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Henna + Hair

One of my non-green hold outs has been hair dye. I’ve experimented with many hair colors over the years, but reds tend to be my favorite. I’d considered using henna in the past, but it seemed staining, unpredictable, and overwhelming. Then I read an amazingly informative document from Catherine Cartwright-Jones who is doing her dissertation on henna. It made dying hair red, brown, or black with henna and/or indigo seem so doable. Here is some of her work: short version or long version. I used the short version as my guide to dye my hair red with henna. Below are my observations and tips, but not a step-by-step as the details in the linked documents are comprehensive.

Dying Hair with Henna Lessons Learned


  • Use a sturdy spoon for stirring; the little plastic spoon didn’t cut it.
  • Use long dishwashing gloves to protect instead of wrist-length gloves. I ended up with a few stains on my arms before I made the switch to love gloves.
  • Put a cover on the henna as it sits for 8-12 hours. The instructions say to do this, but I forgot and the top layer got chunky. Also, henna has a distinct smell; covering it will help contain the odor. (I don’t mind the smell, hubby dislikes it.)
  • A shower cap worked just fine rather than using plastic wrap as suggested.


  • I took up a hearty glop of the henna mix in my gloved hands and smeared it in my sectioned hair. It felt like smearing really thick mud into my hair and it was pretty fun.
  • I did drop a few globs on the floor, but there was less errant dye than I usually leave behind after using the squirt-bottle applicator that comes with boxed dyes. Clean up was easy and nothing in the bathroom was stained.
  • Henna is green, so it is hard to miss spots. Anything not plastered with green mud is pretty obvious!
  • I left the henna on for three hours. I looked goofy with my shower cap on, but was able to things around the house without creating any mess. The henna stayed on my hair and under the shower cap.


Click on image to open larger view

  • It worked! Check out the before and after shots above (left side is before, right side is after)
  • Initial color is rich, vivid and monochromatic, rather than being a helmet of a single shade
  • Post-oxidation color: to be determined after 72 hours
  • Afterward, my hair felt dry and tangled more easily than normal. I’m guessing this is either from the lemon juice or some residual henna left in my hair.
  • It is cheap! A box of hair dye costs up to $10, a professional dye costs much more. The box of henna cost $1.79 (100g for short hair) plus the cost of lemon juice.
  • Henna definitely takes more time than dying: letting the henna sit after mixing (I did 8 hours, but 12 is optimal) plus keeping it in the hair for two to six hours. Active time in preparation and application is similar, though rinsing did take longer.
  • No burning or itching on my scalp like with boxed dyes.
  • A downside is unpredictability of final color, but I suppose that exists with boxed dye as well.
  • Longevity of color: to be determined

Adventures in Deodorant

Concerned about the chemicals in standard deodorants, I started experimenting with more natural brands and making my own. Here’s what I’ve learned in the past year…

First, I went commercial and bought Tom’s of Maine. It worked great for awhile, but then I started feeling smelly. Next, I tried rubbing a pinch of just plain baking soda in my underarms. It totally eliminated odor, but after a few weeks my underarms freaked out, turned red and splotchy, and started peeling. Eek! Plus, grains of it stood out on black clothing. Back to the drawing board–or rather, back to the Tom’s. When I finished the Tom’s, I gave J/A/S/O/N Organics deodorant a chance. That was a nightmare for my body chemistry. I am not a particularly sweaty person, but that stuff made me smell just awful. (In J/A/S/O/N’s defense, they did respond to my complaint and gave me a coupon good for any of their products.) At that point, I came across a recipe from Little House in the Suburbs that looked awesome. I made it as instructed and even put it in an empty deodorant container. I loved how well it worked, but it kept crumbling out of the dispenser on colder days and melting out of the container on hotter days, and my pits started doing the peeling thing again. So, I shelved that and bought Nature’s Gate deodorant. It did absolutely nothing for me. So, I decided to go back to making my own, but this time I’d take the Little House ingredients but make a custom blend for my sensitive pits and make it creamy rather than a stick.

More Green for Less Green Creamy Deodorant


  • 1/4 cup Baking Soda
  • 1/2 cup Cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup Coconut Oil
  • Tea Tree Oil


  • Lidded, microwave-safe container, 1 cup (or larger)—I use my beloved lidded Pyrex
  • Sturdy Spoon
  • Measuring cup
  • Microwave (optional)
  • Small cotton cloth (optional)


  1. Add cornstarch, baking soda, and coconut oil to container.
  2. Microwave for 10-15 second and stir thoroughly. (You can omit microwaving, but it makes stirring easier.)
  3. Add 15-20+ drops of tea tree oil.
  4. Let cool. It will thicken as it returns to room temperature.
  5. Take a small swipe of the deodorant using your middle and index fingers and massage it into each underarm. It will look slightly shiny on your skin briefly, but won’t be visible.
  6. If you are not applying this near a sink, keep a small cloth with the deodorant container to wipe your fingers clean with.

