A personal care product survey conducted by the Environmental Working Group on 2300 people revealed that the average adult uses 9 personal care products exposing themselves to 126 chemical ingredients daily. More than a quarter of the women surveyed reported that they used at least 15 products daily, so chemical exposure is much higher for some. Numbers like this often come as a shock to most. Most of us don’t intentionally expose ourselves to these chemicals. In a perfect world we could walk the aisles of the local grocery store or drug store and be confident that the products on the shelf are safe.
Each year our government phases out more and more ingredients for use in personal care products, but unfortunately there is still an enormous list of chemicals that are allowed in our products. Unless you put the effort into reading labels on personal care products, the chemicals add up. Europe is more proactive and has banned far more ingredients than North America, which indicates that there is a lot more work to be done and we still need to be cautious.
Why Should We Worry?
The skin is the body’s largest and thinnest organ, being less than one-tenth of an inch thick. Skin is highly permeable, and anything that our skin comes into contact with is absorbed into the blood stream. If you put 1 drop of peppermint essential oil on the bottom of your foot, you can actually taste it in your mouth in about a minute! Years of exposure to chemical-laden products creates a toxic buildup in the body. These chemicals interfere with our hormones, fill the liver with toxins, and even negatively affect gut microbiota. Many ingredients can be classified as xenoestrogens which increase the estrogen levels in the body, affecting both men and women negatively.
Even baby products have chemical ingredients in them! For example, talcum used in conventional baby powder has been linked to cancer. Consider how we use baby powder on our precious little ones in such sensitive areas of the body. In 2017, Johnson and Johnson was ordered to pay $417 million dollars to a women who’s ovarian cancer was linked to baby powder use. We simply must take matters into our own hands to protect ourselves and the one’s we love.
And it doesn’t just stop at personal care. Items like laundry detergent, fabric softeners, bleaching products, dryer sheets, dish detergents, and more are also filled with these chemicals. These ingredients still absorb into the body since they get on our clothes.
Ingredients To Avoid
There are several ingredients that are unsafe and chemically derived in personal care products, and it can be overwhelming knowing which ones are good and bad. Here are the top offenders when it comes to chemical ingredients to avoid.
Parabens are very common in conventional personal care products. They are estrogen mimicking, and have been found in breast cancer tissue. Studies show it may interfere with male reproductive functions.
Synthetic fragrances contain several unwanted chemicals that are often hormone disrupters, carcinogens, and asthma/allergy triggering. They often irritate the skin causing rashes and redness, and can also cause headaches. Look for the words fragrance, perfume, or parfum on labels, as this is what you should avoid. Natural beauty care products almost always use pure essential oil as a fragrance. Pure essential oils are completely natural and safe for the body. They smell so pure and delicious, and far better than chemical fragrance. You will absolutely notice how much better essential oils smell than artificial perfumes!
Formaldehyde and Formaldehyde Releasing Preservatives
Formaldehyde is a strong preservative that is carcinogenic and allergy causing. It is restricted in Europe but not in North America and it is a very common ingredient, especially in nail polish.
You usually won’t find this ingredient listed as “phthalate” on a label, but you will find “phthalate free” on many products. They used to be a common ingredient in kids toys and are now banned, but they are not yet restricted in personal care products, except for in Europe.
Sodium Laureth Sulphate
This common foaming agent in shampoos and body washes is often contaminated with a carcinogenic ingredient. It is also known to irritate the skin and eyes.
I recommend bookmarking this link or taking a screenshot on your phone for easy access to this list.
Organic, Natural, and “Natural”
“Organic”, “Natural”, and “Plant Derived Ingredients” are all words you can find on various body care products. Even when a product has the world “natural” on it, you should still be suspicious and investigate. The word “natural” is not a regulated term and can really be used on any product if it contains some sort of plant ingredient. I still encourage you to read the ingredients on labels even if a product is deemed as natural. There is a lot of “greenwashing” out there and big corporations recognize the public’s new demand for healthy products. They aren’t afraid to use word-play to sell their products, even if they aren’t truly clean.
Purchasing products that are Certified Organic is a great way to ensure that what you are buying is clean. The organic certification means that a high percentage of the ingredients are grown without pesticides and that the products don’t use chemicals. It can be difficult and expensive to purchase every single product organic. Reading labels to ensure you the ingredients are clean and derived from mother nature is great too.
