H O W T O H A R V E S T Y O U R O W N P L A S T I C - F R E E A L O E V E R A G E L , A N D W H Y
5 minute read
It’s pretty common knowledge that aloe vera is brilliant for skin and hair, but did you know it's super easy to make aloe gel yourself? Not only can you save yourself some money, you’ll save another plastic bottle from winding up polluting our environment.
I use fresh aloe vera juice in my green & gold shampoo bar where it’s largely responsible for that wonderful velvety lather, as well as in the beach babe texture spray where it helps to hydrate hair to compensate for the drying effect of the salt. But did you know I actually harvest this aloe myself?
Most aloe vera gels you can purchase from a pharmacy are alcohol based, meaning they have a cooling effect when initially applied as the alcohol evaporates, but can also dry your skin, as anyone familiar with the effects of frequent hand sanitising will know (and also why I use aloe juice in my hand sanitiser to help soften and protect hands from the drying effect of the alcohol).
DIY aloe vera gel is quick, easy and free!
All you need is:
- aloe leaves!
- a pair of gardening or other thick protective gloves
- a sharp clean knife
- a clean cutting board
- a blender of some kind (hand/stick blender or smoothie blender are both good)
- a clean glass jar
Before we get into it...
Quick important aloe facts:
All aloes bleed! Their 'blood' is called latex, a bright yellow / green liquid which oozes from the freshly cut leaves and is highly toxic and known to irritate the gut. Though the compounds of this latex from some species is used in Ayurvedic medicine as a powerful laxative, it is NOT recommended to ingest fresh aloe latex for laxative purposes, it could make you very sick.
Not all aloes have gel that is safe to eat, some are quite toxic.Species that do have edible insides include:
Aloe arborescens (with the slim curly leaves you see everywhere around Naarm / Melbourne)
Aloe barbadensis (most commonly used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and food)
Aloe maculata - aka ‘soap aloe’ aka ‘zebra aloe’ - aka, my personal fave
Why is it my favourite of the aloes?
- Because it has wide, thick juicy leaves that you can easily extract a lot of gel from.
- The gel itself has a beautifully thick texture that feels super hydrating on skin.
- It’s a bella. Check out this picture below, so you can recognise this stunner yourself.
Back to the how to:
- Pick your leaves. Find a nice big plant that has plenty of leaves to spare. Select a fat juicy leaf somewhere closer to the base of the plant (the older growth, not the newer growth in the centre top of the plant). To break a leaf off so you get the entire leaf without snapping it in the middle, grab it firmly with 2 hands on either side as close as possible near the stem. Rotate it around the stem side to side until you can finally twist it right off with a final strong twist. You want to wear gloves for this because the spikes on the edges can be quite sharp and it’s very easy to wind up with arms that look like they’ve been attacked by a feral cat.
- Take them home, clean the outside with water to rinse off any dirt.
- Trim off the top, tail and the spiky sides with your knife. Leave the leaves in the sink for 10 - 15 mins, so that latex can bleed out. Tap against the sides of the sink and rinse again to get rid of as much of that latex as possible.
- Fillet the leaves lengthwise so you have 2 halves with the gel facing up
- Hold the leaf as firmly as possible from the tail end and with the other hand use a teaspoon (one that has a thin, sharp edge works best) to scrape out the gel onto the board. Dump the scraped out leaf in the sink (to be composted / buried in the garden), scrape the gel that’s on your board into your blender or a jug.
- Once you’ve repeated this with all the aloe leaf halves, blitz up the gel!
- Strain the blitzed gel. I find using a nut mylk bag or fine cheesecloth better than a sieve, as you can use your hands to gently squeeze the gel into your clean jar, whereas the thickness of the gel / juice can take hours to drip from a sieve. This step is somewhat optional but means you discard the fibrous pulp and are left with just the good stuff - that ultra moisturising pure aloe gel
- Store your gel in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for 4-6 months, defrosting whenever you want to use it. That’s it!
If you’re reading this thinking “I’m not going to do this, but ok good for you that you’re someone who does”, you might also be wondering “why do I go to all that bother harvesting my own aloe when you can buy it pre-juiced?”
- I can get it fresh from the plant, 100% packaging free. No plastic bottle, no carbon emissions from shipping.
