Breastmilk Face Mask Recipe

Just in case it wasn’t exciting enough that you can make breastmilk soap, you can also make a DIY purifying breast milk face mask which is so easy, you can even do it in a campervan! Here’s my recipe for a fabulous breastmilk face mask, which you can make at home or in your van!

You will need:

Bentonite clay powder

About 30ml expressed breast milk.

A bowl

A spoon

Method:

In the bowl, mix about 3 teaspoons of bentonite clay with about 30ml expressed breast milk. Everyone’s milk consistency is different, so you may need more milk or more clay powder. Once you have a fine paste, you can apply it straight to cleansed skin.

Relax!

Leave on for about 10 minutes then wash off in water. I know people say that with clay masks you should wait for the clay to dry before washing it off, but I find with my dry skin, this is too much, so I opt for taking any clay masks off before they’ve fully hardened. If you have oilier skin, you may prefer to leave the mask on for longer. I also tend to use cold water to wash off clay masks (perfect for vanlife haha) because it closes the pores.

Pat face dry then put on your essence and moisture. Your face may be a little pink after using this mask so this is beauty maintenance for an at-home day, not a pre-wedding mask (opt for a sheet mask before a big event, instead, as they deliver quick-fixes).

History of using essential oils in soapmaking

Essential oils have been used for thousands of years. We have evidence dating back to Ancient China, India and Egypt of the use of fragranced oils (they’re mentioned in the Book of the Dead).

Frankincense was mentioned in the New Testament of the Bible and lipid residue analysis from archaeological sites shows plant oils were being used throughout history in a range of places such as Ancient Rome and Greece. The Romans used olive oil to get clean by covering their bodies with it then scraping it off with a special scraper. This was commonly done at bath houses.

There is a story that soap was first discovered by Roman women washing their clothes in the River Tiber below where the animals were sacrificed and the animal fat had somehow reacted with the clay in the river.

On the surface, this makes no sense because clay is not a source of sodium hydroxide (lye) and common wisdom says you cannot saponify without it. However, in reality, you could technically saponify with any aqueous alkaline (e.g. one with some water in it), and some types of soil are alkaline (these are almost always clay soils). I would want to do some experiments before being able to say one way or the other about whether this could really work or whether it’s just a nice fairytale about where soap came from.

The practice of putting oils into soap came later. In fact, while solid bars of soap seem old-fashioned to some people, they were only invented in Victorian times. Before this, people had a special jar of liquid gloop that was used for cleaning themselves, and they didn’t use it very often. So if you’re ever reading a Regency romance, when the author has a bath scene and the characters are using a bar of soap, you’ll know they haven’t done their research!

The Victorians were the originators of many of the unpleasant and outright dangerous chemicals that permeate our modern lives, and Victorian soap was no exception. The most popular type of soap was Carbolic Soap, aka Coal Tar Soap, which is about as unpleasant as it sounds.

It was made using the disinfectant carbolic acid, which is a carcinogenic and poisonous substance made from tar. It also has a distinctive ‘disinfectant’ scent that anyone who went to school in the 20th century would instantly recognize. Soap doesn’t need to contain any disinfectant to kill bacteria, however (we didn’t understand this back then — germ theory hadn’t been confirmed until Louis Pasteur’s work in 1863 and we didn’t have microscopes yet so couldn’t see them, either), something I will write more on in a separate article.

Soapmaking in Victorian Britain was an industry of mass-production using the cheap and disgusting byproducts of other industries (the standard ingredients were beef tallow, which is the fat that’s been removed from dead cows, carbolic acid, a byproduct of the tar industry, itself a byproduct of the coal mining industry, and sodium hydroxide, still used in soap today).

We tend to see the sodium hydroxide lye as the most dangerous and unpleasant aspect of soapmaking nowadays, but it’s the least awful of the three traditional soapmaking ingredients (fancy killing a cow and stringing it up to drain the fat, anyone? No?).

As a sidenote, tallow was also used for candle making. There’s a pub in York called the Guy Fawkes which I went in a few years ago and I couldn’t breathe while I was in there because it was lit by hundreds of candles. It was really beautiful and atmospheric but the smell of evaporated beef tallow was really sickening because I was vegan at the time.

It’s not clear when the first essential oils were used in soap, although it was only in the twentieth century that essential oil soaps became mass-produced as the New Age revolution of the sixties rejected the artificial byproducts of capitalism that were making people sick and destroying the landscape, and they started to question the way things were. Thanks, hippies!  I love that there’s another connection between vanlife and soapmaking in the history of the use of essential oils in soap.

Vegan green tea hair shampoo bar recipe that you can even make in a campervan!

My love affair for all things green tea began long before I ever moved to East Asia. Being in Japan last year really cemented it.

