Archive for August 25, 2011

Facial cleansers and scrubs

I have never invested heavily in beauty products (yes, it does show). To reassure myself that this is the right decision, I do, though, read lots of articles that purport to tell me whether expensive creams really make a difference.

To date, nothing I have read has persuaded me that I should be spending more on my face. The article that sticks in my kind is by Ben Goldacre (a columnist for the Guardian newspaper in the UK ). His book on Bad Science holds that all face creams essentially do the same thing as vaseline, but some are less greasy.

So, with this reassurance, what I look for in facial products is low toxicity (of course), a smell/texture/feel that suits me and a price that is right.

When it comes to cleansers, I believe I have hit the jackpot. But I should say that unless you like lemon and fresh, citrusy smells, you will not agree with me.


On a daily basis I use Keys Soap Island Rx Foaming Wash. This is a castile-based cleanser that foams right out of the bottle (like those yukky-smelling kids’ hand soaps). It smells great (I must like avocado and clary sage) and leaves your face squeaky clean. But not so squeaky clean that you feel that all your natural, age-defying oils have been removed.

It comes in a pretty large bottle (236ml or 8oz), that lasts a long time, even if you share it with your husband (as I do). Yes, a unisex beauty product!

It also scores 0 (the best score) on the Skindeep cosmetics database. Keys is a company with a deep environmental commitment (that extends to its packaging and manufacturing processes).

Last, but not least, the cleaner is supposed to work well if you have eczema, psoriasis or other difficult skin conditions, but I cannot provide a personal opinion on this.

Keys Soap products can be purchased online or through various US retailers. They are not widely available in Canada, but there are a few dealers. I purchase mine through Hornet Mountain Natural Products in BC which provides good, personalised service. The foaming cleanser costs C$18.95.

My other cleansing winner is a very lemony, slightly gritty facial scrub: Suki exfoliate foaming cleanser (with lemongrass extract and natural sugar).


The smell is fantastic (definitely good enough to eat) and this product has just the right amount of abrasiveness for me. It really does leave your face with a glowing feeling. I don’t use it every day, but I really miss it if I leave home for a while without it (as I did on my recent European trip).

Like the Keys Foaming wash, this scores 0 on the Skindeep database, so perhaps you can actually eat it.

It retails for US$29.95 for a 4oz container (that does not sound like very much product, but you do not use much each time as it foams up quite well). I bought mine at online through Saffron Rouge (in Canada or the US). Otherwise see this page for US, Canadian and International retailers.

Battling head lice

Anyone who has fought the current worldwide plague of head lice will tell you they are willing to do anything, bring in any amount of heavy artillery, to defeat these pests. But it seems that the chemical solutions, while threatening to poison you and your kids, do little to rid you of the nits.

So the solution I am offering here neither chemical guns (nor roses), but combs ‘n lavender.

But first I should level with you. This recommendation is based not on first hand experience (my kids are either very lucky or too standoffish: they have yet to bring lice home from school), but on the advice of my more-seasoned friends and family. I do own the comb I suggest here, but I have never put it to full use for removal, only checking, which it does very well. And the lavender suggestion is a new one, gathered during my recent trip to Provence, the home of all things lavender.

nitty gritty

The only real solution to lice, once you have an outbreak, is to manually remove both them and their eggs. There are a variety of specially-designed combs on the market, but the one that seems to do the very best job is the Nit Free Terminator Comb (in the UK it is called the Nitty-Gritty comb).

This is a metal comb with grooved teeth that, with the help of hair conditioner, is highly efficient at removing all unwelcome wildlife. The comb is available from Amazon in the US and Canada and in online or at Boots in the UK.

Of course, the best solution is never to face lice in the first place. I have long favoured tea tree shampoos as these are supposed to have some prophylactic effect (and I guess this might have helped me keep lice at bay). But tea tree oil is so strong that I have shied away from daubing it on my kids’ heads.


My French friends tell me (and I have confirmed this anecdotally on line) that lavender does a similar job, but with fewer adverse side reactions (tea tree can cause rashes) and an altogether better smell. This gave me an excuse to pick up a bottle of lavender oil in a charming Provençal market this summer.

So my girls will head back to school with a spot of lavender behind their ears and a prayer that this will be another lice-free year at school. I will stand behind them, comb in hand, ready to report back.

Dual-flush toilets

So, the reason I have not posted anything for a while is that I have been on vacation, visiting friends in France and Switzerland. And the one eco-thing that has made the greatest impression upon me so far is the ubiquity of the dual flush toilet: in homes, in restaurants, in motorway rest stops and in mountain chalets. In fact, I have yet to encounter a “single flush” toilet in my 10 days here.


Most water-efficient toilets in north america use 6 litres (1.6 gallons) which is a lot better than the 13 litres (3.4 gallons) used by older toilets. High efficiency toilets use 4.8 litres (1.28 gallons). Dual flush toilets – which you seldom see back home - use only 3.4 litres (0.9 gallons) for the quick flush and 6 litres for a full flush.

Switching to low-flush toilets is probably the easiest and most painless way to reduce household water use. If you flush 5 times per day (and you will be lucky to find a small kid that flushes this seldom), you can save 35 litres per person per day. Every month you will save a cubic metre of water (which costs about $3 where I live, once you factor in the sewer charge which is calculated as a % of water use). That adds up to savings of $36 per person every year. (And if you choose a dual-flush model you will save an additional 10 litres or so a day or an additional $10 per year).

From the perspective of the planet, using less water is obviouly a good thing. And what many people fail to factor in is the energy costs associated with water use.

In the US the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 3-4% of national energy consumption is used in providing drinking water and wastewater services.

At a municipal level, water and sewerage usually account for about 30-40% of energy use. It is therefore astonishing to me that municipalities have not been more aggressive at promoting the use of high-efficiency or dual-flush toilets in high-flush environments such as restaurants and public washrooms.

Anyway, back to toilets. Some people are nervous about installing low-flush toilets. I have never had a moment of trouble with mine. All the toilets in my house are made by Toto and all work equally well. If you are interested in comparing different Toto models, see (not my sister site, but it could be!).

Sadly I do not have any dual-flush toilets at this point, but I cannot imagne that Toto’s models do not work. All the dual-flush toilets I have used over the past 10 days (not Toto but various European manufacturers) work like a treat.

dual flush button

Another brand of dual-flush toilet that gets great reviews is Caroma. Caroma is the dominant Australian toilet manufacturer (that also sells in the US), and if anyone knows about the importance of conserving water it is the Australians.

I would be interested if anyone has any experience with Caroma. You never know when I might need a new toilet.

In the meantime, I will continue to flush my way across Europe and look for other interesting eco products to share with you.

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