Ecological hygiene products

The products we use every day to wash, for body care, to ensure our hygiene or protect us from mosquitoes have a direct impact on the environment. During a nomadic or sedentary stay in nature, it is important to minimize this impact as much as possible, especially in the following areas. remote and/or sensitive natural environments as they have been protected from chemical inputs and act as a refuge for species elsewhere under pressure from man.

Another important point: in the wilderness, wastewater is not treated as it generally is in cities (but not yet in many so-called developing countries). Products applied to the skin (soap, cream, mosquito repellent, etc.) will sooner or later end into the soil or river, during the shower or washed off by sweat. Ingested chemicals (water purification tablets, pills, medications, etc.) will also be rejected by the body after passing through it.

We’re not trying to favor one product or brand over another, but not all products have the same impact on nature. As we are directly concerned by this impact during our shipments and our ecovolunteer missions in the field, but also as manager of theMakay Protected Area in Madagascar, we’re making the results of our research public here, and we’ve chosen to include brand and product names to help you find your way around.

Two ferns (Marsilea and Azolla) floating on the water. Aquatic environments are endangered by the chemical compounds we use in our personal care products.

General considerations

The designers of body care products are bursting at the seams with inventiveness to design products that sell better and are more profitable: in terms of ingredients, this means surfactants, colorants, plastic microbeads, nanoparticles, parabens, phthalates and so on. Digging into the subject can quickly become frightening!

The ecological criteria to which we pay attention when choosing a product are: respect for the environment (discharge into the environment), respect for the user’s health, and respect for animal life (cruelty-free, not tested on animals, or vegan/without components of animal origin). Where appropriate, respect for producers (fair trade) may be added. It’s not always easy to find a product that meets all these criteria, but some brands do their best.

Soap, shampoo and toothpaste

Soap – The most natural soaps today – and for the last 3,500 years – are Marseilles and Aleppo soaps, exclusively made from olive oil (and bay laurel oil for Aleppo soap). As these names are not protected designations, their composition is not guaranteed, and most ‘Marseille soaps’ (particularly, but not exclusively, those sold in supermarkets) are not very environmentally-friendly. To find out where to buy genuine Marseilles soaps, visit this guide, which recommends the most reliable brands.

These soaps can also be used as shampoos (depending on your hair type), especially during the few weeks you’ll be in the wilderness, and are perfect for washing clothes. Some use them as toothpaste. We used Marseille soap to wash dishes on our Greenland expedition: it works, altough rinsing with cold water is not easy. Versatile, so light for the bag.

Shampoo – Solid shampoos are becoming increasingly popular. Compact and lightweight, these are ideal for remote locations. Some brands are particularly committed to the protection of animals (like LUSH, but, barring a recent change, these are not organic). It remains to be seen whether these solid shampoos can also be used as soaps :)

Toothpaste – Solid toothpaste available from Lamazuna.
Natural low-cost option: baking soda / green clay.

Sun creams

Sunscreen is a real ecological problem today. With 25,000 tonnes dumped into the oceans every year, its impact on marine environments is considerable, particularly on coral reefs, whose corals can perish within 48 hours of exposure to toxic sunscreen. The best option seems to be the ethical brand EQ, which we recommend. There are undoubtedly other options, especially for more sensitive skin.

Please note that even some organic and/or mineral sunscreens (including those labeled ‘reef safe’) may contain harmful ingredients (such as nanoparticles), or may still have a harmful impact on the environment due to their mode of action: composition should therefore always be checked. The best thing is to use it only if or when necessary, and to wear covering clothing, etc.

Mosquito repellent

A DEET-free repellent is better for nature. However, many ‘natural’ mosquito repellents prove insufficiently effective in tropical environments. The Florame and Puressentiel sell special repellents for tropical and infested zones (malaria, dengue, zika etc.), that are 100% natural origin. They work very well (we use them).

It’s also important to remember that mosquito repellent is not the only defense against mosquitoes and the diseases they carry. Particularly in the rainy season, wear long clothing. Mosquitoes are also more present at certain times of the day (around sunset), so you need to adapt accordingly. Other differences are worth noting: dengue is more prevalent in urban areas and mosquitoes transmitting it are active during the day, while malaria is more prevalent in rural areas and mosquitoes transmitting it are more active around sunset.

Of course, this advice reflects our experience, but is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Consult a doctor with experience of the region you are visiting (not all doctors are familiar with tropical zones, for example).

Drinking water treatment

It’s often best to simply boil the water for a sufficiently long time, around ten minutes, a method particularly suited to cold or temperate regions. To get rid of this constraint, we recommend the use of a mechanical filter , which makes the water immediately drinkable. Katadyn is a benchmark brand. There are also Care Plus and Sawyer solutions (durability/repairability/polyvalence to be studied).

In fact, purification tablets (such as Micropur or hydroclonazone) are released into the natural environment by the body and could, according to some sources, contribute to its pollution. As a precautionary measure, we recommend using them only in exceptional cases.

Seabed in Matarape Bay. Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Feminine hygiene

Periods — The best way is to use a menstrual cup (such as Mooncup, for which here’s a guide). Alternatively, use biodegradable, dirt-free body pads (e.g. Biocoop ones). Reusable organic cotton towels are possible, but washing conditions are not always suitable.

Urinating — The pee-debout solves the lack of privacy that can sometimes be found in certain places.

The Pill — Finally, even if it’s not always possible to change contraceptive methods for a short stay in the wild, it’s important to be aware that the Pill also has an impact on natural ecosystems. This impact is reflected in the feminization of the living world, which is reaching worrying proportions in some lakes.

Washing synthetic clothes

When washing synthetic garments (fleece, breathable T-shirts, etc.), the mechanical action releases numerous plastic microfibers into the water, a pollution that washing machine and sewage treatment plant filters are unable to retain. A fortiori, washing clothes directly in the watercourses of a natural area relaeases plastic microfibers (1 to 2g per wash) directly into the environment and can then enter the food chain from the bottom of it. A wash bag that retains these fibers during washing is therefore ideal. Available here and here.

ecovolunteering fish study

Final score

This page is subject to change. Don’t hesitate to contact us with your tips and feedbacks.
To learn more about the best practices to adopt in the wild, visit our ecotourism tips page.

Finally, these precautions are mandatory in natural environments, but it’s good to know that these principles are also valid at home, in town or country, to reduce our footprint on our environment, wherever we are. Our waste and wastewater always go somewhere.

Are we sponsored to recommend these products?

No. And we don’t get commission if you click on the links either :) It’s that simple! If you found this content interesting, and to help us protect some of the planet’s most beautiful wilderness areas, please make a donation to Naturevolution (ideally a monthly donation).

If a brand mentioned or not on this page would like to support our actions through a partnership, please contact us. If one of your products meets our criteria and we have the opportunity to test it, we can mention it here, in complete independence. In any case, we need your support to protect our planet’s biodiversity!