Green living

Plastic-Free Hair Care

March 11, 2018

I decided to stop washing my hair with conventional products almost exactly two years ago (though for years I’d often used more environmentally friendly products) as a result of researching for this article on ethical beauty. As I researched, I found myself going down an unexpected avenue of thought around hair care as I discovered lots of articles about either not washing your hair at all (lovingly called ‘no-poo’) or using natural ingredients.

Something clicked in me and I decided there and then it was no more conventional products for me. Time to try a different approach to my hair and see what happened.

When I decide on something, I throw myself in. So, suddenly I found myself totally preoccupied with trying new things, and my lovely family grew used to me doing things like harvesting and whizzing up aloe vera gel from our plant to try on my hair with honey (it didn’t work!), or soaking brown rice in water for a few days and washing my hair with the strained water. I remember one morning Greg looking at me with incredulity as I whisked up a raw egg in a dish and carried it upstairs to the bathroom….

Having read around, I decided I wasn’t going to go for the full ‘no-poo’ approach. It looked as if that didn’t work so well with hard water, and I figured that living in today’s polluted atmosphere meant my hair probably did need to be washed. But I thought if I stopped using chemical-filled products that stripped my hair of its natural oil (hence provoking it to produce more, which is why conventionally-washed hair needs washing again so quickly) it couldn’t help but be incredibly good for my hair and I could reduce how often I washed it, plus I’d be stopping using all those plastic bottles and would take another step away from the conventional beauty industry that ironically does us so much damage.

I kept a hair diary for the first three months, noting down each day how it was feeling, noting when I washed it and with what, whether it worked, how long I could go between washes etc. And my eldest daughter joined me and also stopped using conventional products.

So, two years in, how is it going? Well, here is what I’ve learnt:


  1. It helps that I don’t dye my hair or style it with any products (I don’t style it at all), and that it’s long so I can just put it back if it’s not looking so good. In the early days that was a real bonus. I don’t know how all this would work on dyed and styled hair.


  1. It does certainly go through a transition phase as your hair takes a while to catch up with the fact that it doesn’t need to produce so much oil anymore. How long that takes really does vary person-to-person but I see from my diary that by about four weeks I was beginning to notice a change.


  1. As in so many areas when you move away from conventional ways of doing things, your whole perception of what ‘normal’ is changes: and so part of this is changing your understanding of what natural hair feels like. When we use conventional conditioner, we’re not actually conditioning our hair in any way that benefits it (‘conditioner’ is a total misnomer): what we’re doing is applying chemicals that smooth down the hair and coats it to make it feel a particular way. That’s why the adverts say ‘for healthy looking hair’ – companies can’t actually claim that the hair is healthy, it only looks healthy. Actually, the opposite is happening – we are damaging our hair by using those products.


(Where the conditioning comes in is that we have been conditioned to think our hair should look a certain way and so it takes time to adjust to hair that is truly natural.)


  1. My hair has definitely changed. It is noticeably thicker than previously; I can go much longer between washes (I often leave it ten days, putting it back for the last few days); it doesn’t get itchy between washes like it used to, and the ends don’t split anything like they use to, making me realise just how much damage I was causing it with conventional products.


  1. My hair is inevitably getting older with streaks of grey, and my conclusion is that letting it go natural means I don’t always get the look I might get it if I smothered it with chemicals. And that’s a choice I make. I am aware my hair doesn’t quite look like Nicole Scherzinger or Sheryl Whatever-her-surname-is-now, but…you know… I can live with that!


  1. For my eldest daughter though, the results have been incredible and her hair has been absolutely transformed. It’s become long, thick and lush. She has hardly any split ends, and when she brushes it it’s like a golden curtain! I don’t know if it’s because her hair type is different to mine or because her hair is ‘younger’ (or if it is to do with the oil – see below). All I know is that it’s made a huge difference.


