This subject sparked a surprisingly difficult conversation. A group of us were sitting in my friend Margaret’s lovely California garden, talking through various ideas for this blog. As we were throwing around suggestions, I piped up with the words “shower gel”!!!!
There was an uncomfortable shifting of bottoms, and several throats were cleared. I do believe I remember someone whistling tunelessly.
After a long silence, someone spoke in a voice so studiedly neutral that I should have known I was on dangerous ground.
“So! Er… what do you wash with instead?”
“Soap,’” said I, still unaware of the thinness of the ice beneath my feet.
A polite but tense conversation followed. Then someone uttered the following words:
“I can’t bear the idea of washing myself with something that’s been up someone’s bum!”
Dear oh dear oh dear.
Let it be said here and now that I would never do such a thing. Here is my shower routine in egregious detail.
- I takes off me clothes.
- I turns on me shower.
- When it’s running nice and hot, I enters and stands under the spray. Ooh, wet!
- I takes the bar of soap in my hands
- I works up a nice lather
- I puts the soap back on the rack
- I then washes me bits.
Far too much information, I know, but sadly essential information in the crazy world we inhabit.
Shower gel is a con trick. Big companies have subliminally persuaded us that watered down soap with added chemicals in a plastic bottle (which will take thousands of years to decompose) is somehow better than soap in a bar which came in a paper wrapping. Why? My bet’s on the simple fact that soap lasts far too damn long for their liking.
And how often have you squeezed a goodly blob onto your hand, only to have it plop onto the shower floor? So then you have to squish yet more into your hand. Intentional waste on the part of the company? Surely not…
Folk love shower gel because they don’t like gooey soap and the advertising is frothily persuasive. Actually, you can avoid the soap going gooey, but we’ll come to that later.
Time for a photo
Yes, an entirely unnecessary picture of the towel cupboard under our sink, but I did a masterclass in blogging and I was told that regular pictures were vital for keeping the reader interested. And there’s a strong link between showers and towels.
What’s in shower gels?
They’re all different. There are “ethical” ones, but here’s a list of things the less savoury – but hugely popular – gels might contain. (Sorry to be snarky to ethical companies, but anything packaged in plastic can no longer be entirely ethical, no matter how good the intentions.)
1 Parabens. A chemical that stabilises the liquid and has been linked to various skin conditions including rosacea, a nasty condition that leaves the skin red and irritated. My own personal evidence is entirely anecdotal – so if you know better, please contact me. However, my eczema is now virtually gone since I returned to soap. Not only that, a very close friend who shall be nameless had really horrid rosacea which included pimples all o’er his pate (he won’t thank me for sharing this) and since he has shifted to paraben-free shower gels, his pate is a lovely shining thing, entirely free of pustular infestation. (He won’t thank me for that either.) (But he is nameless.)
2 Palm Oil. You know those photographs of great swathes of beautiful jungle being ripped up and young orang-utans orphaned in the process? Much of this is to plant oil palm trees to produce palm oil. Palm oil is made from the fleshy fruits; it has a high yield and is very stable once processed, which makes commercial developers simply dribble with pleasure at their future profits. Oil palms have long been used as a cooking oil in the East. This was all well and good when used in moderation. But en masse, in great uniform monocultural blocs, palm oil plantations are utterly lousy for the environment, lousy for the wildlife that lived in the jungle. lousy for the long term health of the planet, lousy for the air your children and grandchildren will breath, lousy lousy lousy. And no, I dunno why they use it, there are enough shower gels that don’t…
3 Microbeads. Teensy weensy, incey wincey bits of plastic so small you can feel them, but hardly see them. Marvellous for exfoliating the skin, dahling – but shit for everything else. Happily, these are now being banned by more and more countries. But not everywhere yet. And they’re really worrying scientists now, because they think these tiny beads might get into our bodies through the food chain. Fish and microplastic chips, anyone? Scary. And dangerous.
4 Long lists of chemicals you and I don’t understand, like sodium lauryl sulphate which makes it sudsy. Oh, I’m sure they’re all ok. No, really, I am.
