Minimalist Non-Toxic Zero Waste Skin and Hair Care

jar of almond oil, almond nuts and a spoon

I aim to buy as little as possible in life, partly for environmental reasons, partly for economic reasons and partly (mostly if I’m honest) because the less you own the easier housework is. For me minimalism is all about saving time and hassle and this philosophy extends to my skin and hair care routine, which I’ve successfully whittled down to 8 items in total. Most are homemade from edible ingredients, but all are toxin and fuss free, and organic where I can afford.

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My minimalist non-toxic zero waste skin and hair care routine includes;

Zero Waste Bodycare

oliva olive oil soap

A bar of soap

I used to be a devil for bottles of shower gel but going zero waste has turned me onto bars of soap instead. I have trialled a few types of soap and I’m currently working through a few samples but there are two that I will be re-buying primarily because of how long they last and their price. The first one is a pure olive oil soap by Oliva, which you can buy in Holland and Barrett. I buy it because it; only contains 3 non-toxic ingredients, is fully biodegradable (so doesn’t harm marine life) comes in a cardboard box and is very affordable. This brand of soap is available from other outlets, as are other brands of oil based soap including some from The Real Olive Company in Cork. The second type of soap I like is on made by Sodasan using organic ingredients. It also biodegradable, non-toxic, comes in a cardboard box and is very affordable. I pick up my Sodasan organic curd soap in Klee Paper in Dublin 7 when I’m in that area. I also like the beautifully-fragranced  soaps from the company Palm Oil Irish Soap, which you can get easily in health food stores throughout the country.

Homemade Moisturiser

Homemade Body Moisturiser

You can use oil as body moisturiser and I do when I run out of my homemade moisturiser, but I find the oil harder to apply so prefer to use the moisturiser when I have it. The recipe I use involves only 3 ingredients and takes less than 15 minutes to make.

If you’d like to learn more about how to make your own skincare products you could attend a workshop with Wapo and you can source ingredients from Bomar in Ireland or Aromantics in the UK.

Zero Waste Haircare

bottles of faith in nature shampoo

Refillable Liquid Shampoo

I tried shampoo bars, with no success, so I’ve reverted back to liquid shampoo. I was using Faith in Nature’s Aloe Vera shampoo, which is free of free from cruelty, animal ingredients, GMO ingredients, synthetic colouring, synthetic fragrances, SLES, SLS, parabens, artificial preservatives, BPA plastic, and Methylisothiazolinone (MI). The Scottish company that makes it aims to use Fair Trade or ‘ethically traded’ ingredients wherever possible and it is certified as top grade by SEDEX.  Some of their products contain organic ingredients which have been certified separately. It’s also a brand that is relatively easy to get refills of nationwide.

In recent years I’ve tried the brand Alter/Native shampoo by the co-operative Suma, which I used to be able to get in my local zero waste store, The Good Neighbour in Dublin 14. Their products contain over 99% natural ingredients and are made in the UK . They list the plain English version of ingredients and the source of them too. The company attempted to remove palm-oil from their products but found that some of the key ingredients were not available with a genuine and traceable palm-free guarantee, so for now they state that they only responsibly sourced and sustainable RSPO certified palm oil based ingredients when palm oil free options are not available, and clearly state so on the labels. Their shampoo, body wash and hand wash liquid products all contain Ammonium Lauryl Sulphate (ALS), cleansing agent thought to be less irritating to the skin than SLS or SLES and rapidly biodegradable. None of their products or ingredients have been tested on animals and carry the Leaping Bunny logo. All products are suitable for vegetarians and vegans and carry the Vegan Society logo. They offer package-free soaps and soaps in recycled and recyclable cardboard boxes, their shampoo bottles are made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic and are also fully recyclable. The lids are clear and white plastic PP (polypropylene) lids, which are recyclable too. They also offer refills options, in recyclable plastic. They say that they’re looking into whether their 20L sized containers can be returned to Suma, washed and refilled to close the loop on their recyclability. Interestingly being a co-operative Suma’s employees, set the direction of the business. Everyone has an equal say and all get paid the same wage, take responsibility and each do a range of jobs each week, from truck driving to cooking to accounts.

Post Brexit The Good Neighbour switched from Alter/Native to Miniml , and so that’s what we use now. I prefer the former but the latter does a reasonable job, is well priced and they really embrace the bulk buy philosophy by offering the products in supersized containers to stores.

bottle of Aspall vinegar

Homemade Vinegar Hair Rinse

I used to use this instead of conditioner and my hair was so much better for it. I gave it up when I developed IBS in case it was exacerbating it. I’ve yet to go back to it but will soon. To try this simply mix two tablespoons of the vinegar with a pint of warm water and pour over shampooed hair. We used organic cider vinegar but any vinegar will work. You just have to work out how much of the vinegar your hair needs. Too much and your hair will look greasy, too little and it’ll be fuzzy. I bought my last bottle of organic cider vinegar in Holland and Barrett but Aspall is a brand that’s widely available in most supermarkets and health food shops. I now buy package-free cider vinegar in my local zero waste store so check yours.