  1. So what do I use? I had great fun trying all sorts of different things and have settled on a few that work for me:
  • My basic ‘go to’ is one or a combination of some strange-sounding things I’ve discovered: shikakai, aritha and amla. They are different dried Indian fruits (aritha is actually the Indian name for soapnuts) and you can mix them with water to form a paste that you use to wash your hair with. I won’t say more because of the length of this article, but you can find out more online.
  • My other ‘go to’ is simply an egg! Egg contains both naturally cleansing lecithin and all sorts of good conditioning amino acids and other things (I’m not very technical!). I just whisk it up a bit, wet my hair in the shower, apply it (yes it does feel funny) and rub it in, leave it on while I have my shower and rinse it out (don’t use very hot water as you’ll end up with scrambled egg in your hair!). Your hair will feel different but I find it works surprisingly well. Sometimes I mix in a teaspoon or so of the shikakai and other things in the first point, and that’s really nice.
  • Bicarbonate of soda and apple cider vinegar. I suspect these ingredients aren’t good for your hair long term so I don’t use them regularly, but if I want my hair to look particularly nice I use these because they have the best effect on my hair ever. Dilute a tablespoon of bicarb in 250ml of warm water, and a tbsp of acv in another 250ml of warm water. Wet your hair, pour over the bicarb mixture and leave for a few minutes or while you wash. Rinse it out. Then pour over the acv mixture and rinse that out.
  • Although I haven’t used them regularly, I do like the shampoo bars from Lush too and they have worked well when I’ve borrowed one from a friend and tried them.
  • I let my hair dry naturally and, once it’s just damp, I like to put a bit of oil on the ends. You can use any oil really, but coconut oil is the classic. Mali regularly oils her hair – mixing up coconut, almond and olive oil and rubbing it through her hair, then leaving it overnight before washing out with the shikakai mix. That’s too much for my hair, but hers thrives on it.

My overall conclusion is that we have been totally conned by the big pharmaceutical companies into spending literally billions of pounds on plastic, chemical-filled products that actually do our hair no good and pollute the natural world.

It’s time for a revolution!

Green living, Spirituality

Plastic-Less Lent 2018

February 1, 2018

Would you like to find a way to reduce the amount of plastic in your life? Then join me and a whole lot of other people in doing a Plastic-Less Lent this year.

The idea is very simple: over the course of Lent, we will take steps to use less plastic – we will do this together, helping each other and learning along the way.

So how do we do this?

Well, because it’s such a big area and because plastic so dominates our lives, we’re not going to make it prescriptive. We can each decide what we do. But, here are some options you might like to consider:

  1. You might decide to fast one thing – for example, single-use water bottles or disposable coffee cups – and resolve to do without that item for Lent, even if it means having to forgo a cup of coffee at the station because you forgot your re-usable cup that day.
  2. Or, you might decide that each week you will fast one thing, building it up over the six weeks. Maybe single-use water bottles… then disposable coffee cups… then plastic bags… then yoghurt etc.
  3. Or, you might want to go further and take as many steps as you can. On the Plastic-Less Lent FB page I’m going to put up a plastic-less tip each day to give you lots of ideas both for Lent and for after.

Why do this at Lent?

Lent is a really good opportunity to focus on a particular discipline for a set period. It is a time to break out of bad habits and, in particular, to reflect on the things that are wrong in our lives as we lead up to the events of Holy Week and Easter. The traditional word for this is sin, and when we consider the terrible damage that our plastic usage is causing God’s creation (including humans), I think it is entirely appropriate to focus on that this Lent.

So join in!

It would be great to hear how you are going to do this so please do join the Plastic-Less Lent FB page (don’t forget to make sure notifications is ticked) and leave a comment and join in the conversation.

And Finally…

It’s nearly impossible to be entirely plastic-free, and my guess is there will be some things you do still buy. So here’s an idea: let’s all keep all the plastic we use over Lent tucked away in a bag somewhere, and at the end of Lent we can take a picture of it, share it on our FB page and see what things we really haven’t been able to shift. There’s learning even in that.

Thank you for joining me in this. It’ll be a Lent adventure, and together we can take many little steps in the right direction.


Poverty, Planet and Prayer

January 14, 2018


I’ve just got off the phone from a marathon of radio interviews. Starting at 6.50am with Radio London, I’ve done back-to-back interviews with all the local BBC radio stations: 18 interviews in total and a reach of about 15 million people, talking about Tearfund’s new research into the importance of prayer for people in the UK, and explaining how integral it is to all we do. I didn’t dare have a cup of tea in case I needed the loo and I’m definitely needing some breakfast now.

But how exciting to be able to speak to so many people about prayer!

This year Tearfund is turning 50 and we have declared it a year of Jubilee for us as an organisation, with many things planned, both outward-facing and internal. Prayer has always been a central part of what we do, but this year one of our commitments is to up the ante on that and focus on prayer even more.

To that end, we are setting aside five days throughout the year as Jubilee Days: days when we turn off the internet, stop our regular work, and take time to commit ourselves again to God and each other. We have also teamed up with the 24/7 Prayer movement to pray constantly, everywhere we work around the world, for a year.

We also want to encourage and equip more people to engage with worldwide issues and to pray for the sort of work we are involved in around poverty, climate change, conflict and natural disasters.