Minimize Your Exposure
It may seem like it can be overwhelming to constantly read labels and watch ingredients, but it really isn’t that hard. It becomes a habit once you do it regularly. Here are my best tips for minimizing your exposure to chemicals.
Phase Out Products One By One
Telling somebody to go pitch all of their personal care items is definitely impractical. We’re all on some kind of budget and you shouldn’t have to drop a few hundred dollars right now to live clean. My best advice is to phase out products one by one. When you finish that bottle of shampoo, replace it with a new natural shampoo. Then do the same as you finish all of your other products. Before you know it you’ll be well-stocked on healthy personal care items.
Shop At Your Local Health Food Store
Conventional grocery stores and drug stores are carrying more and more natural items, but it can take a lot longer to filter through these items and find what is really clean. Not to mention the fact that a lot of the big box stores will carry many of the “greenwashing” items. It is definitely helpful to shop at your local health food or vitamin store. You can ensure that these stores will carry items with clean ingredients, and reading labels will be much quicker.
I also suggest supporting small, local companies when possible. If you find a small company that handcrafts natural body care items, you can be confident knowing that the items were made with true intentions and they are usually the cleanest. You can also feel good about supporting local/small businesses.
Use The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Website
The EWG has a fantastic resource called Skin Deep, where you can find thousands of beauty products and see if they are clean. They use a rating system to make it very easy to determine if a product is really natural or just greenwashing. You can find that resource here!
Always Read Labels
It is hard to memorize which ingredients are bad. Not every ingredient that you can’t pronounce is a bad one, but use common sense to know that when an ingredient sounds like a chemical, it most likely is one. Instead, look for items that have ingredients you can recognize such as oils, herbs, plant extracts, etc… If the majority of the ingredients list are recognizable items, then the product is likely a great one!
Make Your Own Products!
This option isn’t feasible for everyone, but for the people who love to DIY, it can be super easy to make your own personal care items. From lip balms, to deodorants, to body butters, and more. Pinterest is filled with recipes and DIYs for making your own products out of natural ingredients, and you’ll save money too!
Natural Is Beautiful
For Your Body
Remember that natural skin care and hair care is beautiful! Not only are the ingredients more pure, but they will actually make your skin, hair, nails, etc… more beautiful. First because they don’t contain harsh irritants, but second because pure botanical ingredients like plant extracts, essential oils, etc… contain tons of nutrients that feed your skin and make it look radiant!
For The Earth
Conventional body care items are not good for the planet. The chemicals are not only bad for our skin and bodies, but of course they are also bad for the environment. Harsh chemical use is never good for the earth or our waterways. Using natural and clean ingredients keep our planet beautiful too.
For The Animals
Last but definitely not least, most conventional body products usually test on animals, which nobody loves. From makeup to shampoos, and even to tampons! Thousands of brands test on animals which is completely unnecessary. Look for products that say “Cruelty Free”, “Not Tested On Animals”, and even better, look for items that are Leaping Bunny Certified.
My Favourite Products
I don’t want to spend too long dedicating a portion of this blog to the products I use because I don’t actually use that many items. But I do have a favourite makeup brand and thought I’d mention it.
I fell in love with Jane Iredale makeup a few years ago and I honestly will never switch back to anything else. I never really wore a lot of makeup before discovering Jane Iredale, but I wear a full face almost every day because it is so clean and looks so natural. It enhances your natural beauty rather than covers up your face. It is on the pricier side, and there are so many more natural brands that are also affordable too. I just don’t have any experience with using them. But if you are looking for a professional line with serious wear and incredible ingredients, this is the one I couldn’t recommend enough.
Vegans, please keep in mind this line is not 100% vegan, however they are still Leaping Bunny Certified and PETA approved. A few of their products contain beeswax and carmine. The Jane website is fantastic though because there is a page that lists all of the non-vegan items, which is only a few from their extensive line.
I also use 100% organic and pure cacay oil as my moisturizer daily. That’s pretty much it. I don’t use a whole lot of products or other lines that I rave about. I hope this blog has encouraged you to take a look at your beauty care routine and make positive changes!
Ecoholic Body, Adria Vasil