Good Seed: Sellwood Soap

It’s been way too long since my last post, and even longer since my last “good seed.” But what can I say – when you work with kids, you get sick! Thankfully, things are starting to get back to normal now, except for the massive catching up I have to do. New blog post: Check!

Copyright: Sellwood Soap

When I was at a seminar in Portland this summer, I had the privilege to meet Rachel, the owner of Sellwood Soap, who sells her products alongside mine at Tangible Gifts, in addition to other Portland locations. She is an actual chemist, which I find fascinating. You know her soaps have to be great, since she really knows what she’s doing!

Many people, including the awesome EcoGrrl, have been asking me about my experience with shampoo bars, assuming that I’ve tried most natural shampoos. And I’ve always had to confess that I had never tried them before. So when I saw Sellwood’s shampoo bars at Tangible Gifts, I didn’t think twice before purchasing one. The funny thing is, I grabbed a product that I later found out was regular soap – and yet it worked great! Later, I was able to try the actual shampoo bar and I loved that just as much. Before I continue with the review, here’s what Rachel has to say about herself and her business:

My journey toward a career in soap-making started in chemistry. Twelve years as an analytical chemist, I was always acutely aware of chemicals in household products.  I was “that” shopper at the grocery store reading all of the labels, even more annoying to shop owners because I understood what I was reading.  A laundry list of allergies and a family riddled with skin problems gave me the final push to go for it and start Sellwood Soap Company, dedicated to creating gentle and natural handmade soap and specializing in solid products such as bar shampoo (for dogs and humans), lotion bars, shaving soap and more.  No water means no preservatives necessary so those products have been our mainstay.

Teaching has also been a cornerstone of our business – we teach soap making classes at Portland Homestead Supply Company, a local Portland store in Sellwood that also carries our products.  These classes usually fill and are incredibly fun to teach – while not all go on to make their own products, they all know more about what is in the products they choose to buy, a little chemistry lesson comes with every class.  We also teach now through our blog, which has replaced our monthly newsletter.
I really admire Rachel and her business model. I think passing on the tradition of soap making is a wonderful way to inspire others and keep that art alive.

Rachel, mixing up some magic (Photo copyright Sellwood Soap)

As for me and my hair, I can honestly say it has never looked or felt better. Many readers here know that I have been using my own shampoo recipe for many years now, which I was plenty happy with. However, the down side was that my homemade shampoo tended to leave my hair quite static-y and a little heavy. My solution was to use baking soda and a vinegar rinse once a week or so, but it honestly had started to wear on me after so many years.

To my absolute surprise and delight, the shampoo bar (even the regular soap bar!) left my hair much, much smoother, with far less of a feeling of residue on my hair. The static is under control, as well! And my hair is smoother and easier to comb out. I know some people have felt that their hair is more oily with shampoo bars but I haven’t found that to be the case. My hair is on the oily side, anyway, and it seems to respond the same to this bar as to my former shampoo. I have been using a vinegar rinse far more often than I used to, but even when I don’t use it, the shampoo bar is far superior to my own little concoction.

I’d say that the only negative is that I tend to use a LOT of the bar each time I wash my hair. I like a lot of lather. So I’m going through my bar pretty quickly. I’d say it will last me 4-6 weeks – and I only shampoo my hair every other day. However, I used the same amount of my former shampoo in the same amount of time. The only difference is that the shampoo bar will end up costing more. But I am totally and completely fine with that because I think it’s 100% worth it. It “costs” less in other ways – it’s already made, so I don’t have to do any work and it cuts back on my plastic use (castile soap comes in plastic jugs and my shampoo bottle is a spray top with lots of not-so-eco-friendly plastic pieces that will one day have to be thrown away). I would also add that my own use of the bar may not reflect that of others’ – it really depends on how much lather you like! According to Sellwood Soap, a bar should last as long as three bottles of shampoo – so obviously, I overuse mine a little. But I can’t help it!

All in all, I am so incredibly pleased with this product and will definitely be coming back for more! I highly recommend trying a shampoo bar if you haven’t, already. If you are interested in trying some Sellwood Soap, you will find the links to the shop above. You can check out the blog here and visit Rachel on Facebook here.

If you’ve tried shampoo bars before, how did you like them?

Why are we afraid of our hair dressers?

Okay, “afraid” might be too strong of a word, but how many times have you suppressed your feelings when sitting in “the chair”? How many times did you get a bad haircut because you were too afraid to say: “Hey, I don’t like the way this is turning out.” How many times did you bite your tongue when you just wanted to say something, and then spent the next two months crying every time you looked in the mirror?