Inevitably some of the interviewers asked me why I was calling people to pray at all – shouldn’t we be getting on with the practical stuff instead? It was great to be able to talk about a whole life response to poverty: yes we want people to give and also to act, both in our lifestyles and in calling governments and global institutions to work on behalf of the poor. But we also know that prayer changes things and, alongside the gritty, practical work we do in some of the neediest of places, we need a movement of prayer to bring about significant change.

So, at Tearfund, we are committing ourselves to praying for global transformation. Sounds grand doesn’t it, but I’m going for it! On a personal level, I’ve committed myself to pray an hour every week for the whole of this year as part of our 24/7 prayer initiative.

Would you join me? We’ve developed Tearfund One Voice to help us all to pray regularly and effectively for global issues of people and planet, and Archbishop Justin Welby has written us a special Jubilee prayer. So please: take a look, sign up and get praying!


Blue Planet Living

December 10, 2017

Let’s get two things out of the way right at the start as we reach the end of the amazing Blue Planet 2 series. Yes, the problems highlighted in this final episode – particularly plastic pollution, climate change and overfishing – are huge and feel insurmountable. And yes, a lot of the problems are caused by other countries and industries, and not only by those of us who have been watching. Now let’s move on.

What David Attenborough and the incredible team at the BBC have done for us is provide us with a vision of what our seas and oceans should be like: healthy and teeming with life; colourful, vibrant ecosystems full of creatures and patterns beyond our wildest imaginations (a fish that can see through the top of its head? No way!); weaving, spinning, jumping, flying around each other.

As I’ve been watching Blue Planet 2, each episode has hinted at the devastating consequences our human activities are having on this beautiful part of the world. I can hardly make it through to the end of this last episode, even with the positive stories that are bringing hope; the knowledge of what we are doing is almost too much to bear.

A drop in the ocean
But we CAN do something about it. We really really can. And there are three very obvious things we can all do now as Blue Planet 2 concludes. The waters we’ve been marveling at over our Sunday evenings come from billions of tiny drops. Each one of us, with each of the actions we take, can be a drop too, building a wave of momentum that creates a sea-change in our attitudes and turns the tide on the fate of our seas and oceans. As Attenborough says, ‘we have a responsibility to care for our blue planet. The future of humanity, and indeed all life on Earth, now depends on us.’ So what can we do to help?

1. Reduce your plastic
Seriously people, the time has come for us to do something about this. There are so many simple things we can do to make some big reductions: don’t buy any more single-use plastic bottles (just don’t. full stop.). Use soap and shampoo bars. Try to buy things in bulk rather than in smaller individual bags. Become aware of the problem of microplastic pollution from synthetic clothing. Avoid cosmetics with microbeads, and ladies, ditch the tampons with plastic applicators (check this out). Finally, keep nagging your favourite shops to reduce unnecessary packaging.

2. Take action on climate change
As sea temperatures continue to rise due to climate change, causing massive problems for all sea creatures great and small (and for the humans too who depend on the seas for their food and livelihoods), it becomes clear that if we want to look after our seas and oceans then we have to tackle climate change. We can do that in two ways. Firstly, take steps to live in ways that consume less energy (eat more plant and grain-based meals, have more holidays that don’t involve flying, get out of your car more etc), and secondly, let’s push our global leaders to turn the historic promises they made in the Paris Agreement in 2015 into reality. You can do that here, through an excellent campaign called Renew Our World.

3. Eat your fish well
This is quite easy really, we just need to make a decision to do it and stick to it. The basic rule is, when buying wild fish or seafood, only buy it if it carries the Marine Stewardship Council logo on it. This blue fish-tick logo is your guarantee that the fish or seafood comes from a sustainable source (and includes things like tinned tuna as well as fresh produce). If you’ve never seen it before, you will now suddenly notice it when you’re in the fish aisle! If you’re buying farmed fish, make sure it is at least RSPCA certified, preferably organic if you can.

(Photo by Wexor Tmg on Unsplash)


Jesus cared about food waste

September 2, 2017

One of the privileges of being a Christian is being able to join with others across the world in praying the Lord’s prayer and asking our Father to give us our daily bread.

And yet we now know that each month, we throw away enough bread from our homes to fill St Paul’s Cathedral to the brim.

It’s not just bread either. When you add up all the perfectly edible food we bin from our homes – fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy, even in-date foods – it comes to £470 per household each year.

In a world where so many are hungry, this surely can’t be right. And the injustice doesn’t end there.

