Every year, I feel buried by the wastefulness of the holiday season. Between all of the travel, exchanging of cheaply-produced gift items, non-recyclable wrapping paper & packaging, and the endless feasting, the holidays often result in more bags of trash under the tree than we’d like to acknowledge. So many of the gifts that we give and receive are produced unsustainably in overseas factories with unlivable conditions for workers—the reality that you don’t see tied up with a bow on Christmas morning.
But spreading holiday cheer doesn’t have to come with a negative ecological or societal impact! There are so many options for giving meaningful gifts that both your loved ones and the environment will appreciate. Some of my favourites to give and receive are DIY gifts—a hand-knitted scarf, a framed picture, a personalized painting, a chapbook of poems, or their favourite freshly-baked cookies. ‘Experience gifts’ are another great option—treat your parents to dinner at their favourite restaurant or take your friend to see their favourite band. Or best of all, just ask someone what they’d like to receive! Sure, it takes some of the mystery out of it, but you’re more likely to give them something that they’ll really cherish.
My favourite gifts to give this year are homemade skin & body products. They’re surprisingly easy to make and are perfect for dry winter skin. I started making my own body products a few years ago when I wanted to use products with fewer, more natural ingredients on my sensitive skin. I started by switching to Lush products (which come with the added bonus of reduced and reusable packaging), but that quickly got out of my price range. Once I started researching, I was amazed to learn how easy and inexpensive it is to make these products in your own home! Whenever I would run out of a product I owned—from body lotion, to tooth paste, to hairspray—I would figure out how to make it myself. This gradual shift was way less intimidating than trying to figure out how to make everything all at once, plus it meant that I didn’t have to throw out the products I already owned, which would have been even more wasteful.
The cosmetics industry is frighteningly unregulated when it comes to the chemicals they use. Cosmetics producers operate on an innocent-until-proven-guilty system, meaning that many ingredients are only found to be toxic many years after they have been placed on the market. Some of the known harmful chemicals which continue to be widely used include parabens, BHA & BHT, and formaldehyde, all of which are strongly suspected to cause skin irritation, endocrine disruption, cancers, and are reproductive toxicants. Not to mention how harmful these products are to the environment. Many products are packaged in excessive non-recyclable packaging which ends up in landfills and are manufactured using a production process which creates byproducts that are harmful to fish and other wildlife.
My general rule is that I don’t put anything on my body that I wouldn’t put in my body. Don’t forget, your skin is your largest organ and is absorbing whatever you put onto it. Almost three years later, I’m making all of my own skin & body products, I’m giving them as gifts, and have even started selling them at holiday markets. This holiday season, why not try making some gifts for your friends & family? These recipes are totally customizable, rarely use more than four ingredients, and are made using supplies that you probably already have in your kitchen. I’ve included some of my favourite, simplest recipes below to get you started. Have a go and stay silky soft this winter!
Olive Oil Body Butter
The big, bad daddy of all body butters. This lotion is extra thick and perfect for healing chapped winter skin. Vitamin E oil heals while beeswax locks-in the moisture.
- ½ cup olive oil
- 1 tsp vitamin E oil (optional)
- 2 tbsp local, ethically-sourced beeswax (or vegan wax of your choice)
- ¼ cup distilled water at room temperature
- Melt the oils and wax together in a double boiler. I use a Pyrex measuring cup in a saucepan of water boiling on a low heat.
- Once the mixture is completely incorporated, pour the oils into a large ceramic or glass mixing bowl and place in the fridge. Leave the mixture in the fridge for around ten minutes—you want it to set, but not completely, so keep checking back if it doesn’t seem ready.
- Once it’s ready, whip the mixture with an electric beater or emersion blender. Slowly pour in the water, making sure to incorporate all of the water into the oil as you go. Whip until it’s completely incorporated and fluffy.
Tip: You can blend up to a cup of water into this recipe if you want the lotion to be thinner. However, the more water you include, the more likely it is to separate later. You can also add no water to make an extra-thick salve—just whip the cooled lotion and you’re done!
Bonus: This is a completly adaptable recipe. Try using coconut, sweet almond, or argan oils instead, or scented waters like rose or orange blossom in place of distilled. Mix and match to create your perfect blend!
