I've been using "green" body care products most of my life. However, I've come to realize that most of them aren't quite as eco-friendly as I used to think. Many contain palm oil grown on land where there used to be rainforest until the rainforest was destroyed to make room for palm oil plantations, and almost all come packaged in virgin plastic.
I've been looking for body care products that are free of palm oil and/or plastic, but have not had much success. Products that, at first glance, appeared to be free of palm oil have often turned out to contain hidden palm oil in the form of innocuous-sounding ingredients like "glycerin". Plastic has been impossible to avoid except when buying bar soaps and shampoos.
I'm currently using toothpaste and lotion that contain palm oil derivatives and are packaged in plastic. I'd very much like to find alternatives. I've read about alternatives that have worked for other people, but haven't seen any that seem suitable for me. For example, baking soda is apparently used in lieu of toothpaste by some people, but my cavity-prone teeth need the advantages of fluoride. Another example is that apparently people can make their own lotion using oil and emulsifying wax, but I haven't got a clue where to find emulsifying wax and fear it may be derived from palm oil anyway.
Eliminating palm oil and plastic from my hair care products has been another challenge. My latest experiment is washing my hair with Dr. Bronner's soap. Although all varieties of Dr. Bronner's soap are either made with palm oil or packaged in plastic, I've decided that they're better than competing products because the palm oil is grown in Ghana on land less ecologically sensitive than that used for most palm oil plantations and the plastic is 100% post-consumer recycled. I'm still experimenting to see how to get the best possible results out of washing my hair with Dr. Bronner's soap. At present, I'm using bar soap on my hair one day then following it with approximately three days of washing with liquid soap. This gives my hair a more normal texture than when I use either the bar soap or the liquid soap alone, and seems to minimize residue.
Ideally, I'd like to find a bona fide shampoo (i.e., a product actually intended for use on the scalp) that is free of palm oil derivatives and available either in bar form or in a 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottle. More urgently, I'd like to find lotion and toothpaste that are free of palm oil and sold in recycled packaging. As an added complication, I want to avoid animal products, including the beeswax that is found in many "natural" products.
Although I'd like to avoid plastic, especially virgin plastic with no recycled content, I'm desperate enough for lotion that at this point I'll consider any lotion that's free of both palm oil derivatives and animal products. If I do give up on finding plastic-free lotion, in a way I'd almost prefer that the brand I buy be a mainstream one, not one with "eco" or "green" in the name. I'm feeling very angry at companies that for years conned me into buying products that were marketed as green despite being just as bad for the environment as mainstream products. Enough! Unless a product is genuinely eco-friendly, I refuse to pay big bucks for it.
The local health food store sells lumps of shea butter in unmarked plastic containers, so if all else fails, I may try using those as lotion. I know plastic is bad, and I have little idea how well plain shea butter works on dry skin, but at least I wouldn't be buying palm oil or animal products.
I'd welcome any suggestions for toothpastes and lotions available in the United States that are free of animal products, palm oil derivatives, and virgin plastic packaging. I have faith that these products exist somewhere and are waiting to be discovered.
Update posted December 22, 2008: http://cousinyellowstone.blogspot.com/2008/12/lip-balm-with-less-plastic.html