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Green Personal Products

Updated on November 10, 2017
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Sandy loves information, research, and teaching. She believes learning new information is like an adventure—and sharing it is even better!

Truth . . . Can We Talk?

The integumentary system – our skin – is the largest organ system of our body. Our skin is capable of reflecting the degree of health we possess as well as keeping us warm, cooled, protected from environmental pathogens, and even absorb certain types of medications. As a result, what we put on our skin is important. There are a host of products that can support the health of our skin, but unfortunately, there are also products that can create havoc. Educating ourselves on the differences is not difficult. Actually, it’s another way of living more green.

Before getting your panties in a bunch, understand that the chemicals in our products all started when science was making attempts at better product preservation and answering to public needs -- it was never an attempt to poison society. Now that these products have been on the market for many years do we understand what monsters were created. This may seem like another lesson in returning to your grandparent’s day, but their simplistic habits had merit. Simplistic ingredients from available resources meant less effort in caring for one’s body, as well as actually creating less trash. As the kitchen is often noted as the heart of a home, this is exactly where remedies today still exist.

Fun Fact: Mineral oil, found in many cosmetics, lotions and lip balms, is actually obtained from petroleum – a known substance linked to a variety of cancers. Mineral oil on the skin also prevents vitamin D production as it blocks the sun’s ability to help the body create this necessary nutrient.


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History of Beauty Products

Anyone who’s ever looked at historical Egyptian images can tell makeup was in use. Castor oil was used as a protective balm and earliest skin creams contained beeswax, olive oil, even rose water was in use by the Romans. Kohl, lead sulfide, was used to line the eyes and other lead-based formulas were used to whiten the skin. Yes, even in biblical times both men and women were involved in tactics to enhance a part of themselves dependent on the beliefs of the day and the status of one’s hierarchy.

More than 10 thousand years of playing with existing, natural occurring chemicals contributed in the development of cosmetics and care products. Human nature strives for perfection lead to ways of expression, changing our appearance, hiding a deformity, even methods of healing.

During the European Dark Ages the use of cosmetics nearly disappeared. The tradition of prostitutes using copious amounts of cosmetics to hide their age and exaggerate their beauty caused many to frown on the use and avoid it on a moral and religious basis. Only stage actors were accepted in the use and with restrictions for performances only.

Fast forward to the 20th century. Religions and fashion leaders of the west brought on the beginning of a revolution. Rapid advancements in chemistry were possible due to automated industrial production and communications between countries. A rise of ballet, stage art, and, of course, film and photography brought to the forefront new reasons and benefits of makeup, as well as skin care products promising to enhance and reduce the signs of aging.

Revlon got started in the middle of the Great Depression, in 1931. Charles Revson and his brother Joseph, along with chemist Charles Lachman, came up with a new form of nail polish. The Revlon name is a combination of Revson with an added “L” from Lachman. From such humble beginnings, they added lipsticks, and today offer a wide variety of cosmetic options.

Max Factor, actual name Maksymilian Faktorowicz, founded his makeup line in 1909. A Polish-Jewish cosmetician from Lodz, Poland, Factor specialized in movie make up. Today, the company is owned by Proctor and Gamble.

Vaseline got its start in 1859 when Robert A. Chesebrough, a Brooklyn, New York chemist who ventured to Pennsylvania seeking out oil well potentials. He noticed that workers were dealing with a gooey substance, called Rod Wax that was gumming up the drilling rigs. The workers, he also noticed, were using this goo on cuts and burns explaining this substance helped their skin heal. Chesebrough, thinking there might be something to this substance discovered a way to extract a cleaner, usable “jelly” . . . petroleum jelly. Since then, Vaseline remains a household name and its use has expanded to over a hundred different applications.

Amazingly, many of our personal care products have a similar history. Ancient Egyptians discovered that essential oils had healing abilities and today we are now returning to the same use. Beeswax, lanolin, olive oil, Shea butter, plant dyes, and truly a host of other substances long ago used are being sought out as safer alternatives then the synthetic substances that we thought were modern day miracles.

Fun Fact: The oldest used cosmetic is lipstick and eyeliner, per the habits of early Egyptians. The oldest hygiene product is water. Aah! Nice and simple.

Pros and Cons of Store Bought Care Goods

In the U.S. the personal care industry is not well regulated There are no set limits for lead in cosmetics or requirements for listing the ingredients that create the product's fragrance. This leaves common Joe and Joe'ettes in the dark in trying to be an informed consumer.

Many chemicals are synthetically made. This means a higher potential for allergic reactions, as well as possible toxic absorptions through the skin.