If you’re like me, you’ve done this a lot. Too many times. I’m sorry to say that in the past fifteen years, I have switched stylists after every haircut in an effort to find someone who “got” me. I could’ve tried to speak up for myself, but I found it easier to just find new salons. And yes, I’m embarrassed to admit that.

Getting a haircut can be difficult for all of us. It puts us in a vulnerable position. I don’t think any of us enjoy walking into the salon, getting our hair wet down, parted into sections, and pinned up, and then glancing up at the mirror in that state. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!! Especially when many of the stylists out there are young and extremely hip. (Mine is about six years younger than I am, with streaked hair and an asymmetrical cut. I love her, but I feel positively matronly whenever I see her.)  And of course, you are putting yourself in the hands of someone who, in most cases, knows more about hair than you do, which can be intimidating. And if that all isn’t enough, you will not likely find a stylist who is on the same page as you are. They have their opinions on hair care and style, and you have yours.

I have personally been struggling with this lately. A little over a year ago, I found a stylist whom I love. (The young, hip gal I mentioned.) I have never had a person cut my hair so well, so consistently. I always leave the salon feeling good about the haircut. BUT…there are a few other things I don’t like about getting a haircut.

1. I hate having to get shampooed with traditional products, when I’ve gone two years without using them in everyday life. Believe it or not, I hate the fake smooth feeling it leaves on my hair, and I hate the way it smells.

2. I hate having products put in my hair. Hate, hate, hate. I never, ever use hair spray or gel or serum on my hair, and when my stylist puts it in my hair in preparation for the post-haircut blow-day/straightening, I cringe. I can’t STAND the way it feels in my hair (sticky and heavy), and the smell makes me sick. I also can’t bear to think of what those chemicals are doing to my beautiful, toxin-free hair. Plus, it makes my scalp itch.

3. I hate having my hair styled after a cut. I don’t ever style it at home, so what’s the point of styling it once every two months? I feel that blow-drying and straightening my hair (and melting all those gross products into the hair shaft) ruins the healthy fresh ends of my haircut. And it makes me feel hyper-aware of my hair – I find myself constantly fidgeting with it to make sure the wind hasn’t blown it astray. Too much to worry about!

Every time I go in for a cut, I tell myself that I will ask for no products or styling, and every time, I crumble. I don’t know why – it just feels like I’m “making trouble.” Today, I decided I was going to do it and there’d be no wussing out. It was easy, though because I had an excuse – I was in a hurry. So I just told her that I didn’t have time for styling, and I also mentioned that I’d been having reactions to the products, and would like to avoid them. I didn’t even think about tackling the issue of shampoo, but when I mentioned my reactions to the products, she told me she has a client who brings in her own shampoo and conditioner! Hmmm….something to think about for next time.

In any case, I am partially proud of myself for walking out of the salon with clean (product-free), wet hair (no styling, or blow-drying). But I realize it is time to take it to the next level. No more products, no more styling (whether I have time or not), and I’d like to bring in my own shampoo. What am I so afraid of? I think I’m worried that she’ll think I’m a crazy granola-munching, hairy-armpitted, tree-hugger! (And I am, minus the hairy armpits.) I don’t know WHY I care what she thinks, though. (The disease of the modern woman – caring about what other people think.)

Ultimately, I don’t think she’d mind these requests. She’s very kind and accommodating. Plus, the no-styling issue has benefits for her. I have found that cutting out the styling knocks about $4 off the price of the cut. Whether I get it styled or not, I try to pay her the same every time, which means she gets a bigger tip when I don’t get the styling. I would much rather give her a big tip for being such a great stylist than endure 15 minutes of blow-drying and straightening. I think she’d be more than amenable to that, as well, if I would just honestly explain it to her.

So what are you afraid of? It’s time for us to speak up in the salon. Your concerns might be different than mine, but we have every right to say what’s on our minds. We are paying for a service, so it’s okay for us to be clear about what we want. If you aren’t happy with your stylist, don’t torture yourself – find a new one! Look for someone who asks you lots of questions about what you want, and who is open and receptive to what you tell them.

Imagine going to the salon and getting exactly what you want. I’m almost there…

DIY Shampoo, Version 2 (and a hair update)

I have been further experimenting with my haircare routine over the past two weeks, and wanted to share a few things.

First, if you have already experimented with washing your hair every other day, for a long period of time, as I have, then it is quite easy to extend that one more day without the hair becoming too scary! I am now successfully washing every third day, and it feels great. I probably will go back to every other day in the summer, but in the winter, it’s not usually necessary. (If you feel a little too oily, try the dry shampoo.)

