Did you know that your shower has a dirty little secret? While it may be your go-to place to get clean, your bathtime habits and the products you currently use could be harming your hair, skin, and the environment! If you continuously purchase plastic bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body wash, etc., then you’re contributing to the ever-growing problem of plastic pollution.
Plus, the chemicals found in some products are affecting our waterways and the fish that occupy them, while also drying out and damaging your hair and skin.
In this article we will dissect the dark side of getting squeaky clean, what it means to be environmentally-friendly in the shower, and how to make positive changes to your routine in order to feel twice as good about getting clean.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO GO GREEN?
Being environmentally friendly means not harming the environment by contributing to air, water, or land pollution. Going green is the process of transitioning into a more environmentally-friendly consumer. We do this by swapping out our product that has a negative environmental impact for an eco friendly product.
If you’re interested in reducing your carbon footprint and would like to take steps to become a more conscious consumer, it’s your job to educate yourself on sources, ingredients, businesses and brands to avoid, and those to support. It’s also worth knowing that terms like “green,” “clean,” and “sustainable” get thrown around a lot, especially on social media. We advise you to not take those at face value and always double-check that the products attached to those claims have the information to back them up. We know this can sometimes require a lot of research, so we’re here to educate you on the basics of how to be more eco friendly and expanding your sustainable living to your shower.
Remember, change takes time. Small steps towards a greater goal are way more effective than making unrealistic, drastic changes that are difficult to maintain. It’s also important to recognize that going green is a lifelong process, and you are not going to be able to choose the most sustainable product option every time. Don’t get discouraged! It’s important to keep committed and look for ways to offset that which you cannot change.
As a hair care company we believe it’s our duty to help you take more sustainable showers, and we’re happy to share that there are many ways to go green while getting clean! For example, we can conserve water by showering faster or showering less; we can prevent waste by using products that are biodegradable, come in minimal packaging, or have refill shampoo bottles and containers; and we can save waterways from pollution by choosing to use sustainable hair care products containing organic, natural ingredients.
HOW DO YOU TAKE AN ECO-FRIENDLY SHOWER?
When exploring the ways to take an eco-friendly shower, here are four guiding questions to ask yourself:
• How fast am I bathing? How much water am I using in the shower?
• How am I bathing? How do showers compare to baths?
• What’s on my shelves? How are my cleaning products packaged?
• What’s on my body? Which ingredients should I use or avoid?
TAKE SHORTER – OR FEWER – SHOWERS TO CONSERVE WATER
Before we dive into your habits in the shower, let’s discuss shower frequency. Do you shower daily or do you tend to space out your scrubs? When you do shower, do you wash your hair every time? Depending on the type of hair you have, as well as your main hair concerns, you might be able to go a few days (or longer) without washing your hair.
If you’re currently unable to go even a full day without washing your hair, New Wash can help you achieve these goals. New Wash is a detergent-free, shampoo-alternative that doesn’t dry up your scalp, nor cause it to overproduce oils in order to balance itself out. When your scalp no longer starts to get oily immediately after a wash, you no longer need to run back to the shower! Dry shampoo is also a great option to extend your hairstyle for another day – or two or three! Our dry shampoo, Powder, is free of aerosol and talc, ingredients that are harmful to the environment and your lungs, respectively.
Now let’s dive into our shower habits: this 2015 Washington Post article states that a standard shower head emits 2.5 gallons of water per minute, with the average person taking around 8 minutes to shower. Most people prefer their water hot, or at least warm, and therefore it’s become common to let our showers run for a few minutes to get up to optimal temperature. While we wait for the warmth, we usually complete small tasks in preparation for our shower. This process of waiting for the water heater has become so common, it’s been dubbed behavioral waste. Living up to its name, waiting for our water to warm not only wastes valuable water, but it also takes a bunch of energy to heat water to our preferred temperature! Living in a first-world society has bestowed upon us the gift of hot showers, but at what cost?
There are many updates you can make to your pipes, showerhead, and drainage systems to offset this wasteful process by installing various forms of “conservation technology.” Some examples include EPA-certified shower heads, water recovery systems, and shut-off valves to do things like internally regulate water temperature so it doesn’t go over 95°, or displace water that has been left in your pipes and cooled to be used somewhere else. While some of these options can be expensive up front, they pay dividends on your future water and water-heating energy costs. We encourage you to read more about these options if you are serious about making a big change in your sustainable living journey!
