Tally up the personal care products you use on a daily basis: shampoo, deodorant, makeup, lotion... the list probably goes on. According to the Environmental Working Group, “the average woman uses 12 products containing 168 different ingredients daily.” Many of these ingredients go beyond skin deep and end up inside your body, so it’s important to scrutinize the labels and clean up your routine.
Toxic chemicals in health and beauty products can not only irritate your skin, but also affect your whole body’s functioning. Take phthalates, a group of chemicals used in a wide array of cosmetics from nail polish to hairspray to aftershave lotion. Inside the body, these chemicals mimic hormones and may disrupt the endocrine system; some studies have linked their presence to higher risk of breast cancer and diabetes.
Beyond personal health, the products you use alter the environment. Potentially damaging chemicals wash into our waterways and affect wildlife, and packaging piles into landfills and adds to our pollution problem. For both your safety and the sake of our ecosystem, it’s smart to switch to non-toxic and sustainably packaged health and beauty products. Get started with these simple swaps:
Conventional deodorants contain a slew of additives, including endocrine-disrupting parabens and sweat-blocking aluminum. Though the National Cancer Institute notes that no conclusive scientific studies link the use of such deodorants to breast cancer, as many people believe, choosing a natural option with a shorter ingredient list lessens your chance of skin irritation. Plus, natural deodorant companies like Schmidt’s Naturals and Meow Meow Tweet are cruelty-free, so they don’t test on animals. (If natural deodorant leaves you a little sweaty, try Dropps Defense Spray to neutralize odor and refresh your clothes with a safe scent made from essential oils.)
Until recently, many face washes and body scrubs used smooth little plastic microbeads to exfoliate the skin. Though cheap and effective, these tiny non-biodegradable plastics wash off and wind up as pollution in local waterways, where they get ingested by fish and other aquatic life. (Learn more about plastic pollution in our oceans and rivers.) These plastics are so dangerous that Congress passed an act banning microbeads in cosmetics, but the deadline for retailers to stop selling their inventory of rinse-off microbead cosmetics that are non-prescription drugs isn’t until July 1, 2019 — so there are still harmful products out there. Ensure yours are safe by searching the EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database.
When it comes to protecting the environment, one of the most important personal care changes you can make is switching from tampons and pads to a menstrual cup. Tampons flushed down the toilet litter our waterways, and the growing billions of plastic applicators and feminine products that make it into landfills will take centuries to break down. Menstrual cups like the DivaCup are a reusable, sustainable, money-saving alternative — win, win, win!
Did you know that toxic formaldehyde-releasing preservatives lurk in many personal cleaning products, including shampoo? These chemicals go by many names (quaternium-15 and DMDM hydantoin are just two — check out this cheat sheet for more), and are added to keep bacteria from growing in bottles. Considering formaldehyde is a well-studied carcinogen with links to cancer, you should switch to a non-toxic shampoo ASAP. Again, check out the EWG’s list of safe shampoos to double-check your pick before you buy.
In order to block the sun’s harmful UV rays, most drugstore sunscreens contain a combination of chemical filters. The most worrisome of these chemicals, oxybenzone, can cause allergic reactions and disrupt hormone production — and it’s found in more than 96% of Americans, according to the EWG. To be safe, opt for a mineral sunscreen that protects your skin using zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. And don’t underestimate product-free sun protection, including hats and natural shade cover.
Photo: Raphael Lovaski/Unsplash.com