Second, I have experimented with the DIY shampoo recipe. When you mix vinegar and castile soap, the results can be a bit sticky or tacky, depending on the user. I noticed a very slight tackiness to my hair when I first started using this recipe, but it never bothered me, so I didn’t think much about it. Several readers who have tried this recipe recently, however, have told me that they definitely don’t like that aspect of the shampoo. So I omitted the vinegar and reduced the castile soap considerably.

Five Seed’s Favorite Shampoo
aka: DIY Shampoo, Version 2

2 cups filtered water
1/2 cup liquid castile soap
10 drops lavender essential oil

So far, I have found this shampoo to be even better than the previous recipe and can’t believe I didn’t try it before. There is no tacky/gummy residue, and it washes cleanly. Here is my hair the day I first used this recipe.

I have not yet tried a vinegar rinse after using this, but will do so in the coming weeks. Give this one a try – I like it even better than the previous recipe!!

UPDATE: August 11, 2011

I am currently using a 1:1 ratio of castile soap to water. I often change this this, however, just to see how my hair responds. It seems to thrive when I change the routine every few months. I would recommend never using more castile soap than water, however, as it tends to weigh the hair down.

Dry Shampoo

I still have a few more hair posts coming up next week, but if you are in the process of trying no-poo or the DIY shampoo, or are just experimenting with less hair washing this weekend, I thought I would offer you a little back-up plan: dry shampoo.

Image: Mountain Rose Herbs

Dry shampoo is a bit of a misnomer, as it’s not really shampoo, at all. It’s a mixture of oil-absorbing substances that you rub into the hair and then brush out. In other words, if you only shampoo every second or third day, as I do, and if you are getting a little oily, but not enough to wash, then this is the perfect product for you.

Simply mix about 3/4 cup of cornstarch or arrowroot powder, and 1 tsp. of kaolin clay (also known as white cosmetic clay). Mix them together and put it into a powder container for easy application. I find cornstarch works slightly better, however, I almost always use arrowroot because cornstarch is typically made from genetically modified corn. I’m sure there are enough GMOs that I’m unwittingly ingesting and/or applying, so the fewer, the better!

You can also add a few drops of essential oils during mixing. (Just a few!) Rosemary is great for oily hair, and has such a beautiful, strong aroma. I would also recommend lavender.

Now you don’t NEED dry shampoo. I try not to use it too often because I don’t want it to absorb so much oil that my hair starts over-producing again! So if you really feel you need it, go for it, but use it sparingly. Start by sprinkling a bit into your hands, rubbing your hands together, then brushing them through your hair. Add more as needed. It’s like seasoning a soup – you can always add MORE spices, but you can’t take them out once added. You don’t want to end up with powdery, white hair, so add it slowly.

You can find these items at most health food stores, or at Mountain Rose Herbs (of which 5 Seed is an affiliate), or other online health food and beauty suppliers.

Mountain Rose Herbs. A herbs, health and harmony c

Conditioner vs. Vinegar Rinse

Despite the fact that we have been taught that oils in our hair are bad (unsightly, gross, unclean, etc.) and that we should wash them out on a daily basis, the oils in our hair are, in fact, a good thing. Our bodies know how to take care of themselves without chemical intervention. The oils in our hair protect and condition. You may be surprised to hear this, but you don’t need to use conditioner on your hair to keep it healthy.

Conditioners contain a plethora of unpleasant ingredients – they make the hair look great but at what price? Fragrance and (usually synthetic) preservatives can be found in almost all conditioners. Then you have polymers, silicones, and surfactants, all of which bind to the surface of your hair for the purposes of repelling moisture, smoothing the hair follicle, detangling, and creating shine. Did you catch the phrase “BIND to the surface of your hair”? In other words – they don’t rinse out. So you are walking around with a head full of chemicals all day long.

As far as I’m concerned, nothing is more effective than a good, old-fashioned vinegar rinse. According to Rosemary Gladstar:

Vinegar is especially suited for oily hair, though it can be used effectively for dry hair as well. Apple cider vinegar is usually the best vinegar for the hair, but wine vinegar is milder and more appropriate for dry hair. Vinegar rinses are also good for itchy scalp, dandruff, and dull hair, and they help restore the natural acid of the scalp.