- It’s cheaper, meaning I can keep my costs lower and my prices reasonable. These first 2 reasons are originally why I started, but since then I’ve realized a third, more critical reason:
- Harvesting my own aloe helps me reclaim an intimate relationship with the natural world around us, and with my own body.
I only harvest from well established plants that won’t be hurt by my taking a few leaves, which means I’m always looking around me for potential future harvest aloe clusters. It now brings me joy every time I recognise another spot where A.maculata is growing, like I’m recognising a friend.
I have a few spots I go to where I find these plants, and I get to see their development throughout the seasons, from their growth phase to flowering to dormancy. I get to go outside and get my hands dirty. I get to switch off from the digital world and reconnect with the land that sustains us, of which we are a part.
After all the messiness of harvesting aloe, I compost the trimmings and then make a habit to reward all this hard work by sitting down to treat my skin with a facial using fresh aloe gel. It leaves my skin feeling crazy soft and super hydrated, and reminds me of how lucky we are to be living amongst all the incredible plant life that grow all around us on this big, blue, beautiful planet.
I hope you try it yourself one day too.
W H Y L O W W A S T E A N D N O T Z E R O W A S T E
3 minute read
Zero waste has become a buzz word that seems to be thrown in just about everywhere by every brand who wants to be doing better by the planet, or rather, wants to be seen to be doing better.
Waste is a big, complicated issue. It is estimated by scientists that plastic pollution contributes around 4% of green house gases, double the impact of global aviation. Not only this, but plastics in the environment pose a grave threat to many species who ingest or are injured by them. Every solution has it's drawbacks (especially recycling), and factors like social priviledge, education, location and logistics almost always affect our ability to lead as low waste a lifestyle as we might wish to. In a world where more and more of us are keenly aware of the effects of mass consumerism and environmental degradation and our climate is undeniable changing; it's clear our modern way of life is jeopardising our ability to live comfortably. Waste is at the forefront of this.
Until governments can legislate against the use of single use plastics made from crude oil and invest in the development of readily and genuinely biodegradable alternatives so they can dominate the market, we should at least be supporting the low waste solutions available to us to reduce our personal demand for new and especially single use plastics, while staying realistic about where our energy is best spent, and compassionate towards ourselves and others where access and priviledge affect our ability to partake in waste reduction efforts.
We all contribute, we can’t avoid that. It does no good to make ourselves sick with worry and guilt about our individual raindrop-in-the-ocean impact, but the problem will never be solved if we all just defer blame to big business / governments without recognising the power of grass roots efforts, and the reality that we are all a part of shaping the culture we live in. Some kind of balance between the two is needed.
I want to explore a little of what that balance looks like for this small business. There are many aspects of my business I’m able to reduce waste and I continue to look for ways to do more. Things like;
- ensuring all my packaging is either 100% home compostable, or easy to recycle AND sterilise properly so they can be returned (for a discount!) and refilled
- printing my labels with non-toxic plant based inks and adhesives, and all other printing material on 100% post consumer recycled card stock so that it can all happily break down in soil (thanks to my fabulous printer, local business Print Together)
- using upcycled cardboard boxes and packing material for online orders (see here)
- using home compostable shipping labels, even if they're more expensive than the alternative
- buying second hand where I can (including most of my market display and many of my utensils and Pyrex jugs)
On the other hand, I think it's important to be transparent about the things I can't avoid like;
- the compostable paper tubes my lip balms come in being shipped in a big plastic bag (see image above) to protect them from water damage on their journey from Hubei, China (the only country aside from the U.S that manufacture such a product) to Naarm / Melbourne, Australia. I order thousands of tubes at a time to minimise both cost and carbon footprint, and while I have tried to get my supplier to not use this plastic liner or at least switch to paper masking tape rather than standard plastic packing tape on the box exterior, they say it’s unavoidable.
- the backing that my paper labels come on is glassine, which is paper that has been mechanically smoothed so that is cannot be recycled or composted. For now, there is no better alternative to this problem. Likewise for the shipping labels
- the packaging waste associated with my ingredients. One of my suppliers actually takes back their empty bottles which is awesome, but most do not, and while I can and have put pressure on them to do so, I am only a small fish in the market and need to respect the logistical issues that prevent them from doing so. I love finding ways to upcycle these empty containers, but there's only so much upcycling one can do before it takes over your life!
