12/23/2012 09:38 am ET Updated Feb 22, 2013

How to Smell Nice Without All the Nasty Stuff

Recently, I decided to conduct a mini-survey with my male friends over beers while watching Thursday Night Football. I pretty much just asked my guy friends if they cared about what types of ingredients were in their personal care products.

For the most part, my guy friends said they never really thought about it, and assumed that if something was on the shelves that it had gone through rigorous testing. They said that if there was anything the least bit concerning that they assumed that there would be mention of it on the box. Boy, were they wrong. My friends were a little shocked to learn that many chemicals that are banned in Europe are allowed in products in Canada. And while there was some interest on their part to look for alternatives, they weren't too keen on learning about the potential health impacts (reduced anogenital distance in particular went over rather poorly with this audience)

I got the idea to chat with my friends about this topic after Environmental Defence released, "The Manscape: The Dirt on Toxic Ingredients in Men's Body Care Products". The report provides the facts on hormone-disrupting chemicals and carcinogens commonly found in shaving creams, deodorants, colognes and other personal care products, as well as safe alternatives.

As I was reading the report, I realized that I had been putting almost no thought into what chemicals might be leaching into my body as a result of the products I use. And after surveying my friends, I found out that none of them did either. This was surprising to me because I try and be healthy in so many other ways: I eat right, I go to the gym regularly, and I play sports, so why would I not be looking at how the products I use impact my health?

For the most part, my male friends didn't seem to think that personal care products had the ability to impact their health as directly as food or their level of physical activity before I flipped through the report with them. Perhaps this is driven by a bit of an illusion that our skin is an impenetrable layer of material and anything placed, rubbed, or spread on it stays safely on the surface. But the chemicals in your shampoo, soaps, shaving creams, colognes, aftershaves, or body sprays seep into our bodies through the skin.

That's when I started to search for safer alternatives. Luckily for me a cost-effective DIY approach to shampoo exists. Mixing two tablespoons of baking soda with enough water to turn the baking soap into a spreadable blob like formation creates a toxic free shampoo alternative which left my hair (albeit I don't have much) feeling very clean, and a combination of apple cider vinegar and water as conditioner worked very well too.

When it comes to deodorants, fortunately numerous non-toxic deodorants exist, including many that can be found by browsing through the catalog of companies that have taken the Just Beautiful pledge to keep these chemicals out of their products. I currently am using a Burt's Bee's deodorant and I picked up some great smelling and phthalate free soap at Environmental Defence's Eco-Beauty Market a few weeks ago.

And finally, when it comes to my shaving kit, there are numerous non-toxic shaving products but a handy DIY alternative exists as well. I swung by a nearby health store and picked up a bottle of organic jojoba oil and shaved with a few drops. My skin can get kind of red after shaving, but instead of applying aftershave I used some essential oils from Elabloom, which in addition to getting rid of the skin irritation, allowed me to be that guy who brags about how they use nothing but the best essential oils on their skin. I got made fun of by my friends for all this, but I did have smooth hydrated skin!

Replacing my bathroom products with non-toxic or DIY alternatives was not very difficult or expensive, and they all worked great. But it made me wonder why more guys don't pay greater attention to the chemicals they are putting in their bodies through their personal care products. As a guy I am happy to know I can improve my health just by paying attention to the chemicals that I allow to seep into my body.

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