For the rinse, you will mix apple cider vinegar with water – a 1:4 part ratio for oily hair, and a 1:6 part ratio for dry hair. You can do this in a cup, or simply pre-mix the two ingredients in a large spray bottle or squeeze bottles. I prefer to either mix it in the shower with the warm water, or use a spray bottle, as pouring the rinse over the head all at once can be surprisingly cold – even in the summer.

Soak the hair with this mix after shampooing (or no-pooing) and rinsing out the sham/no-poo. In other words, this isn’t meant to rinse out your shampoo – and definitely NOT to rinse out your baking soda wash! (Vinegar and baking soda mixed in the hair would not be good.) Work it into the scalp, then rinse out. If you can stand to alternate hot and cold water, this is supposed to give the hair a nice shine.

Vinegar rinses make the hair so smooth and soft – you will be surprised if you’ve never tried it before.

Now, if you are worried that you will smell like a salad after using this – try it, first. For the majority of people, the vinegar smell disappears as soon as the hair is dry. You have to be willing to experiment. You may want to try diluting the vinegar with more water if you find the smell too strong. I typically use 2-4 tablespoons in three cups of water, but sometimes I use the regular 1:4 dilution ratio. If you have any problems, contact me ( or Google vinegar rinses – there are millions of tips on the internet.

You can also add a few drops of essential oils to your rinse. I use rosemary, which is great for oily hair, or lavender, which helps with itchy scalps. Basil and peppermint are said to promote hair growth, patchouli and ylang ylang can help counter dandruff, and chamomile and lemon are great for enhancing the golden highlights in blond hair.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with this one – vinegar rinses are so good for the hair. Give it a try.

No Poo

Image from Arm & Hammer

Sounds gross, I know. But for those of you who have never heard of this movement, it basically means ditching your shampoo and only washing your hair with baking soda and water. If you think it can’t be done, think again.

Previously, I talked about the harsh chemicals in shampoos, the environmental impact of shampooing, and the fact that we have been groomed (pun intended) by the beauty industry to overwash our hair. If you are interested in breaking this cycle, I’ll be offering tips, recipes, and resources this week to help you do so. To begin, I thought I’d start with perhaps the most extreme method (for some), which is also, incidentally, the easiest.

The no-poo method typically requires 1 tablespoon of baking soda mixed with water. Some people prefer to make a paste out of these ingredients, while others use a cup of warm water and let the baking soda dissolve. Either way, both mixtures can be worked into the hair during your shower. Let it sit while you soap up your body, then rinse. Viola. Clean hair.

It can be an adjustment for many, as there is no lather. Lather doesn’t equal cleanliness, but we have been conditioned to associate the two. However, try this method just once, and you will see how deeply cleansing it really is.

Many people worry about getting really oily hair after transitioning to no-poo. I won’t sugar coat it for you – this may happen. Typically, it only lasts for a few days up to two weeks. Take the opportunity to wear hats and scarves. Your hair WILL balance out again. That I can assure you. You just have to hang on long enough.

This method isn’t for everyone. Some people develop scalp irritation from the strong alkaline properties of baking soda. This can mostly be avoided by using a vinegar rinse on the hair after you rinse out the baking soda. (I will post on that tomorrow.) If you do try this method, and find your scalp irritated despite the vinegar rinse, I’ll also be posting on homemade shampoo in a couple days. If nothing else, this is a fabulous method for a “clarifying” shampoo once a week or once a month. It gets rid of all the buildup from shampoos, dirt, oil, etc.

As for me, I am not a “no-pooer.” (Yeah, I know – could that name get any sillier?) I call the method I use “so-so-no-poo.” I primarily use a homemade shampoo. Every fourth or fifth shampoo, I use baking soda. This has worked extremely well for me.

You can read more about no-poo by Googling it – there is a huge “underground” movement of no-pooers who will be able to offer you tons of resources. If you are really interested in going no-poo, remember that you can change it to make it work for you. Change the ratio of baking soda to water, change how often you wash your hair. Going off commercial shampoo is always an experimental process, and I promise, a rewarding one.

Give it a try this week, just once, as a clarifying treatment. It’s a good way to open your eyes to the world of alternative, eco-friendly hair care.

Stay tuned for the vinegar rinse. And if you aren’t ready to ditch shampoo entirely, don’t worry – you’ll love the upcoming DIY shampoo.

Happy hair washing!

For more resources, check out Fake Plastic Fish, the No Impact Project, and One Green Generation. You’ll be inspired.

