Conventional products for your home and body can be full of unpronounceable chemicals and are usually packaged in plastic containers, which we know is not the most eco-friendly packaging material. Cleaning supplies can also be harsh on skin and your lungs when they contain chemicals and fumes. Greener versions of such products are available, made with natural ingredients that are safer for your skin, body, and environment at home. Or you could take it one step further to green and make your own.
Why use natural products?
Many conventional products contain seriously harmful chemicals. Check out this handy guide to toxic ingredients, and always check the label of products before you buy, and watch out for the following ingredients. Some of the worst offenders include the following ingredients.
Benzoyl peroxide: This peroxide is used in medicated acne treatments and facial washes. However, it is also a toxic product that can irritate eyes, skin, and lungs. The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for Benzoyl peroxide states that the ingredient may be a mutagen and tumor promoter, as well as causing damage to DNA.
DEA (Diethanolamine), MEA (Monoethanolamine), and TEA (Triethanolamine): These materials are used to boost foam production and are skin and eye irritants. They absorb easily through the skin and accumulate in body tissues and organs such as the brain.
Dioxin: Dioxin is an ingredient that has been reported to cause cancer, reduce immune function, and cause nervous system disorders, miscarriages, and birth defects. This product is not commonly listed in ingredient lists and often is hidden in ingredients such as triclosan, emulsifiers, PEGs, and SLS (below).
DMDM Hydantoin and Urea: These preservative ingredients release formaldehyde, which causes a host of bodily ailments such as joint pain, skin and allergy reactions, depression, head and chest pain, ear infections, fatigue and insomnia, depression, dizziness, and even cancer.
FD&C Colors and Dyes: These synthetic dyes cause skin irritation as they are absorbed into your body through the skin. Absorbing these products can lead to oxygen depletion and even death, and nearly all of the dyes have been shown to be carcinogenic in animal studies.
Parabens: Look for the prefixes Methyl, Butyl, Ethyl, and Propyl to identify these ingredients. Parabens are used as preservatives in many products for the skin such as deodorants and lotions. These chemicals have been discovered in breast cancer tumors and may contribute to male sterility, female hormonal issues, and early puberty.
Polyethylene Glycol (PEG): PEG is ubiquitous found in baby products, sunscreen, and other personal care items. Dioxin is a by-product of the process used to make PEG.
Phthalates: Phthalates cause birth defects, damage to the liver and kidneys, decreased sperm count, hormonal issues, and early breast development in both girls and boys. Phthalates are primarily used as a plasticizing agent and can be found in products ranging from pharmaceuticals to personal care items, detergents, food products, lubricants, and more. Plastic materials release phthlates into food and the atmosphere as they degrade and break down.
Propylene Glycol (PG) and Butylene Glycol: These ingredients are toxic petroleum plastics that can be absorbed by the skin and lead to abnormalities of major organs.
Sodium Laurel Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate: These ingredients are used to make products foam and lather. They are very common in shampoos, toothpastes, and soaps. They are also used to degrease engines and clean roads; these ingredients are far too harsh to let into your body. According to the Material Safety Data Sheet for Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, SLS causes irritation on contact with skin, eyes, or mucous membranes, is moderately toxic if ingested, can cause allergic reactions on contact, and may cause “mutagenic effects.”
Sunscreen: Common chemicals used in sunscreen are believed to lead to cancer and damage DNA. Such chemicals include Avobenzone, benzphenone, ethoxycinnamate, and PABA.
Triclosan: This chemical is a pesticide and is used as an ingredient in antibacterial products. Triclosan belongs to the chlorophenol classification of chemicals, and chlorophenols are suspected carcinogens.
What can you do to avoid these chemicals?
There are many ways to avoid harsh and toxic ingredients in your personal care items. Consider the following suggestions.
Instead of… shampoo:
Green option: Buy shampoos without these toxic ingredients, and recycle your plastic bottles when you run out. Do research on the key ingredients to avoid in shampoo, and read labels carefully.