If you aren’t ready to make such a splash in the water-conservation sector, we understand. We also understand that the ritual of showering is sacred for many, and apart from telling you to suck it up and take a cold shower, we’ve come up with some creative solutions to save a few droplets:
- Take shorter showers: While it may seem like an easy feat, showering is often done in the morning when we’re half-asleep or in the evening when we’re looking to wind down. We suggest purchasing a waterproof shower clock to monitor how much time you spend in the shower, and setting a goal to shorten it.
- Turn down the heat: Taking cooler showers takes less energy to heat and calls for a shorter behavioral waste period. A lukewarm shower is also better for your skin and less enticing to daydream in, encouraging users to get in, do their business, and get out quickly! Cooler showers can be especially enjoyable in the warmer months, and there are even studies that cold showers might reduce depression.
- Do as the Europeans do: Unlike Americans who continuously let the water run and simply step out to lather their hair and wash their bodies, Europeans wet themselves, then turn off the shower to wash their hair and body. Once they’re all soaped up, they turn the shower back on and rinse! Mind-boggling we know. Try it sometime.
- Shower together: If you share a bathroom with your partner, sibling, roommate, etc. and you both feel comfortable walking past one another in a towel, then taking back-to-back showers means no water needs to be wasted to heat up a second shower at a different time.
Our goal is not to completely overturn your shower routine, but we do hope that these suggestions will inspire you to make small changes that are easy to implement and remain committed to. Happy showering!
SHOWERS VERSUS BATHS: WHO COMES UP CLEANER?
Are you a lover of luxury? Did your eyes glaze over as soon as the word shower was uttered because you’re a member of the roughly 30 percent of adults who consistently takes baths? Well, after we ran ourselves a bath, we ran the numbers and compared bathing to showering, and boy do we have news for you!
First, the math: A standard tub holds 42 gallons of water, but if you account for the volume your body takes up during bathtime, most people fill their tubs with roughly 30 gallons of water to bathe. As we mentioned earlier, a standard shower head produces 2.5 gallons of water a minute. This means having a soak in the bath produces the same amount of wastewater as taking a 10 minute shower plus time for 2 minutes of behavioral waste.
However, we must account for a few things here: are you taking piping hot baths like you are in the shower, or do you prefer a lukewarm soak? Hot bath lovers would presumably have to engage in their own behavioral waste and let the cold water run out of the bath before plugging the drain. With this in mind, it’s possible that your tub time wastes more than we originally thought. This is also good news for our cooler bath lovers: not only are cooler temps the less wasteful bathing option, but according to Refinery29, hot baths run the risk of parching your skin as opposed to hydrating it.
ARE BATHS BAD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT?
Now that we know that there are many factors that can alter the environmental implications of bathing and showering, there is one silver – or should we say grey – lining. Regardless if you are pro-shower or chose to stand behind bathing, you can recycle your wastewater! This water is known as “greywater” and can be used to do things like water your plants and irrigate your yard. Just be sure this water doesn’t come into contact with any plants you may be growing for consumption.
Reusing greywater also keeps this water out of local septic systems, where it’s more likely to become a pollutant. Not to mention, when you know you will be reusing your water, you automatically become more aware of the soaps, oils, and body washes you put into it! Now, there are a few steps and possibly some plumbing updates you will have to make in order to begin recycling your greywater, but we encourage you to contact your city or town, as well as a trusted plumber, to explore your options and reduce environmental impact.
FINAL WEIGH-IN: BATHING VERSUS SHOWERING
So what’s more eco-friendly? Taking a shower or a bath? It’s easy to feel like you may be drowning in information! Here are some takeaways regarding showering and bathing: when you keep your showers to below ten minutes, they are more eco-friendly than baths. Just remember to remain conscious of your behavioral waste and water temperature!
If you are looking to save water but aren’t ready to fully give up your bathtime ritual, try swapping every other bath for a shower, or using bathing as a reward for a personal goal.
Arming yourself with this knowledge and beginning to make small changes can make a big difference in the long run.
Now that we have dissected the different ways to get clean, let’s dive into the cleaning products that help us do so!
USING ECO-FRIENDLY PRODUCTS IN THE SHOWER
Say goodbye to plastic bottles
Many people’s showers are lined with multiple plastic container shampoos, conditioners, and body wash. Once these products have been used up, and can no longer be squeezed for every last drop, where do they go? We hoped to share with you that most get to the recycling bin, but only roughly one third of American households recycle, and not even all of that plastic waste gets recycled properly! We’ve been so conditioned to replace our bottles every time we run out that we haven’t stopped to think about where all this material ends up!
