3 toxins to kick out of your beauty routine

3 toxins to kick out of your beauty routine

The following post is from Katie of Kitchen Stewardship:

3 toxins to kick out of your beauty routine

If you were really a hippie, you wouldn’t need this post.

You know what I mean – the stereotype of the “green and crunchy” woman – no makeup, long hair, undyed and untreated, hairy armpits and legs.

Other than soap to wash her hands, that imaginary gal in the gypsy skirt and sandals doesn’t really use any personal products to speak of, so she has no worries about toxins.

But you – you might want to wear makeup sometimes. Washing your face nightly may be a non-negotiable routine. And you might even want to shave your legs, at least in the summer.

Shoot, even the uber-crunchy gypsy girl probably brushes her teeth once a day, so maybe she does need to learn to read labels.

When you’re talking about finding healthy food, a lot of people recommend avoiding foods with ingredients you can’t pronounce.

Unfortunately, especially if you’re trying to baby-step your way out of the worst of the commercial personal products but don’t have the time to go DIY or the money to buy the top-of-the-line expensive “natural” brands, you’re going to have to learn to read labels. There will be plenty of words you can’t pronounce (82,000 different ingredients in personal care products), but some are worse than others. Most of the time, toxic ingredients in the products we put on our skin and in our hair may hurt us, but they’ll only potentially cause cancer or disrupt your hormones, which messes with the reproductive system. That’s all…

In the interest of baby steps today, we’ll just tackle 3 of the nastiest toxins that are often in personal care products and find out why you should kick them to the curb.

1. Parabens

non toxic bath?

Parabens are a class of preservatives found in all sorts of products, from body wash to shampoo to lip balm. You name it, if it needs to last a while and is moist, you might find a paraben in there.

They’re usually under slightly longer names, like methylparaben or propylparaben, but if you see “paraben” as any part of any ingredient, get rid of it, especially if young children might use the product.

Parabens have been found in breast tumors and the urine of nearly all U.S. adults, no matter what their gender, ethnic, or economic backgrounds. Parabens mimic estrogen, potentially disrupting hormone function, which can lead to reproductive issues as well as cancers and even immune and neurological disorders.

This was one of the first chemical ingredients I learned to look out for, and I can still remember my very young firstborn child (less than two years old, I think) asking in the bath, “Mommy, does the giraffe shampoo have parabens?” and also telling his Grandma he couldn’t use stuff with parabens.

Since that little tot is now nine, this means that for quite a few years, parabens have been getting a bad reputation (rightfully so) and I was thinking that most brands, even mainstream ones, had voluntarily removed them. Not so.

Just this summer I visited the homes of a few friends with new babies, and I spotted parabens both in the supposedly “gentle, natural” baby wash and, even more frighteningly in my opinion, in the Huggies brand of baby wipes (not Pampers or a few store brands, interestingly enough). You don’t rinse off baby wipes… *shudder*

More in-depth info on parabens here and here. Some sources: FDA doesn’t care, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

2. Phthalates

natural facial masks

Good thing I wasn’t trying to teach my little one how to avoid this one, because I’m not even sure I know how to say it!

You also may not have to really look out for this word, as fun as it is to try to spit out and pronounce – it’s not often listed in the ingredients, but don’t think that you’re already avoiding it.

Because regulations for care products aren’t nearly as strict as foods, manufacturers don’t have to list every single item. Phthalates usually hide under “parfum” or “fragrance,” which could hide up to 4,000 different ingredients. Anytime I see “fragrance” on an ingredients list, I read it as, “I don’t know what’s in there and the company doesn’t care enough about me or full disclosure to tell me…hmmm…” It’s suspicious at best, something to be avoided always just in case at worst.

Synthetic fragrances and the phthalates that often come along for the ride can be carcinogenic, hormone disrupting, damage your liver, kidney or lungs, or simply cause headaches, dizziness, asthma, and exacerbated allergies in the moment. If the company won’t really tell me “what’s in there,” I try to find an alternative.

Phthalates, like parabens, have been banned in Europe since 2003. Thanks for keeping up, FDA.

3. The “EA” Family

You might see this family of chemicals as big words or acronyms:

  • monoethanolamine (MEA)
  • diethanolamine (DEA)
  • triethanolamine (TEA)

They’re unfortunately pretty commonly used in creamy products or things that foam – lotions, shampoos, body washes, etc. They react to form nitrosamines, which may cause cancer.

After the two most obvious choices, for me, of parabens and phthalates, it was actually pretty tough to choose a third chemical to advise against, since there are quite a few vying for third-most-evil award, from some with negative neurological impact, some that are “fine” by themselves but almost always form other nasty compounds when actually in use, others that will just hurt your skin when applied, more carcinogens and endocrine disruptors and a few that are already banned in Europe.

