If you have read my previous posts then you know that my family and I have committed ourselves to living a cleaner and more authentic lifestyle. I have talked about cleaning up our act, how we went from a convenience food family to one that does A LOT of things from scratch. It’s not always easy. And some days (or weeks!) I am also incredibly lazy. I don’t always feel like it and i don’t always succeed. But we always try. And that is really the point, in my opinion. Being perfect is impossible. Life can’t always be about perfectly made beds and crumb-free counters (it just can’t, because if it is, then I’m in big trouble).
If you haven’t read the first challenge, check it out!
There is a lot of talk about clean eating, of being cognizant of what we put in our bodies. But of equal importance, is what we put on our bodies everyday. Most people will readily say that they avoid the dirty dozen in the produce department and that they try to eat more whole grains and less red meat. But what about the stuff we put on our bodies? Consumers spend billions of dollars a year on beauty products. We want to smell good, look good, have great hair and perfect skin. And you know what? I love that we can achieve that! I mean, thank goodness we all don’t have to smell like onions wrapped in dirty socks and look like we just emerged from a year long trek into the wilderness!
If I told you that when I went to the gas station I not only filled up my car but I also showered in the gas, you would think I was crazy. But everyday we put petroleum-based products on our skin. We will happily spritz and rub and apply and dab cancer-causing chemicals on ourselves in the name of cleanliness and smelling great. And for what? The chemicals really aren’t necessary. They don’t improve the quality of your skin, or hair, or the smell of your pits. Sure, the product might be nice and creamy, or go on super smoothly, but if you knew that the trade off meant you were putting formaldehyde on your skin or that the fragrance you squirted all over your body could cause cancer or neurotoxicity, would you still do it? Probably not.
Ugh. That’s a lot of preachiness. But what’s a girl to do?
Anyway, considering cleaner beauty products doesn’t have to be difficult. It doesn’t mean standing on a soap box and looking down your nose at your friends who continue to use conventional soaps and shampoos. It doesn’t mean that you will be relegated to smelling like an old patchouli incense stick. It doesn’t even have to mean only shopping at health food stores or making your own. It really just means arming yourself with some knowledge and then making choices that you and your family feel comfortable with!
First things First: The 411 on our Skin
Our skin is a semi-permeable membrane. This is just a fancy way of saying that our skin has tiny holes (pores) that allow certain materials to pass in and out of the skin. This is achieved through the processes of diffusion and osmosis. Grade school science is relevant, friends! Your skin has a really important job to do: it allows the expelling of water (for sweat) and toxins, while at the same time also allows the absorption of vitamins, nutrients, some oxygen, and yup, you guessed it, more water. Now, as amazingly constructed our skin is, it isn’t magic: as in, it can’t differentiate among chemicals and vitamins, so if you put something on your skin that has absorbing properties, your skin will suck it in, regardless of the health risks (there are of course, so much more scientific specificities that I won’t even try to discuss for fear of looking like a total science newb. I like the basics and the basics are your skin can let in some stuff and that stuff should always be good.) The skin is an amazingly designed transport system, that can help deliver much-needed nutrients to the rest of the body. Think how medicine has capitalized on this through topical ointments and aids like the nicotine patch.
Okay, so if we know our skin is semi-permeable, and will let in some things that our good for our body, and by default then, can also let in some things that aren’t so good for our bodies, logic would dictate that we should aim to limit the toxins and chemicals we apply directly to our skin and hair. However, we are at a distinct disadvantage because we are led to believe by beauty product manufacturers that if a product features terms like “not tested on animals” or “contains botanicals” or “natural” or the best: “contains antioxidants” that these products are good and safe for you and your family to use. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Yes, there are natural ingredients in the product, or some antioxidant additives, but if it is accompanied by cancer- causing chemicals, of what benefit are those additives truly?