The rumors about Japan are true. They use matcha green tea for everything. In our hotel, the shampoo and conditioner were green tea. And they were phenomenal.

So since lockdown, when soap and other cosmetics suddenly vanished, I decided to start making my own cosmetics. I had planned to make a melt-and-pour shampoo bar before anything else, but I ended up making soaps successfully, first, and getting product safety tests done on my essential oil soaps. At the same time, my shampoo bars were not going so well.

I couldn’t understand it. Both my soaps and the shampoo bars were made using the correct bases (don’t use soap base for shampoo bars! I know a lot of bloggers say you can do it with soap base, but if you care about your hair, you need to use proper shampoo base) but my shampoo bars weren’t mixing properly and when I tested them on my hair, they left residue. Eeek!

Eventually, I found out where I was going wrong. The rubbing alcohol in this recipe is essential. Do not skip that step.

You will need (makes one 100 gram bar; scale up for more than one):

  • A glass jug
  • A saucepan of boiling water on a stove
  • A spoon
  • 85 grams Stephenson’s Solid Shampoo Base (this doesn’t seem to be available to buy on US Amazon but you can get it shipped to the US from the link above which is UK Amazon)
  • 1/4 tsp Green tea powder
  • 1 tsp Rubbing alcohol (I’ve linked to Amazon there in case you can’t get out to a store, but you can get cheap rubbing alcohol in the Dollar Tree so don’t spend more than you have to).
  • 5 grams Avocado oil (substitute with another oil such as olive oil, jojoba or almond oil if you don’t have this)

    If you’re in the UK/Ireland you can get your green tea, rubbing alcohol and avocado oil on these links, instead.

How to make vegan green tea melt and pour shampoo bar:

  1. Cut the melt and pour shampoo base into small squares and put it into the jug.
  2. Place the jug inside the pan of boiling water.
  3. Remove when the shampoo base has melted.
  4. In a small cup, mix the green tea powder with the alcohol.
  5. Once this is mixed, add it to the shampoo base.
  6. Add the avocado oil.
  7. Mix well.
  8. Pour into your soap mould. Leave to harden for about an hour and a half, then wrap.

I am so happy with this recipe (finally)! Let me know what you think in the comments! If you have a microwave, you can melt the melt and pour shampoo base in your microwave, checking every 30 seconds to be sure not to scald it!

Vegan hair conditioner bar recipe that you can even make in a campervan!

I searched and searched the WHOLE DAMN INTERNET and none of it had a recipe like this. I wanted a recipe using natural, vegan ingredients, so I could make my own conditioner bars. I also wanted something that didn’t require expensive or bulky equipment to make it.

I needed this recipe to make a bar, not a liquid, because I travel a lot and I have super dry curly hair, and I am very fed up of not being able to take conditioner on a plane unless it’s in my checked baggage or in a very tiny bottle.

When I didn’t find a vegan hair conditioner bar recipe for travel, I made my own.

This bar is super-nourishing for very dry hair, you really don’t need much of it. I like to use it by working it into the ends first, while my hair is wet, then moving up slowly until I get to my ears. Lastly, I put the rest onto my hair from my parting downwards in one or two swift strokes.

If you accidentally use too much, get a bit of your shampoo bar and rub it between your hands then wipe the lather onto your hair where there’s too much conditioner.

This conditioner is a little bit soft, I’ve played around with the recipe and every time I’ve tried to harden it, it just goes oilier but not harder. So I find the original bar cracks into three or four pieces after a few uses, but after that it seems pretty stable.

If you’re a fan of using a bit of coconut oil to moisturize your hair, you will LOVE this recipe as it incorporates coconut oil but makes a solid bar for travelling with!

You will need:

  • A glass jug
  • A spoon for mixing
  • A soap mould
  • 40g shea butter
  • 30g olive wax
  • 20g cocoa butter
  • 20g coconut oil
  • 10ml rice bran oil
  • 10ml avocado oil
  • 30 drops lavender oil (or other essential oil of your choice)

Method (no microwave… scroll for microwave method)

  1. In a saucepan, boil some water and place your glass jug in it.
  2. Add the cocoa butter and olive wax as these take the most heat to melt.
  3. When they have melted, add the rest of the ingredients except the lavender oil.
  4. Once the whole lot has melted, remove jug from saucepan, add lavender oil and mix well.
  5. Pour the mixture into your soap mould and leave it to harden. This takes about 2-3 hours.
  6. Pop it out of the mould. Wrap to keep moisture out and it’s ready to use!

Microwave method:

  1. Put the cocoa butter and olive wax in the microwave and heat in 30-second bursts until they have melted.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients except the lavender oil and heat in 20-second bursts until everything has melted.
  3. Add the lavender, pour into a mould and leave to harden for 2-3 hours.
  4. Pop out of mold. Wrap. Enjoy.

