Monday 22 November 2010

An Ode to Dirty Hippies

There are certain difficulties you encounter in your quest to be a low carbon eco warrior, especially tricky are those subjects that are taboo in society, such as personal hygiene. It is not something we really like to discuss, we are much happier just accepting the advertisers spiel on it.

We must eliminate all bodily odours.
We must use all these luxurious hair care products or our hair will look horrendous.
White equals clean.

However, after reading a very interesting book on this topic – ‘More work for mother’ by Ruth Schwartz Cowen – and getting involved with Transition Norwich, I started to question some of these ideas. This is what I have found so far...

We all know that short showers are better than baths, but what’s wrong with a sink wash? It's definitely more pleasant in a cool bathroom as you only have to be half undressed at any one time and you don’t get as wet. And also the amazing invention of microfiber cloths renders soap fairly obsolete when you use them as flannels.

Another fallacy is all of the copious hair and beauty products that tend to stop your skin/hair looking after itself rather than helping it along the way. So I think many people would be surprised by how much healthier they looked without them. I was a bit sceptical of not using any hair care products until I discovered that my friend who always has incredibly stylish looking hair does nothing but wash her hair with water. So I decided my cycle touring this summer was a perfect opportunity to experiment. So off came all the hair in June and I haven’t used anything but water on it since. And it’s amazing, it looks if anything less greasy than it did before. Most people just think I have some kind of styling product in it to make it stick up! I have yet to try it out with longer hair though.

So generally I have been trying not to use products at all if possible, but deodorant is something that it is still culturally unacceptable not to use! However, it is challenging to find one that doesn’t increase the risk of breast cancer, through containing aluminium or blocking pores, and does actually work. I have concluded that using two ‘eco’ ones is the best answer, but it still doesn’t have quite the same complete odour blocking effect of some of the leading brands. However, I don’t think that this is actually the end of the world. After all we evolved to smell to attract a partner, therefore it can’t be all that bad? I have sometimes contemplated making my own deoderant, but I have the feeling that they would be even less effective!

An important point in this discussion though is that although all of these measures are great for the environment and/or your health, it is also important for your happiness to still be accepted into society. I don’t want to become a dirty, smelly hippy as my friend bluntly puts it. And getting that balance right is the challenge.

This is further complicated by using eco-balls in my laundry which aren’t quite so effective at removing odour… Line drying outside tends to compensate this, but as winter draws in this becomes harder and I may need to purchase some laundry liquid to compliment the eco balls. There is also an interesting conundrum of waiting to have a full load of washing meaning that you need to have more clothes! It’s ever so complex sometimes having to think for yourself rather than just blindly trusting the adverts.

Well I hope that whistle-stop tour of low carbon personal hygiene has got some of you thinking. Our next transition circle is on this topic so I am looking forward to a lively discussion!

Photos: applying deoderant ( and eco balls (


  1. Kerry, your hair really didn't look at all unwashed when I saw you at the bloggers meeting a few weeks ago, so I reckon you're onto something ;-).

    I've also been using fewer and fewer products and less and less water in the last couple of years since joining Transition - and no one has veered away from me due to body odour (as far as I know!)

    Have you've tried Faith In Nature's washing liquid? You don't need much and the fragrance comes from essential oils.

    Great piece and really interesting subject.

    Best wishes, Mark

  2. Dear Kerry,

    Talk about Transition Circles "getting personal"! Seriously before TN2 I was a shampoo-and-hot-bath a day girl. Now it's once a week. My clothes and sheets also get short shrift these days.

    A lot of washing is habitual as well as cultural. We just do it without thinking. We're taught to equate poverty with dirt, so there is also an internal pressure to use soap and water when we don't really need to.

    Never cracked that crystal deoderant thing either. Ah well, can't be perfect! I also have a weakness for that French olive oil soap with lavender.

    All the best,