A brief history of plastic
Plastic was introduced as an alternative to glass and metal containers in the 1950s. It immediately grew popular due to its durability and resistance to degradation, which are the same characteristics that make it so difficult to properly dispose of.
A 2017 article from the New York Times, tells us from the introduction of plastic in the 1950s to roughly the article’s date of publishing, over eight billion metric tons of plastic have been produced, with around half being produced since 2004. Around 12 billion metric tons are estimated to accumulate in landfills or in the environment by 2050. You might be asking yourself, “landfills? The environment? But I recycle my plastic!” According to the Earth Institute at Columbia University, in order for consumer goods companies to be able to actually reuse recycled plastic, it can’t be contaminated; but because much of the US uses single-stream recycling systems where we don’t separate plastics from glass from paper, it’s more difficult to prevent cross-contamination. To start, this means we must make sure all of our recycling is rinsed out with the labels removed.
It’s also important to note that plastic can only be recycled once or twice before it needs to be permanently disposed of anyway. This is alarming because, according to the New York Times, the largest sector of plastic production is packaging – hello shampoo, conditioner and bodywash bottles. It makes sense, then, that over 50% of plastic waste also comes from packaging.
So what happens to unusable plastic such as all that contaminated plastic that cannot be reused or plastic that can no longer be recycled? There are three options:
- Plastic can be incinerated: Burning plastic is the only way to permanently dispose of it, but this process releases harmful chemicals. Note: not only is burning household trash illegal in the US, but it is not the same process as large-scale incineration where the toxins are better-controlled.
- Less than 10% of all plastic ever made is recycled: Whether through our own ignorance or inability to avoid contaminating it. Remember, recycling only delays final disposal as plastic cannot be continuously reused.
- Plastic becomes trash: Over 60% of plastic ends up in landfills or scattered throughout the environment.
Hairstory is giving plastic bottles a run for their money
Now that we’ve learned recycling is... garbage, how do we stay clean without contributing to landfills by purchasing single-use plastic bottles?
At Hairstory, we began phasing out plastic bottles in 2019 and replacing them with our pouches constructed of a foil lining sealed between two, thin layers of plastic. It’s important to note that these pouches are not recyclable; however we decided to adopt them for our refill program because of the significant reduction in the carbon footprint in production and transportation.
In our continuous efforts to reduce the impact our business has on the environment and minimize plastic waste, we recently discovered a foil-free and completely recyclable technology from Japan! We hope to introduce this upgraded material towards the end of 2021, bringing us another step closer to become a fully refillable beauty company that provides the highest quality sustainable hair products.
PLASTIC ALTERNATIVES TO CONSIDER
Once we switched to using plastic pouches over plastic bottles, we knew we had to provide a sturdy, reusable container to store your New Wash in. While we understand that glass may look pretty, it’s a hazard to use in the shower. Should a glass bottle ever slip through your wet hands, you’d be barefoot in a mess of trouble.
We chose to go with an aluminum bottle because aluminum is more sustainable than plastic. According to The Verge, almost 75% of all the aluminum ever produced is still in use today. Our hope is that this bottle will last you a lifetime, so it will never even necessitate recycling.
THE DIRTY SECRET BEHIND SHAMPOO BARS
You may have recently been made aware of a “green” hair trend involving shampoo bars. If you don’t know, shampoo bars are shampoo in the form of bars of soap. Superficially, shampoo bars seem like a great alternative to single-use plastics because they require little-to-no packaging and therefore don’t produce any packaging waste.
It’s important to take a look at their ingredients, however, because what shampoo bars lack in packaging, they make up for in harming your scalp. Here is an example of a common ingredients list found on an “organic” shampoo bar:
On the second line you will notice sodium hydroxide. Sodium hydroxide is extremely corrosive and most commonly used for unclogging drains. It can be also found in paint thinner and is a prominent ingredient in cattle dehorning. In chemistry, sodium hydroxide is known as a “base” because it promotes a chemical reaction when it interacts with certain substances.
Substances that sodium hydroxide reacts particularly well with are fats, oils, and lipids. Notice in the ingredients we see many oils listed, as well as cocoa butter, a lipid. In chemistry, saponification is the process of turning fats, oils, and lipids into soap and alcohol. When sodium hydroxide interacts with all of those oils and lipids, saponification occurs and produces regular old soap, the kind that foams and therefore strips your scalp of its natural protective oil barrier. These companies aren’t selling you anything new or healthy, in fact they are tricking you into purchasing their product! You may also notice that brands market their shampoo bars as 2-in-1 body and hair because it really is just a rebranded bar of soap.