So there you have it, a 100% vegan conditioner bar recipe that requires nothing complicated or weird, no dodgy chemicals and you can even make it in a campervan. Let me know if you’ve used it!

If you want to learn more about making cosmetics in a campervan, you might like my really long and comprehensive article on soapmaking for vanlifers!

5 things I wish I’d known before buying a VW T5

My second campervan was a VW T5. I might buy another one, I might go for something different, but I would want to ask some much harder questions this time. After all, I’m not buying something to drive to work, this is going to go on adventures.

1. You really do need the service history.

The Volkswagen Transporter is a fine piece of German engineering. In 2020, the T5 model is like a figure skater in her late twenties: Old enough that things aren’t working like new any more but not old enough that she needs a hip replacement yet. Still beautiful to look at but it’s hit-or-miss as to whether she’ll ever qualify for the Olympics again. Before anyone thinks I’m attacking figure skaters, I’ll remind you I used to be one.

I used to be of the opinion that service history was a waste of time and that only pedants read through it before buying a car, and that I could learn a lot more from getting underneath a vehicle and looking at the state of things, starting the engine and listening to it, and feeling how the vehicle drives, than from reading some stuffy pieces of paper. Let me drive it already! However, that might be true when it comes to an idiot-proof car like a Vauxhall Corsa model B, but for bigger engines and longer journeys, you need to check the service history.

You need documented proof that the VW T5 got its check ups on time, because there’s a lot that can go wrong and some vanlifers care more about aesthetics than whether they should fix the squeaks and rattles. After ten or fifteen years, that kind of inadvertent neglect can take its toll in all sorts of weird and common places.

When was the timing belt last changed? Has the engine ever needed major work?

2. You need to know the annual mileage.

If the service history is complete, this should be easy. If not, you will need some other way of finding this out. Low mileage is not always better. It’s not good for an engine to drive it less than five hundred miles a year. And it’s a problem I’ve seen in a lot of campervans I have walked away from buying over the past 15 months.

3. You need to know where it’s been kept

This might seem silly, but think about it. A car that’s been kept in a garage out of the rain, snow and local youth is far less likely to have rust under the body, issues with the fuel line or handbrake cable, dents and scratches on the panels (which can cause rust), or sun damage to the dashboard. The same goes for a van. If it lives in a garage, you have a lot longer before you would need to do any welding. Extensive rust is an MOT fail.

You need to know who did the conversion

Bob Smith of Bob Smith’s Quality VW Conversions is going to do a better job than Rip-Off Steve from down the pub. Especially if you’re looking forward to vanlife with children, you absolutely need to know that the person who converted the vehicle is reputable and did a stellar job.

4. You need to know what sort of rock-n-roll bed and seats you’ve got.

They’re not all created equal. Some rock-n-roll units are not safe for passenger transport. In a crash, they can come unbolted from the floor or even shear the floor with them because they’ve been attached to a part of the vehicle that wasn’t strong enough to support the angular forces at play in a crash.

People still attach seatbelts to cheap, substandard seats, especially if they’ve done a half-arsed conversion whose only aim was to sell a clapped out old builder van with 200,000 miles on the clock for several thousand pounds more than it’s actually worth. The rock-n-roll unit should be safety-tested and should have been fitted with seatbelts when the unit was installed, by the fitting company.

If this has not happened, and you have kids, walk away from that van for the love of God because a rear-facing car seat won’t save your baby if the thing the car seat’s attached to falls apart.

5. Whether it’s registered as a van or motorhome on the v5

This is important for reasons to do with insurance, primarily, but also many music festivals don’t let you use the campervan parking unless your vehicle is registered as a camper on the V5 log book. Which would mean pitching a tent. Yesterday, I discussed the requirements for changing your campervan from a van to a motorhome on the logbook.

So there you have it, my top 5 things that I wish I’d known before buying my first T5. None of it is the sort of thing anyone likes thinking about (unless you’re James May, and maybe not even then) when buying a vehicle, but it will save you a lot of stress and even heartache in the long run.

Why a motorhome is better than a van on your V5

What’s in a name? Well, if you’ve landed on this article, you want to know whether it makes a difference if your UK campervan is registered with the DVLA as a motorhome or a van. Or you’re wondering how easy is it to re-register your converted van to a motorhome. Or you just like Googling about vanlife as you get ready for your next big adventure.

There are two ways a campervan can be registered on your vehicle registration document (the V5): It can either be a van or a motorhome. You might think there’s no difference, but actually, whether you’re registered as a van or a motorhome makes a huge difference, especially when it comes to insurance.

