How drought has affected beauty routines in Cape Town

woman in bath
CC BY 2.0 TheeErin -- No more soaking in bathtubs

South African women have had to change the way they approach showering, hair care, and menstruation, due to the lack of water.

If you've ever gone camping, then you know how hard it is to maintain a beauty and skin care routine without running water. A foray into the wilderness is fun, but it always feels good to get back to modern plumbing. But imagine if that were your reality, if you had hardly any water to work with and were expected to function normally.

This is what residents of Cape Town, South Africa, are coping with. An interesting article in Glamour takes a look at how Capetonian women have had to adjust their beauty routines in response to the water crisis that's affecting the entire city. Cape Town has been under strict water rationing since February, in an effort to stave off 'Day Zero', when there's nothing left in the taps. That day was originally thought to be in April, but has now been pushed back to July 9, due in part to residents' efforts to reduce water consumption.

The restrictions allow for 50 litres (13 gallons) of water per person each day. To put this into perspective, the average American uses 333 litres (88 gallons) of water daily. This has to cover all tasks, from flushing the toilet to cooking food to doing laundry and bathing. As a result, Glamour found that a number of key changes have happened in women's routines (and probably many men's, too, although this wasn't the focus of the article).

Women are showering far less than they used to. One woman said she used to shower twice a day, but now only does it once, and for less than two minutes. (On average, a one-minute shower uses two gallons of water.) Another shares water with her one-year-old son. They put buckets on the floor of the shower to catch the water to use for other purposes, like washing hair, flushing toilets, and shaving legs, although they say this happens much less, too.

They are washing their hair less, experimenting with different hair styles, headscarves, and using dry shampoo to stretch the number of days between washes. Some have opted for shorter hairstyles to make it easier to manage. (They should read about our no-shampoo experiments!)

Many women are wearing less makeup. Without water to wash their faces at the end of the day, it makes sense to reduce the number of products on their skin. Glamour describes 27-year-old Jessica Da Silva:

"She used to apply a basic regimen of foundation, eyeliner, mascara, lipstick much more regularly. Now she goes without it so she doesn’t have to wash it off. If she does wear makeup, she often removes it using face wipes or toner."

Some have switched to menstrual cups, instead of disposable sanitary products. The regulations state that toilets should be left to "mellow if it's yellow," but they do not provide guidance for women on their periods. This has been tricky for many, but menstrual cups are better at managing the flow and result in less mess.

While this time is challenging for Cape Town's residents, many of the women Glamour interviewed admit they've learned a lot from the experience:

"Many of the women talk about how shedding their water consumption has shed light on how they’ve taken the resource for granted. It’s also alerted their attention to the ways that others in their community, especially those in Cape Town’s informal settlements, have lived their whole lives."

Those of us who are fortunate to live in water-rich regions of the world could learn a lot from these practices, because even though we may not have to worry about our taps running dry anytime soon, water scarcity in a growing problem worldwide, and we should all be striving to use less.

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