Have you ever considered switching your personal care products to more natural alternatives? It might surprise you that conventional (drug store brand) personal care products can contain ingredients that are harmful to your health. Personal care products are also called cosmetics and are defined as any product we use on our body such as toothpaste, hair spray/gel, moisturizers, deodorant, cosmetics, lotions, shaving cream, soaps, shampoos, conditioner, and more. These are products we use on our body every single day, so using non-toxic products can make a world of difference! Read on to learn about why conventional personal care products can be harmful to our health, where to buy safe products, and my favorite natural product brands.
Why Are Conventional Products Harmful?
On average, women use approximately 12 personal care products each day, while men use around 6. Each one of these products contains 15-20 ingredients, which means women are exposed to around 180 to 240 chemicals, and men are exposed to 90 to 120 chemicals each day from their personal care products alone. Not all of these chemicals are harmful to your health, but some are. The problem lies with the regulation and testing of the chemical ingredients used in cosmetics/personal care products. In the US, the FDA does not require the chemicals contained in a personal care product to be tested for safety before the product is put on the shelf (source). In Canada, there are similar problems with cosmetic regulation. Because of these regulation issues, conventional personal care products contain carcinogens (cancer causing agents), hormone disruptors, neurotoxins, heavy metals, irritants, and more. The problem doesn’t stop with your own health either, many of these chemicals are toxic to plants and animals, and will contaminate the environment once thrown out or washed down the drain. Finding the right non-toxic personal care products can cut out dozens of harmful chemicals from your daily routine and help keep the environment clean as well.
Common hazardous chemicals found in cosmetics:
These chemicals are used as preservatives in many cosmetics and personal care products. They mimic estrogen in the body which disrupts our hormones, and they have also been detected in human breast cancer tissue, suggesting there could be a link between parabens in cosmetics and cancer (source). These chemicals have various names but the end of their names always ends with ‘paraben’. Common parabens in cosmetics include methylparaben, butylparaben, and propylparaben.
SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate)
This chemical is used as a foaming agent in soaps, shampoos, and toothpastes. It is a skin, eye, and respiratory tract irritant and also toxic to aquatic organisms (source).
This chemical is mainly used in deodorants, cleaners, and hand sanitizers as a preservative and an anti-bacterial agent. Triclosan is a potential endocrine disruptor that has been shown to disrupt thyroid hormone homeostasis and possibly the reproductive axis. It does not easily degrade and because of this it can build up in the environment, it also reacts to form dioxins which are toxic and bioaccumulative (build up in plants and animals) (source). Triclosan is also highly toxic to algae and affects reproduction and development in some fish (source).
This is a general term found on the label of most scented personal care products. It is general because fragrance recipes are considered to be a trade secret, so companies are not required to specify the chemical ingredients of their fragrance blend on the ingredients list. Many chemicals in fragrance blends have not been tested for safety, and many can trigger allergies, migraines, and asthma symptoms in sensitive individuals. Parabens are also commonly used in fragrance blends (source).
These chemicals are just a few of the harmful chemicals that are commonly used in conventional personal care products. If I were to list off all the questionable chemicals in cosmetics, we would be here all day! If there is a specific chemical or product you are wondering about, you can search it on the Environmental Working Groups cosmetic database. This database is a fantastic resource for information about ingredients in personal care products. It uses a rating system of 1 (lowest hazard) to 10 (highest hazard) for each ingredient and also an overall rating for the product.
Which Products Are “Conventional”?
Conventional products are almost entirely the brands of personal care products you will find in drug and/or department stores. Some of these brands include Dove, Pantene, Herbal Essences, Crest, Colgate, Ivory, Garnier, Loreal, Nair, Veet, Hawaiian Tropic, St. Ives, Suave, Nivea, Vaseline, Olay, Aveeno, Degree, Secret, Dial, and Neutrogena. Each of these brands listed are linked to their EWG cosmetic database page so you can check out the common ingredients they use. Although the brands in drug stores seem almost endless, most of the products found in drug stores all come from just a few different companies that have split into many different brand names to create the illusion of diversity. These major companies include Unilever, Proctor & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, L’Oreal, and Jonnson & Johnson (source). So even though the products may look different, many of them use very similar ingredients.
What About Products That Claim to be Natural, Herbal, or Organic?
The terms ‘natural’, ‘herbal’, and ‘organic’ have no legal definition when used as a label on personal care products (source). Some products contain these terms as part of their title, so avoid the trap of assuming a product is organic, natural, or herbal just because it’s title contains that word (example: Herbal Essences shampoo). Products that are truly organic will possess the USDA organic label and all or some of their ingredients should be listed as organic. Keep in mind that some ingredients cannot be certified as organic because they have been isolated in a laboratory or are naturally occurring so the term organic is not applicable. In the instance of isolation, the company will sometimes note that the chemical has been derived from an organic source.
