Greening The Skin Care in The Mahgrib

Update at the bottom.

OK. Let’s talk about some seemingly superficial stuffs. Anyone who knows me well may note that I never talk about these things as they speak to my vanities and I am so vain that I am careful to hide such vanities. But in the interest of the betterment of societies—and my internal organs—let’s talk skincare products.

Raw Black Soap

One of those hidden blessings of moving to Morocco is having to rethink my bee-u-tee products, such as facial moisturizer, exfoliates, shampoos and so on. I am fairly low maintenance, don’t use any styling stuffs at all, though I like to use Good products on myself. By ‘good’ I mean natural, environmentally friendly and the like. At various times in my life I have brushed my teeth exclusively with baking soda and used castile soap to clean everything else. At other times I have used the full line of expensive face products or others from conscientious companies. Currently I haven’t used a face wash in nearly ten years, but I do exfoliate a couple times a week and use moisturizer at least twice a day—still trying to use my products responsibly. Well, that’s a bit harder here in Morocco where the most toxic product makers have a firm hand on the market. And I insist that I don’t want to have to rely on stuffs from back home. I want to live here wholly.  You know, buy local blah, blah, blah.

So. It’s kind of stupid how I have gone about this, but here is my winded story about going green in Morocco with my personal products. When we first got here we tried to find a “natural” or “gentle” shampoo to share with the kids. I brought a little bottle of Dr.Bronner’s for the baby’s needs. Well. We didn’t really find anything. “Natural” bar soap is available but it doesn’t list the ingredients (one of which is definitely fragrance) and man do I hate soap scum. So we made do with some Spanish-labeled (meaning European made) “suave” shampoo for babies/kids. To be clear to folks who maybe haven’t read or thought about this stuff and wonder why we didn’t just get baby shampoo: Johnson and Johnson was offered to us at a few places where we asked for “natural” or “gentle for babies” shampoo and J&J is toxic, nice marketing work though. Most shampoos have toxic stuffs in them, even baby shampoos. So, a couple days ago, this is several months that we have been using it, I compared the label of our “gentle for babies” shampoo to another regular big name shampoo we have and the ingredients are THE SAME except the “gentle” one has chamomile extract in it. I stopped using shampoo that day, again. I have tried to quit shampoo a few times in my life, but we will get to that in a minute.

Hair and Body

About a month into Morocco and our search for natural products, the husband brought home some black soap shavings and some hair stuff called Souplesse Shampooing Crème or Ghassoul Moussant.

Souplesse looks like-well--mud and smells like roses. So- natural? I dunno.

I haven’t worked with the raw black soap other than letting the kids carve it. I started using the Souplesse exclusively, but continued to use shampoo as body wash and on the kids. That was really dumb. The kids and their porous lil bodies should be my primary concern, but I felt that I was guinea piggy myself to see if it would work. Anyway. This new system basically meant that I was quitting shampoo, but using a deep conditioner though I didn’t know that was what Souplesse is, and actually I am still not clear about what it is because we have interpreter/translation complications.  So with this quasi-shampoo-free system, as so many people have testified before, my hair adjusted to my natural pH level (or whatever, let’s not get too technical here) and was gorgeous within about a week. I mean super model thick and lustrous and gorgeous, masha Allah.

But. Psychologically I couldn’t handle it. And this is where I always get hung-up when I try to quit shampoo. To a lesser degree I worry about my face breaking out from all the natural oils in my hair, but that doesn’t happen. What I am really hung up on is being indoctrinated to believe that my hair is not clean. I must use shampoo and therefore conditioner which is just dumb, dumb, dumb as well as bad for my skin, organs and the environment. Even though my hair was looking great, I hadn’t adjusted to the different feel of both my scalp and hair. I caved and used shampoo.