It is important to note that all detergents are surfactants, but not all surfactants are detergents. New Wash uses a proprietary blend of essential oils and non-saponified (and therefore detergent-free) surfactants. Surfactants lower the surface tension between two items and basically help loosen impurities like dirt, oils, and buildup from the scalp without sudsing it up.
WHICH INGREDIENTS TO USE AND WHICH TO AVOID
Let’s dive deeper into why you should be aware of the ingredients in your soaps and shampoos. Sulfates and detergents should not be used on skin. Why? They work too well! Effective at removing dirt and buildup, these ingredients also strip your scalp (and face) of good, protective oils that keep your skin moisturized. Leaving your hair and skin without this barrier can cause dryness, weather damage, and irritation from fragrances or the detergents themselves.
Our hair and skin aren’t the only things damaged by sulfates, however. Is shampoo bad for the environment? Residual shampoo and soap products enter into our water systems while we bathe, upsetting delicate freshwater ecosystems and causing harm to aquatic life. While you may not think you use enough product to cause any damage yourself, take into consideration how many people live in your neighborhood and think about how often they or someone in their house is showering. It adds up.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, sulfates are also harmful in that they contribute to deforestation. Sulfates can be derived from palm oil, which is found in a myriad of consumer ingredients. A 2019 article from The Guardian explains that palm oil is harvested by razing natural forests to create palm oil plantations. Killing these forests not only destroys ecosystems for all of the wildlife that lives there, but it increases greenhouse gas levels without the trees to suck up the carbon, and fosters unfair labor practices for plantation employees. We encourage you to not only avoid sulfates in your beauty routine, but to become more diligent and see what other products you are buying that contain palm oil and rid yourself of them too!
Hairstory does not contain any sulfates or detergents. Since developing New Wash, we have maintained a commitment to the health of our customers as well as the environment, and we hope that our passion for clean beauty comes through here!
HOW TO START BUILDING AN ECO FRIENDLY SHOWER
As we mentioned earlier, going green should be about the journey, not the destination. We wrote this article as a doorway to educate our users about all the negatives of plastic packaging and shampoo ingredients, but they can be applied across many aspects of your life! As you begin to educate yourself on how to be more sustainable in the bathroom, with your water supply, the eco friendly hair care products you use, etc. we challenge you to find new, creative ways to do so throughout the rest of your home.
It’s extremely important to remember to be patient with yourself during this process, and sometimes you will not be able to get to the most sustainable option right away and that’s ok! We encourage you to keep these parameters in mind when assessing how eco-friendly your shower routine is:
- How fast am I bathing?
- Shower or bath?
- How my products are packaged?
- What’s on my body?
A NOTE ON DISPOSING OF PRODUCTS
Though plastic bottles and their ingredients may not be sustainable, the most sustainable way to “dispose” of them is to use them up. The only thing worse than a plastic bottle sitting in a landfill, is a full or half-full plastic bottle sitting in a landfill. At least when you use the product you are not wasting it; for our hair-removers out there, conditioner makes for a great shaving cream.
We are so thankful to have fostered a community that encourages us to be vocal about these issues and, as always, if you have any questions about anything you read feel free to message us as email@example.com!
* * *
Mooney, Chris. “Your Shower Is Wasting Huge Amounts of Energy and Water. Here's What You Can Do about It.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 29 Apr. 2019, URL
NA;, Shevchuk. “Adapted Cold Shower as a Potential Treatment for Depression.” Medical Hypotheses, U.S. National Library of Medicine, URL
“Capacity of the Average Bathtub.” Hunker, URL
Bryant, Taylor. “The Ultimate Beauty Debate: Baths Vs. Showers.” Bath Vs Shower Bathing Pros And Cons, URL
Schlossberg, Tatiana. “The Immense, Eternal Footprint Humanity Leaves on Earth: Plastics.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 19 July 2017, URL
13, Renee Cho |March, et al. “Recycling in the U.S. Is Broken. How Do We Fix It?” State of the Planet, 8 Dec. 2020, URL
Geyer, Roland, et al. “Production, Use, and Fate of All Plastics Ever Made.” Science Advances, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1 July 2017, URL
Calma, Justine. “Aluminum Is Recycling's New Best Friend, but It's Complicated.” The Verge, The Verge, 12 Sept. 2019, URL