Welcome to the first installment of the Morning Routine Makeover series! In the first part of this series I’m sharing some of the things I’ve learned about the products we douse our bodies with daily. Then we’ll look at some options for cleaner, friendlier products and DIYs for body wash/soap, lotion, deodorant, and fragrance/perfume.
Before we get into it, please know these two things:
- This post barely scratches the surface of this vast and confusing topic on purpose. I think it’s important to wade into these waters cautiously, as it’s pretty easy to get totally freaked out and overwhelmed. (Which, of course, I already did.) Plus, I’m not a scientist or a large organization, and I can only gather so much information.
- It is NOT intended to make you throw everything out right now and drop a bunch of money replacing it all at once. Don’t do that. Please. Go at your own pace, because this transition takes time.
If you read last week’s post, then you have heard the argument for your skin. If not, here’s a quick refresher: Your skin absorbs as much as 60% of everything you put on it, and many of those things are harmful to your health.
I’ve been stunned by how some of the most harmful ingredients show up not only in products that span several of this series' four categories (body, hair, face and oral care), but in other products, household items, and even industrial uses like antifreeze, varnishes, and tire sealants (to name just a few).
Because there are so many and so much overlap, I’ve decided to focus on the top five toxins (in my humble opinion) found in body care products*:
*There are many more, but don't worry, the biggest offenders will get covered throughout the course of this series.
It is a catch-all term to cover many synthetic chemicals that can have a wide array of harmful effects. And wherever fragrance is listed, phthalates are likely present. (We’ll cover those next week. Spoiler alert: they are up to no good.)
Why it is harmful: Fragrance can cause headaches, dizziness, asthma, allergies, breakouts and rashes, and contain potential neurotoxins. Also, the bioaccumulation of fragrance is particularly threatening to both our air and waterways and the living things that rely on them (which is… everything).
How it is listed: Fragrance, perfume, parfum
This is not an ingredient, but a by-product or contaminant that will not be listed. It’s especially sneaky because it’s found in many products that claim to be “organic” or “all-natural”. I call bullshit.
Why it is harmful: 1,4 Dioxane is a known carcinogen that is also potentially toxic to the kidneys and respiratory system and nearly every system in the body except, surprisingly, the reproductive system (as far as current research knows). It’s also a neurotoxin and a groundwater contaminant.
How it is listed: It’s not. However, it may be present where these also-harmful ingredients are listed: sodium laureth sulfate (SLS), polyethylene glycol (PEG), dimethicone, polyoxyethylene, polyethylene, oxynol, polysorbate-20 (also -40, -60, and -80), ethylene oxide, anything with -eth (myreth, oleth, laureth, ceteareth, to name a few)
Why they are harmful: Parabens mimic estrogen and may disrupt the endocrine system and cause reproductive and developmental disorders. They are also known to cause cancer (in lab animals) and can increase the rate of cancer cell growth.
How it is listed: Anything with the word paraben in it. Not limited to, but especially propyl-, isopropyl-, butyl-,isobutyl-, methyl-, and ethyl- parabens. Also hydroxybenzoic acid, hydroxybenzoate, and ester.
Why they are harmful: DEA is a possible carcinogen that can also cause allergic reactions, eye irritation, and dryness of the hair and skin. DEA, MEA, and TEA can react with nitrites to form nitrosamines, which are also possible carcinogens.
How it is listed: Diethanolamine (DEA), monoethanolamine (MEA), triethanolamine (TEA), ethanolamine, cocamide DEA, lauramide DEA. There are too many synonyms for each of these to cover (but the links above will help).
Why it is harmful: Triclosan is a bit of a nightmare, contaminating our waterways and sewage sludge applied agricultural fields. It’s highly toxic to wildlife and the environment. It’s also linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, heart disease and heart failure, paralysis, suppression of the immune system, and brain hemorrhages. It can affect sexual function and fertility, and may foster birth defects. It’s commonly found in products advertised as antibacterial or antimicrobial.
How it is listed: Triclosan; phenol, 5-chloro-2-(2,4-dichlorophenoxy)-; 5-Chloro-2-(2,4-dichlorophenoxy)phenol; ether, 2'-hydroxy-2,4,4'-trichlorodiphenyl; 2,4,4'-trichloro-2'-hydroxy diphenyl ether; cloxifenolum
Unfortunately, for each of these toxins, there are more synonyms than I can list. And some of these names will appear with other words or numbers attached to them. When in doubt, you can search individual ingredients, as well as products, on EWG’s SkinDeep.
Okay, that’s enough technical talk, now to the fun part!
The good news is that this stuff is totally replaceable. There are plenty of affordable store-bought options now, and many DIY recipes if you’re into that. I’m on the prowl for the best (read: easiest and healthiest) DIYs I can find and tacking them onto GMG’s Pinterest board DIYs to Try: Natural Personal Care whenever I can.
Here’s some things we are trying (as of the date of this post) and some options that look promising (but not necessarily tested by us yet). Plus, a couple of my favorite experts have weighed in on some of their favorite products and DIYs. They are:
Marcy E. Cruice, aka The Detoxitarian, who also JUST launched her exciting new blog Marcy & Co., is a licensed holistic health coach and founder of the Detoxitarian Lifestyle Program. She is someone I trust to give great recommendations on clean products and pretty much anything.