(recipe adapted from Root Simple)
Coconut-Coffee Body Scrub
One of my favourite recipes because it reuses a ‘waste’ product! Coffee grounds exfoliate the skin while caffeine and cinnamon stimulate. Rinse away the grounds, leave the oil, and pat dry for a built-in post-shower moisturizer.
- ¾ cup coffee grounds
- ½ cup coconut oil
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- You can use freshly ground coffee for this recipe, but if you’re reusing grounds which have been used to make coffee, make sure to dry them first. Place the grounds on a plate and leave to dry (placing them on a radiator speeds up the process.) You don’t want any added moisture in this recipe as it can cause the product to mold.
- Mix the coffee grounds, coconut oil (softened at room temperature, but not liquid), and cinnamon until fully incorporated. Voila!
One of the best things that’s ever happened to my skin. When we cleanse our faces, we wash away all of the healthy oils. Use this toner after cleansing and before moisturizing to naturally re-balances the pH of your skin.
- ¾ cup good quality apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup distilled water
- twist of lemon peel
- Combine the ingredients into a glass bottle and allow to sit overnight before using.
- Apply to face with reusable cotton rounds or mist-on with a reusable spray bottle to avoid using disposable cotton rounds.
Bonus: this recipe can also be used as a hair rinse in place of conditioner. Traditional conditioner adds more product onto your hair, while apple cider vinegar gently strips away excess product to leave your hair super soft. But if you have dark or coloured hair, leave out the lemon peel as it can alter hair colour!
Lavender & Shea Deodorant
The first product I ever made and still my favourite! Coconut oil and shea butter moisturize, arrowroot powder absorbs moisture, baking soda and tea tree oil neutralize odors, and lavender leaves you smelling fresh.
- 3 tbsp coconut oil
- 2 tbsp shea butter
- 3 tbsp baking soda
- 2 tbsp arrowroot powder
- 8 drops of lavender essential oil
- 6 drops of tea tree oil
- Melt the coconut oil and shea butter together in a double boiler. I use a Pyrex measuring cup in a saucepan of water boiling on a low heat.
- Once the mixture is completely melted and incorporated, remove from heat. Incorporate essential oils as much as possible.
- Mix in baking soda and arrowroot powder. Note: you can also use cornstarch in place of arrowroot powder, or even more baking soda, but this can cause skin irritation.
- Store in a glass container and apply to underarms with fingers. You can also pour it into an old deodorant container, but be careful because this can melt in warmer months!
(recipe adapted from Wellness Mama)
Try out these recipes and let me know what you think! All skin types are different, so feel free to change up these recipes to suit your tastes. If you’re so inclined, all of these recipes can easily be made organic. Because there are no artificial preservatives in these products, remember to be more cautious about how you store them. Using sterilized glass containers is always advised, as is storing the products in the fridge if they’re not in daily use. Bonus points for upcycling old glass jars and bottles! And if you’re giving these as gifts, don’t forget to wrap sustainably—use fabrics or other reusable materials in place of wrapping paper, or don’t wrap at all!
In addition to my articles, each month I’ll be giving you a concrete way to move towards living waste-free. This month, I’m challenging you to eat vegan during the holidays. The international animal agriculture industry is one of the most ecologically destructive forces on the planet, consuming huge amounts of energy and water to raise livestock and their food, and producing massive amounts of methane gas which contributes to global warming. According to Cowspiracy (cheesy title, well-made documentary), it takes over 2,500 gallons of water to produce just one pound of beef! 37,000 pounds of vegetables can be produced on a 1.5 acre plot of land while only 375 pounds of meat can be produced on that same plot. The way in which humans consume meat is undeniably unsustainable, especially as our population grows.
Tags: body, DIY, eco-friendly, environment, gifts, holidays, trash, waste-free
While it can be challenging even as veteran vegan to eat ethically during the holidays, group meals and visits provide a great opportunity to discuss our environmental impact with interested friends & family. Try organizing potluck-style meals encouraging unprocessed, vegan, waste-free options with your friends & family. The holidays are also a great time to get inspired by some documentaries: Cowspiracy, Food, Inc., Forks Over Knives, Food Choices, and Michael Pollan’s Cooked series are all available on Netflix!
This post was written by Jessica Bebenek