Food waste is now more of a hot topic thanks to campaigns by high profile people such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver, but how many of us are aware of the link between food waste and climate change? Our current food system is inefficient, and the greenhouse gases emitted from growing, farming, processing, transporting and disposing of our food are huge.

We throw away enough food from our homes each year to fill Wembley Stadium nine times over and these are needless emissions that contribute to climate change.

Tearfund sees first hand that this is making life harder for people in some of the world’s poorest countries – leading to droughts, floods and less reliable rain, and leaving people struggling to feed themselves. If we continue to live in a way that brings harm rather than renewal, families will be pushed further into poverty across the world.

Jesus shows us another way to live. We see his act of lavish generosity in the feeding of the 5,000 and we learn about God’s gift of food, but that’s not the end of the lesson. The leftovers are an important part of the story. Jesus asks his disciples to gather up what is left. He says ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.’ (John 6:12)

Picking up the leftovers is a vital part of the story, a part that can often be overlooked. In picking up the leftovers there is a key discipleship lesson here: waste matters. Jesus doesn’t just say, ‘Ah, leave it, surely the birds will eat it.’ This food is valuable and although plenty is left over, it is worth the energy and effort of collection.

Together we can gather up the pieces. If every single one of us eliminated our avoidable food waste at home, we could save emissions equivalent to taking one in four cars off the road in the UK. As consumers, reducing our food waste is one of the simplest things we can do to live more sustainably, and as customers, we can also encourage our retailers to play their part too. The combined impact of lots of people living differently can make a big difference, and shows supermarkets and governments that food waste is an issue that matters to them.

This is why I’m inviting you to get involved and take Tearfund’s Renew Our Food pledge to reduce your food waste at home, and also call on your supermarket to do the same. We’re also hosting a number of delicious Food Waste Feasts across the UK, and encouraging churches to host these too, using food that would otherwise go to waste.

Let us follow Jesus’ example and let nothing be wasted. Please get involved with this: put your faith into action and pledge to renew our food today.

(This article first appeared on Christian Today here)


Eucharist and Famine: feeding and being fed

March 19, 2017

I found the taking of Communion a struggle today. As we prepared to receive the bread and wine, we thanked our Father for his good gifts; declared that Jesus is the bread of life; prayed for our daily bread, and remembered that, because we all share in one bread, we are brought into the worldwide body of Christ.

But as I sat and waited my turn to go up to the altar rail, one question ran through my mind: did eating this Eucharistic bread have any relevance to the sixteen million people in East Africa who currently have no daily bread and literally nothing to eat?

The Gospel reading – as many of you will know – was John 4 and the story of Jesus’ meeting and conversation with an unnamed woman at Jacob’s well. I went to the Cathedral for this third Sunday of Lent and the service was crafted around water and helped us make some links between the everyday thirst that Jesus was experiencing that particular day; the severe drought that has in large part caused the current terrible famine (along with the impacts of conflict and political failure), and the recognition that Jesus is the water of eternal life.

All over the world, followers of Jesus have today eaten bread together, in a global act of remembering, sharing and committing. You are probably one of those people.

At the same time, millions have faced another day with no food.

I believe that the act of taking Communion binds us inextricably with those millions. In eating the bread and drinking the wine we are taken out of a sole focus on ourselves and brought into the body of the one who died to bring reconciliation and destroy the dividing walls that stand between us. There can be no reconciliation whilst some of us eat plenty and others of us eat nothing. It is a situation we mustn’t ignore as Christians (as Paul’s words of warning in 1 Corinthians 11 make clear).

But in eating the bread and drinking the wine, something else happens. The theologian William Cavanaugh puts it like this: ‘In the Eucharist, Christ is gift, giver, and recipient. We are neither merely active nor passive, but we participate in the divine life so that we are fed and simultaneously become food for others’.

As we are fed, we become food for others. How can that be? The taking of Communion feeds us, refreshes us, replenishes us, re-invigorates us, and we take those gifts – the bread of Jesus, the wine of the new covenant, the water of life – and offer it to others: through what we say, through what we do, through how we live.

Each of us will do that in our own ways, but today I ask you to do something specifically to respond to the situation in East Africa:

  1. Please give financially to the DEC (Disasters Emergency Committee) appeal that is running.
  1. Climate change has been a leading cause of the severe drought. Please do one thing to help in this area (I want to be neither simplistic nor prescriptive here so what you do is up to you).
  1. Please pray: for rain; for those working to help on the ground; for conflicts to cease; for governments to work well, and of course for those directly affected.

May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life;

            we who drink his cup bring life to others;

            we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world.