Most people don’t recognize this but your skin is an organ. What you put on your skin does get absorbed and incorporated into your own biology. This means that your shampoo or your deodorant can either support your health journey or be a source of overlooked inflammation. You might assume that the government is protecting you regarding how many dangerous chemicals can be placed in the personal care items available for sale. But here in the United States there are very few chemicals that are restricted. Beyond that, there is little to no research conducted to find out what happens when these chemical-laded products are used long-term, especially in a combination like most people use them. There are personal care products available that are as effective as the chemical-laden ones and you can often find these replacements in the same price range as the brand you currently use. This means that switching out your personal care products can be a very easy, painless way to improve your health.
Very common very dangerous chemicals to avoid
First, I want to outline just a few of the big bad dangerous chemicals you want to avoid and explain why they are so dangerous. My hope is that this information will help you understand why this change is so important
You might have noticed more and more products popping up even in mainstream brands that boast of being “paraben-free”. Parabens are a synthetic compound created in the 1950s that is used as a preservative to prevent growth of fungus or other microbes that might decrease the shelf life of the product. This compound is found in an overwhelming amount of products and can accumulate within the body to cause hormone disruption which can contribute to things such as breast cancer, infertility and other serious consequences. A study from 2004 in Britain found parabens in an unaltered state in 19 out of 20 women with breast cancer. This doesn’t exactly mean that parabens cause cancer, but it does point at least to the fact that our bodies are ill-equipped to metabolize them and these compounds are often stored in breast tissue which might increase your risk of developing breast cancer. The dangers of this group of chemical compounds are so substantial that they were banned as ingredients in personal care products within the European Union in 2012.
Sulfates are a foaming agent and degreaser which was introduced around the invention of the television when advertisement became more visual. The increased foaming action of soap was a visual indication that the soap worked better than other less foamy alternatives. Research has linked sulfates to organ toxicity, skin irritation, and general harm to the environment. It is considered by the FDA to be safe in small amounts, but again when it is such a commonly included ingredient you might get exposure from multiple products and overstep the acceptable dosage very easily if you do not pay attention to this ingredient. The degreasing property of sulfates also strips your hair and skin of natural protective oils which are actually beneficial to leave intact. We associate “oily hair” with dirty hair, but the truth is as a person transitions away from shampoos with sulfates in them and allows for adequate time for oils within the scalp to rebalance, hair with natural oils intact often appears younger and healthier than hair that has the oils stripped regularly with sulfate-based products.
More research is coming out these days about the toxic effects of aluminum on the body. Its often included in anti-perspirants to prevent sweating. In cosmetics, they provide pigments and thickening agents. They are also found commonly in medicines including antacids and vaccines. Now I’m not about to start discussing their role in something as controversial as vaccines as that is an entirely different topic, but I mention it merely to point out how easy it is to have an overabundance of aluminum exposure in our daily life. The Center for Disease Control has labeled aluminum a neurotoxin which means it is toxic to your nervous system. When used as an antiperspirant, it prevents the body from sweating to excrete toxins which leads to overloaded lymphatic system and can increase overall toxic load on the body. This can be especially dangerous for women who are already at an elevated risk for breast cancer as the toxic load is located near breast tissue and may further increase the chance of breast cancer occurrence. Aluminum has also been linked to cognitive difficulties including foggy brain and even implicated in early dementia.
The term “fragrance” or sometimes “parfum” is an unregulated term that is often a way for a cosmetic or personal care company to incorporate a proprietary blend of undisclosed ingredients into their products. It’s an umbrella term that can include such a variety of toxins that it’s impossible to detail all of the possible implications to your health. Overall, many “fragrances” include synthetic fragrances that have been commonly associated with allergies and asthma. Some of the allowable ingredients under this umbrella term have been linked to cancer and neurotoxicity. Read the label carefully for this one because even products marked “unscented” may include “fragrance” or “parfum” on their list of ingredients to create a more neutral aroma than is naturally present with the combination of ingredients. There is a safe alternative to still get great smelling products though! Natural fragrance derived from essential oil blends in chemical-free products can smell great and are a much safer alternative. Once you transition to using products with only high quality ingredients for a month or two, you will be amazed at your reaction walking down the laundry aisle with all of those chemical-laden scents! It almost chokes me every time now!
