Two years ago, my son was entering his terrible, tantrum-y toddler years. He was growing as a person, experimenting with vocabulary, learning new skills, but oh goodness, also dealing with big emotions that he couldn’t express. A broken toy or a change in routine could bring on extended bawling. And if he fell sick, the triggers became worse. So, when the weather started to change, and we were looking at warm, sweaty summer months, I started to worry about prickly heat. Guwahati can behave like a coastal town simply because of the enormous amount of water in the Brahmaputra, so the heat is accompanied by humidity. Spring also means pollen, and occasionally allergic rashes join the party.
I had been thinking about living an organic, simple life for a while by then. For some reason, though, I hadn’t looked into his personal care products. I hadn’t avoided the baby soaps and shampoos. I thought they were gentle, after all. Even adults switched to the famous yellow baby shampoo when they felt that they were losing too much hair. And the nurses at the maternity hospital had used them on my son as a day-old infant. They must be safe, right? And yet, he had dry, cracking skin with rashes and itches.
I spoke about my concerns with a friend who knew Ayurveda, and he asked me to switch to the simplest, and gentlest of cleansers – green gram flour. He advised regular massages with cold-pressed traditional oil for body and hair, and strongly recommended that I discard all foaming products – especially for my child.
In the last two years, nearly every bath I have given him has been simple and natural. And it has had surprising side-effects on the whole house.
1. The first and most obvious? His skin became softer. He stopped getting itchy sores. He has managed to navigate six seasons each year with minimal skin reactions. When he gets bitten by bugs, a little coconut oil soothes the area. For really red and inflamed bites, some ice is sufficient. There are no patches of prickly heat on his back and – best of all – he sleeps better. He is no longer waking himself up to scratch. Hallelujah for his parents!
2. I spend less – I don’t need to moisturise his skin separately because it doesn’t become dry, even in the height of winter. A month’s supply of cold-pressed oil and green gram flour doesn’t cost much. Most synthetic products meant for children are not vastly different from the adult versions and yet are often sold at premium prices.
3. I know my product – I can buy organic green gram and grind it at home. It has a single ingredient. The trust is complete. In a pinch, I can use besan – something that is readily available in every store across the country. If it is safe to eat (somewhat) then it is alright to use it on your skin.
4. It has inspired others – Anyone who sees him bathing in this way feels more open to the idea of switching out of foaming cleansers. In the process of making one child healthy, our whole home has embraced a better lifestyle.
5. Bath water is safe – it can be used directly to water a garden, or simply seep into the ground and refresh the water table. The bucket of bath water will not lead to islands or mountains of toxic foam in our water bodies. Our last bottle of shampoo is being used for what it was initially designed – washing the grease off our car.
6. Waste generation has reduced – fewer plastic bottles, less packaging, and a sharp decrease in the number of times our waste basket has to be emptied each month.
I feel that our young person now has a wholesome understanding of personal care. He baths involve fragrances that were earthy and subtle. He knows how it feels to have supple, clean, and light skin after a wash. And I never thought I’d say this, but looks like his toddler tantrums changed our world for the better after all.