Paper or plastic? This simple question at the check out used to leave me paralyzed. Of course, now that we can bring our own bags, that debate is over. However, similar questions are just starting to come to light in the personal care/cosmetic industry. What should you avoid? What is toxic? How does it affect your health or the planet’s health? Do we seriously need to take a chemistry class to understand what is in our bottle of shampoo?
It’s natural to feel overwhelmed when trying to make life changes like eating better, exercising more, living a “greener” lifestyle, or cleaning up your chemical overload from personal care products. Don’t feel like you have to be perfect from day 1. Start by making simple changes in your daily life that will add up to a big impact.
You don’t need to live in the woods, weave your own clothes and forage all of your food to create big change. If only a few people do that it will be far less impactful to the environment than if everyone used kitchen rags instead of paper towels, or carried glass drinking bottles instead of disposable plastic. The key is to do what you can and make changes that work with your lifestyle.
10 Simple Rules to Reduce Your Exposure
Reducing your exposure to toxic chemicals in personal care products can be as effortless as reaching from the right product on the shelf at your store. Here are some simple rules to live by:
1. Use less/limit your exposure.
Go through your bathroom and be honest about what you really need. Separate all your products into two categories, the “must-haves” and the “whys?”
I am always amazed by how many extra products we all have. One of my favorite examples was a woman who was putting on six different “miracle” creams to combat aging throughout the course of the day, all promising to do the same thing. The thought of giving up those products was enough to send her to her therapist’s chair. After a lot of coaxing, I reassured her that not only would she and the planet be healthier if she cut down the number of products, but also that she would see, in just two months, that her “miracles in a jar” were making her skin age faster due to all the chemicals they were filled with. When I promised her she could save money, time, energy, her ego and the planet all at once, she let them go.
Two months later she was simply glowing, she greeted me with a smile and said she had never gotten so many comments on how wonderful she looked. And with the money she saved, she managed to purchase some new clothes to go with what she described as the “new” her.
2. Pick products with more than one use.
This will not only help you achieve your first goal but will also reduce your chemical exposures and cut down on packaging waste.
There are so many dual uses for products. Next time you want to remove your make up, try some organic olive oil from your cupboard or use your face cream. Shampoo works perfectly for body wash. Some face creams are wonderful pallet perfectors before applying makeup, REAL handmade soap (super fatted and made by the old-fashioned kettle method) works wonders as a shaving cream, and a lot of night time eye moisturizers/wrinkle prevention balms can be used around the lips and cuticles. The list goes on and on.
Try out different applications with the products you are currently using. Be careful to read all the warnings first.
3. Choose products with shorter lists of ingredients.
More does not necessarily mean better. A lot of what is on a label is either bad for you, cheap filler, or included “for show” (what we call “window dressing” in the industry: included in a product in minuscule amounts to look good to the consumer when reading the label, but not in a percentage high enough to be effective). Just by choosing products with fewer ingredients you will be exposing yourself to fewer toxins and fewer resources will be used in the manufacturing of the product.
4. Forget about what the labels or packaging look like.
The appearance of the bottle has nothing to do with the performance of the product. Don’t let a pretty package sell you. Seek the truth. Look for products that use the least amount of packaging possible. Overuse of packaging is a waste of our planet’s resources and is rapidly filling our landfills. Trust companies that are willing to forgo the extra sales they may get through packaging power. They are making a statement and taking active steps to reduce waste.
5. Don’t be sold by name-dropping.
Personal care is so embedded in our memories that we are not even aware of the impact. Common things I hear over and over again are “I use Chanel #5 just like my grandmother” or “I can only use Tide; it reminds me of home.” Consumers relate to major names, “It’s Prada face cream so it has to be good,” “Johnson’s and Johnson’s makes it, so it’s safe,” or “it cost $200 for a ½-ounce bottle, so I know it’s good.”
Let go of any and all preconceived notions and inspect everything from an unbiased perspective. You may still wear your grandmother’s perfume or buy the $200-per-½ ounce face cream, but firs, see the naked truth. Unmask your products. This is the only way to really be in charge and make a choice based on knowledge, not nostalgia or marketing.
6. Set your own criteria of what is acceptable to you.
A few simple ways to do this are make a list of the top ingredients that you will not put on your skin and search for products without them. Your list could include 2 ingredients or 20; it’s what you feel safe and comfortable with. Empower yourself and send a message to manufacturers through your spending habits.
7. Get intimate with your products.
Look at the current products you are using and read the ingredient lists to decide if you want to continue to use it on your body. Take a look beyond what the front label says and look inside your products, see their inner beauty or the mask they hide behind. Once you look deeper and take away the layers of fluff, you might have a different view. Manufacturers spend millions and millions on what to say on the front label to get you to buy. With catch phrases like “all natural,” “organic,” “good for you, good for the planet,” and names like “Simply Organic,” there’s a sea of confusion, misleading claims, names and label jargon to decipher.
8. Resist the urge to buy.
Stay away from the beauty aisle. If you have products that you like, and that fit your chemical-free criteria, resist the urge to purchase others. There will always be a new exciting miracle cream on the market, but you simply do not need it. Stick with what you know, love and with the ingredients you trust. Just by reducing your impulse purchases, you will reduce your exposure, save money and prevent waste.
9. Switch to mineral makeup.
Even the worst mineral makeup has fewer chemicals than most liquid foundations.
10. Read and understand ingredients lists.
Ingredients should be listed in order of most to least. This helps you determine two things: 1) how much of an active ingredient is in your product and 2) how much of a chemical you want to avoid is in it.
A lot of people have difficulties with letting go of fragrance, but there are just some scents you cannot make naturally. You can, however, blend fragrance with essential oils to reduce the amount or simply use less fragrance overall. Noticing whether fragrance is at the top of the ingredients list or the bottom empowers you to make a better choice.
Simply making these 10 simple changes can have a dramatic effect. Even one of them would be enough if that is all that you chose to do. True, becoming a label detective is a never-ending project, but these 10 changes give you some place to begin. Don’t wait!