So, here we go again. I cut off a few inches of my long hair, (all by myself and I did a pretty good job, this being the fourth time I have done so) and now it really is at its healthiest best and again I am going shampoo-free. I just hope I can stop being a dastard (not a typo) and go through with it this time. I may look into making a vinegar rinse if I get too freaked out. I also want to quit using it on the kids and use only the “natural” bar soap on their bodies as well as mine. I guess this means a quick scrub and rinse off after they play in the tub for a while. When did I become such a fussy old lady, stuck in her ways?

Love these cute little bottles of vinegar!


As for my face products I have been down to just exfoliating a couple times a week and moisturizing twice daily for about nine years. At times I have attempted to add onto that regime, like using straight vitamin E on some dry areas during the sub-arctic winters, but that’s the daily routine. So those are products which I brought a little extra of until I could find new ones here. I have searched the beauty suppliers—upscale and common—and you basically have two options here for buying cosmetics and beauty products 1) affordable toxin-filled big name stuffs or 2) expensive toxin-filled fancy name stuffs. Then there is natural. Really natural, like olive or argan oil. There is a whole line of natural oils available at the common shops and I hope to look at those more closely in the next few months. For now I found an argan-based moisturizer that is working really well, though I am not completely satisfied with the ambiguous label. Being able to use 100% pure oil on my face is the ultimate goal. Whew, “oil on my face” sounds exactly what I have been trying to get rid of for years, so that’s one to work towards.

I am extremely pleased with my little industrious self for finding a new exfoliating regime. My good friend Iman, started cleaning here face here in Morocco with baking soda and avocado after she nearly killed herself (exaggeration, but it hurt!) by accidentally inhaling Nivea when she sneezed in the shower. This burned her throat, led to infection and got her on anti-biotics–an abrupt shove down the path to natural! Now, I can’t use baking soda on my sensitive skin, but avocado sounded very tempting. Too tempting, I kept eating the avocados before I could get them into the bathroom! So, I thought about all the other “natural” ingredients that I have used in store bought products. I considered pineapple, oatmeal, apricots, and rice. Rice! A friend of mine once had some very high-brow “Japenese rice skin polishing powder” or something like that and it occurred to me, hmmm. A couple weeks ago I started making The Bebeh her very own custom, handcrafted babyfood. Using a coffee grinder I finely grind rice into a powder before cooking. Viola! I add a little water to make a paste and now have a fabulous exfoliating mask. I have only used it twice (I have to stop myself from exfoliating no more than twice weekly!!) and it has really done a great job. My skin is smooth and lovely.


Handcrafted *giggle* rice powder for exfoliating.

So, the plan is: Commit to quitting shampoo. Investigate those pure oils at the shops and try to find a purer moisturizer. Experiment with the black soap shavings. Include the kids. Go Moroccan Green!

**Update: A few friends have tried the rice polishing thing and are very happy with it. It seems the starch tightens up the pores and draws out yuckiness while it also sloughs off dead skin. It does feel like when I used to get facials. I’m loving the suggestions in the comments. Thanks all

White Privilege Working Hard for Me

I want to share a couple of personal instances when I have been aware of white privilege working hard for me. There is still so much denial about privilege in general and some folks who believe white privilege/subtle racism may still be around but aren’t able to see it in their own lives because they are poor or wear a hijab or whatever else impedes them from accessing more privilege. So here’s a few times when long before I knew the term white privilege, I knew that I was getting something just because I was white. And I insist that other people are also aware of these of instances when they see white privilege working for them, but it is just a huge no-no for us to talk about. After all, if we talk about it then we will lose something so dear and easy to have and we may have to do something not so easy and agreeable to change the problem. So, here we go.

When I was about 20 years old I was already burnt out on roommate drama and was searching for a studio of my own. I was living in the culturally diverse, though economically challenged,  Tenderloin district of San Francisco and was looking at places just a few blocks away from my current rental. I made an appointment to see a studio on the back of my own block and when I arrived I found that another potential tenant was also viewing the spot. He was at least a decade and half older than me, dressed better than my thrifting-art-student-self, and had a slight accent as he was Vietnamese. I got a little nervous about my competition.