The list of unsafe ingredients is staggering. Diazolidinyl or Imidazolidinyl Urea are common ingredients that are an antibacterial preservative in not only cosmetics, but shampoos and lotions. Sadly, as beneficial as this ingredient sounds, it’s a known toxicant and allergen.

Synthetic colors are often listed with D&C or FD&C preceding them. FD&C means the chemical has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in food, drugs, and cosmetics. D&C means the colorant can be used in drugs and cosmetics, but not food. Nonetheless, these color chemicals are still often derived from coal tar and when injected into lab mice, cancer outbreaks have been noted.

Terms such as natural, pure and simple, herbal, hypoallergenic, non-toxic, even organic are misleading. Again, these terms are not well regulated. Natural can be labeled if one ingredient comes from a plant or animal source. Unless the label says Certified Organic then the product is not actually organic.

“Pink-washing” is products involved in supporting the fight against breast cancer but continuing to use chemicals that are known to cause cancer. Most consumers believe this is a safer product because of the pink labeling.

Many product promises and claims are enticing but often are not backed up by solid scientific evidence.

Some chemicals, such as the aluminum in antiperspirants, can be retained in the body for years.

Safe, organic care products are more expensive so you’re better off buying what’s already out there. This does have some truth to it, but what we need to understand is how to learn about unsafe chemistries and how to balance out safer product choices that may be more cost compared to old-time favorites – but will reduce our overall volume of toxic exposure.

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Advantageous of Seeking Safer Care Products

Most obvious, we should try to use products that will not expose us to toxic chemicals. Our skin is capable of absorbing many things and as a result entering into our underlying body tissues.

Making your own can be simple, cheaper, and with multi-use applications, thus reducing the volume of product in one’s home.

Healthier options are more readily available than one might think.

Someone with sensitive skin will have less allergic reactions and breakouts when using products that are more simplistic and without added synthetic chemistries.

Fun Fact: Per the Environmental Working Group (EWG) the average woman uses as much as 12 different products in their day with more than 168 different ingredients. The average man uses six products that contain more than 85 ingredients.

The Basic Ingredient Directory

As a first step, go to your bathroom cabinet and take a look at all the personal care products you own. Much like products we buy to clean our home, the volume of purchased items can be surprising – each one with its own special purpose. Now take a look at the ingredients. How many of them do you understand the purpose? How many of them sound like a creature from a horror film? Don’t panic. Many ingredients are safe and healthful. Others not so much, but we’re going to talk about that now. You might want to boil up some Chamomile tea and get cozy in a comfy chair.

DEA (Diethanolamine), MEA (Monoethanolamine), TEA (Triethanolamine)

Used as emulsifiers and creating foam. Hormone disrupting and linked to liver and kidney cancers. Found in shampoos, soaps, bubble baths, and facial cleansers.

Phthalates and Parabens

Commonly used as preservatives in both cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. This chemical makes hairsprays sticky and fights bacteria and fungus in nail polishes and perfumes. Linked to breast cancer.

Imidazolidinyl Urea and DMDM Hydantoin

Derivative of formaldehyde, used as a preservative. Linked allergies, chest pain, asthma trigger, joint pain, impact to immune system. Found in skin, body and hair products, antiperspirants, and some nail polishes.

Quaternium-15

Another preservative in skin and hair products. Common irritation to skin and other allergic reactions.

Isopropyl Alcohol

Sounds harmless right? Found in hair color rinses, hand lotion, aftershave and some mouth washes. Linked to breaking down intestinal flora which opens one up to a host of gastrointestinal distresses including bacterial infections and parasites. Remember, our skin is capable of absorbing chemicals. You don’t have to drink the alcohol to have it enter into your body.

PEG (Polyethylene Glycol)

Dissolves oil and grease. Can remove too much of the skin’s natural oils causing irritation and more vulnerability to toxins. Found in hair and skin products, as well as over cleaners. Yippie! Dual purpose product. Not!

Sodium Lauryal Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate

A foamer and detergent. Combined with other chemicals, it can create nitrosamines that are strongly linked to a deadly class of cancers. Found in makeup, shampoo, conditioner, and even toothpaste.

Triclosan

Synthetic antibacterial. Disrupts hormones, fertility, suppression of immune system, even some heart problems. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) registers it as a pesticide. Found in antibacterial body cleansers and even toothpaste.

Talcum

Talc sounds harmless too, especially as it is made from minerals consisting of magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. Sadly, talc can be easily breathed in as a powder form causing respiratory irritation and has also been linked to ovarian and testicular cancers. Found in makeup, body powders, and cosmetic foundation.

Petrolatum

Used as a skin barrier to hold moisture, derived from petrochemicals and linked to a variety of cancers. Found in skin lotions, makeup (especially for dry skin), and hair care products.

