By Neesha Noronha
When Neesha Noronha turned to natural products for her personal care, she was rewarded with soft blemish-free skin, and shining hair
I once read that almost every guest who visits your home checks out the medicine cabinet when they use the bathroom. We are all inherently curious, right? Well, what happens when you do not have a medicine cabinet? No hotel freebie eau de colognes to test. No matching moisturiser to follow the squirt of liquid hand soap. No shampoo cum conditioner. Just some plain old neem soap, brick coloured tooth powder, other random powders, seeds and a recycled cork top wine bottle with contents too acidic smelling to be wine. Yes, you read right. Seeds and well…vinegar. Yes, those are the product contents of my bathroom with brand names ranging from Herbpo, to Medimix to Auronature soap to “homemade”!
How did I get here? To this sparse, low maintenance, low cost, largely handmade, travel-friendly, ecofriendly, natural space in personal care and cleaning agents?
I started off just like anyone else, using what my mother used, a combination of Imperial leather soap and Oil of Olay lotion. And for special occasions, a whiff of Yardley’s lavender.
Then somewhere along the way, I moved out of home. From a pimply teenager with oily skin, my body flipped, and suddenly my skin was drying due to age and dry weather climates – from Pune to Udaipur to Urbana Champaign, Illinois. (The irony of Urbana Champaign was that others considered it relatively humid because of its high water table.) Looks like they had never visited Mumbai! Anyway, it soon became easier to indulge myself with handmade natural soaps. Lavender and lemon were still preferred fragrances; add to that vetiver, lemon grass, and clove. Living in the US also made it easier to try out fluoride-free toothpastes (Tom’s of Maine), mud shampoos (Terressentials Pure Earth Hair Wash), and shea butter or cocoa butter creams for dry skin.
Returning to Mumbai after three years of post graduate school, I was in a quandary. No more local organic food co-op to shop for ecofriendly, health friendly alternatives. It seemed counter intuitive to keep buying expensive imported products. And I continued to have sensitive dry skin. Even more so. That too in Mumbai. So what to do?
Beauty from the kitchen shelves
Luckily, I started spending more time ‘on the land.’ I was now meeting several farmers and simple-living enthusiasts. With their help it was relatively easy to keep chemical residues to a minimum. When on the land, it was easy to use ash/mud/lime peels to wash dishes. But returning to Mumbai I would need to alternate between following their recipes for bathing powders and relying on the khadi stores for herbal/ ayurvedic soaps and cleaning powders. For shampoo I have found that it’s only the powders that do not dry my hair out. Soap nuts and vinegar (the less processed the better) for dishes, clothes and hair are the only other supplies I need, and often a local store will have those.
Rewards are many
But it has been a long, slow journey. Somehow I managed to convince my folks to get rid of their dishwashing soap (my mum only believed me when some fell on her hands in concentrated form and her hands peeled completely!). There are all kinds of speed bumps. I still fall back into using detergents for dishes and clothes every now and then, even though I am fairly fanatic about sticking to the reetha or powder mix for hair. Nor have I made that next move from tooth brushes to neem twigs. Let us face it, I am not sure folks will appreciate my breaking twigs off their trees.
Still, I realise how lucky I am to have started this journey. Lucky that I am naturally not a highly made up girl – no “products” as my hair stylist sister would say. In fact, watching her has made me more wary of cosmetics and products. I am horrified at the social inappropriateness and health outcomes of promoting, for a start, fairness creams (including ones for your vagina!). And if I cannot convince you about the dangers of personal care products, watch The story of Cosmetics by Annie Leonard (of Story of Stuff fame).
The body responds… beautifully
Coming back to the point, this journey has been rewarding in other ways. I love that I no longer have to spend so much money. I love the idea that I am preserving our earth and supporting small cottage industries and local businesses. I also love the connections I have made with others who continue to help at each crossroad. Mostly, I think my body loves the care that this consciousness brings. My skin loves the sensuality and pampering that comes with slowing down to use powders, mud-based or otherwise. A good old fashioned cold-pressed coconut oil massage is a daily ritual I no longer skip. Travelling, literally or figuratively, has been made lighter and easier. No longer do I have to worry about making sure all my liquids are in my checked luggage, and double wrapped with plastic. I do not have bottles of liquid. Even the coconut oil is usually congealed at the temperature they keep the airports at, and I can whip it out whenever the air conditioning is drying me out. The rest is… well, just dust!
Lemon or orange peels. Sun dried and powdered
Sandalwood powder (pure)
Agnihotra ash (optional – an excellent anti fungal available with some organic farmers)
Multani mitti (optional)
Mix all ingredients in equal proportion. Just before bathing, take the required amount in a bowl, add a little fresh cream (malai) if you have dry skin. Wet your body, apply the paste and scrub. Leave it on for a couple of minutes before washing off with plain water. If multani mitti is used, you may have to use a sponge to wash it off.
Cut a lemon and apply the juice thoroughly onto the hair roots and the hair till it soaks well. Leave to dry until your hair becomes almost stiff, then wash off using shikakai water. If you have dandruff issues, do this continuously for one week without a break and watch the dandruff disappear! If you have hair fall problems, grate a potato, crush it and make a paste. Apply this to your hair lightly, scrubbing it onto the roots. Leave it to dry, and then wash off with shikakai water.
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