Where Can You Get Safe Personal Care Products?
No matter where you buy your personal care products from, you should always read the ingredients list on the product before buying it. It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the chemicals you wish to avoid so that you can identify them in the ingredients list. Here are some alternative places to get your personal care products:
Health Food Stores
Health food stores usually offer safer products, but don’t just assume it’s free of harmful ingredients because it’s being sold in a health food store! Many health food stores still carry products with harmful ingredients. This is why it is important to always read the ingredients before buying a product.
There are many online stores dedicated to selling the highest quality natural personal care products. When you shop online, it’s easy to research the product and read reviews before buying it as well.
Some Brands That Sell Non-Toxic Personal Care Products (That You Can Buy Online)
Carina Organics – face products, shampoo, conditioner, body wash
Avalon Organics – face products, shampoo, conditioner, soap
Earthly Delight – shampoo, conditioner, soap
Prairie Naturals – shampoo, conditioner, and other hair products
Green Beaver – face creams, lotions, deodorant, toothpaste
Living Libations – face oils, essential oils, tooth and gum products
Badger – sunscreen, lotions, face products
KL Skin – deodorant, lotions
Redmond – clay toothpaste, face masks
Mountain Sky – soap, lip balm, massage oil, lotions
Red Apple Lipstick – natural make up
Earth Lab – mineral make up
These are just a few brands that sell non-toxic products that I have personally used. There are so many brands of non-toxic products out there, I couldn’t possibly contain them all in one list! The selection of products available to you will also depend on where you live; some of the brands I have listed are Canadian because I live in Canada. If you are curious about a specific brand or product that isn’t on this list, try searching it on the EWGs SkinDeep cosmetic database for its hazard rating.
Many personal care products can be made at home, if you are a DIY type of person. The benefit to making products yourself is that you can use higher quality ingredients and leave out preservatives, fragrances, and dyes.
Using oils on your face is a simple replacement for conventional moisturizers, but it is important to make sure you are using the right kind and the highest quality oils. Use oils with low comedogenic ratings (this means they have low potential to clog pores). Coconut oil has a high comedogenic rating and should not be used on the face (for more details, click here). Finding the right oil that works for your skin is not always easy, but this guide can help you start out on the right track.
There are quite a few general household items that can be used as exfoliators. These include raw/organic sugar, unrefined sea salt, and organic coffee grounds. I do not recommend using baking soda as an exfoliator because it has a high pH which disrupts the natural pH of your skin (skin is naturally acidic). You can also use abrasive cloths to replace exfoliator products.
This is another personal care product that can easily be replicated with general household items. In this case, most oils will do the trick, just make sure its an oil you are OK with putting on your face. Olive oil is a good choice and an oil that is found in almost everyone’s pantry. This works because most make up is oil soluble. If you look at a bottle of conventional make up remover, the top ingredients are usually oils!
Body and Hand/Foot Lotions
Oils can be used on the body as a moisturizer as well, and usually do not need to be as particular as face oils unless you have very sensitive skin or are prone to acne/other skin problems on your body. Coconut oil is usually safe to use as a body moisturizer unless you have very sensitive skin. You can also make your own lotions by emulsifying oils with beeswax and shea butter. Check out this lotion recipe for more details.
You can make a natural deodorant stick out of coconut oil, baking soda, arrowroot powder, and a few other ingredients. Check out this deodorant recipe for more details.
It is possible to make your own soap at home, but it isn’t as simple to make as other home made personal care products. To make soap, you need to use lye which is caustic (it can give you a chemical burn). Because of this, you should wear protective equipment (gloves, apron, eye protection) and keep children and pets away from the area while you work. The general process of soap making involves heating up oils, adding a solution of lye to the hot oil, and mixing thoroughly until you reach “trace” (the point in which the oil won’t separate back out from the lye solution). Although lye is dangerous to work with, once the chemical reaction has completed no lye should remain in the final product. There are many different recipes you can try for soap, but here is a simple coconut oil and olive oil recipe start out with! Always make sure you follow a recipe and weigh out the ingredients precisely.
Shampoo and Conditioner
Some people choose to go “no-poo” which means they don’t use shampoo or conditioner on their hair at all. This works great for some people, but not for everybody. Other people make their own home made shampoos out of castile soap; check out a simple recipe here.
Diluted apple cider vinegar and lemon juice are common acids used as conditioners, while oils such as coconut oil and olive oil are also used. For more information on DIY conditioners, check out this article.
I hope you found this article useful, let me know in the comments which natural personal care products/brands are your favorites!