Ten years ago I started on a health journey to help heal my body after I was diagnosed with multiple food allergies. What began as recipe searches and trying to figure out what I could actually eat, evolved into discovering that many aspects of my life needed some cleaning up. I learned that being healthy is more than eating well and working out. What we use on our skin, what we put into our bodies, and what products we use in our homes — it all matters.
Since then, I have transitioned what I use to more natural and less toxic options. I’ll be sharing the practical and important changes that I’ve made in a series of articles over the next few weeks as it’s simply too much information to fit in one article.
To kick of the series we will be talking about one of my favorite topics – personal care products.
Think about your morning routine. By the time you walk out the door you have probably used some if not all of these products: shampoo, conditioner, body wash, shave gel, body lotion, face lotion, deodorant, toothpaste, perfume, numerous hair styling products, sunscreen and makeup. Do you know what is in products you are using? Have you read the ingredients on the label? If you answered “no” to either or both of these questions, fear not. That’s why we are here today.
Why does it matter what’s in our products?
Our skin is the largest organ of our body and whatever we put on our skin is absorbed and passes through to our bloodstream. The beauty industry is unregulated by the government and thousands (literally) of toxic and potentially harmful ingredients are allowed in personal care products. Companies have no obligation to make you aware and additionally there is no safety testing required at all. It is absolutely insane!
The United States is behind the times and needs to catch up. “The EU law bans 1,328 chemicals from cosmetics that are known or suspected to cause cancer, genetic mutation, reproductive harm or birth defects. In comparison, the U.S. FDA has only banned or restricted 11 chemicals from cosmetics. Unlike the United States, EU law requires pre-market safety assessments of cosmetics, mandatory registration of cosmetic products, government authorization for the use of nanomaterials and prohibits animal testing for cosmetic purposes.”
The side effects and potential harm of some of the ingredients allowed by the Food & Drug Administration are extremely alarming. They include but are not limited to skin irritation and allergies, organ toxicity (including the brain), cancer, endocrine disruption, infertility and other reproductive issues. Johnson & Johnson recently paid a family $72 million after their products were directly linked to causing ovarian cancer in a woman who passed away after using their products for years. The case said that Johnson & Johnson knew about the cancer link for decades and hid it. Not cool. Not cool at all.
Why are harmful chemicals in products?
You might be wondering why on earth these harmful ingredients are in the products to begin with? Well, the answer is complex but here is my understanding. Many big brand formulas were created decades ago. Products are a result of chemistry combinations and chemicals were added for specific purposes. Chemicals help preserve products, help them foam and lather, help them rinse out easily etc. While companies have known/are realizing their products are toxic, they continue to turn their heads the other way. Why? The answer is unfortunate but simple – money. It costs millions of dollars to reformulate products and when replaced with more natural ingredients, many don’t have the same effect that consumers are used to, for example foaming. They are afraid to lose consumers and are too money hungry to make changes.
What ingredients should be avoided?
Reputable organizations like the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics have great lists like this one and this one of harmful ingredients to avoid. You can search products that you have in your house on their sites to see the toxicity ratings. The EWG breaks down each ingredient in a product and ranks the toxicity levels of over 70,000 personal care products on a scale of 1 to 10. They have a free phone app, Healthy Living, that allows the consumer to scan items while shopping and it will rank the product.
Can I ever buy personal care products again?
Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you that you can never wear makeup again. There are some people who never use store bought products and make all of their own skincare products. That is amazing but I (and many of us) do not have time for that. I also don’t feel it’s necessary for me as there are skincare and cosmetic companies out there who have your best interest in mind and strive to only use non-toxic ingredients.
When I first learned about the toxic ingredients in my beauty products I was ready to trash everything I owned. I then came back down to earth and realized I couldn’t afford to replace every single item at once. I focused first on products that tend to be the most toxic like sunscreen, deodorant and lipstick. I also considered what products I used daily and which came into the most contact with my skin like body lotion.
How you want to approach it is up to you. If you find your products rank high on the EWG list and want to replace them immediately, awesome. For many of us who many not have the means to do so, the transition to more natural and less harmful items doesn’t have to happen overnight. As products run out, replace them with less toxic ones.
Now that I am a mom, I am more than ever aware of what my son will be ingesting as he loves to “kiss” aka suck on, my face and comes into contact daily with my chest and arms. A baby’s organs are less able to detox these chemicals as effectively as adults, and exposing them can cause issues (most notably with hormones) down the line.
Especially as we move into summer, be aware of the sunscreen you are wearing and slathering on your children. Trusted brands like Neutrogena, Coppertone and Banana Boat rank as some of the worst for kids.
I have tried many natural personal care product companies over the years. There are many great organic and less toxic brands out there but here is a quick list of my favorites:
Toothpaste: Tom’s of Maine
I recently have partnered with Beautycounter as I love their mission and even moreso, their products. Their mission is to get safer skincare into every home. They have created products with a high-end feel that don’t contain over 1,500 toxic ingredients. Their CEO Gregg Renfrew is a huge advocate for lobbying congress and she encourages everyone to call your state senator push for better regulation of the industry.
I hope you will now be more aware of what products you are using in your everyday life.
Before you buy anything, stop – think – read labels. Now go out there and let your money talk by supporting companies that care about your health.
“Johnson & Johnson Is Just the Tip of the Toxic Iceberg“ Stacy Malkan. 2 March 2016.
“EWG’s 10th Annual Guide to Sunscreens”. 2016. http://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/.
Note: Besides Beautycounter, there are no affiliate links. I simple like the products.