I am not the type of woman you'd classify as a girly-girl. I don't wear makeup more than a few times a year, and I don't wear it to my every day office job. I only recently had my first manicure at age 30, and I'm not one to preen in front of the mirror for hours a day. In addition to a general personal hygiene regimen, I also have unruly, thick hair, which I try to tame down on a regular basis so as not to wander the earth looking like Mufasa from the Lion King.
That being said, you're probably wondering why on a blog about food and sustainable living I'm talking about my grooming habits. The Environmental Working Group is a watch-dog organization dedicated to environmental health and research. They compile straight facts using a lot of publicly available data about many areas that impact the environment, including water, food and chemicals. They also have a database called Skin Deep which creates safety profiles for personal care and beauty products using data from nearly 60 toxicity and regulatory databases. As they say on their website, they "fill in where industry and government leave off."
One of the things that first started me to research clean foods was my diagnosis of a thyroid disease. I had read that exposure to chemicals in food over time and other chemicals in food containers (like BPA) could have a cumulative effect on my endocrine system. My diagnosis only made me more committed to removing toxic chemicals and hormones from my diet. So why wouldn't I think of the chemicals that surround me in my house, from hand soap to toilet bowl cleaner and laundry detergent?
The simple answer is, I like my shampoo and my perfume. I am brand loyal when it comes to personal care products - once I find something that works, I stick with it. I saw "natural" personal care products as a marketing gimic designed to get someone who cared about clean eating to also buy $8 hippie deodorant. I was afraid that natural personal care products would make me smell terrible after a work out or leave my hair a frizzy nightmare. So I chose to block out what I was hearing about chemicals in those products and just plug my ears and shake my head.
Well, I'm ready. I took the leap and decided to get educated. I looked up my primary personal care products in the Skin Deep database, and I was not pleased with what I found. Carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, allergens, organ system toxins, nervous system toxins and more. Here's a sample of just two of my most frequently used products: shampoo and deodorant.
Dove Damage Therapy Intense Repair Shampoo
Ingredients: Water, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocomidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Chloride, Fragrance, Glycol Distearate, Dimethiconol, Glycerin, Carbomer, Gluconolactone, PPG-9, Guar Hydroxy-propltrimonium Chloride, Citric Acid, TEA-Dodecyl-benzenesulfonate, Adipic Acid, Sodium Sulfate, Trehalose, Tetrasodium EDTA, TEA-sulfate, DMDM Hydantoin, PEG-45M, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, Mica, Titanium Dioxide, Yellow 5, Red 33
Listed concerns: allergies, skin damage, cancer, nervous system toxicity
That's a cocktail of chemicals to do a simple thing like wash my hair. Nervous system toxicity, cancer risk and allergies? From shampoo? My deodorant - the deodorant I have used for more than 10 years - was even worse.
Secret Invisible Solid Shower Fresh
Ingredients: Aluminum zirconium trichlorohydrex, Cyclopentasiloxane, Stearyl Alcohol, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, PPG-14 Butyl Ether, Hydrogenated castor oil, Petrolatum, Phenyl Trimethicone, Talc, Cyclodextrin, Fragrance, Mineral Oil, Behenyl Alcohol
Listed concerns: organ system toxicity, endocrine disruption, cancer, allergies, nervous system toxicity, neurotoxicity
For me, the item of the largest concern is endocrine disruption. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
The other products I checked, which I use on a regular basis, were not much better and some were worse.
I think it's time I acknowledge that exposure to these chemicals on a daily basis is not a good idea, long-term. While science may not yet know everything there is to know about chemical exposure and the body, my common sense tells me that we are exposed to too many chemicals, as the changing disease profile of this country indicates.
Phasing these products out will be a long process of trial and error, but I'm ready to commit. I'm going to start with hand soaps in my home, as well as shampoo and deodorant for me, when my current products run out.
Check out Skin Deep and see how your products stack up. You can also take advantage of a feature that lets you create your own report from lists of ingredients. If you have experience with using more natural personal care products, I'd love to hear about it.