There is unseen waste in just about everything, and to claim otherwise is simply a lie. No business, supply chain, or personal lifestyle, no matter how seemingly 'eco-perfect' is 100% free of plastic waste. We can reduce our waste, and we 100% should, but we should also understand there is no way to avoid it completely and instead be transparent with one another about our impact on the environment, especially businesses where economies of scale can play such a massive role in the waste problem.
Zero waste is a noble goal, but not a feasible reality in this world and we should all be weary of brands who claim otherwise. The idea many such brands push that you can attain "plastic free perfection" by buying their product is dangeously distracting and often drives more waste and more consumerism - not to mention a divisive 'us vs. them' mentality that can alienate us based on how 'eco conscious' we deem ourselves compared to those around us. We need to stop wasting our mental energy on attempting to be puritanically waste-free, and instead invest that energy in having real conversations with ourselves, with one another, our suppliers, colleagues, families and friends (and governmental representative!) about how we can do better, and give perfectionism a rest.
W H Y S O L I D S O A P I S T H E B E S T ( E S P E C I A L L Y T H E S E S O A P S )
3 minute read
Aside from the obvious lack of packaging (because we really need to quit it with all the plastic bottles already - with only ~9% of plastics EVER produced having been recycled, and most cosmetics packaging comprised of even harder-to-recycle composite plastics), there is a lot more to love about switching from liquid to solid soap for your shampoo, body wash, facial cleanser, shaving foam, hand wash and even dish wash.
First, solid soaps last a whoooole lot longer, especially if cured properly so they are HARD. One of my chunky blocks of soap will outlast several standard litres of liquid detergent (and take up much less space in your cupboards).
Originally liquid detergents were developed to conteract the issue with traditional soap of soap scum, an insoluble white powdery residue created by soap reacting with trace minerals in hard water, like calcium. This is mostly a problem for cleaning your shower / sink, but can also leave a heavy feeling in your hair or on your skin - an issue many people still associate with bar soap.
Another negative association many have with soap is that it is too drying to use for skin, especially as a facial cleanser or for sensitive skin, but with the right blend of oils and some clever formulating tricks it is perfectly possible to make a truly gentle, hydrating soap that leaves skin soft and clean but not dry.
But not all soaps are made equal! Our understanding of soap-making science has come a long way in the last century, and I wanted to explain a few reasons why my soaps in particular are GREAT for (even very sensitive!) skin:
+ Soap is a reaction between fatty acids (like oleic acid, the primary chemical constituent of olive oil) and lye, or sodium hydroxide (which together form saponified olive oil, aka sodium oleate). Using an excess of oils, i.e. more than what the lye can saponify, is a process called superfatting and makes for a bar that is gentler and more moisturising.
+ The types of oils used are also important. Animal fat used to be the main ingredient for commercial soap, because it was 'cheap' and produces a stable, fluffy lather, but it makes for very drying soap. I use all plant oils like olive, avocado, sunflower, apricot, coconut and jojoba which are much more nourishing for skin, not to mention cruelty free.
+ I add citric acid (the primary acid found in citrus fruits) in all my bars. This does 2 things - it reacts with the sodium hydroxide to form sodium citrate, a chelating agent which acts like a 'chemical catcher' and readily bonds with trace minerals in hard water allowing them to be rinsed off and eliminating the problem of soap scum as well as that icky too-clean skin feel of traditional soap! It also competes with the fatty acids in the oils for the sodium hydroxide, effectively increasing the superfat level, which makes the bars even more lovely to use for skin and hair.
+ I use less than the recommend amount of essential oils, because they can cause irritation to sensitive skin and I'd rather make soap that smells maybe a little milder, but feels great to use on your skin.
+ Lastly, I add other beautiful ingredients like oat milk (in the Hydrating Coco Cleanser) which is both soothing and hydrating due to the beta glucans, phenols and other beneficial constituents in oats, and locally grown freshly harvested aloe vera juice (in the Green and Gold Shampoo Bar) - likewise incredible for skin and hair in more ways than one.
+ Lastly, my soaps are properly cured so that they last longer and are milder for skin. Curing is the process of letting soaps sit in a dry place until all the water has evaporated out of the bars and it takes time, but good soap come to soapmakers who wait.
As you can probably tell if you read this far, I'm a massive nerd about soapy science and I'm always learning and looking to make my products even better. If you have any feedback or questions for me, I would love to hear from you.
Hoping this helped shed some light on the topic of soap vs detergent, and convinced you that (well made) solid soap is the future!