Do you pay much attention to the ingredients in you personal care products? I mean, soap is soap. Right? Same for deodorant. If you’re not smelly, it’s all good. And lotion? As long as you’re no longer looking like a patch of parched Saharan desert, you’re good to go.
Well, maybe not.
We’ve been too trusting of the makers of our personal care products, to the point that our health may be in jeopardy. We presume that regulatory institutions ensure that only good products get the green light so that we don’t have to research every product we put on our skin.
Alas, it’s not that simple. We do have to become personal care product sleuths because harmful ingredients have sneaked into many everyday items.
Let’s see how we can make informed swaps of three basic personal care products to ensure better health.
The problem: Endocrine disrupting and/or mystery ingredients
We’ve become a nation of antibacterial junkies, believing that we need to get rid of all bacteria to maintain health. Three-quarters of antibacterial personal care products and almost one third of bar soaps contain triclosan, an antibacterial chemical that many countries have banned and is considered a possible hormone disruptor. It can accumulate in the body and can adversely affect not only your skin but your liver. In addition, many soaps and body washes contain the ubiquitous ingredient “fragrance,” which can be a catchall for a toxic soup of chemicals that can set off allergies and asthma, lodge in the body and mess with our hormones, or lead to more serious chronic illnesses. Even so-called “unscented” products can contain fragrance.
The solution: More oils, more natural moisture
Over the years I’ve switched to brands that make oil-based soaps with natural, simple, pronounceable ingredients. These soaps hydrate, moisturize, and nourish the skin and don’t strip it. I look for shea butter, glycerin, and vegetable oils as main ingredients. My current fave bar soaps are Nubian Heritage’s Indian Hemp and Haitian Vetiver, Zum, Shea Radiance’s Complexion Bar and African Black Soap, and Good Soap. Dr. Bronner’s Lavender Sugar Soap is a great liquid hand soap made of mostly organic oils, and Nature’s Gate’s Original Moisturizing Liquid Soap is deeply replenishing and free of the chemicals that plague many hand soaps.
The problem: Toxic chemicals soaking into our skin
Our skin, the body’s largest organ, is often referred to as our “third kidney” due to its detoxifying skills. Slathering our skin with the chemicals found in many cheap lotions hampers the skin’s ability to eliminate excess moisture and toxins. The artificial colors and dyes in these personal care products permeate the bloodstream and run amok in our bodies. Synthetic preservatives mimic estrogen and disrupt our hormones and are potentially cancer-causing. We may not even see their effects until much later on in life. Others can create skin allergies and irritations.
Here are the “dirty dozen” toxic ingredients to look out for in your current arsenal of personal care products:
- Sodium laurel sulfate (SLS)
- Polyethelyne glycol (PEG) compounds like propylene glycol
- Diethanolamine (DEA)
- Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives
- Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)
- Coal tar dyes
- Fragrance or parfum
The solution: Natural body oils, butters, creams, moisturizers, and salves
Although skin-friendly moisturizing products tend to cost more than conventional lotions, they are well worth the price. Most natural products have smaller molecules and less chemicals than regular lotions; as a result, they carry no toxins and can enter the skin easily.
For purists, oils like coconut, jojoba, grapeseed, sweet almond, and even olive are ideal, as is vegetable glycerin. Add a few drops of essential oils like lavender, geranium, frankincense, and rose, which are the best ones for the skin, for a hint of fragrance.
I’m a huge shea butter fan! Shea Radiance’s Antioxidant Body Cream with Shea and Baobab Oil is a luxury hydrating treatment, so I use it daily but sparingly. Nature’s Gate’s Papaya Lotion contains a great mix of oils and butters that pamper and nourish the skin. I use it daily. For feet, I use small-batch salves, such as tallow balm or even castor oil, especially in the winter.
The problem: Aluminum in some antiperspirants can cause armpit cysts
We normally handle underarm sweat and odors with deodorant or antiperspirant. The former helps to disguise odor; the latter helps reduce armpit wetness. Perspiration is a healthy bodily function through which we release toxins, but antiperspirants feature chemicals like aluminum that block our sweat glands and, hence, perspiration.
However, antiperspirants (not deodorant) can cause very painful lumps in the armpit. I remember experiencing those lumps, and a naturopath advised me to eliminate antiperspirants/deodorants with aluminum chlorohydrate, a synthetic chemical made by reacting aluminum with hydrochloric acid.
Whether aluminum causes breast cancer remains unclear, but aluminum may be implicated in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Aluminum is a neurotoxin that can alter the function of the blood-brain barrier (BBB), which regulates exchanges between our central nervous system (CNS) and peripheral circulation. A study back in 1989 confirmed aluminum’s toxicity; if absorbed, aluminum can enter the lungs, liver, and kidneys.
The solution: non-aluminum-chlorohydrate deodorants
You can choose products that contain no aluminum whatsover. That would rule out Naturally Fresh Deodorant Crystal and Crystal body deodorant roll-on aluminium, which I have used for years and contain potassium alum, an inorganic salt form of naturally-occurring aluminum. Potassium alum is considered safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) gives crystal sticks and sprays top marks for non-toxicity. However, Environment Canada does not.
I use crystal deodorants because they get rid of the bacteria that cause odor, whereas some other natural deodorants try to mask odor with fragrances. Potassium alum has not been shown to be harmful in its organic state in any studies.
Look for deodorants that are free of parabens, propylene glycol, phthalates, and artificial fragrance and that include essential oils like tea tree and witch hazel to curb bacteria. Minerals like zinc ricinoleate and sodium bicarbonate keep your pits dry but don’t squelch your sweat.
Examples include Schmidt’s Natural Deodorant, Soapwalla Deodorant Cream, Tom’s of Maine Long Lasting Deodorant in Fresh Apricot, Pacifica coconut milk and essential oils underarm deodorant wipes,and Native Deodorant.
Which personal care products have you changed in order to eliminate toxins? Which ones do you intend to work on changing in the near future?