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  • Writer's pictureAtiqah Nadiah Zailani

Zero Waste Personal Hygiene & Beauty

Eliminating, substituting and reducing the waste from our daily hygiene, body-care and beauty-enhancing activities.

While walking through the supermarket aisles, one can actually get overwhelmed seeing the confusing array of shower and beauty products, all promising to make your hair shiny, your skin smooth, and your armpits fragrant. There are products specifically for the oily hair or skin, which is different from the one for dry hair or skin, which is also different from the one for curly hair or itchy skin…

Because I am the absolute worst at proper decision-making, I used to be swayed by the fragrance, rather than the quality or the chemical content of the product. My biggest dilemma was whether to get the citrus-smelling one or the strawberry-smelling one.

Nowadays, however, I have ditched all such products and no longer need to walk down those aisles at all.

Instead, I’ve opted for much simpler, more natural substitutes, cutting out the chemicals and products for my personal hygiene down by a significant amount. Best decision ever.


Shampoo & Soap

Eliminate: No-Poo

If you are up for it, try completely ditching the shampoo. This is an actual movement happening worldwide, called the No-Poo (an unfortunate name, but basically a short form of No Shampoo rather than actual, you know, poop). Instead of store-bought shampoo, baking soda is used to wash the hair, followed by Apple Cider Vinegar for a rinse.

Two ingredients to go No-Poo with your hair. Source.

Results have varied among different women - some found it to be a heaven-sent alternative for healthier, fuller hair, while others found it dried out their hair. This regime worked well for me while in Malaysia or in the tropics, but not so much when abroad due to the drier environment. It highly depends on the type of hair you have, and the only way to know is to try it out and see if it works for you!

Instructions: Keep a 500 mL cup or jar, a pot of baking soda and a bottle of Apple Cider Vinegar by the shower. Fill the jar with water, add 2 tbsp of baking soda, and stir to dissolve. Pour over wet head and scrub into hair. Then pour 2 tbsp of Apple Cider into the same (now empty jar), and fill with water again. Pour over your hair and rinse.

Eliminate: Packaging-free shampoo & soap

A number of stores (check out The Hive and Lush) sell handmade soap and shampoo bars naked (with no packaging), making it the best alternative for those of us with no intention of joining the No-Poo movement.

These can be a bit more pricey, particularly artisan soaps, but typically make up for the price by lasting for a very long time. Lush shampoo bars can last for months (depending on the volume of hair and frequency of use) and are easy to travel with. They are also more luxurious and naturally fragrant, and can definitely elevate one’s bathing experience!

I myself use this option, and highly recommend it!

DIY: Make your own soap & body scrub!

Take it to another level and become a soap artisan yourself! I’ve seen plenty of workshops around Kuala Lumpur offering to teach soap-making, and in fact, I attended one myself a couple of years ago.

The process itself is simple, and you have leeway to add whatever you want into your soap, and to design it based on whatever shape and colour that strike your fancy. It can be a very fun process, and one session can yield you a massive hunk of soap to last you almost forever. If you’re the generous type, you can also give them away to friends as gifts.

Body scrubs are even simpler to make: grab some granulated sugar or sea salt, add some olive oil or coconut oil along with essential oils of your choice. You can even get creative by adding other ingredients to spice it up: oatmeal, mint leaves, coffee grounds, lemon, etc.

Yummms~ I kind of prefer for this to be in my stomach than on my skin though... Source.

Refill: Reuse the same packaging for refills

If you prefer shampoo and soap in liquid form instead of bars, then using a refillable bottle is preferable. Stores like the The Hive encourage you to bring your own containers, and even take back their containers to be reused with other customers.

BYOB: bring your own bottle.

You could also opt for those refill bags rather than buying a whole new bottle of shampoo or soap, however this makes little difference if the bags themselves are not recyclable.

Just marginally better, but not really.

Recycle: Purchase shampoo in recyclable containers

The last, second-worst option (the worst being throwing away as trash) is to consciously opt for soap and shampoo in packaging that can be recycled, and ensuring that they go into the right bins or waste stream.



Eliminate: Use baking soda or deodorant stones

Ditch store-bought deodorant sticks with all their plastic waste by switching to the ever useful baking soda, or purchasing a longer lasting deodorant crystal stone.