And all the above chemicals wash into the system and need to be washed out by yet more chemicals so that we can have drinkable tap water.
Believe me, soap is a much simpler beast, and there are some wonderful hand-made soaps out there. Unfortunately, it seems that men are harder to persuade.
Men and their gels!
The Beloved won’t have it. It’s gel all the way with him. Minty-zesty-hunky gel with manly, inky-blue packaging. Butch, pine-infused gel intended to waft the impression that he has just felled a stretch of virgin forest with his teeth. If he saw a gel called “Polish Steelworkers Body Wash – only a Real Man can squeeze me!!!” I swear he’d buy it. He pops his bottle in the shower and within a month he’s replaced it with another preposterously marketed bottle which panders to his masculine ego while I’m still waiting for the silvery label on my Cussons Imperial Leather to fall off.
Mind you, it’s not just about marketing; it’s the Ease of the Squeeze. Soap involves work! And it’s so exhausting! He has to reach his poor tired arms up to the soap dish, lift the offending bar – oh my, how heavy can soap be? – and then rub like the blazes to create some frothy suds! Not only that, he would have to do it several times every shower! Exhausting! With eezi-peesi-squeezi gel, especially the kind that comes in a bottle you can hang up thus saving the effort of actually lifting up the bottle, he just reaches out, squishes with thumb and forefinger and suddenly, he is Tarzan.
Actually, there is a Tarzan soap on the market!
Yes, I know there are gels aimed at girls. Probably designed with pink pearly packaging and a honeyed voice that says, “Go on, pamper yourself!” every time you twist the top. (If it hasn’t been invented yet, it will be.)
So how is soap so superior, then?
A bar of soap comes wrapped in a bit of paper and lasts months if you take it out of its packet immediately you get home. That makes it harden so when you come to use it, it lasts longer.
Oh, and just in case you enjoyed that completely unnecessary sexual innuendo, turn the soap over when you put it down so that soft side is facing upwards. This way, the soap doesn’t go gooey in the soap dish.
So come on folks, come back to soap. It’s cheaper, it’s greener, it almost always has a lower carbon footprint as it doesn’t travel nearly as far, it lasts much longer and it does the job just as well.
A quick warning
Although soap is a much simpler product than gel, some soaps are made with tallow (animal fat) which persons of a veggie leaning would prefer to avoid, and others are made with Palm Oil which is the Great Satan of the tree world. So check contents.
I fall by the wayside too sometimes. I was once given a present of some Jo Malone grapefruit gel and it was so divine I’ve occasionally bought it as a gift if I’m going to stay with a chum. (I probably won’t from now on, though – I’d feel a bit hypocritical.) I’m not advocating a hair shirt lifestyle. Just trying to inject a little thought into our automatic shopping….
And no, I am not being sponsored by Jo Malone.
What you will save
It’s impossible to be specific because it depends on what brand you buy, but let’s say a family of four uses a bottle of shower gel every month. I mean each of them. That’s 48 bottles destined for landfill every year. Imagine what a street of 100 dwellings with, say, 2 adult occupants produces every year. That’s 2400 empty shower gel bottles. Imagine a city. A state. A country. Millions and millions of empty bottles, bobbing their way to the sea.
Now do you think soap is a good idea?
What you can do
- Attend craft fairs. There are usually stalls of gorgeous handmade soaps. Just check they aren’t made with palm oil which in my book is a great deal worse than tallow.
- Make your own soap. Personally, I’d prefer to make chutney, but if you fancy it, there are lots and lots of recipes out there in internet-land. I have to say, however, that I was disappointed to see how many vegan soap recipes contained Palm Oil…
- Invent a soap that smells strongly of a mix of petrol and pine and market it for BLOKES. Include some pine needles to give him some scrub-a-dub-dub exfoliating goodness. Let me know and I will certainly order some for the Beloved Actually, given his equestrian leanings, eucalypt and horse manure might do just as well. (I promise I will still love you, darling… )