Fun Fact: The history of product testing on animals can be traced back to 1933 when a woman’s eyesight was affected after applying mascara. The first cosmetic company to stop using animals for cosmetics test was Avon, in 1989.

Happy people living toxic free.
Happy people living toxic free. | Source

How to Choose Safer Products

Now that you may be a bit depressed and your Chamomile tea wasn’t much help, let’s talk about how to improve our care products.

First and foremost, seek out products whose ingredient list is as short as possible and you understand it. Mineral and vegetable-based products are advantageous. The ingredients listed first are those that are the higher percentage comprising the product. So if water is listed first, then the product is made mostly of water. Keep reading and if you seen an ingredient way down on the list that you don’t agree with, at least it’s not a major component of the product.

Secondly, ask yourself what is most important in any product to you. If you are truly opposed to DEA then seek products without it. If you’re very concerned about fragrances, then seek fragrance-free products. Actually, seeking fragrance free products is a great first step in reducing you chemical exposure.

Don’t fall into the trap that the more you spend the safer the item. Marketing of any product can be misleading. Making some of your own products can save you money, but when time and resources limit this option, put your money where it will bring you the most peace of mind. Maybe you can’t find reasonably priced, safer eye makeup, but you can learn how to make your own body lotion. Save money on the body lotion so you’ll have a non-budget breaking way to obtain safer eye makeup.

Shop with a planned strategy. If you have some items you wish to purchase, check them out first on the Environmental Working Group Skin Deep website: http://www.ewg.org/skindeep. This site tells you what rating the product has and any known harmful ingredients. Not only will this allow you to seek an alternative, but it can also reassure you that a favorite may actually be perfectly safe.

Fun Fact: Per the EWG’s Skin Deep website Vaseline Intensive Care Healthy Hand and Nail Conditioning hand lotion rates a 10 (worst safety score). Vaseline petroleum jelly rates a 1 (next to 0 best safety score).

Homemade Product Recipes

Shampoo

¼ cup distilled/filtered water.

1/4 liquid Castile soap

½ teaspoon oil of choice such as jojoba, grapeseed, olive or even a light vegetable oil.

Optional: Essential oil of choice. Rosemary, lavender, sandalwood, and geranium are good for dry hair. Lemon, peppermint, and cypress are good for oily hair.

Empty a shampoo bottle.

Gently mix all ingredients and use as you normally would use any shampoo. Gentle enough to use daily.

Conditioner

Apple cider vinegar is the best known natural hair conditioner. However, this apple cider needs to be unfiltered, much like the organic versions. The increased pectin in unfiltered cider nourishes the hair. Apple cider can also be used on the skin to treat insect bites, acne, rashes, and mild forms of eczema. Simply use about one cup poured over hair, rinse out.

Body Wash

The same ingredients for shampoo can double for body wash. Add a favorite essential oil to personalize to taste.

Body Lotion

¼ to ½ cup of a favorite oil such as almond, olive, Shea, rose hip, sunflower, etc.

¼ cup coconut oil.

1 teaspoon Vitamin E oil.

Favorite essential oil if desired for fragrance.

¼ cup beeswax. Beeswax helps to congeal all ingredients. Emulsifying wax can also be used but be sure it comes from a vegetable source as some comes from petroleum. Soy wax is also a possibility but some report mixed results

Combine all ingredients in a glass or aluminum container. Place this container in a medium sauce pan with 2-3 inches of water over medium heat. The heat will begin to melt the wax, stir intermittently to be sure ingredients are mixing well. While still warm, place into a glass jar. Reuse an 8oz pickle or jam jar, or a smaller mason jar. Once completely cooled, use as you would any lotion.

Note: Homemade lotions do have a shelf life. Keep free of containments, use with clean hands, and it should last at least six months. If lotion seems to stiff, whip with electric beaters to desired consistency.

Deodorant

Now making your own deodorant may seem disgusting, but it’s actually easy and effective. Now you will still sweat as it’s the aluminum in store-bought products that block the sweating ability where it is applied, but sweat is a natural process. Homemade versions, as well as aluminum-free products, prevent odor.

1/3 cup coconut oil (solid version)

¼ cup baking soda.

¼ cup arrowroot powder

Essential oil of choice – or not – but helps with odor control.

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Add coconut oil and with a fork blend well. Add essential oils and continue to blend with fork. Add more dry ingredients until at consistency of desired preference. Place into an air tight container. Apply with fingers to arm pits, let set a few minutes for dressing so to be sure it does not rub onto clothes. During warm weather, one may need to keep in refrigerator as coconut oil will melt a bit. And gentlemen, you can make a nice handsome smell with essential oils such as clove, sandalwood, even eucalyptus and forego the cologne product all together.

