Detoxify Your Life Series, Part II: Safe Personal Care Products
The skin is the largest organ in our bodies and acts as a two way transportation system in and out, ideally carrying bad stuff out and good stuff in. Our bodies, and especially our children’s bodies that haven’t had any chance to adapt yet, were not designed for rubbing toxic chemicals all over them to start or end each and every day as well as periodically throughout the day. What’s even worse, is because that chemical blast in the morning (or night) usually comes while in the shower, the heat and steam (unless you take ice cold showers to wake yourself up at four in the morning like me) causes pores to open wide to maximize the amount of chemicals that come pouring in.
A good rule of thumb we stick very close to, especially when picking something out that’s going to go on our son, is not to buy it if we shouldn’t eat it. Seriously. Now I didn’t say it has to taste good, but when I’m choosing to rub something on my child’s skin, I should be able to look at all the ingredients in that product and say to myself that if he were to eat this, I wouldn’t feel at all uncomfortable with what he just ingested or need to call poison control as many conventional products suggest. Because again, it is all indeed going into him one way or the other (and of course, if your kid happens to be at just the right stage of life, there’s the very real possibility he or she could end up actually eating it!).
As with all of the healthy ways of life we’ve picked up along the way, we don’t just apply them to our kid and keep the unhealthy habits and products for ourselves for a variety of reasons, outside of the obvious one that it’s better to be healthy than unhealthy. As Ryder’s been breastfeeding throughout this whole ordeal, we’ve been extra sensitive not only about what Teddy eats, but everything she is exposed to that could potentially be passed on. For the same reason we threw out every chemical cleaning product we still had (because we didn’t want them anywhere near him and certainly not ever getting used), we also don’t want to be avoiding chemicals for our son only to rub them all over ourselves and then hold him. Most importantly, the kid learns from us! The goal we have in mind every day for our son is a long and healthy life, not just shrinking a tumor. If we want him to make good choices for his health as he grows and makes more and more decisions for himself, we know the only way for that to happen is for him to see us practicing a non-toxic lifestyle for ourselves, not just preaching it. And if we had older kids already, we would certainly want them using the safe versions of the products and practices as well.
As I mentioned in the Introduction and Baby Products article in this series, the consumer guides at Environmental Working Group is incredible for taking the guesswork out of which products are truly “safe.” Food ingredients are a little easier, if I don’t know what it is, I don’t eat it. With personal care products, often something will have a long and confusing name which at first will put me off, but then I’ll look it up and it turns out to be some sort of perfectly natural and harmless plant extract (but then the flip side is the long and scary name is actually an even scarier chemical). I always appreciate when the makers of these products put the layman’s term for each ingredient in parentheses. But again, EWG has already done the analysis on thousands of these products for you, and even if they don’t happen to have the specific product you’re considering already listed and rated, it’s a one stop shop for looking up the safety of every potential ingredient these types of products use.
Here is a list of common personal care products and what we typically use to get you started:
Body Wash or Soap: Same as the baby product article, I won’t make this comparison for all of these but couldn’t resist highlighting the difference for at least one thing in this category. Let’s take a look at the ingredients of a body wash with an extremely “natural” sounding name and see what’s inside (this product got a nine out of possible ten for badness with ten being the worst): fragrance, propylparaben, butylparaben, isobutylparaben, benzyl salicylate, metylisothiazolinone (wow), linalool, hexyl cinnamel, alpha-isomethyl ionone, SD alcohol 1, ethylparaben… The list actually goes quite an impressive ways further but I think you get the idea. Most health food stores will have a huge generic looking bottle of brown body wash for ten or fifteen bucks we usually pick up that lasts forever and gets the job done. The one I’m thinking about is Everyday Shea, which now I see got a score of one (zero being the best). For fun, let’s see the ingredients of something that did get a zero: coconut oil, olive oil, jojoba seed oil, vegetable gum, aloe vera leaf juice extract, peppermint extract, rosemary oil, rosemary flower extract, shea butter, water. I didn’t link to it because it looks expensive and I’ll probably check out all the zero rated products to find the best deal. That being said, look at the ingredients of something like that versus the mainstream product and tell me which one you’d rather slather all over yourself every morning…. If we’re traveling and want to take a bar soap with us, Dr. Bronner’s All-One Hemp Peppermint is our go to which scores a one on EWG.
Shampoo and Conditioner: While you can usually find the shampoo and conditioner counterpart to the Everyday Shea body wash bottle and it certainly does a good job of cleaning your hair, we’ve found it to not be our favorite for styling purposes after we’ve gotten out of the shower. We do pay a little more for these items than we used to (when we were just getting whatever was on sale at the regular grocery store) but again, when you start comparing ingredients it’s not a hard choice to make. That being said, Teddy seems to have settled on Acure brand shampoo and conditioner these days, which now that I look at it most of them appear to have a whopping one rating… We may have to talk about that (totally kidding, a one is awesome so Teddy’s in luck!). Since my hair tends to get a little “poofy” if I don’t do anything about it, I use Hugo and Debra Naturals because they make a good smoothing shampoo and conditioner, and it just so happens they also score a one on EWG.
