Safer Soaps & Shampoos Spare Beneficial Bacteria

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Antiseptic Stuff Can Be Too Much Of A Good Thing

It’s barely noon and already I’ve washed my hands over a dozen times today. Whenever I’m cooking, or cleaning, or planting primroses, or playing with the cats, or taking out the trash, hand washing is an automatic reflex. It’s kind of amazing to realize that, for millenia, people died just because they–or others–didn’t wash their hands. For thousands of years, dirty hands could be deadly.

Though Sir Joseph Lister’s groundbreaking sterile surgery protocols started saving lives back in the 1880s, today, antiseptic methods have gone too far. Numerous studies show that children raised with antiseptic soaps suffer more chronic disease than those in normally clean environments. In fact, excessive use of antiseptic soaps can promote resistant strains of harmful bacteria that don’t respond to antibiotic drugs. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is no better; it doesn’t kill several critical baddies, it doesn’t remove dirt, and Triclosan, a key ingredient, is under FDA review as a suspected hormone disrupter.

Sing As you Scrub

What to do instead? Many sanitation experts recommend a 20-second scrub with plain soap and hot water, lathering up for about the time it takes to sing “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” or recite the ABCs. Turns out that though dirty hands won’t do, clean enough–not sterile–hands are just fine for most things (short of surgery, of course). Rather than aiming to eradicate all bacteria, we might remember that our bodies hold many times more bacteria than human cells. Nearly all bacteria are harmless or beneficial, and wiping them out indiscriminately is a very bad idea.

Indeed, bacteria are our very good friends; beneficial bacteria aid in food digestion, help our immune systems to develop appropriate responses, and reduce inflammatory processes. Recent research suggests that children raised in excessively clean environments lack the health protections that exposure to beneficial bacteria offer our immune systems. Unusually high rates of allergies and asthma may be another result of hyper-clean homes.

I admit, this is kind of a hobby horse for me, but here’s a link to a fascinating article, if you want to read more:

How Safe Is Your Shampoo?

And while we’re at it, before you use your favorite shampoo, check the label. Anything there you can’t pronounce? Dismayingly, many common ingredients in shampoo and conditioner are harmful to your health. Our skin is our largest and most absorbent organ, and it efficiently takes in anything we put on it. For your health, choose skin and hair care products with organic ingredients, avoiding any that contain known carcinogens such as sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), parabens, formaldehyde, and DEA, MEA or TEA, as well as hazardous materials such as polyethylene glycol.

Want to know if the shampoo in your shower basket is wholesome? To find out more about a specific cleansing or beauty product, visit the Skindeep database on the Environmental Working Group website (, which lists ingredients and ranks them for safe usage and potential hazards.

Toward More Natural Hair Care

To restore dull hair, put away the blow dryer. Wet hair completely before using a mild, castile-based shampoo. Gently massage your scalp (fingertips only; no nails) as you wash and rinse your hair. This increases blood circulation and unclogs sebaceous glands, both of which improves hair health and appearance. Gently towel hair dry, then let air dry completely. Use an olive oil conditioner weekly until hair luster is restored, then monthly or as needed.

Make Your Own Shampoo

This simple homemade shampoo combines luxuriant lathering with gently cleansing. It won’t get your hair “squeaky clean” because it doesn’t strip away natural oils, but your hair will dry silky soft.

Gentle Shampoo

1 cup organic castile liquid soap
1 tablespoon organic cider vinegar
1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
1/3 cup water*

Combine ingredients in a spray bottle. Shake gently before use, then work a tablespoon of shampoo into wet hair while massaging scalp, then rinse thoroughly. Gently towel dry hair.

* Or use rose water, or lavender water, or rosemary water…

Rosemary Water

1/4 cup rosemary sprigs (or lavender, or rose petals)
1 cup boiling water

In a glass bowl, pour boiling water over rosemary, cover and steep for 20 minutes. Strain into a glass jar and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 1 cup.

Olive Oil Conditioner

1/4 cup virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons local honey

Stir well to blend, then work through damp hair, gently massaging your scalp. Wrap your head with a hot (old) towel or wear a shower cap while you relax or take a bath for 20-30 minutes. Wash with gentle shampoo, rinse well, and let hair air dry.

Olive Oil Conditioner With Lavender and Rosemary

2 tablespoons rosemary, snipped
2 tablespoons lavender (fresh or dried)
1 cup virgin olive oil

In a glass bowl, pour 2/3 cup boiling water over rosemary and lavender, cover and and steep for 20 minutes. Strain liquid, discard herbs, then combine liquid with olive oil in a food processor or blender and blend well. Store in a glass jar. To use, shake well, then comb through damp hair, wrap head with a hot (old) towel or shower cap and relax for 30 minutes. Shampoo hair and rinse well.

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