If your brain isn’t already on overload, here are some longer lists of toxic ingredients to avoid in personal care products:

The Practical Side: How to Avoid the Nasties

DIY facial options

First, you’ve got to read ingredients in your home and find out where they are. If you’re using conventional, commercial personal care products throughout your house…I’m sorry to say that you’ll probably find quite a handful of these three all over the place. 🙁

Second, read more ingredients, this time in the store. If you’re lucky, you can find a “better” alternative on the regular pharmacy shelves.

Third – go DIY. You can make your own lotions, use an alternative shampoo method, and DIY deodorant pretty easily. Soaps are a little harder to make completely from scratch, but there are quite a number of naturally produced soap concentrates, including simple castile soap, that can be used to make foaming soaps and body washes.

For facial care, there are quite a few neat ways to wash and care for your face with food, such as washing your face with honey, the oil cleansing method, and many masks and treatments that are simple to put together. (Through October 17, 2014, you can grab a great deal on a huge collection of them plus hand/body scrubs right here in a package I created with many purposes: to throw a natural spa party, to make dozens of homemade gifts quickly, with or without a group of people to make the job more pleasant, and to share real food party recipes that are our family’s favs.)

Try not to be overwhelmed by changing everything at once – either choose a few select ingredients that you won’t allow in your home anymore and determine how to root them out, or focus on one category at a time, like soaps, facial care, or moisturizers, and see what you can do to improve in that area before moving on.

Over the years I’ve tested an awful lot of both commercially available and DIY natural body products, so if you want a massive “head to toe” list to find resources for just about everything, here are my green and natural personal care products, which is often updated as I try new strategies.

What did you tackle first on your personal care green journey? What are your favorite natural companies or recipes for DIY?

Katie Kimball has been “green” since 5th grade when she read 50 Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth. She remains slightly disappointed that she didn’t actually save the whole thing back then, but now that she has 3 kiddos counting on her, she keeps plugging away hopefully. Katie blogs at Kitchen Stewardship about real food and natural living and is the author of Healthy Snacks to Go and other eBooks, available for Kindle.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. This is a very informative list. I’ve slowly been trying to replace many of my personal care products. I haven’t been very successful with most of the DIY products I’ve tried, but I have found alternative commercial products that *I think* conform to many of the newer guidelines for what chemicals to stay away from.

    I think my biggest problem to date has been my hair. I have curly hair that really doesn’t need shampoo BUT I have a really sensitive scalp with all kinds of issues. When I tried the no-poo process (baking soda/apple cider vinegar) my scalp really didn’t like me. It got to the point after many weeks that I couldn’t even stand the smell. I was concerned about my coworkers noticing it, the itching was really bad, etc. Maybe it was just the sebum overreacting to the lack of shampoo stripping it away, but I couldn’t handle it. I’ve also tried co-washing (washing with just conditioner). I had some limited success there. My daughter does that for her curly hair.

    Since then I have started using Shea Moisture shampoo (sulfate and paraben free) as well as their leave in conditioning cream. I still have scalp issues though 🙁

    For my face, I have used the oil cleansing method with some success but only in the winter when my skin is so very dry. If I used it in the summer my skin was just too oily. For summer used I have started using Alba Botanica Pineapple wash. I also use Alba for a moisturizer (Jasmine). I tried coconut oil for a while, but again I found my skin was just too oily afterwards.

    I have stopped using body wash altogether. I buy soap from my local farmer’s market ($4-5 a bar, so kinda pricey) or Yardley’s soap from the dollar store. I love the smell of several of the Yardley’s soaps! Once I got used to soap again after so many years of body wash, my skin feels cleaner and fresher!

    Sigh…it’s a long process with a lot of trial and error, but I feel that I am making the best choices I can!

  2. Good for you, Sara! Sounds like you’ve made a ton of healthy changes, and I totally agree – it can be a long trial-and-error process! I think straight coconut oil as a moisturizer is greasy too, but hard lotion bars (you can buy them or make them) add shea butter and beeswax, and the beeswax seals it in and it’s not nearly so greasy. I wonder if the sensitive scalp could be something other than your shampoo, since it didn’t go away when you stopped using shampoo entirely? Might be a reason to think outside the box and look at other causes?

    Anyway – you’re doing awesome!! 🙂 Katie

  3. I often check the Skin Deep database before purchasing face, hair or body care products. I hope it is valid and reliable. Any thoughts?

  4. I may give that a try! Thank you!

  5. Thanks Katie. I think my scalp has some form of dermatitis. I went to a dermatologist last year, but she wasn’t very helpful 🙁 I am trying a tea tree oil treatment right now. We’ll see if it works 🙂

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