It only takes one person and one story to change your perspective and how you choose to Iive from that moment onwards. When I met Kimiko Foster at her DIY shower kit workshop in Victoria, Vancouver Island, I went home with much more than homemade natural treats for my hair and body. My relationship with the bottles in my bathroom would never be the same again!
I’ve tried to buy natural skin and hair care products for many years, somewhat conscious of the toxic chemicals big name brands pack into their bottles, and the health-harming effects of which are only now being discovered (carcinogenic parabens and sodium laureth sulphates, for example). Buying products that are genuinely free of toxic chemicals requires close scrutiny of labels, as words like ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ are not regulated and as such big business can profit with chemical laden products and misleading marketing.
Thankfully in 2011 I discovered Read the Label at London’s Camden Market – a delicious range of 100% natural soaps, body scrubs and moisturisers handcrafted by Daniel Knight, who not only supplied goodies for guests on our retreats but also brought to my attention to the dubious regulatory process by which mainstream bodycare products are approved for public use. Check out the video on the Read the Label home page.
Fast-forward three years to Oaklands Community Centre and Kimiko is reminding me of the harmful chemicals found in everyday cosmetics, and that while our bodies may only absorb small amounts deemed “safe” each time we wash our hair, moisturise our face or apply make up, over time these chemicals accumulate in body tissue and have been linked to asthma, severe allergies and even cancers. Parabens have been found in breast cancer tissue, and it’s thought that the average woman is exposed to 15mg of parabens a day through cosmetics.
Shocking as these facts are, it was learning the devastating effects of the petrochemical industry (who manufacture these toxic chemicals) on the environment and the health of a whole community living on the other side of Canada in Sarnia, Ontario —also known as the Chemical Valley, with the most polluted air in Canada — that really opened my eyes.
Is this really clean?
Kimiko wasn’t always into natural products. It was an Anthropology and Environmental Studies degree at the University of Victoria that first drew her attention to the process behind the products, inspiring her to write a paper on industrial pollution and indigenous people in Canada. Her research focused on Sarnia’s Chemical Valley where there are 65 industrial facilities in a 25km radius, making household cleaning products, plastics and cosmetics. The Aamjiwnaang people — a community of less than a thousand — live next door to the rows of smoking chimneys, their rivers classified as toxic and home to tumorous fish.
Aamjiwnaang women have a 30% miscarriage rate, children suffer with breathing difficulties and rare cancers are common. The connection between this and the filthy air emitted by the production of chemicals used in our household and beauty products is undeniable.
The Aamjiwnaang’s fight for the basic human right of clean air has been widely reported in national press but as yet their request for thorough research into the effects of the air pollutants has been been ignored due to ‘lack of funding.’ This short documentary on Vice.com gives you an idea of what they live with.
Deeply affected by this knowledge, after leaving university Kimiko was on a mission to raise awareness of chemicals and reduce consumption. This is how her business, Seeds of Change, was born. A period working for local government on campaigns to educate people about what not to put down the plughole (fish can’t say no to drugs!) made Kimiko even more conscious of her own habits. She experimented with recipes for natural home and body care products, and began teaching others how to make them in 2013.
“Here comes the science bit”
Before we set out to make our shower kits, Kimiko explains that on the surface of our skin is a fine, slightly acidic film that protects us from bacteria and viruses. It’s known as the acid mantle and has a pH level of 4.5 to 6.5. Most commercial shampoos and body washes are alkaline, which strip away the acid mantle in the ‘cleaning’ process and then replace it with a chemical layer. This is why hair can become oilier when washed daily, as the skin is trying to rebuild the acid mantle. It also means when the acid mantle is removed, we’re more vulnerable to external chemicals, especially those we’re rubbing directly into our skin or scalp! Kimiko went on to explain the structure of hair and that conditioner is, essentially, like a hole filler for damaged hair to give it shine. Most manufactured conditioners fill these holes in the hair shaft with synthetic proteins and plastics. which took me back that classic 90s L’Oreal ad with Jennifer Aniston. I think we’re all worth more than Ceramide R!
So what’s the alternative?
Unfortunately most of us grow up believing that clean means ‘squeaky’ and loads of bubbles (me included, I love bubbles). Many of the chemicals in shampoos and body washes are designed to create those effects, and they are just that, effects. Kimiko demonstrates it’s possible to make effective shampoos and body washes using alkaline ingredients that don’t destroy the acid mantle, such as glycerin and castile soap. A conditioner using a base of apple cider vinegar (pH 3 – 4) will also support and replenish the acid mantle. Next, the group are let loose on tables of steeping herbs, herb-infused oils and essential oils, and encouraged (with suggested recipes to guide us) to tailor our homemade shampoos and conditioners to our own unique hair type. Kimiko advises that we may initially experience a ‘grease period’ as our scalps adjust to a new, more balanced pH level, but once they do our hair will, undoubtedly, be healthier and stronger.
It was heartening and empowering to spend a Sunday afternoon with a group of people united by a desire to keep toxic chemicals out of their home and live lighter on the planet. I left with new skills, an awesome tip to use coconut oil as an eye-maker remover (it’s amazing!) and a Seeds of Change Morning Java circulation scrub recipe that Kimiko kindly gave me to share with you.
Kimiko’s philosophy is that sustainable living is fun, easy, affordable and rewarding. There was no preaching at this workshop – just the facts laid bare for us to make our own choices. She admits that no longer needing the cleaning and cosmetic aisles at the supermarket gives an interesting perspective, as well as saves a few dollars!
Due to public demand she has just launched her first range of gift bundles and stocking fillers for the festive season including herbal muscle sticks, a ‘for everything’ salve, citrus laundry soap, eco-friendly dryer balls, an all-purpose lavender cleaner and an up-cycled record bowl.
People of Victoria, don’t miss out on her Do-It-Yourself Holiday Crafting Workshop & Mini Craft Fair on Sunday November 30th 12pm – 3pm.
Thanks to Bree @ Breeze Photography for the photos.