Before Peace Corps I had gone pretty far down the “natural is better” road. And for good reason. If you spend any time at all learning about the chemicals that are in our household and daily personal care products you’d be looking for alternatives too. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics “more than 1 in 5 personal care products contain chemicals linked to cancer, 80 percent contain ingredients that commonly contain hazardous impurities, and 56 percent contain penetration enhancers that help deliver ingredients deeper into the skin.” Yikes….
When I was in DC I had managed to replace most of my make-up with natural alternatives. The alternatives are getting really good. Twenty years ago you might find a tinted lipgloss at your local health food store or just avoid make-up all together if you were concerned about chemicals. Today you can really enjoy make-up and feel good about what you are putting on your face. I had started making my own deodorant and used baking soda and cider vinegar to wash and condition my hair.
Then I came to Peace Corps and I knew that I was facing a slightly different reality. Caring about organic food and all natural beauty is a privilege afforded to those who have enough money not to worry about bigger things in life. I suppose it’s also an education thing and there’s still a feeling here that Western and new things are superior to traditional things (which may be why stores have entire walls of baby formula and margarine is readily available). When I enquired at a local vegetable stand where I might be able to buy some unfiltered, all-natural coconut oil (and coconuts are in abundance here) I was told “tidak ada.” There is none. One hundred years ago coconut oil was what people in this part of the world used for their oil. Then they heard it was high in saturated fats and started using vegetable oil like the rest of the world. And guess what? They started getting Western diseases too. So, I have to buy my coconut oil in Bali or the fancy ex-pat grocery store in Malang where there is a demand for it from Western people. Ironic, no?
So, what have I been able to keep up with here in the Peace Corps? Well the hair washing/conditioning with baking soda/cider vinegar just does not work with the water here. I even bought some natural shampoo in Australia, and it just cannot clean my hair the way it could back in the US. I use Dove shampoo and conditioner and that’s what I’ll use until I go back to the States and switch back.
I use a facial sunscreen/tint/moisturizer during the day that I can buy here called Acnes (I know charming name). It’s a Korean brand and it’s not all natural but it doesn’t have parabens and I appreciate that. And I need the SPF here on the equator.
At night I recently started using coconut oil blended with tea tree oil on my face and my skin has never looked better. My first six months at site my skin was a nightmare, so it’s not that I’m just blessed. My skin really seems to appreciate all the goodies in the coconut oil as well as the bacteria fighting of the tea tree oil.
DIY deodorant! Yes! People think this is crazy. To be honest I wasn’t much of a deodorant wearer back home but I knew that had to change living in a tropical country. Will used to wear Old Spice but when it started making his underarm hair fall out and his skin peel, I begged him to try mine. A blend of baking soda, cornstarch, coconut oil and peppermint oil smells like frosting and it works, folks! For both me and the potentially smelly man who lives with me. I know it works because if I ever forget, I get pretty smelly. Want to give it a try? Here’s a recipe.
Luckily for things I can’t get here, my mom has been nice enough to send me replacements for my natural foundation, mascara and sunscreen. Everything else has seemed to last so far. We also get semi-regular shipments of Tom’s of Maine toothpaste via visiting family or care packages. We’ve been able to find natural soap on trips to Bali.
I also have used natural bug repellents from essential oils. I brought a small bottle of essential oils with me that I can mix into lotion and I can find natural bug repellent sprays in tourist areas. The Peace Corps doesn’t recommend it (they like DEET) but for me, they work and I don’t like the idea of putting DEET on my skin every day for 27 months.
Now I know some of you ladies might be reading this and thinking “it took me five years to find the perfect lipstick, I’m not throwing it out.” But if this post says anything, it’s that it’s all about moderation. Maybe you’ll start wearing some cleaner products in time, and save those favorites that aren’t so clean for special occasions. For example when we travel I just take a BB cream and a Sephora lip and cheek stain—not all natural but if it’s only one week out of four months, it’s not a big deal.
Eventually I think most brands will start searching for alternative ingredients and step up their game. Just last week Walmart announced they would be requiring suppliers to eliminate 10 harmful chemicals from household and beauty products!
If you are curious about how your cosmetics stack up you can find them here:
If you are looking for some brands, here are some that I’ve discovered in the last few years and like:
Au Naturale Cosmetics (This company was started by a glamorous friend from DC, Ashley.)
Beauty Counter (This is a new company I have yet to try but my very adorable, make-up loving–and Republican, I might add!–friend Christy works for them.)