If you're on a path to adopting a low waste lifestyle, we're guessing that you've either tried, considered trying, or been exposed to the possibility of DIYing personal care products. Making your own bath and body products can be a super effective way to save money and skip plastic and packaging waste in the bathroom. But DIY doesn’t always equal low waste. Have you ever come across a DIY recipe that would result in way more packaging waste than buying the finished product? Have you tried a DIY recipe and ended up throwing out the whole batch because it was just all wrong? Have you found recipes that call for scary synthetic ingredients that you don’t want to mess with? Sometimes your lowest impact option is to buy a product from a sustainability-minded maker rather than to DIY it. So how do you decide when to buy and when to DIY?
Here are some simple questions to help you decide whether a product is worth making yourself.
How much packaging is required for the DIY ingredients and how much packaging is used for the purchased product?
Is the packaging reusable, recyclable, or compostable?
Are there any manufacturers of the final product who accept used packaging to be cleaned & reused?
Can you find a refill version of the finished product?
Are the DIY ingredients multi-purpose, or will you only use them for this recipe?
If multi-purpose, can you buy the ingredients in large quantities? Will they save well over a long period of time?
If single-purpose, how many batches of this recipe can you make with these ingredients? Will the ingredients save long enough to make that number of batches?
Do you know or have any way of knowing if the ingredients are sustainably sourced?
If you purchase the product instead of DIY, would you be able to find an option with sustainable ingredients?
Based on our own experiments, successes, and many failures, here are the items that we buy and the items that we DIY.
Note that we’ve made some assumptions about what is available to buy in bulk or non-plastic packaging that may not apply to you. But in any case, the general considerations of when to buy and when to DIY should always apply.
Face and body oil: DIY
The carrier oils found in most face and body oil recipes are commonly available in bulk or in glass packaging. What’s more, a single package can save for a long time and can make multiple batches of face or body oil. These oils are also very versatile, making appearances in many other DIY personal care recipes!
Face and body lotion: buy
Lotion is the mixture of oil and water, which, we know from our fourth-grade science projects, doesn’t happen naturally. Lotion requires emulsifiers, substances that are soluble in both fat and water, to keep the water and oil mixed together. There aren’t really any natural emulsifiers that are very effective for a nice lotion. If you want to DIY lotion, you will likely need to buy a synthetic emulsifier that comes in some type of packaging (usually plastic). Additionally, any time you are making a product with water, you have to think about using preservatives to prevent microbial growth. Instead of messing with emulsifiers and preservatives, we’d opt to look for a local refill shop that carries lotions or look for lotions that come in glass or metal packaging.
Colorful makeup: buy
Making your own makeup will require you to purchase colorants of some type, which will likely come in packaging. And since you will only be able to use certain colorants for one purpose, what’s the point amirite?? Instead, we recommend you patronize one of the fabulous clean beauty brands keeping plastic out of their packaging.
Face masks: DIY
You can make a face mask with almost anything. If you make your own toothpaste or deodorant, you might have some extra clay sitting around, which makes for an excellent face mask! Grind up some oats, throw in some honey, some tea -- viola! You already have all of the ingredients for a lovely face mask. No need to buy one.
Making your own toner can be incredibly simple! Some common ingredients for toner include rice water and rose-water (both can be made at home) and witch hazel. All of these ingredients are fairly versatile, meaning that they have many other uses (face masks and spot treatments for acne to name a few...).
Not a DIY-er? Try this Rosewater Toner made with organic ingredients in small batches, and packaged in a glass bottle.
Toothpaste: DIY or buy
You can make an effective toothpaste using only ingredients already found in your kitchen (i.e., baking soda, coconut oil, salt, liquid castile soap, stevia or xylitol, …). When you consider the staggering 1 billion+ toothpaste tubes that are sent to the landfill each year, it really seems like a no-brainer. There are a lot of excellent plastic-free toothpaste brands out there, but you may find that it’s more cost-effective to make it yourself.
You can make a simple toothpaste with just a mix of baking soda and coconut oil. But if you miss the lather or sweetness of the traditional stuff, try out our toothpaste recipe! If you aren't into the idea of making toothpaste, we highly recommend this Tooth Cleanse!
Lip balm: DIY or buy
Lip balm is easy to make, and it’s great to avoid those little non-recyclable plastic tubes. I mean, who’s idea was that anyway? The simplest lip balm could include only beeswax and a carrier oil. However, there are a lot of awesome companies making plastic-free lip balm. No Tox Life, Meow Meow Tweet, Fat and the Moon, and Urban Oreganics are some favorites. So if you can’t source beeswax in plastic-free packaging, if you’re looking for a vegan alternative, or if you just don’t want to deal with the waxy clean-up (it can be kind of rough), you have some great options.
Deodorant: DIY or buy
You can make a super-effective deodorant with a limited number of ingredients, all commonly available in bulk or non-plastic packaging. Check out our Pretty Perfect Deodorant Recipe! You can also find some great options in glass or paper packaging, but again, you might have to shell out a few more dollar bills for these.
Liquid soap: buy
Liquid soap includes water and oil which, like lotion, means that you will need a substance soluble in oil and water (potassium hydroxide) and preservatives. Both of those items will require packaging, likely plastic. A better option could be to look for liquid soap in bulk or in non-plastic packaging or buy it in as large of a volume as possible. If you’re using liquid soap for a body wash, dish soap, or hand soap, we’d highly recommend considering switching to bar soap instead since it's relatively easy to find in plastic-free packaging.
If you're a die-hard liquid soap user and don't have a refill shop nearby, we have really good news for you! You can purchase liquid soap paste in compostable packaging that can be dissolved in water!
Bar soap: buy
Similar to liquid soap, making your own bar soap requires an ingredient to mix oil and water. In this case it's sodium hydroxide (or lye), and it's not easy to find package-free, or even plastic-free. Purchased soap, however, can be sourced without packaging relatively easily, and you can even find soap made locally at farmer's markets.
These bar soaps are made with RSPO certified palm oil in Portland, OR, and come in compostable packaging!
Traditional shampoo contains detergents. Unless you’ve mastered a no-poo method (i.e., diluted baking soda or rye flour, or just straight-up water), making your own hair wash is just way too difficult. If you have the perseverance for no-pooing (it typically takes many months of bad hair before you get it right), then go you! You might be on the path to paying pennies for your hair care! If you want to continue using shampoo, however, we recommend buying it. Some plastic-free options include local refill shops, shampoo bars, hair soaps, and mail-in refill programs like Plaine Products.
Learn how to pick the package-free shampoo that's right for you here.
Conditioner is essentially a lotion. Refer to our comments about lotions.
Check out our conditioner options!
Hair oil: DIY
Many hair oil recipes call for a combination of liquid carrier oils, essential oils, and other common household ingredients like honey. Most if not all of these can be found plastic- and/or package-free.
Dry shampoo: DIY
Depending on your hair color, this could be a one-to-two-ingredient recipe. You can use just arrowroot powder or cornstarch, just cocoa powder, or some combination of the three. All of these ingredients are commonly found in bulk. If you can’t locate them in bulk, you can buy them in large volumes, and be assured that they will last for a long time and make for many future batches of dry shampoo.
Do you have a product to add to the list? Or do you have a DIY success or failure to share? We’d love to hear from you! Reach out to us on Instagram or comment below.