Shampooing with Rosemary Gladstar

Rosemary Gladstar, from her book Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health

One of the biggest influences on my decision to cut back on shampooing was herbalist, Rosemary Gladstar. In her amazing book Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, she describes a summer she spent backpacking in the Pacific Northwest. The rivers were clear and beautiful, the water coming straight from the glaciers above, and Gladstar was worried that using shampoo in this pristine water would contaminate it. Therefore, she decided that swimming would be the only washing her hair would get for the entire time span of her trip (which she describes as “several months”). Here are her observations about her hair:

[After about a week]…my hair would begin to feel oily and dirty, always a signal in the past that it was time to wash again. But I waited, and I noticed that my hair would reabsorb its own oils. Instead of getting dirtier and greasier, it would “self-clean.” The less I washed it, the less dirty and oily it became.

If any of you have oily hair like mine, then I’m sure you can imagine my reaction to reading this. “Can it be true?!” Instinctively, I knew there was some truth to this, as I have always believed that our bodies can operate best when we get out of the way. However, it took me a few years to take the leap of faith.

As for Gladstar, you can tell she knows what she’s talking about – she has quite a head of hair. She says, “the biggest mistake that people make with their locks is overwashing them… Even the best shampoo, if used too often, will tend to dry your hair and wash away important natural oils, no matter how much conditioner you apply afterward.”

I highly recommend getting your hands on Gladstar’s book, as it is full of invaluable information, from beauty to all aspects of health. Among other things, Gladstar recommends washing the hair no more than twice a week (I’m not there yet – three times a week is as low as I can go at this point), brushing it and massaging the scalp every day in order to evenly distribute the hair’s natural oils, using only super gentle, natural shampoos, and a vinegar rinse to condition the hair and restore its natural pH.

The book includes recipes for shampoos and vinegar rinses, as well as a list of essential oils and what they can do for your hair depending on its type and color.

I will be posting on homemade shampoo and vinegar rinses next week, so stay tuned!


My Shampoo Story

This picture was taken six months after I gave up shampoo. Not bad, huh?

What if I told you I haven’t used store-bought shampoo in my hair since August 2008? Or that I haven’t shampooed my hair every day since then, either? If you assume my hair looks like greasy rodent fur, here’s a picture to prove it looks just as good as the average shampoo user.

Despite the fact that my mother never shampooed every day, I grew up feeling that it would be absolutely disgusting not to shampoo at least once a day. (I’ve been guilty of shampooing twice a day on more than one occasion, as well.) All the commercials and ads in magazines seemed to imply that beautiful, healthy women always shampoo at least once a day.

When I was about 28, and getting my hair cut at a fancy salon, I overheard two of the young, fashionable stylists talking behind me. One said to the other, “Can you wash my hair this afternoon, after my last client leaves? I haven’t washed it in two days and it’s starting to get a little grimy.”

I looked up at my stylist in shock and said, “Why did she go so long between shampoos?” My stylist replied, “No one should wash their hair every day. It is so bad for your hair.”

I decided her advice would only work on young, gorgeous women who didn’t have oily hair like mine, and went on with my daily routine.

In the spring of 2008, however, I started reading more about the dangers of chemicals in bath and body products. These are not only harmful to the user, but to the marine life that ends up swimming in the chemicals that leach into the water systems. According to EcoFriendOnline, our water systems are being polluted with a number of chemicals, including “parabens and other suspected endocrine disruptors often found in laundry soap and shampoo — chemicals that seem to be turning male frogs and fish into females.”

I was also hearing more and more that it simply isn’t good for your hair to wash it every day. I even heard that over-washing leads to oily hair.

[The] trend toward everyday cleansing might have triggered a vicious cycle, some experts say — shampoo cleanses by stripping the hair of its natural, necessary oils, causing the scalp to produce more oil in response, making it impossible for some to skip shampoo for even one day without sprouting a gigantic greaseball.Melissa Dahl, MSNBC

Not to sound like Carrie Bradshaw here, but “I couldn’t help but wonder” if dialing back on the shampoo would help counter the oily hair problem.

I started to cut back to showering/shampooing every other day, rather than every day (even in the summer). I researched different eco-friendly shampoos, and ended up making my own, as well as experimenting with no-poo. I don’t dye my hair, I don’t use any styling products on it, and I try not to use a hair dryer whenever possible.

Yes, I have my bad hair days (maybe more than most, without having hairspray and a straightening iron), but I am generally very happy with my hair. My current stylist always comments on how healthy it is.

If you have been considering giving your hair the chance to re-balance itself, stay tuned. I’ll be sharing more information as the week goes on – a shampoo recipe, the no-poo movement, and more.

Imagine not fighting your hair anymore and still looking good…it is possible.