Deodorant: Rubbing aluminum in my armpits every day and encouraging my kid to do the same? No thanks. That’s right, everyone’s heard at least once that aluminum is bad news, but not everyone knows there’s a healthy dose of aluminum in a good deal of the standard deodorants you find on the shelf… Along with a whole lot of other toxic sounding garbage. When you start looking at the ingredients, you see this is just one big bar of chemicals we’ve been trained to rub on ourselves to be socially acceptable. Don’t worry, I’m not advocating everyone stops wearing deodorant entirely. As with everything, there are perfectly good natural replacements. Looks like there about 85 zero rated products on EWG, take a look! Teddy and I both use the Crystal body deodorant roll on which scored a one.
Toothpaste: Like deodorants, the amount of toxic chemicals they expect you and your kids to rub vigorously into your mouths twice a day is astounding. Your mouth, by the way, is made to absorb as much as it can before you even swallow. That’s why with things like colloidal and ionic silver or liquid vitamin supplements like Intramax it’s recommended that you hold them in your mouth for a while before swallowing, so it goes straight to the bloodstream. At the end of the day, you just need something to clean your mouth, and chemicals aren’t the only way to accomplish that. On that note, when the famous dentist turned health researcher and author Westin A. Price visited various groups of indigenous peoples all over the world that were virtually disease free to study what made them that way, the first thing he noticed was that they all had remarkably white and straight teeth, yet none of them had ever seen a toothbrush or set of braces! Amazing what a natural diet can do isn’t it? But I digress. There are plenty of toothpastes that do a fine job with all natural ingredients, we usually switch off between getting the fluoride free Tom’s and Desert Essences brands (which staying true to the theme of this article, both got 1’s on EWG). Oh, and on that note, this is a topic for an article in itself, but if your water is fluoridated, get a fluoride filter, now. This website does a great job of summing up why fluoride is disastrous for human health and shouldn’t be given to anyone let alone a kid with a serious health problem.
Hand Soap: While it’s often said that a good habit for a long life is washing your hands, whatever benefit it might bring to you and your kids will be counteracted, to say the least, by absorbing the chemicals that are passed off as soap today. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, just take a look at what’s in the bottle of hand soap your kids use every time they’re in the bathroom and ask yourself if all those chemicals you can’t pronounce are really necessary (hint: they’re absolutely not!). We got ourselves a soap dispenser for every bathroom and bought a big ol’ bottle of Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap to fill each one. Not only is it awesome, but it also scores a one on EWG. We love supporting this company because they spend an outrageous amount of money fighting GMOs. Their bars of soap are great as well.
Hair Products: Whatever you put into your or your child’s hair is going to sit there on top of your heads and be steadily absorbed through your scalps all day… Day in and day out. More toxic chemicals that might make sense to avoid, right? I really like Badger brand products’ attention to detail in managing to use only natural and organic ingredients while making great products at the same time and use their pomade for styling my hair (one on EWG). Additionally, since my hair is undesirably “poofy”, I slather olive oil into it just before I shower. It really helps smooth things out and it’s completely natural… I buy the organic, cold-pressed of course! Teddy swears by coconut oil and uses just a tiny drop to style her hair after she dries it. Since beards and mustaches are also hair, and a shaving category wouldn’t apply to everyone, I’ll just throw in here that Badger makes a great shave soap (one on EWG) as well, just make sure to get a brush to lather it.
Makeup: Although I’m no expert on makeup, I can tell you this is just as important as the other categories I discussed. Makeup sits on a women’s (and nowadays even some little girl’s) faces all day, every day, getting absorbed into the skin. The problem with unnatural and carcinogenic chemicals in the makeup category is just as bad as it is with the conventional products in every other category I’ve discussed. So if anything, this seems like a good last reminder to use Environmental Working Group as an easy resource for making solid decisions about what’s safe and what’s not. Teddy herself has had to make quite a few changes in her makeup regime. Before Ryder was diagnosed, she thought buying her makeup from Whole Foods was enough to ensure her makeup was not toxic. Unfortunately, she learned the hard way it’s not and a “holistic” (in their marketing at least) brand she really liked a particular product from turned out to be a whopping 7 in toxicity on EWG…*ahem* Dr. Hauschka. Since then, she’s switched over to several bareMinerals products which scored a one (do your homework as not ALL of their products do) as well as The Organic Face (again, only the “one” scoring products as that’s about our comfort threshold).
So that’s it for this one. Hopefully I’ve done a good job of drilling in that there are toxic and non-toxic choices for everything you put on yourself and your kids. When we think about it in those terms, the extra few minutes it takes to look at the ingredients and look a couple things up on Environmental Working Group doesn’t seem like such an inconvenience anymore. If we have to spend a couple extra bucks on something, which isn’t even always the case, so be it. In my mind, the whole purpose of making money is to support my family and I can think of no better way to support them than safeguarding their health in every way possible.
I’m already thinking of more things I could have gone into – lotion, balm, sunscreen, chapstick, etc. I should also point out that just because I mentioned a particular product we use, doesn’t mean it’s the only safe product out there, or even the best for that matter. I just wanted to give you a place to start. The important thing is the overall mentality of looking into everything for yourself. All that said, this is a community site… So please let everyone know in the comments what your favorite natural products are and why!