Getting down to earth
When my editor handed me a bag of gritty brown powder and a gleaming rock of crystal and told me, with a glint in her eye, that this would keep me clean for a week, I felt a twinge of panic. It's not that I'm one of those precious city girls who can't take a bit of dirt or struggle: I've backpacked through Africa, ridden mangy steeds across the dry plains of Utah, and staggered breathless up mountains, skipping a number of showers along the way. But facing a normal, working routine with colleagues who may find a whiff of sweat and lank hair unappealing is a different story altogether.
What helped steel myself for the challenge was that the products - the Moroccan Rhassoul Clay mineral wash for hair and body and the Alum Crystal (pictured), a 100 per cent earth-grown crystal deodorant of volcanic origin - are completely natural and biodegradable. Available at Natural Spa Supplies, the products are ideal for those of us concerned about our daily impact on the environment.
On the first night I followed the instructions, mixing a small amount of clay with a dash of water and leaving it for 10 minutes to soak. I applied the clay, rubbing it briskly and not letting it dry. Brown drops flicked all over the white bathroom tiles, so I hopped into the shower. I removed the clay with a wet facecloth, but you can just rinse off with water. Once towelled dry, I was surprised to find my skin perfectly clean and refreshed, and soft and moisturised.
The clay is made from just one ingredient - the natural clay mineral montmorillonite - and it's kind to sensitive skin, and skin prone to acne, eczema and psoriasis. It's safe for intimate areas, if rinsed properly. For a body scrub, add sea salt for exfoliation and a touch of oil for moisturising. For a bath soak, add salt, medicinal herbs or essential oils. The clay can also be used as a 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner.
At the end of the trial week, my skin was more supple, and I felt good about being more earth-friendly. The downside is that extra bit of effort it takes to mix the powder, and I have to admit that on busy mornings I reach for my regular bar of soap.
The crystal deodorant is pure potassium alum, collected from the Western Desert in Africa. I have used crystal deodorants before, and still do on days when I wear white shirts to avoid the chemicals in antiperspirants staining the armpits yellow. But this was something else: cutting down on packaging, the crystal comes simply as a shard of rock, sharp edges and all. I felt very 'Earth Mother' wiping it in my armpits, but it did the job; it doesn't stop you perspiring but it prevents malodours for several hours. You can either apply it to damp skin or dampen the stone and apply to dry skin.
Both products make good substitutes for chemical cosmetics, and the next time I head out into the hills, I'll certainly be taking mine; although I'm not sure what customs will think of the bag of dirt and transparent rock in my toiletry bag. Available from www.naturalspasupplies.com.