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. Check out our list of 8 makeup brands with plastic-free packaging for a guilt-free face!
Face masks: DIY
You can make a face mask with almost anything. Open up your fridge and pick something -- you can make a face mask with it. Well... maybe not, but you get the idea. 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...).
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.
If you aren't into the idea of making toothpaste, we highly recommend this product!
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.
If you're interested in opting for DIY, check out our 4-ingredient lip balm recipe!
Otherwise, we highly recommend this lip salve from Fat and the Moon!
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. You might also try shredding and melting a bar of soap in water. 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.
Bar soap: DIY or buy
There is a lot to consider with bar soap. You might be lucky enough to be able to buy bar soap completely package-free from a local maker who uses all organic and palm-oil-free ingredients. If so, by all means, buy! If not, you might want to consider making it yourself. Like liquid soap, bar soap requires oil and water. However, at the end of the saponification (soap-making) process, no water remains, meaning that preservatives aren’t needed! Oils should be easy to find plastic-free. One ingredient that may be more difficult to source is sodium hydroxide. However, each batch of soap calls for just a small amount of sodium hydroxide, meaning that you’ll probably come out packaging-negative in the long run. Even though DIYing can be a lower impact and cheaper option than buying bar soap, making soap is a relatively complicated process. We’d say you’d do well to either buy or DIY this one.
Traditional shampoo contains detergents. Unless you’ve mastered a no-poo method (i.e., diluted baking soda or rye flour), making your own hair wash is just way too difficult. One popular alternative to shampoo is hair soap, but this will only work on a relatively small number of people. First off, soap’s high PH will open up your hair cuticles causing your hair to be more susceptible to breakage. Second, when used in hard water, soap will leave soap scum behind in your hair. It’s not a pretty picture. 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.
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. And don't forget to sign up for our mailing list before you go!