Last Friday, two members of the Zilkha Center Eco-Advisors program, Chanel Palmer ’19 and Zahida Martinez ’18, led a workshop in making natural lotion. The workshop, held in the bottom-floor kitchen of the Zilkha Center, gave attendees not only fun experiences and useful souvenirs, but also a new knowledge of the harmful effects of many kinds of store-bought lotion.
Upon arriving at the event, we were handed a bowl full of edible cookie dough that was making its way around the circle of attendees. This guilty pleasure of mine set set the tone for an enjoyable lotion-making experience. It was obvious from the huge crowd of enthusiastic students that many were intrigued by the workshop. “Man, a lot of people on this campus have dry skin,” Amy Qiu ’19 said.
To start off the event, Palmer and Martinez introduced themselves and their positions at the Zilkha Center. As Eco-Advisors, they explained, they intern at the center, learn about the envi-ronment and organize various projects based on what they learn. Palmer then proceeded to show the group the different ingredients that we could include in our lotions and passed these ingredients around for smell tests. She began with the six essential oils, which we learned were eucalyptus, tea tree, lemongrass, peppermint, lavender and orange. She then introduced avocado oil, almond oil, vitamin E, sandalwood, Shea and cocoa butters, coconut oil and rosewater. Rosewater, we learned, is great for the skin. “My grandmother uses rose water – she looks like she’s 40,” Palmer said of this ingredient’s amazing powers.
We then began the process of making our own lotions. We were each given a mason jar to mix our ingredients in. Next, we scooped the base for our lotions, which included coconut oil, Shea butter and cocoa butter, into our mason jars. After this, we each microwaved our lotion bases for a minute to melt the ingredients together. Once we stirred our concoctions, everyone got the chance to add in essential oils to the lotion bases. I chose to add a spoonful of rosewater, which smelled fantastic and apparently will give me youthful skin in my old age. With this, our lotions were ready to be refrigerated and would be usable once solidified.
After I finished making my lotion, I got the chance to chat with Palmer and Martinez about this project and how it fits into the larger scheme of their internship at the Zilkha Center. Both shared that they have enjoyed the unique combination of learning and teaching in the environment that the Eco-Advisor program has offered. “You get to explore issues in a way that [allows you to] learn about them, but they’re not as structured as they would be in a classroom,” Palmer said. “I think that being able to learn about the effects of climate change or food security and being able to create projects that deal with these issues on a very microscopic level and bring awareness to problems is a very effective method of getting people involved in environmental issues.”
Martinez agreed. “I’ve enjoyed learning about all the things that they’ve taught us,” she said. “Some of it was geared towards workshops and [organizing] projects, and a lot of it was geared towards learning. [For example], we learned about agricultural processes and other kinds of ecosystem changes.”
This workshop is part of a greater series of workshops that Palmer and Martinez are leading for their Eco-Advisor project. On April 8, they held a deodorant-making workshop, and they have more exciting ones coming up. “In February, our first workshop was planting seedlings that we’re actually planning on transplanting outside, probably in early May,” Palmer said. “Hopefully, since this has had such a great turnout, we’ll do another lotion workshop. And then we’re working on a menstrual pad workshop – Zahida has been creating different shapes of menstrual pads that are reusable, which is actually so fantastic because one woman uses thousands of pads in her lifetime that can’t be broken down very well environmentally.”
In leading these workshops, Palmer and Martinez hope to create a space where students can have fun while also learning about the harmful effects of many everyday products. “A really big part of what we’ve been learning is [the importance of] small things that add up, so I think it’s really important for people to know that even the lotion you wear has an effect – it has an envi-ronmental effect,” Martinez said. “Or deodorant – it affects your body, and it affects the environment. It might just be you, but there are a million other people using this product, so it’s not like you’re isolated from the environment.”
Palmer agreed that these workshops fit into the larger mission of the Eco-Advisors and the Zilkha Center in a way that uniquely gets students involved with environmental issues. “It’s very subtle, which is great, because I think that one of the things we’ve learned as Eco-Advisors is that people don’t want to feel guilted into things,” she said. “Even though there’s so much really great information about how we as human beings can treat the environment better, I feel as though to just be lecturing to people who may not necessarily automatically have an interest is kind of hard, because then they kind of become deaf to it.”