How to use a deodorant stone

If you’ve never heard of a deodorant crystal stone before, it’s gotten rave reviews from other users and is worth a shot!

Recycle: Purchase deodorant in recyclable containers

Not to sound repetitive, but the last, second-worst option (the worst being throwing away as trash) is to consciously opt for deodorant in packaging that can be recycled, and ensuring that they go into the right bins or waste stream.



Eliminate & Buy to Last: Opt for metal, reusable razors

Do yourself and the world a favour by ditching the mounds and mounds of single-use disposable plastic razors that flood the supermarket. Instead, switch to the traditional and sturdy metal razor, with replaceable blades that can be easily recycled.

Substitute: Use oils or shea butter as shaving cream

Rather than buying cans of shaving cream, use what you already have in the kitchen: olive oil or coconut oil will work well. Or buy a jar of shea butter in a container than can be easily recycled. Shea butter can also be used in various other DIY body care recipes, and will serve more than just one purpose!


Loofah & Scrubber

Eliminate: Stop the scrubbing

A simple way to eliminate waste here is to simply stop scrubbing. Your skin will naturally exfoliate by itself, and it only needs help from you if your skin is particularly oily or are prone to acne and clogged pores. In fact, if you have sensitive skin, scrubbing is not a good idea.

Substitute & Compost: Opt for natural, compostable loofahs or brushes

Scrubbers need to be replaced every couple months, or when they get mouldy and lose their shape. If body scrubs are an essential part of your care routine, then opt to buy natural loofahs or brushes made out of bamboo or any other compostable material, so that when the time comes to get rid of them, they can go into the compost bin rather than the landfill.

Loofah, made of plants from the cucumber family



A disclaimer before we get into this section: I am not a girly girl, and the only make-up things I own are lip balm, aloe vera, sunscreen and insect repellent (if those even count as make-up, I dunno). I’ve happily gone around in my 30+ years of life bare-faced, and I don’t plan to change that, which means my knowledge of and experience in make-up is almost nil.

So I honestly don’t have a lot to contribute other than the below. If you have better tips on cutting out the immense waste related to make-up, definitely share them with the world in the comments below!

Eliminate: Embrace natural beauty

Unless you actually enjoy the process of putting on make-up (because I understand it can be really fun for some people), and especially if you’re only doing it out of some society-induced pressure to be insecure with your looks, I would highly recommend embracing your natural beauty. Easier said than done, I know, but worth the effort a thousand times over.

Being okay with, if not completely loving, how you look is a life-changing achievement, and many celebrities are also going down that route of no make-up (*cough*Alicia Keys, Colbie Calliat*cough*) precisely to prove that point.

Alicia Keys on the cover with barely any make-up

Reduce: Minimize and simplify your make-up routine

The above having being said, a lot of women enjoy putting on make-up, and find that it gives them a boost of confidence. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look extra, extra good (more than you already do, that is)!

So another option to consider is simplifying your make-up needs to just a few key items, and avoiding collecting make-up for the sake of it. Buy only what you need and actually use - after all, there is no point to having ten thousand and thirty three lipstick shades and nail polish colours if they just sit there and expire.

A minimalist make-up set

DIY & Substitute: Make your own make-up with natural ingredients

You could also experiment with making your own make-up from ingredients you already have. Instead of buying moisturising creams, grab the coconut oil or olive oil in your kitchen for a more natural alternative. And this is as far as my knowledge about make-up goes, but the internet is also full of homemade DIY recipes for you to try!

Recycle: Purchase make-up in recyclable containers

You probably already know where this is going by now: the last, second-worst option (the worst being throwing away as trash) is to consciously opt for products in packaging that can be recycled, and ensuring that they go into the right bins or waste stream.



Achievement Award: Eliminate altogether by switching to ingredients you already have in your kitchen: e.g. baking soda, apple cider vinegar and olive or coconut oil. Or have some fun and make your own stuff from scratch!

Points For Effort: Opt for products with less packaging, or with recyclable containers.

Um, Maybe Not: Don’t want to wash your hair or dab your face with kitchen food? That’s okay, continue as you do, and find some other waste to eliminate! Check out other recommendations here.

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