Benefits of re-registering as a motorhome

If your campervan is registered as a van, you have to buy van insurance. This is offered by a much wider range of companies, and online quotes are easier to get, but you will pay two or three times the price of motorhome insurance.

As an example, my Volkswagen T5 was registered as a van even though it had a complete campervan conversion. The old owners never changed the registration, which is a fairly common situation, as you’ll know if you’re buying a campervan online.

It’s effort, isn’t it, to get the DVLA to change your registration from van to motorhome? I can understand why people don’t do it if their vehicle doesn’t quite fit the DVLA’s rules on motorhome campervan conversions.

But if your van meets the criteria, would you pay £400 to avoid filling out some forms and taking some pics of your van then sending them to the DVLA? How about £400 a year? Because that was the price difference for my van insurance. I paid £667 with Admiral for 1 year of van insurance on a 2007 T5.

For reference, I’m in my early 30s, female, and have now been driving for almost 10 years (I didn’t learn to drive until I was 23 because I was too broke), all of which affect insurance prices. Conversely, I had zero no-claims-bonus on a car or van because I’d been living in China for the past 2 years where I didn’t drive.

If I’d gone with a specialist camper insurance company such as Adrian Flux, they quoted me £263 for 12 months on the same van. The only problem was, I would need my van to be re-registered as a motorhome and at that point, I was 7 months pregnant, living alone in my VW T5 van full-time (having come back from 2 years in China with nowhere to live), and really had no time or brain space to sort this out when I hadn’t even got a midwife or a hospital booked for the birth yet! So re-registering the van was very low on my list, but would have made a LOT of financial sense.

What you need to re-register your campervan as a motorhome

So what do you need to do to register a campervan conversion as a motorhome instead of a van in the UK? The paperwork itself is not that complicated, you just need to make sure your van meets the DVLA’s requirements. Then you tell them this, sending in photos as evidence. They then re-register your vehicle, send your shiny new V5 certificate (log book) to your home address and your van is officially a motorhome.

What does the DVLA define as a motorhome? The most up-to-date info is on the Gov.uk website on this page. They are now saying on that page that the body type (whether it’s a van or motorhome on the V5) doesn’t affect the speed limit you’re allowed to drive at or the insurance category of the vehicle.

However, in the real world, most specialist motorhome insurers won’t insure vehicles registered as vans, and so you do end up paying more. And as far as speed limits, I’d love to see the proof from the DVLA about the speed limit. This implies that, if a van full of bricks was stopped and it had a sleeping bag in the back, and the owner claimed it was a campervan, that they’d get away with driving at 70 instead of 60 and crashing on an icy bend because they’re laden with bricks, which is obviously ridiculous.

So if the Plod stopped you and you were going at 70 in a high-sided large wheelbase van like a VW Crafter, even if it was fully converted inside, I highly doubt your average rozzer is going to take that into account when the insurance certificate and V5 paperwork says you’re driving a van. They’re not known for thinking for themselves or applying common sense. It seems to me that the DVLA are a little out of touch with how the rules they produce actually get enforced.

In fact, they have seriously tightened up their rules on what counts as a motorhome in the past 12 months and now the external features requirements mean many campervan conversions would have to stay as vans (you apparently now need two windows on one side of the vehicle, which would exclude most VW T5 conversions which were previously successfully re-registered because you used to only need one window on one side).

They also now want a high roof (not a pop top) and they expect “motor caravan style graphics on both sides of the body” because THAT affects whether something is a campervan or not. It’s hard to look at the current exterior rules without thinking they just want to allow retiree motorhome vehicles to be re-registered but not the vanlife type conversions, which are the province of younger people (under 65). Like we need another way to be charged money on vanlife (end rant haha… you can’t fight the DVLA).

Internally, you need seats and a table, sleeping accommodation (which can be converted from the seats), storage and cooking facilities. I did view one van that wasn’t registered as a motorhome, despite the owner’s application, because the table leg wasn’t fixable into a “permanent hole in the floor”.

If you can navigate the pitfalls of re-registering, it’s a fairly straightforward process providing your vehicle has been converted into a “standard” style that meets the very specific criteria set out by the DVLA. If not, you’re probably stuck paying for van insurance, like me.

If I’d had my van for 5 years, that £400 a year I paid in extra insurance would have been £2000 I could have spent on a nicer van or some custom upgrades like a pop top (which would actually cost more than £2000) or switching the rock-n-roll bed for a seatbelted rock-n-roll bed to add extra seats for the baby and our rabbit. So if you don’t already own a campervan, buying a van already converted and registered as a motorhome will save you money from day 1, and might be worth paying a bit extra for in the long run, depending on what sort of conversion you’re planning to do.