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Monday, June 14, 2010

War on Garbage: Easy, inexpensive homemade skin toner cuts waste

© L. Kathryn Grace
It was one of those calls, nearly two years ago. Family emergency. I grabbed a couple changes of clothes and made a quick inventory of my toiletries travel bag. Good. All bottles at least half full.

The visit lengthened from a few days to ten. Halfway through, I ran out of facial toner, borrowed a car and checked two stores close to the hospital. Neither had my brand. I have sensitive skin, and didn't need the hassle of an allergic reaction to an untested (on me) product, so I reverted to an old tried and true remedy: witch hazel. The 16 ounce bottle cost less than three dollars.

As a budget-conscious young woman, I used witch hazel for years without any problems to my skin or pocketbook. I never cared for the scent, and eventually "upgraded" to a more stylish toner at the glitzy department store makeup counter. At $27 a bottle, (sold in a lovely frosted glass container, mind you), the toner was as pretty on my bathroom counter top as it was pleasing to use. When I began to come to my senses, I switched to a less expensive drugstore brand, which by then I had been using for several years. Not finding it, I checked my old standby, and found it tucked down on the bottom shelf. Witch hazel would do just fine.

Essential oil yum

Back at the house, I filled my washed toner travel bottle with the witch hazel, added a couple drops of Tea Tree oil, which I already had in my travel kit, and voilà! Fresh toner. Adding a favorite essential oil to this mild astringent makes a delightfully refreshing concoction. You could use lavender, geranium, rose or any essential oil. I like the extra tingle I get from the Tea Tree oil. It doesn't hurt that it is known for skin-enhancing and bacteriological properties as well. Plus, the fragrance quickly dissipates, and I needn't worry that I am wafting allergens to friends, family and passersby.

There's more to love about witch hazel and essential oil as toner. I've benefited the following ways.

Buying less = lower carbon emissions

That first pint bottle of witch hazel lasted several months. Eventually, I purchased a second, 32 ounce bottle, which is nearly empty.

That's all to the good. Had I continued purchasing my old toner, over the same time period I'd have contributed carbon emissions through shipping several times. Using the witch hazel cut those emissions to just two shipments worth. I can't tell whether I saved plastic, as I recycled the old toner bottles long ago, but I would hope there is less plastic in a pint or quart bottle than in several 8 to 10 ounce bottles.

I'm saving $$

The low cost of this homemade toner is a boon. Here's the cost breakdown.

Tea Tree Oil: $3.99 for a 1/2 ounce bottle today
Witch Hazel: $6.99 for 16 ounce bottle today
Total today: $10.98

Compare that to several bottles of inexpensive, off-the-shelf drug store toner I used at the time. At nearly eight dollars per eight ounce bottle, they cost about a dollar an ounce.

Remember, I already owned the Tea Tree oil, and had used some. Very likely the $3.99 cost today is an increase over two-plus years ago. I no longer have the receipt for the witch hazel, but I remember being pleased to see it cost less than $3. So it has more than doubled in price. In fact, the 32 ounce bottle I bought last time cost $6.99, exactly the same price they're charging for 16 ounces today. The clerk told me they no longer carry the 32 ounce size.

That's okay, because I'm looking for organic witch hazel in glass this time, and I'm willing to pay more to nourish the soil, preserve the multi-crop woods in which the plants grow wild, and assure the farmers and their employees earn a fair living.

This week's War on Garbage mission

Find witch hazel in glass bottles. I've searched the web and called both local and distant suppliers with no luck so far, organic or not. If I don't find it in glass soon, I'll be forced to buy plastic again. Yuk!

If you know of a source for witch hazel in glass, please contact me! (You can reach me at graceonline at

Buy organic. Not because it will change my waste stream significantly, but because it is part of my larger mission to live consciously and do as little harm as possible. Conventional harvesters, according to Organic Witch Hazel, cut every stem to the ground. They take everything, down to the smallest twig and stem. Organic producers harvest sustainably, taking a small percentage of the overall plant, its leaves, new growth, flowers and fruit.

The witch hazel bush (Hamamelis virginiana) grows wild in many parts of the country. Some organic farmers gather wild witch hazel by hand in their multi-use forests so as not to overly-stress the eco-system (good for the planet), and they pick only at peak times for highest phyto-chemical content and most oil production (good for us).

Learn more about this ancient, healing herb

For more information about this old-fashioned plant and its many uses, check this Wise Bread page.

What's your story this week?

What is your eco-focus this week? What small change are you making in your life to build a more sustainable, healthier world for our children and grandchildren, a world more like the Village of Ordinary?

Disclaimer: I'm not an herbalist or cosmetologist. I am merely a consumer who has found this product useful in my personal care regimen.


We make peace in a million small ways every day.

All text and images, unless otherwise noted, copyright L. Kathryn Grace. All rights reserved.


Deb Shucka said...

I love how resourceful you are! It's been forever since witch hazel came across my radar. It's an amazing plant.

Hayden said...

I love this hint. I keep witch hazel on hand (it's soothing) but hadn't thought of using it as a toner. I'll give this a cautious try. My skin tends towards dry, so might be too astringent. I would urge caution on Tea Tree oil. NOT suggesting don't use it or that it's bad. But it's been implicated in hormonal issues (especially with young boys) when used simultaneously in multiple products. The way you're using it seems reasonable...

I love using rose water and glycerin as a smoother/soother ... the big problem is that it's messy - inevitable with splash on stuff. But it works so well and smells heavenly - nice to splash it on after a bath whilst still standing in the shower.

SE'LAH... said...

Herbs are the spice of life...literally.
Thanks for this highlight. I so enjoy your conscious posts.

Hope you are doing well.
one love.

Pam said...

Hi Kathryn- thanks for your recent visit and comment on my blog. I tend not to use toner on my skin, but am using a grapefruit moisturizer with natural ingredients from The Body Shop.My eco-focus is that this is a Community Trade organization.I feel good that I am indirectly supporting the people of Ghana as both the cocoa butter and shea butter in the product is sourced from there.
This week also, on husband's scar tissue from recently removed stitches, we are using rose oil instead of the fiercely expensive cream recommeded from the chemist.Vitamin E is also supposed to be good. said...

Love the toner idea! I'll have to try it.

Kathryn Grace said...

Deb, yes it is an amazing plant. Until recently, my knowledge was limited to its use as a toner and the fact it is a winter-blooming plant, but I've been learning more the past few weeks and discovering it has ancient medicinal uses as well.

Hayden, I did not know that tea tree oil was implicated in hormonal issues. It's now on my research list! Thank you for the reminder about rose water and glycerin--an old standby of my grandmother's generation, and I remember it being delightfully refreshing when she or one of our elder friends would let us splash a bit on ourselves. More fun stuff to look up!

Se'lah, your comment reminded me of the book Mistress of Spices. Have you read it? It's a lovely homage to the magic of herbs, and also a telling tale.

Pam, those are excellent suggestions. For many years, when I lived in another state and the Body Shop was not as big as it is today, I ordered products from them two or three times a year. They had a lovely little mimeographed catalog for the longest time--long before home computers and internet!

Michelle (fullsoulahead), do let me know how it works for you, won't you?

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