A good skin care routine always includes an exfoliation step, to get rid of dead skin cells and dirt and allow moisturizer to be more easily absorbed. A natural, sustainable loofah, dried from gourds, has been used for well over a hundred years to scrub our skin, but plastic bath poufs have become the more popular product in our showers.
Make the switch back to the original, eco-friendly body scrubber by opting for one made from natural products. Here, we explore what to use instead of a loofah.
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What is a Loofah?
A loofah (or luffa) actually refers to a natural product, the matured fruit of a type of gourd, in the same family as pumpkins and cucumbers. Their fibrous structure makes them good sponges, and the rough texture means that they work as skin exfoliators, scrubbing away dead skin cells and dirt from pores.
Loofahs have been cultivated for millenia, and the concept of exfoliation was popularized by Louis Kuhne’s ‘friction baths’ back in the late nineteenth century, and the patenting of the loofah mitt in 1889.
Despite the availability of a perfectly good, natural product, plastic loofahs or ‘bath poufs’ have become commercially popular. They mimic the texture of a natural loofah, as a scrunched up ball of plastic netting.
This switch to a plastic product may have started during World War Two, when imports of loofahs which were mainly sourced from Japan, were cut off. The popularity of the plastic version may then have been maintained as they are less prone to mold, cheaper and (some believe) look more attractive.
Why Switch to a Zero Waste Loofah Alternative?
Non-natural loofahs are made from soft plastic, which is made from virgin plastic each time as it can only be recycled into a hard, composite type of plastic. Because they are stored in a wet shower environment and are prone to mold, loofahs are discarded and replaced on a regular basis – up to every two to three months.
The use of plastic in the shower also allows microplastics, which are shed during use, to wash down the drain directly into the water system.
Natural loofahs, on the other hand, are completely compostable and will break down into their natural elements, and are the best loofah alternative. They also tend to have a rougher texture than can be achieved with plastic, which works better as an exfoliant.
How are natural loofahs made?
Natural loofahs are made from the mature fruits of a type of tropical gourd plant that grows as a vine. Gourds are soaked, peeled and the seeds removed, and then dried out to leave the fibrous interior.
Commercially grown loofahs are mainly produced in China, Korea, India, Japan, Central America and Brazil, but they are produced in smaller volumes all around the world. You can even grow loofahs in your own garden, but they take a long time to produce a mature fruit, and will need frost protection in colder climates.
Types of Natural Loofah Products
An environmentally-friendly loofah can be made into a wide variety of products, that serve as a shower pouf alternative and zero waste body scrubber.
A loofah sponge is a plain block of natural fiber, sometimes with a piece of rope sewn in so that it can be hung up. It is used for washing your body in the shower and bath, and is used together with soap or body wash. Care should be taken not to use a loofah to wash sensitive areas of the body that do not need exfoliation.
Where to Buy Natural Loofah Sponges:
Loofah mittens are shaped to have a slot for a hand to fit into, to make washing easier and allow hard to reach areas to be scrubbed. Natural loofahs can only really be made into mitten shapes, and care should be taken as many loofah gloves are made from synthetic material.
Where to Buy Loofah Gloves & Mittens:
A loofah brush is a piece of sponge attached to a stick. For sustainably produced loofahs, this is most commonly a bamboo stick. Loofah brushes enable you to exfoliate your back, which is an area often missed with washing and can be acne-prone.
Where to Buy Loofah Brushes:
Loofahs can even be made into slippers. Although they are not long-lasting, they make a good alternative for disposable slippers in spas and hotels, and provide exfoliation to the feet as you walk.
Where to Buy Loofah Slippers:
Loofah Dish Scrubbers
Loofahs are not just used for scrubbing the body, they can also be used as a natural product for washing dishes. Loofah dish scrubbers are suitable for use on all dishes, glasses and pans, particularly for items that cannot be washed with steel wool.
Where to Buy Loofah Dish Scrubbers:
Eco-Friendly Shower Pouf
If the natural loofahs are not for you, but you still want an eco-friendly shower sponge, you can get bath poufs that are not made from plastic. They look similar, but are made from meshed fabric instead. Look for products made from organic cotton or organic hemp, which has a lower eco-footprint than regular material.
Where to Find Eco-Friendly Shower Poufs:
How to Keep Natural Loofahs Clean and Long-Lasting.
All loofahs, whether they are natural or synthetic, are prone to mold because they are kept in a moist environment. Natural loofahs can get dirty more quickly than plastic bath poufs, however, so it’s even more important to keep them clean.
After every use, wring them out and hang them to dry if possible in a place that is outside of the shower stall. Clean your loofah once a week by soaking it in dilute bleach or vinegar, or putting it through a dishwasher cycle. Even if you take these steps, a loofah will still need to be replaced about once every four weeks, and more often if mold starts to appear or it begins to smell.
The original loofah is a completely natural, degradable product that works perfectly well as an exfoliating tool. Given how readily available they are, this may be one of the simplest switches that you can make to reduce your consumption of plastic and find a zero waste bath sponge.
Next time your plastic bath pouf needs replacing, try a natural loofah instead!