Sarah Scherr, who’s written for GMG in the past, has been living the clean, green lifestyle for years and loves making her own concoctions for beauty, cleaning, health, you name it!
(Note: I’ve done my best to vet these products, but not all of these are a perfect 0 on EWG. So set your own priorities and use your best judgment.)
We’re using: Ology Castile Soap. It’s much cheaper than Dr. Bronner’s (but it also seems less concentrated). We’ve tried the Lavender and are currently using Peppermint. Both are great, though the peppermint doesn’t really smell all that minty, which is maybe a good thing.
Some other options:
Pure Life Volcanic Clay Soap
Pangea Organics Bar Soap
Kiss My Face Olive Oil Bar Soap
Kiss my Face Shower Gel
Nourish Organic Body Wash (Comes in really yummy scents like Almond Vanilla, Lemon Thyme, Lavender Mint, Tropical Coconut and more)
DIY Herbal Body Wash from Mountain Rose Harbs
We’re using: Kris is using Ology Milk & Honey Body Lotion. It’s not perfect because it does still contain that dirty word “fragrance” (which automatically gets an 8 on SkinDeep and ups the product’s rating) but it is free of everything else and is easy to find and relatively cheap. It can be cheaper if you buy it online.
I just started using fractionated coconut oil (coconut oil with the solids removed) and am in love! It makes my skin feel super soft and sexy. (You’ll get the same result from regular coconut oil.)
Marcy suggests: Coconut oil in place of traditional lotion. She buys it in bulk and uses it for everything (oh, the abundant uses for coconut oil!). Super frugal.
Sarah suggests: Alaffia Body Lotion. However, she mostly uses a variety of oils in place of lotion. She loves sesame, coconut, castor, grapeseed, almond, olive and avocado oils. She says, "Coconut oil can seem surprisingly drying [to me]. I prefer it in the summer and sesame in the winter, as it is warming and sometimes feels too heavy for summer." She also LOVES nearly anything from Evan Healy. Which you can find at better prices here.
We’re using: Kris is still using his beloved Old Spice. We're slowly working on finding a viable alternative for him. Will post updates as that progresses.
I just started using a deodorant crystal from Naturally Fresh. So far it works really well, but after a couple of daily uses my armpits became very sensitive and had red bumps during and for a short while after application. For this reason, that link shows options including some with aloe. That would probably help. So I started using it every other day and, surprisingly, it continues to work, and the bumps stopped happening! Another awesome thing about this crystal is that it was only about $5 and it should last a year or more!
Marcy recommends: Honest’s Bergamot and Sage (also comes in Lavender Vanilla and Vetiver)
Sarah loves this DIY: 1 tbsp coconut oil, 1½ tbsp baking soda, 1½ tbsp arrowroot powder, 9 drops EO (tea tree and lavender). Store in a small glass container and apply by rubbing a small amount into your pits after showering. If it’s itchy cut down on baking soda and add more arrowroot.
Other trustworthy brands:
Kiss My Face Natural Active Life Aluminum Free Deodorant Stick
Lafe's Natural Deodorants (stones, sprays, roll-ons, and sticks)
Alba Botanica Clear Enzyme Deodorant Stick
Okay, so I don’t really use perfume or body spray, which means I don't have much in the way of personal recommendations. I have been using a lot of essential oils lately (a blend for neck/back pain, rosemary for energy, or lavender for relaxation, to name a few) and I like how those sort of end up being my perfume.
Kris on the other hand still uses some cologne he got in a holiday gift set several years ago. He loves it and I haven't yet figured out a good non-toxic replacement for it. Working on that. Again, will post it if we come up with anything good.
Sarah uses: a mixture of witch hazel and tea tree oil in a small spray bottle whenever she's feeling less than fresh. You can really use any combination of oils that you like to create your own personalized spray.
Whew! That was a lot. And thanks for sticking through it!
Now I'd love to know how you feel. Is there anything you are excited to try or REALLY don't want to get rid of? See you in the comments!
p.s. Check out part 2, let's talk about hair!
Bridges, B. (2002). Fragrance: Emerging Health and Environmental Concerns. Flavour and Fragrance Journal, 17(5), 361-371. Retrieved July 3, 2015
Carcinogens Found in "Organic" Personal Care Products. (2008, April 5). Retrieved July 2, 2015.
Connor, S., & Spunt, A. (2010). No more dirty looks: The truth about your beauty products-- and the ultimate guide to safe and clean cosmetics. New York, NY: Da Capo Lifelong.
Cunningham, V. (2013, November 12). 10 Toxic Beauty Ingredients to Avoid. Retrieved July 3, 2015.
Gabriel, J. (2008). The green beauty guide: Your essential resource to organic and natural skin care, hair care, makeup, and fragrances. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications.
Loux, R. (2008). Easy green living: The ultimate guide to simple, eco-friendly choices for you and your home. Emmaus, PA: Rodale.
St Onge, E. (2012, April 10). You Have The Right To Know: 17 Chemicals To Avoid In Cosmetic And Personal Care Products. Retrieved July 3, 2015.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (n.d.). Retrieved July 2, 2015.