going nuts over soap

As biochemistry comes to an end, I'm gearing up for our next course: Nutrition and the Environment.  And, I'm wondering whether by the end of it, I'll be camping in our backyard, wearing burlap and eating grass.  Stay tuned.

It can be really tough (and even upsetting) to find out that some of our favourite products, be it house cleaning, laundry detergents or personal hygiene products are not only harming our bodies, they're also harming the environment.  Recently I downloaded an App called "Think Dirty" (available on iTunes) and it allows you to scan the bar code on different hygiene products and then it spits out its toxicity levels.  It rates the product on a scale of neutral to dirty, considering its carcinogenicity, developmental & reproductive toxicity, and allergies and immunotoxicities.   It also lists the ingredients as well as suggests "cleaner options".  I had some fun with it today in Whole Foods, sourcing out a new deodorant.    Both the Tom's and Kiss My Face brands rated 10 out of 10 and 9 out of 10 respectively for toxicity.  I was so surprised!  Both are just as toxic as the Dove brand.  So I settled on Desert Essence, which only rated 3, which is the higher end on the neutral scale.  Green Beaver deodorant also had a rating of 3.  There are lots of products not in the App's database yet, and it gives you the option to add it yourself.  

I've been a huge fan of Aveda and MAC cosmetics for years, and both company's products contain highly toxic ingredients.  It just goes to show you how marketing can be misleading: Aveda markets itself as 'plant science' brand.  When I used the Think Dirty App to scan the barcode, I learned that my cleanser, tonic and lotion all rated 9 or 10 for toxicity.  Sad face!! 

Recently I learned from my sister-in-law about a company called NaturOli, an online retailer and developer of soap nuts. Soap nuts?  Soap nuts.  So, what are they and why do we care?  Their website has plenty of information which I'll attempt to briefly summarize.  Basically, in a nutshell (sorry, couldn't resist), soap nuts are the dried husks/shells from the soap berry nut.  Soap berries are the fruit from a unique tree species and the shells contain saponin, a substance that produces a soaping effect. Saponin is a 100% natural alternative to chemical laundry detergent and cleansers.  Soap nuts have been used for centuries throughout numerous countries in the Eastern hemisphere (especially in India and Europe) as a laundry detergent, soap for personal hygiene, and as a multi-purpose cleanser.  Soap berries are a sustainable agriculture and forest product, the highest quality of which grow in areas of northern India and Nepal.  At harvest, the seed is removed from the shell and the shells are dried in the sun using absolutely no chemical processing. No commercial manufacturing processes are required in any way for the soap nut to become effective. The soap nut shell is not altered in any way. Therefore, soap nuts are 100% natural and unmodified.

How do they work: the shell contains and releases the saponins (soap) when it comes in contact with water.  Agitation further releases these saponins. The saponins then circulate as a natural surfactant (surface active ingredient). They break down the surface tension between water and oil in the wash water reducing the surface tension of the water which assists it in freeing dirt and oils. And it does all of this, sans chemicals.  Huge benefit!  A few other benefits of using soapnuts: they have antimicrobial and natural anti-fungal properties, they are hypoallergenic (most allergic reactions to detergents are caused the chemicals and fragrances in them), they are mild and gentle on fabric and colors, they are low sudsing, which is especially great for high efficiency (HE) washers.

So, I purchased a trial kit online of their liquid soap nut 18X concentrate which can be used as a laundry detergent or general house cleaner.  The amount you see in the mason jar should get us 60 loads!  I also got a few trial sized shampoos to try.  My sister-in-law recommends boosting with Borax, which I will play around with depending on dirt levels.  There's a lot of mixed opinions out there about the pro's and con's of Borax; I'm hoping to learn more about it in our next course.

The Soap Dispensary in Vancouver is a wonderful spot for all your natural soap needs.  They also carry soap nuts sourced from India and distributed by a company called Eaternal. Unfortunately, they don't carry it in the convenient liquid form but you can buy the nuts or a powdered form (which is a great alternative to Comet cleanser).  I'm curious to give the actual nuts a try, check out the instructions here.

It can be overwhelming to realize that the products we know and love might be causing harm to our bodies and the planet.  The good news is, once we have the information, we have a choice in whether we want to make the changes or not, as well as how quickly we want to make them.  I encourage you to stay really curious about the products you're using and what kind of carbon footprint they're leaving behind.  Exercise your right to critically think.  I'm excited for the course (and admittedly a little nervous about learning all the 'bad' news!) and I am looking forward to making some more changes around our home, over time.

go nuts,