How to choose cleaner beauty products
It can be frustrating at first to start purchasing products that are greener. There are funny chemical terms that are sneaky because sometimes they go by weird hybridized names and you feel like you need a degree in chemistry just to get through the drugstore. Then of course, once you pick a product you want to try, chances are it will be a bit more expensive than their conventional pièce de résistance is getting the product home and realizing it doesn’t work as well as the ones you’re used to. But if you think back to all those shampoos you’ve gone through or conditioners that totally sucked, you’ll know that that’s the learning curve of trying any new product, even those regular ones!
Two great resources to get you started:
- Like the dirty dozen list of produce to avoid, David Suzuki has a great list of toxic ingredients to avoid when purchasing deodorants, shampoos and cosmetics.
- Environmental Working Group has a great skincare database lets you enter in the product you are curious about and will give you a rating from 0-10 on how green the product is you’re considering. Then you can make a more informed decision on whether or not certain attributes are deal-breakers. (Like sodium laureth sulfate: it’s a foaming agent, which helps soaps and shampoos lather and give that feeling of cleanliness we’re used to. It’s also considered a cancer-causing agent because of the possibility of additives, but if you really like a foamy wash, then maybe it becomes the lesser of other evils.)
Look, I get it. going clean isn’t easy. It’s not easy to give up great products we love. **full disclosure** I still wear conventional mascara. I’ve worn the same mascara brand since I was 16 and even though I’ve tried about a million other cleaner brands, I just can’t get the look I like. Now, I could defend myself and be like, well, it only scores a 2 on the EWG database, so therefore it’s still pretty clean, but at the end of the day I love my mascara, and I know the chemicals that are in it, the ones I’m putting right up there near my eyeballs, which is also coincidentally close to my brain. And I’m okay with it. That’s where personal choice comes into it. No one can tell you that you’re doing clean wrong. Get some information. Make some decisions and feel good about it.
My all-around store-bought cleansing winner:
And even though I make most of my own soap, I will say that I have been really happy with the Dr. Bronner’s collection of castile bar soaps, which can be purchased at most health food stores and larger grocery stores (I usually buy my Dr. Bronner’s at well.ca because I love online shopping. ’nuff said).
I really believe that knowledge is power and I probably say it too much, even to myself, which is even more annoying. But it’s true: having a bit of knowledge enables you to make better choices for you and your family. The above list and app are both great ways to get you started taking a closer look at what you already use. Then you can decide if you want to make some changes. It really is all about what you’re comfortable with!
Have fun with kitchen staples
Just for kicks, I’ve included two really easy recipes that you can make using stuff you most likely already have. The recipes are quick, easy, and best of all, work well! They’re perfect for dabbling a bit on say, a Friday night, when you’ve got nothing happening and you’re half in to a bottle of wine and doing a little kitchen science sounds better than watching hockey or whatever. And let’s also say, for argument’s sake, that you don’t have any special ingredients on hand, other than what’s in your pantry and fridge. You’re still good!
1 Tbsp Coconut Oil
1 Tablespoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon of salt, kosher or sea salt, or mineral salt if you have.
a pinch of cinnamon powder
5 drops of peppermint essential oil, but only if you have it!
Over a double boiler, melt coconut oil. Remove from heat and mix in baking soda, salt, cinnamon or peppermint oil. Give it a couple of hours to harden up and you’re ready to go! That’s it!
Yields enough for a couple of days of brushing. It will probably take a day or two to get used to the salty taste of the toothpaste, but your teeth will start to look whiter and your mouth will feel super-clean!
Brown Sugar Scrub
This is perfect for those rough winter feet and hands. But it’s gentle enough you can scrub, scrub, scrub pretty much anywhere! A piece of advice though: make sure you rinse the tub out after scrubbing. This stuff can get a bit slippery otherwise (#askmehowiknow).
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
Optional, but lovely: 10 drops of sweet orange essential oil
Mix ingredients together in a bowl. Transfer to a jar. You can store it for 2 weeks or so. Done.
Yields enough for 2 body scrub sessions!