I do not use this immediately after shaving because the baking soda irritates nicks. One thing I do is shave less—just once or twice per week—and then use hubby’s conventional deodorant on those days. Or, better yet, I’ll shower at night, go clean-pitted through the night, and then apply the deodorant in the morning.

I have not had any problems with it staining clothes, being visible, quitting on me midday, etc.

Do note that the mixture changes viscosity based on temperature—it will be semi-solid in cooler conditions (right) but runny when warm (left). It works the same at either temperature range. I made a batch on hottest day of the year thus far and it was so runny that I thought my recipe must have gotten screwed up somehow. Now that normal spring temperatures have returned, it is thick like canned frosting.

Why it works: baking soda combats odor, cornstarch absorbs moisture, tea tree oil has natural antiseptic properties and smells good, coconut oil is the perfect base—it makes the deodorant spreadable. This oil is solid at room temperature but has a very low melting point. Simply touching it will transfer heat enough to melt it. You can find coconut oil at many grocery stores, just ask where it is.

P.S. For emergency pit spruce-ups, I keep a repurposed, small lip balm container filled with baking soda in my purse. Very occasional use of straight baking soda doesn’t irritate my pits too much. Nothing combats smell like baking soda! Just grab a pinch and rub it in.


9 Changes for 2009- #7 Green Toiletries

  1. Cut out commercial breakfast bars
  2. Cut out canned beans
  3. Ditch premade hummus (and all those containers)
  4. Use only environmentally friendly dish detergent
  5. Shop Used First
  6. Use only environmentally friendly laundry detergent
  7. Stick to green toiletries

Green toiletries have an impact on the earth and on our bodies. Remember, all of this stuff goes into the water supply and the truth is that so many products we use without a second thought do have an impact. But, I’ve talked about that in several previous entries. I’d like to talk about the health impact today. An incredible, eye-opening resource is the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database from the Environmental Working Group. I encourage you to look up your favorite products and make sure you are okay with the ingredients in them. Do be aware of the large data gap in most products. Simply not enough research has been done yet to assess the safety level of all ingredients. Because of the data gap, I think the site is best used to look at ratings levels of the individual ingredient and not the overall “score” of the product. Let’s look at one…

My summer standby for daily facial wear Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock, SPF 55 receives a Hazard Score of 7, which is not good (lower is better), but there is a data gap of 82%, so not much is known about all the products ingredients. It could be worse or more harmless that they currently think. But, going on what we DO know, if I take a look at the ingredients list I can see the main culprits in this sunscreen are methylparaben, fragrance, and oxybenzone. Methylparaben: I try to avoid parabens, but I am willing to compromise for this products. Fragrance: I am not a fan of artificial fragrance, but plenty of people would not care or see this as a big drawback, this is why you must judge for yourself and not just go by product score. Oxybenzone: No clue what this is so I click on the hyperlink to learn that they can cause photoallergenic effects, something, again, I have never heard of. So, I do some searching and learn that if I had lupus (as my mom does) I would want to avoid this product. Since I don’t I am okay with the ingredient until I notice adverse effects. I am now educated on this product and decide I can live with the 7 rating in this particular product, even though most of my products are rated 0-2.

I feel (mostly) okay sticking with a few “baddies” because I have switched so many other products. Here are some reviews:

More Expensive Than Mainstream Products

Aubrey B5 Design Gel
- Much softer than normal gels and not as frizz-controlling, but there is definitely a difference when I use it versus using nothing.

Burt’s Bees Color Keeper Shampoo- Very liquidy, but works with the same amount as a conventional shampoo. I do think my hair looks dirtier sooner than with other shampoos (I try to wash my hair only twice a week. This pushes it closer to 3 times per week.)

Tom’s of Maine Unscented Deodorant- Actually has a light, pleasant scent. This worked pretty well for me, even on my most intensely active work days. That said, I didn’t adore it and when the tube ran out, I started trying some other brands (more to come in a future entry).

Cheaper Than Mainstream Products

Dr. Bronner’s Baby Unscented Liquid Soap (in the foaming dispenser) -
I mix 1 part Dr. B’s to 9 parts water plus a 20ish drops of essential oil and put in a old foaming soap pump. We use this as hand soap in our guest bathroom. This useage us is cheap because you use very little soap in each batch. Straight up Dr. B’s is not particularly cheap (but still worth it).