Greener option: Buy natural shampoo bars, ideally in paper packaging that can be easily recycled. Shampoo bars can also be used to clean your body or as a lather bar for shaving, so they are a great way to make the most of your shower’s real estate with a multi-purpose and eco-friendly product.
Greenest option: Make your own. You can try the no ‘poo method of hair care and alternate a baking soda rinse and a vinegar rinse to cleanse and clarify hair and balance the scalp’s pH. Or you can learn to make your own shampoo bars or hair care products.
Instead of… lotion:
Green option: Buy natural lotions without the toxins listed above, ideally in glass jars for easy re-use or recycling. If your lotion comes in a plastic bottle, recycle it.
Greener option: Buy natural lotions from a small local business or independent online vendor.
Greenest option: Make your own! You can make lotions, body butters, and hand salves from just beeswax and oil, or include shea or cocoa butter, essential oils for natural fragrance, or other ingredients. There are endless recipes available online if you are interested in making your own lotion. For a very simple, one-ingredient recipe for lotion, just apply coconut oil to your skin – it is a naturally antibacterial substance and absorbs deep into the skin to reduce dry skin and other skin issues.
Instead of… deodorant:
Green option: Do your homework, read your labels, and purchase a natural brand with real ingredients instead of chemicals.
Greener option: Source your natural deodorant purchase from a local or other handmade vendor (check out Etsy for some great homemade products).
Greenest option: Make your own deodorant. Coconut oil is a natural antibacterial and anti-fungal product and can be used as a deodorant. Baking soda is also an effective alternative, known for its odor absorption capabilities, and it can be used alone or mixed with coconut oil. You can get creative with other ingredients like shea butter and essential oils for natural fragrance. Save an empty deodorant container to mold your deodorant recipe if you want the easiest application.
Instead of… toothpaste:
Green option: Buy natural brands at the store without fluoride (an ingredient not listed above but that has been identified as dangerous and potentially carcinogenic) or any of the other ingredients listed above, such as SLS.
Greener option: Create homemade toothpaste from baking soda and peppermint castile soap (such as Dr. Bronner’s brand), which is safe to consume. You may still be buying a pre-made ingredient to make this version, but it’s much better than buying a chemical-laden tube of toothpaste. Recycle your soap bottle!
Greenest option: Try baking soda only, or a mixture of baking soda and fine sea salt – the salt gives a bit of extra scrubbing power. For a familiar taste, add peppermint extract or peppermint oil (or whatever flavor you prefer, just don’t use a sugary flavoring).
As an added bonus, check out this list of BPA-, PVC-, and Phthalate-free toothbrushes.
Instead of… face wash, toner, and moisturizer:
Green option: Purchase natural brands at the store without any toxic ingredients listed above.
Greener option: Replace one or more of your regimen’s ingredients with a homemade natural alternative.
Greenest option: Overhaul your facial regimen and make your own products. You can make a facial scrub from honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, and even oatmeal for more exfoliation. Or you can rinse your face with a baking soda solution or create a mask from baking soda and orange juice. Use apple cider vinegar (organic, with the “mother”) as a toner. Moisturize with coconut oil or other oil such as jojoba or olive oil – steam your face with a warm or hot washcloth and wipe the excess oil away, leaving skin clean and soft.
Instead of… sunscreen:
Green option: Try an organic, natural sunscreen without the chemicals listed above that are commonly used in sunscreens.
Greenest option: Use coconut oil as a sunscreen. Coconut oil blocks the burn but still allows your skin to absorb the UV rays of the sun, which are necessary for Vitamin D absorption. There are many recipes online for coconut oil sunscreens, some of which contain other oils and ingredients for different purposes.
Enjoy your new beauty products
A simple internet search can bring you thousands of recipes to make your own face care, hair care, and skin care products from all natural ingredients. Whether you take the green route and make more eco-conscious purchases from natural brands, or you go the greenest way and make all of your own natural products, the less you rely on chemicals in your personal care products, the healthier you will become. Share this information with your family and friends to encourage them to make healthy, natural choices about what they put on their bodies too. Share your ideas for more natural DIY products in the comments.
Honey – Showupfitness.com
Coconut – Mindbodygreen.com