Other Chemical Concerns
The above overview is just a few of the common chemical concerns with personal care products. They are easily avoided when you know what to look for and in the next part of this post I am going to explain my easy step-by-step process for finding replacements that still do the job, keep me healthy and don’t break my bank. If you are curious, here is a list of some of my favorite personal care products that have worked for me.
Process for Finding Chemical-Free Replacements for Your Personal Care Products
Step 1: Choose a Product to Replace
Don’t overwhelm yourself by deciding to replace everything at one time. Your personal care products haven’t killed you yet, so take your time and do it the easy way- one at a time. Maybe you are close to finishing your shampoo so you want to start there. Maybe you were looking for some fun new makeup anyway. Or perhaps your skin care regimen doesn’t seem to be cutting it anyhow so you want to start there. My one recommendation is that if your body is used to antiperspirant, consider waiting to change this out a little later as this change can take time and be more frustrating than most changes since no one really wants to be the smelly one. Don’t forget to do it later, but it’s not the easiest to start with first. According to this survey conducted by the Environmental Working Group, the average adult uses 9 different personal care products on a daily basis. Decreasing your exposure to chemical toxins just one at a time can dramatically improve your health over time.
Step 2: Consider Your Personal Preferences
What is something you need the replacement to do? Do you have a certain skin type or hair type that it needs to be compatible with? Or perhaps you really want something that still smells amazing even if it doesn’t have all the toxic “fragrances” included? Personally, I also like to consider about how much I am willing to pay for a replacement. An all natural, chemical-free shampoo that is $20 a bottle better come with someone to massage it into my scalp to make it worth it to me. I will point out here that overall, when you switch to chemical-free alternatives you tend to use them less often than the chemical-laden counterparts over time. I tend to wash my hair 1-2 times a week because my natural oils are in balance and this is how much it needs to stay clean and manageable. Before I was having to wash it daily to be even remotely manageable.
Step 3: Do Your Research
You can choose to Google “all natural ____”, but I prefer a much easier tool for my product research. It’s the Skin Deep database on the Environmental Working Group’s website. You can start by looking up the product you already use to learn about the ingredients you are currently exposed to. Then you can search for the type of product (like “shampoo” or “foundation” or “beard oil”) that you want to replace. I recommend looking for something that scores 2 or under, but the closer to 0 the better. I have found this research step to be a bit overwhelming the first time or two because there are so many good products to search through! Look for brands you know or have heard of to investigate first. You can Google them or hop onto Amazon to look at reviews. Generally if I can’t find reliable reviews to indicate it’s a good product worth trying, I keep looking.
Step 4: Trial and error
If you find a product that fits your budget, has good reviews and seems to be a good fit for any more specific preferences you are looking for, buy it and try it. It may take some time for your body to adjust to a non-chemical product. Overall I would recommend trying a new product for a minimum of 3 weeks before deciding if it’s right for you. This is especially true for natural shampoo. Deoderant is especially tricky, like I mentioned above, but when you are ready for the transition you need to understand that a healthy chemical-free deodorant will still allow you to sweat and will protect against odor from sweat unless it is stress-induced sweating. Stress-induced sweating is chemically different and will not likely be fully prevented or addressed by any natural chemical-free deodorant. if you suffer from stress-induced sweating a lot, I would highly recommend stress management techniques to improve your reactions to stressful environments before attempting to transition. I do have my favorite deodorant listed on my list of favorite personal care products if you care to try it out.
Step 5: Wash, Rinse, Repeat
When you have found a replacement you are happy with, you can return to the first step and “wash, rinse, repeat” until you have found chemical-free replacements for all of your personal care products. With each replacement you find, remember that you are making strides to support your own health journey.
Share Your Experience
If you have been through a process similar to this or are going through it now, I would love to hear from you. You can drop a comment in the section below or contact me to share your own experience.