It was very likely that he made more money than I did, even though our applications might not reveal that and I felt sure that he was probably more responsible than I was and therefore a more desirable tenant. But I also felt that the white manager might suspect, like I did, that the man didn’t want the apartment just for himself, as he was saying, it seemed unlikely that a middle-aged Vietnamese man would be living alone. He lives in a stereotype in which it is assumed that he will either live with a big extended family or with a bunch of other single immigrant men. Conversely, it is known that most single young people need parents or roommates to afford the cost of living, but white girls are given a “pass” by other whites who will believe the white girl’s incongruity over a person of color’s statement. By being a young, nice-looking white girl, I live in a bubble of “positive stereotype:”

A “positive stereotype” is any generalized belief about your gender, race, ethnic, class etc group that is positive, rather than negative. So for example, both the beliefs that Asians are intrinsically spiritual, (please see the Buddha of Suburbia) or that white women are docile, are positive stereotypes.

The Tenderloin had much fewer white apartment seekers those days and unlike looking for a place a few blocks up, I felt I had a strong lead against the competition. I had an inherent feeling that I would get the place even though he was probably more deserving. And that feeling stems from having previously benefitted—in unspoken ways—from white privilege and knowing that it was there for me.

I got the apartment. Now, we should all know that undue biases are unethical, but here is how undue biases are illogical. I didn’t make enough money to live in that fabulous studio and moved out soon enough (rather than being a “good” long term tenant) having used the deposit for the last month’s rent. And I didn’t live there alone like I said that I would. I had a few friends living there with me over the months that I rented the large studio and I’m sure we racked up more than one person’s share of water and gas usage, which was included in the rent. One friend did some damage to the built-in bookcase and another burnt a huge, iron-shaped hole in the middle of the rug—which would have been covered by the deposit, but again that was wrongfully used for rent. These are things mature people generally don’t do. A wise manager would have checked out our applications and maybe he would have been ageist in his bias, but renting to me just because I was white—not a win/win situation. And really, if he had checked my rental references, well. . . .my only defense is that I was young.

Another example. At about 22 years old I was taking Amtrak across the US from Oakland to New York. Somewhere along the way two sheriffs entered the car I was seated in and an announcement was made that they would be randomly searching people as we were crossing some state’s line. It is unclear to me what they were looking for, but it was stated that it was “random.” Although I have never considered myself as such, twice during this journey I was described as a “hippy.” Maybe it was the vintage suede jacket or maybe the army backpack, but whatever it was other people thought made me look like a hippy, being called such was one reason that I was very nervous about these searches. The other reason was that I had illegal-to-transport-over-statelines stuff in said backpack nestled at my feet. No need to worry for young white girl though. The sheriffs’ first random search was with the two non-descript African American young men seated a few rows further into the car from me. By non-descript, I mean they didn’t look “hippy” or “hood” or anything else that would draw attention to them. They were just young, male and black. After spending sometime going through their personal items, the sheriffs moved down the car and out of my sight. Again, as a problem with racism, common sense flew out the window and the hippy girl from San Francisco who was a bail-needing-guarantee was passed by—because she was white.

Maybe some people will deny these things happened because I am white, but others may see the truth here and question “what are we supposed to do about?” Should I have bowed out of the apartment or jumped up and called to the sheriffs “Pick me! Pick me!”? That’s a hard thing to consider isn’t it?

A few things that I am doing to stop contributing to racism and injustice is 1) Know thyself. Be aware of my own indoctrinated racist and other biased ideas. If you are a person who is striving to improve yourself, than you should see learning about your own biases as work to improve yourself. Undo some of the wrongful/hateful things you were intentionally or unintentionally taught by family, peers, educators, media and so on. 2) Don’t contribute to injustice. When you are in a position of power (such as hiring someone or similar) work hard against your own and others’ unspoken biases. Choose the right person. 3) Educate yourself about how these injustices happen and how you can stop creating injustice at your own hands. 4) Let’s talk about the unspoken. Tell me about a time when you saw your privilege working for you. Let’s put an image to the seemingly elusiveness of racist situations.

Excellent further reading:  “Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life”