Sweet Almond Oil- I use this as my overnight moisturizer. I apply a few drops to a cotton ball (cotton balls are not green, but I do tear them in half to use less) and rub it around my face. It does a great job of removing grime and makeup (though I wear almost none, so take it for what it is worth). BY the time morning has come it has absorbed or rubbed off, leaving my skin soft. You also can use straight olive oil in the same manner.

Homemade Lip Balm
(tin standing up)- I’ve made two varieties a liquid for overnight (lemon juice, honey, castor oil) and a semi-solid for anytime (chocolate, coconut oil, vitamin E) from Natural Beauty at Home: More Than 250 Easy to Use Recipes for Body,Bath, and Hair.

Hand-Milled Milk and Honey Soap Bar- I made this soap bar with vegan, fair trade soap (Dr. Bronner’s Unscented Baby Bar) as its base along with milk and honey and essential oils. It is great for bathing or washing hands. This recipe comes from the book Beautiful Handmade Natural Soaps: Practical Ways to Make Hand-Milled Soap and Bath Essentials. This one is probably normal price, not cheaper.


I think mixing pricier products along with dirt cheap or homemade ones makes switching more doable. Green beauty products don’t have to break the bank by any means! Eventually I’d like to make all of my toiletries, but finding the right recipe is tough. Failures from 2008 include a hand milled shampoo bar (left my hair looking greasy, but worked great as a shave bar) and using straight up baking soda as deodorant (worked well for awhile, then my skin started to peel as though I had a chemical burn. Yowza!).

One thing you might notice missing is hair conditioner. I gave it up just to see what would happen and so far I don’t miss it one bit. That is another way to go green…consume less! Which products can you use half as often? Which products can you go without? We get into the habit of using and consuming without thinking, but giving your product usage a second thought can make a difference.


Saving With Green Cleaning and Beauty

For beauty and cleaning supplies, if you simply replace traditional commercial products with commercial eco-friendly products it really will hit you hard. You have to go into the green with a mentality of consuming and buying less.

One-for-one product replacement misses the point of going green since even the eco-friendly commercial products still come in plastic bottles, require shipping, and generate waste (or need to be recycled which uses energy).

Here are some ideas that might be worth trying: Can you use olive oil instead of lotion? Can you shampoo half as much as you do now? Can you make your own cleaning supplies for cheaper (with the added bonus of less packaging)? Can you buy castile soap in bulk and then use it for many things (from cleaning your home to cleaning your face)? Can you use baking soda instead of deodorant (just rub a generous pinch into each pit)?

Now, let’s move onto green cleaning specifically. I suggest reading the books Green Clean and Organic Housekeeping if you are serious about this kind of cleaning. OH talks about the science of cleaning and how it works (which makes you feel that you really can clean organically, if you are doing the right things) and gives some recipes. GC gives lots of recipes and is more anecdotal in tone.

Here are some common ingredients and where I found them (in Northern Virginia).

Washing Soda
If your grocery store doesn’t have washing soda then request it! Barring that, you can get washing soda at Amazon or look for “PH Up” at a pool supply store. Get it for hot tubs and not pools as the pool kind tends to have other things added. Another place to look is an aquarium store since fish tanks need to have their PH changed. You want it to say 100% sodium carbonate on the label. It is also known as soda ash. It will be quite pricey at a pool store, though. I paid $8 for 1 pound at a pool store before I found it at a grocery store where it was $3 for 4 pounds.

I found borax at Wal-Mart in the laundry aisle. The brand I’ve seen at several places is called 20 Mule Team. It is also available on Amazon.

Fels Naphtha Soap
I haven’t been able to find Fels Naptha Soap locally. Amazon sells it by the bar or in a package of thirty bars.

Instead, I decided to go with Dr. Bronner’s which they sell at Whole Foods. This will make a much milder product than the Fels Naphtha would. I currently am using the unscented/baby variety.

Most dry recipes call for grated soap, so I used our food processor to grate it into a chunky powder which I store in a jar.

Baking Soda
Baking soda in normal quantities can be found at any grocery store. I think I got my 4 lb box of baking soda at Wal-Mart in the laundry aisle. At work they have a twelve pound resalable bag of baking soda (probably from Costco), which I covet.

White vinegar can be found at any grocery store. The longer your jug lasts you, the longer between consuming plastic bottles, so the bigger the better!

Storage Jars & Spray Bottles
All of our dry cleaning mixes are stored reused jars. Containers that cannot be recycled are particularly good for this since otherwise they would just go in the trash. (We have a few #7 plastic ones.) Our spray bottles are from Wal-Mart and Dollar Tree. Some people save the spray bottles from commercial cleaning products to refill with their new homemade cleaners. Personally, I am hesitant to do this.