I Need...Personal Care Products

>> Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I'm lumping a lot of products into this category. Basically everything required to make me feel clean and presentable in the morning: soap, shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, toothpaste, deodorant, etc. Some of these I plan to look at individually later, but I wanted to take a broad look at this category to address why this is an area in need of change.

A couple years ago, my brother spent the night at our house, and in the morning after using our Tom's of Maine toothpaste to brush his teeth, he said, "Okay, I have to ask you. Do you like that stuff?"

I replied, "I like knowing that my toothpaste is not poisoning me."

I admit the Tom's of Maine takes a little getting used to (but you do get used to it and then Colgate starts tasting funny). And maybe my old toothpaste being poisonous is an exaggeration, but I don't really know. Have you ever looked at the ingredients on a Colgate tube? Or your L'Oreal shampoo? Or your Degree antiperspirant? If the ingredients are even listed, chances are, you can't identify them, let alone pronounce them.

According to the Environmental Working Group, 10,500 unique chemicals are used in personal care products, including carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, endocrine disruptors, plasticizers, degreasers, and surfactants. How many of these chemicals have been tested for safety? "An EWG analysis found that in its 30-year history, the industry's self-policing safety panel has reviewed the safety of just 11 percent of the 10,500 ingredients used in personal care products."

The FDA's policy on cosmetics states, "FDA's legal authority over cosmetics is different from other products regulated by the agency, such as drugs, biologics, and medical devices. Cosmetic products and ingredients are not subject to FDA premarket approval authority, with the exception of color additives." And "Cosmetic firms are responsible for substantiating the safety of their products and ingredients before marketing. " Not the FDA or an unbiased third party.

That just doesn't seem like a very safe policy to me, so it's no wonder that I keep hearing about ingredients in personal care products being linked to cancer and hormone disruption in both humans and animals. Google pthalates or parabens, two common ingredients in personal care products, and see what you find. I admit that some of the health concerns might be all hype, but I am a "better safe than sorry" kind of person, especially when it comes to the health of my kids.

On a side note, the cool thing about using natural care products is that because you can recognize (and pronounce) all the ingredients, you start to learn what works for your body, and you can look for products with that ingredient. For example, I have very dry sensitive skin, and since I know that avocado oil is good for dry skin, I look for soaps and lotions with that ingredient. If I had oily skin, I might look for something with jojoba oil. Cool!

You can take that coolness to awesome level by making your own personal care products. Then not only can you tailor the ingredients to your needs, but you can add your own essential oils to make your preferred fragrance. I hate floral scents, and it seems like companies are always making women's care products smell like flowers. If I make my own products, I can make them smell like what I like: food. I love to use vanilla, almond oil, sweet orange oil, and peppermint in my products.

Here are some ideas to get you started on greening your personal care products:


  • Use fewer products. Think about your morning routine. How many products do you use? Do you really need that many? If you can leave something out, then do it.
  • Use less. It only takes a pea-sized dollop of toothpaste to get your teeth clean. Average length hair only needs a nickel-sized drop of shampoo.
  • Buy in bulk. Besides the health problems I've mentioned, personal care products involve a whole lot of unnecessary packaging. Buy your products in the biggest size possible, and make sure the packages are recyclable.
  • Look up your products on the Skin Deep Guide, the Environmental Working Group's cosmetic safety database. They have tested thousands of products for toxicity and rank them on a 0-10 scale, with 0 being the best and 10 being the worst. Even some products labeled as "natural" rank high on the scale, so it's important to check out all products before you buy. Update 2/18: Beth over at Smart Family Tips has created an awesome list of products that rate low on Skin Deep and can be found at most drugstores, Target, or Kroger.
  • Avoid the Dirty Dozen. These are the ingredients that have been most commonly linked to health problems.
  • Look for products with no packaging. Health food stores often sell soaps with no packaging at all, and sometimes you can even find shampoo bars. You can also look for a Lush store near you. Lush makes personal care products with minimal or no packaging, though it's very pricey.
  • Make your own. Check out Better Basics for the Home or The Green Beauty Guide for tips and recipes.
  • Go without. I'm not advocating not brushing your teeth, but in areas that are obviously culturally based (like shaving, wearing makeup, painting your nails, coloring your hair), you could consider jumping off that bandwagon.

Tips for the Budget Conscious
Making your own is the cheapest route here, but if you're not interested in that kind of thing, Whole Foods has a reasonably priced line of products. They're not rated on the Skin Deep site, though, so proceed with caution. As far as soap goes, Dr. Bronners castille soaps are affordable and score well with Skin Deep.

Where I'm At
I switched to more natural care products a few years ago, but that was before I knew about the Skin Deep site. I plan to check out the ratings for the products I've been using and also look for products with less packaging.

Photo by Ali Edwards


Karla January 16, 2009 at 12:09 PM  

Thanks for this post - it's shocking to learn about what's in products, even those that say "natural" on the label. For product ratings I also like: http://www.goodguide.com/

Erin aka Conscious Shopper January 17, 2009 at 10:49 AM  

Karla - Thanks for the link. That's a really great resource!

Jaime January 25, 2009 at 7:51 PM  

I know you can find natural/vegan soaps and chapsticks and other such items on Etsy.com under "Bath and Beauty", if you haven't looked there yet. You might even be able to find someone who makes them close to you, since they have a feature that lets you search locally. Just fyi in case you ever feel like you don't have time to make your own :)

Erin aka Conscious Shopper January 25, 2009 at 9:57 PM  

Jaime, Thanks for the tip. Maybe I can find some affordable locally made soap since I haven't worked up the courage to make that myself yet!

Beth @ Smart Family Tips February 20, 2009 at 12:03 AM  

Great post! Thanks so much for the link.

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