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We all appreciate the beauty of nature in one form or another. For some, it's fishing or bird-watching, while for others it's camping, a walk along the beach or a hike in the woods. However, did you know that every time you swim in the lake or ocean you're causing damage?

So can you wash in the lake? Short answer: Sure you can. But you SHOULD NOT.

  • Is it acceptable to wash your hair and body in the lake?

  • Can you use plain soap to wash your camping dishes in the lake?

  • What about "natural shampoo" – is that safe to use in the ocean or lake?

  • What about biodegradable shampoo, is that okay to use in a lake?

three women in the lake wanting to wash their hair.
It may seem innocent enough – but do not wash your hair in a lake. Ever.

We've all done it, and we continue to do it: Go camping and wash out dishes by the riverside, directly in the lake after a nice fireside meal, or just use "plain soap" to wash our pits and bits.

Newsflash: You need to STOP.

Adding ANYTHING to our water compromises its ecosystem.

Regardless of how "natural" or harmless you believe a product to be, it should not be added to the lake or ocean. Even the most chemically balanced, pH neutral, plant-based or "biodegradable" shampoos and soaps can be toxic to lake life, especially those tiny invertebrates you cannot see – which in turn affects the whole circle of life and perfectly balanced ecosystem of that particular body of water.

Can I wash in the lake with natural soap?

Let's take soap as an example: In order to make soap you combine oils with Lye (either Sodium hydroxide or Potassium hydroxide, depending on whether you're making solid or liquid soap), and water, and the mixture heats up and 'cooks out' the Lye, creating a foaming blob we call soap. This soap can be as natural as you may want to call it or think it is, but its pH (the measurement of how acidic or alkaline an ingredient is) turns out to be so high that it can suffocate many water-living creatures and plants—death by soap.

Now imagine all your neighbours at a campsite doing the same thing, as they all wash their bodies, hair, and dishes simultaneously. Even those natural elements that are not naturally present in the water are now there, changing the chemistry of the water and all its living things.

[On a different blog post we discuss what "natural" really means, check it out]

Can I use biodegradable soap in the lake? It's okay then, right?

The term biodegradable has many shades within it. Biodegradable, as we understand it, means that an ingredient, food or material will disintegrate in soil at certain conditions and within a certain amount of time – in the context of cosmetics, usually within 30 days. But this also means that every single ingredient used to create that so-called 'biodegradable product' must also be biodegradable by itself and on its own. All of its herbs, oils, cleansing agents, thickeners, perfumes, colourants, and so on. And the biggest problem is that most biodegradable shampoos are nothing but soap or surfactant-based (synthetic) products. So we're back to square one.

Don't get me wrong, biodegradable products are much better for the environment as they break down much more efficiently than other non-bio products, but in the lake? Nope, they're still unacceptable as the living organisms living in that lake will not wait 30 days to "breathe in freshwater" (so to speak). Even adding a plant that isn't native to that particular body of water can disrupt its ecosystem... yeah, it's true.

How much should we dilute our soap for it to be safe?

The Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. suggests that for every 1 ounce of soap, 20,000 ounces of water need to be used in order to dilute soap for it to be safe for aquatic creatures. Since this is not something we're likely to do (if you want to run the experiment, then hey, go for it!), the second best option is to pour lake or ocean water in a bucket and wash away from the shore. Here's more on that:

washing baby outoors in a bucket
If you want to wash your hair (or baby!) outdoors, use a bucket to pour water, and discard it on the ground – at least 200 feet away from a waterway.

How can I wash without damaging the ecosystem?

You can use soil as your filter: Put the water in a bucket and wash at least 200 feet (60 meters) away from the shore. This is because the soil acts as a filter for your soaps and other compounds, filtering them before they drain out into open waterways like lakes, streams and oceans.

Although at TRUU by Nature we create the most natural haircare products as possible, with botanical, nature-sourced ingredients [SHOP HERE], we still do not propose anyone ever wash their hair or body while near or inside a lake or ocean. We appreciate the bounty that nature provides for us and we like to keep it as natural as possible for generations to come. This is a huge responsibility for all of us, and one we must all be respectful of.

Get involved - share your stories with us.

Have you washed your hair or skin in a lake before? Would you do it differently now that you've read this blog post? Share your comments or questions below. Let's learn together.

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