Zero Waste Skincare

Almond Facial Oil

In my 20s and 30s I found almond oil great as a face moisturiser after a shower on days that I didn’t need to wear make-up. I tried using coconut oil but it ended up clogging my pores and I’ve since found out that this is because coconut oil has a comedogenic (pore-blocking) rating of 4, whereas almond oil has a lower one of 2, as does olive oil. Here is a very handy guide to the comedogenic ratings of popular skincare ingredients, including oils and here’s a more detailed guide to the various oil. I’ve read that oil may not suit if you’ve oily skin so I’d suggest trialling sunflower or olive oil on your skin before you invest in a bottle of more expensive oil. The oil I use was bought in Bomar in Wicklow and is not organic but they do have organic almond oil too.

For days when I was wearing make up I would use Day Solution moisturiser by Green People, which is 88% organic. It comes in a version with a 15spf if you’d prefer and both are free from cruelty, SLS, parabens, lanolin, perfumes, propylene glycol, artificial synthetic fragrances, colourants, petrochemicals, PABA-sunscreen, Urea, PEG’s, DEA and TEA. The company that makes these products donates 10% of their net profit to ‘green’ health and environmental charities and states that their packaging is recyclable, or fully biodegradable or only release carbon dioxide and water when burned. Their website list all of the ingredients in each product, and any certifications that apply including ones from the Organic Soil Association, the Organic Food Federation, the Vegan Society, the Good Shopping Guide and EcoCert.

Now that I’m in my 40’s my face needs something finer than oils and so I’ve switched to a rich cream by the Dublin based natural skincare company Bodhi Blends.

jar of sugar scrub with some on a spoon

Homemade Sugar Facial Scrub 

If I feel that my skin is getting rough and in need of exfoliation I simply mix sugar (caster sugar if you have it, if not granulated will do) with either oil or lathered soap, rub it on the rough skin, wash off and pat dry. Works a treat, is cheap as chips and uses ingredients you probably already have in the home. It’s also very good for feet, elbows and hands. If you find the sugar too abrasive for your face you could use ground oat flakes instead.

Homemade Face Masks

I used to be into masks in a big way when I was younger and fell into the trap of getting professional facial treatments before my wedding many moons ago. What an absolute waste of money! Having a facial can be a lovely relaxing experience and it may temporarily tighten or brighten the skin, but I have seen no evidence that they improve skin long-term so they’re just not worth the expense and hassle for me.

That said sometimes the feeling of pampering yourself can be beneficial and homemade masks can be a great way to indulge in this without exposing yourself to toxins or great expense. I’m fond of recipes that are quick, inexpensive and use edible ingredients and here are my top two;

honey dripping into a bowl and mashed banana on a spoon

Banana Face Mask

  1. Mash on ripe banana with 1 tablespoon of honey and / or yoghurt
  2. Smooth over the face and leave on for up to 15 minutes
  3. Wash off with warm water
cup with rice and water in it

Rice Water Mask

  1. Cook some rice, without salt. You only need 2-3 spoons of rice but I think it’s very wasteful to only cook that amount so I’d suggest making this mask the next time you cook rice for dinner.
  2. Drain the rice but reserve the cooking liquid
  3. Wash and drain 2-3 tablespoons of rice and put in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of milk and 1 tablespoon of honey. Mix together
  4. Apply the mixture to the face and leave for up to 30 mins
  5. Wash the mask off the face with the reserved cooking liquid.
  6. Enjoy you’re younger looking self.

What’s missing from my Minimalist Skincare Routine

You may have noticed that I haven’t included a cleanser or toner in my list of skincare products. That’s because I don’t use them. I don’t wear make-up every day but when I do I just clean it off with a wet face-cloth at the end of the day and then moisturise. Other than that my face gets washed with water every other day in the shower.  I’ve never seen the point of toner, don’t use it now and haven’t missed it. You could use a rose-water as a toner if you feel you need one.

My knowledge of skincare is limited to what works for my sensitive, prone-to-dryness skin. If you’d like to read a more in-depth view of natural zero waste skincare I came across this excellent article written by Sara Sumic of Health Skin Glows on the website Zero Waste Nest.


Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

2 thoughts on “Minimalist Non-Toxic Zero Waste Skin and Hair Care

  1. On the advice of a Lithuanian friend, I use used coffee grounds to exfoliate. They work really well, contain oil so moisturise your skin, and smell delicious!


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