am not averse to raiding the kitchen cabinets to make up a face mask or a hot oil hair treatment. I’ve never got into painting my nails, or wearing eyeshadow, which keeps things simpler. But simple needn’t mean austere – I’ve discovered some really lovely new products since July and have all sorts of sustainable smellies in mind for my kids for Christmas. If anything, this part of my wardrobe has pushed me further out of my comfort zone than any other, and that’s always a good thing.

Madeleine

What does your toiletry collection look like? Have you been trying to use natural/ plastic-free products, or given up on any conventional ones? Any tips would be gratefully received!

7 thoughts on “A small, sustainable wardrobe: toiletries”

  1. Thanks for the Anything but Plastic nod–I’ll have to check them out. This is interesting, because I’m pretty low-maintenance myself, but I have some limitations too. I tried crystal deodorant a long time ago, and I just smelled like I wasn’t wearing anything. Which is fine if you live in a part of the world where that is the expectation (I’ve lived in such places) but not really fine in the West. I also find it is harder on my clothes to not wear anything, as the bacteria just destroys the underarms in fabric. I realize deodorant has the same drawbacks, but I guess that is my bridge too far. I’ve tried natural products for women’s cycles too, but they just don’t work well for me.

    I have really curly hair, and I do use a lot of conditioner now (plus a keratin spray after washing) but I do have to shampoo or my hair looks lank and awful. I’d love to hear more about your hair care routine, as I’m always looking for better ways to care for my hair. It is super curly, pretty dry, and awfully thin these days. It’s mad combination.

    1. Thanks for your comment – we definitely all have different needs and preferences, and what works for one person might not be another’s cup of tea at all! I’m not sure I have a hair care routine as such – I just get as much moisture into it as possible (most curly hair is pretty dry). Yours always looks lovely in your blog photos!

  2. Oh, and I forgot to say that I got our toothpaste tabs (and my solid conditioner and dental floss) from Anything But Plastic.

  3. Please do share the makeup brands that you have found good. I’m always on the look out for such things for the girls for Christmas. And again,what a lovely inspiring post. I am always make up free,and the balm I made from your recipe has been a lovely addition to my tiny beauty product collection,thanks xx

    1. The foundation/ concealer is Un-cover Up from RMS. I love it because you’re just supposed to put it on where it’s needed, and it is so effective that people have asked me what, if anything, I’m wearing. I’m looking forward to trying their Lip-to-Cheek when my tinted lip balm runs out shortly. Another find has been Godiva solid shampoo from Lush. I don’t like all the things that they put in their products (or the overpowering scents) but the kids love them. Fliss, who has thick hip-length hair, was really struggling with solid shampoo until I bought her this. It conditions as well as washes and smells divine – and her hair looks gorgeous.

  4. You’re good! My toiletries are far more extensive and more plasticky, even though I a mostly barefaced person with curls, too. Does your deodorant crystal help with stress sweat? I’d be very keen to find out where you get your toothpaste pills from. And yes, please, do share your mascara/eyeliner tin experience. Mascara is my one make-up essential for the days when I wear makeup. I have completely switched to menstrual cup, which saves a lot of non-compostable landfill space but otherwise I am not as proactive as I should be.

    1. I’ll definitely do another post on this once I’ve used things up and made a few more swaps. The eyeliner I want to try is Fat and the Moon Eye Coal, which is sold just as an eyeliner and not a mascara. However, I need both and know that lots of people use it for both, so I’m going to give it a go. If it doesn’t work out as a mascara, I’ll look elsewhere or make some for myself. The crystal deodorant doesn’t stop you sweating at all, but the salts in it deal with the bacteria which cause the smell. I suspect that its effectiveness depends on body chemistry and how much you sweat, as I know some people who love this as much as I do and others for whom it simply isn’t effective. Thanks for mentioning menstrual cups – I completely forgot to! x

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