Toothpaste

1 - 2 tablespoons coconut oil

3 tablespoons baking soda

½ teaspoon of Stevia sweetener, approximately a half packet.

10-20 drops of peppermint oil (experiment to taste).

Mix all ingredients well and place into an air tight container. Use a clean finger to scoop out and onto toothbrush, brush as usual.

Mouthwash

1 cup water

1 teaspoon baking soda.

5 – 10 drops peppermint oil.

Mix all ingredients well and place in an air tight container, or recycled mouthwash bottle. Use as you normaly would use mouth wash. For a more disinfecting version, in place of the peppermint oil, use 2 tablespoons of organic apple cider vinegar. Hydrogen peroxide can also be used first, spit out, and then followed by the basic recipe.

Shaving cream

Most shave creams can be exchanged with body wash or a favorite soap. But if you desire a cream this one is good and nourishing to the skin.

1/3 cup Coconut oil.

1/3 cup Shea butter

¼ cup Olive oil or oil of choice.

Place all ingredients on a pot, and on low heat, melt together. Transfer to a bowl and put into refrigerator to harden. Once cooled and more solid, use an electric mixer to whip the mixture into a soft fluff. Transfer to a glass jar or air tight plastic container and use as you would normally use shaving cream. Rinse as needed.

Make-up

Make-up is actually not difficult to whip up but does require how you view it. Many products on the market are designed to last, thus have ingredients to stick longer on your skin. To go more green requires that you accept that natural versions are not going to last as long, but you can still get good results. Due to the length of possibilities, it’s recommended to go to the Wellness Mama website for recipes to get you started. http://wellnessmama.com/4948/homemade-makeup-recipes/. Also, be sure to check your favorite brand on the Skin Deep website. Many have safer ratings than you might expect.

Now that you’ve considered some homemade options, realize that just by making your own shampoo and lotion that you’ve reduced your chemical exposure considerably. If you still have a favorite product, such as a hair color, know that by using less chemically ridden products on a regular basis you have upped your green living quotient as well as your personal safety.

Good Reads

101 Easy Homemade Products for Your Skin, Health & Home: A Nerdy Farm Wife's All-Natural DIY Projects Using Commonly Found Herbs, Flowers & Other Plants

Whew! Okay, a long name, but good resource. You can never have enough resources for recipes -- for living green that is. I've got a friend who loaned me this book and loved how loaded it is with DIY concoctions. Jan Berry, author, gives explanations for which products to use and why. No guessing, just simple, non-toxic options. I now have a copy of my own added to my green living library.

It is not uncommon to have a few failings when first trying to make your own products. When I first tried a homemade lotion recipe it came out like a candle. I think I used too much beeswax. My daughter tried it and cut the beeswax amount in half. It came out soupier. Sometimes we have to be like scientist and keep on testing. It’s become a family joke now whose experiments have worked and why. I have finally started buying fewer products such as shaving creme, lotion, and shampoo. Can’t get a homemade deodorant to work well and I refuse to replace using toilet paper. At least I am using safer options and I’ve only worked halfway through the book. More adventures ahead!


101 Easy Homemade Products for Your Skin, Health & Home: A Nerdy Farm Wife's All-Natural DIY Projects Using Commonly Found Herbs, Flowers & Other Plants
101 Easy Homemade Products for Your Skin, Health & Home: A Nerdy Farm Wife's All-Natural DIY Projects Using Commonly Found Herbs, Flowers & Other Plants

Kick toxic, synthetic skin care products and cleaners out the door and bring the healing joy of nature into your life with the simple, versatile projects in 101 Easy Homemade Products for Your Skin, Health & Home. In this incredible resource, Jan Berry teaches you the basics of making your own skin care and hair care products, health remedies and household cleaners—then how to customize them into truly unique and personalized items!

 

Resources

Places to buy ingredients

Amazon.com

AuraCacia.com (also have recipes)

Trader Joe’s

Whole Foods

Grocery store, preferably a health food store but as many major chain stores are bringing in organic products, you’d be surprised at what you can find. Plus they often offer coupons.

There are multiple internet sites available on the World Wide Web. Place into favorite search engine the ingredient you cannot find locally.

Miscellaneous

Environmental Working Group Skin Deep website: http://www.ewg.org/skindeep.

The Complete Idiots Guide to Making Natural Beauty Products, by Trew, Sally and Gould, Zonella. This book includes not only how to make your own makeup, but also everyday hygiene and care products.

Wellness Mama is a website that offers a wide array of information on living healthy and avoiding unsafe products. Includes information not only for families, but for single people. http://wellnessmama.com/.

Do a book search on Amazon and/orThriftbooks.com to see what is available out there on this subject. Then seek the book at your local library and try it out. A free resource is always a benefit in the pursuit of living green.

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