"Paper or plastic?" This simple question at the checkout has left me paralyzed. Of course now that we can bring our own, the debate is over. However, it is just starting in the personal care/cosmetic industry. What should you avoid, what is toxic, how does it affect your health, the planet's health, do we need to take a chemistry class to understand what is in our bottle of shampoo? Understanding the ingredients in personal care products can become so overwhelming and confusing we tend to shut down. It leaves us with so much information that we cannot possibly control, have the time to comprehend it all, decipher or even begin to live by. The first step when trying to make changes that seem daunting -- whether it is to eat better, exercise more, live a "greener" lifestyle or clean up your chemical overload from personal care products -- is simple. You don't have to be perfect. You can start to make simple changes in your daily life that will have a big impact. We don't need to live in the woods and weave our own clothes and forage for all our food to create change. If a few people did that, it would have far less of an on 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. To reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals in personal care products, it can be as effortless as where you reach 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 have" and the "why." I am always impressed with the amount of extra products we all have. I have seen someone with as many as 10 different leave-in conditioners, shine enhancers, defrizzers and smoothing creams that they were applying after each wash. One of my favorite examples was a woman who was putting on six different "miracle" creams to combat aging through out 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 and reassuring her that not only would she and the planet be healthier, but if she gave it two months she would see that her "miracles in a jar" were making her skin age faster due to all the chemicals they were filled with, I promised her she could save money, time, energy, her ego and the planet all at once -- and 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. Not only that, but 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 then one use
This will not only help you achieve your first goal but will also help you cut down on different chemical exposure and reduce 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 as body wash, some face creams are wonderful before applying make-up, real handmade soap (made using the old-fashioned kettle method) works wonders as a shaving cream, a lot of nighttime eye moisturizers/wrinkle prevention balms can be used around the lips and cuticles, and 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 a shorter list 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." (This is what we call "window dressing" in the industry -- put into a product in minuscule amounts to look good to the consumer when he/she is reading the label, but not in amounts that are high enough to be effective.) Just by choosing products that use less, 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 label/packaging look like
What the bottle says and looks like has nothing to do with performance. Don't let a pretty package sell you. Tell yourself 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 filling our landfills. Also, a company that is willing to forgo the extra sale they will inevitably get by packaging power is making a statement and taking active steps to reduce waste.
5. Don't be sold by name-dropping
Personal care is so imbedded in our memories that we are not even aware of it. Common things I hear over and over again are "I use Chanel No. 5 just like my grandmother," or "I can only use Tide, it reminds me of home." Consumers also relate to major names, "It's Prada face cream, it has to be good," "Johnson and Johnson makes it, it's safe," "It cost $200 for half an ounce, I know it's good." Let go of any and all preconceived notions you currently have and allow yourself to inspect everything form an unbiased standpoint. You may still wear your grandmother's perfume or buy the $200 half-ounce face cream, but let yourself 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. Make your own criteria of what is acceptable to you
A few simple ways to do this: Make a list of the top ingredients that you will not put on your skin, and find products without them. Your list could be two or 20 items; it's what you feel safe and comfortable with. Empower yourself and send a message to manufactures with what you spend your money on.
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 them 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. Manufactures spend millions and millions on what to say on this front label to get you to buy. With catch phrases like "all natural," "organic," and "good for you, good for the planet," there is a sea of confusion and misleading claims, names and label jargon to decipher.
8. Resist the urge to buy
Stay away from the beauty aisles. If you have products that you like and that fit your chemical-free criteria, resist the urge to purchase more. It is amazing how many products we all have and how many new ones we try. 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 are familiar with the ingredients in. Just by reducing you impulse purchases, you will reduce your exposure and save money and waste.
9. Switch to mineral make-up
Even the worst mineral make-up has fewer chemicals than most liquid foundations.
10. Ingredient list details
Ingredients should be listed in order of most to least. This helps you determine two things -- how much of an active ingredient is in your product as well as how much of a chemical you want to avoid is in it. A lot of people have difficulties with letting go of fragrance. 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 You will notice on some labels, fragrance will be toward the top and some at the bottom.
Just by making these 10 simple changes, you will see a vast effect. Just one of them would be enough, if that is all that you choose to do. If you become overzealous, being a label detective is a never-ending project. There is always more we can learn.
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