Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A post not about what to put in your body, but on it.

Now, I realize, by the title of this blog, I should be talking about eating and growing things. But this is a subject near and dear to my heart, and I think not that unrelated.

The main reason behind sheer enjoyment of food, that I eat the way I do is for health. And, it would all be for naught if I wasn't wary of what chemicals I was being exposed to otherwise. I am meticulous about what is in my food, so it goes that naturally, I'm curious about what's getting into my body through my daily beauty routine.

For the past couple years, I have become more and more interrested in what is in the stuff I put on my body every single day like lotions, make-up, body wash, deordorant, etc. Is it harming me? Down the road will I have some terrible form of cancer that I could trace back to years of use of my favorite Island Coconut scented lotion?

Well, the answer is "maybe." It seems like the link between various chemicals in beauty products and long-term damage is in its very early stages, but there's some evidence to suggest this is the case, nonetheless. I don't know about you, but I'm erring on the side of caution.

A few years ago, I stumbled on the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep database. Ever read the back of your shampoo bottle as you soap up in the shower? I do. Is that weird? I recognized "coral flower extract" as something probably not onerous, but it was only one of 19 ingredients listed in my shampoo. The rest I could barely pronounce, let alone tell you what they were. Have you ever wondered exactly what is "tetrasodium EDTA"?

Some of these ingredients that I cannot identify are phthalates. Phthalates are what makes plastic pliable and make liquids a gel, and as you can imagine, are in all kinds of products from food containers, shower curtains, hair spray, lotion, etc. Exposure to them has also been linked to respiratory illnesses, endocrine disruption and even breast cancer. Do an internet search for "phthalates and illness" and see how many scary articles come up.

So, what do you do? These chemicals are everywhere. Well, unless you are living in a BPA-free plastic bubble, you can't help but to come in contact with them in your daily life. But I do my best to try and avoid them.

The Skin Deep website is a God-send. I've completely reworked my medicine cabinet based on it's data. I've found that most of the products that are safe are more expensive than conventional products. And harder to find. But switching over did force me to streamline my beauty routine, and I think paying a little extra is completely worth the peace of mind.

The website ranks all kinds of health and beauty products, from toothpaste to sunscreen to hair color. The products are ranked 0-9, with 0 being the best for you. The website does have it's shortcomings, the major one being that many of the products have incomplete data on the website. Without the complete list of ingredients, it is difficult to assign a particular product an accurate ranking. And, the health and beauty products industry gets off easy by being allowed to list ingredients such as "Fragrance" or "Natural fragrance." It's anyone's guess what exactly "Fragrance" is made up of, and because the formulas are considered proprietary trade secrets, companies don't have to disclose what they are. The Skin Deep website notes if ingredient information for a particular product is incomplete, and it makes a policy of assigning ingredients like "fragrance" a high score, if it is unknown what is in it.

There are few rules of thumb that, combined with using the website, should steer you clear of coming into daily contact with these chemicals through your beauty routine.

1. Whenever possible, opt for fragrance free products. Fragrance doesn't add anything useful to the product, and is even probably harmful, since we can't be sure what's in it. Also, most of the "Fragrance" that's used in products isn't of high quality, and it won't last long once you put it on. If you like wearing fragrance, opt for essential oils. They will last longer anyway.

2. Avoid products with "sodium laureth sulfate" or "sodium lauryl sulfate". This is a chemical that helps products foam or is used as an emulsification agent. It's also a known irritant, but rest assured, the cosmetics industry says it's safe at doses in consumer cosmetics projects. Oh, yeah, it's also a known carcinogen in animal studies...

3. Just like with food, look for products with fewer ingredients, or with ingredients that are easily recognizable to non-chemists. This is a no brainer.

I mentioned that it's really hard to find some of these products, and many of the safe products listed on the Skin Deep site are brands I've never heard of. I used to do all my shopping for beauty products mostly at the grocery store or drug store, where I could use coupons. But now, I buy a lot of these products online. has a lot of these products, and that's where I buy a lot of what I use.

Some brands are known to be safer, or "greener", but you still have to look at the labels. I like branks like Kiss My Face, JASON, Dr. Bronner's and Yes to Carrots, which you can generally find at any drugstore these days. They are more than conventional products, but they still aren't too bad. Some specialty brands can be much more expensive, and aren't found anywhere around here, but I order them online. If it's a good product, I don't mind paying a little extra.

Here's a list of what I use now:
Shampoo/Conditioner - de lux COLORSAVE shampoo and conditioner for color-treated hair. Yeah, that hair dye kinda runs counter to this whole natural ingredients post, but if I have to pick and choose, I'll have my hair colored by a stylist a handful of times a year and use these products the rest of the time... Skin Deep assigned both a 4, which is yellow, meaning, not great, but not bad, either. I buy it at

Body Wash - Korres Jasmine Body Wash. I love the Korres brand. It's a brand that is geared toward natural ingredients--but I'm not saying that all their products are natural and safe. You still have to read the ingredients. My particular scent isn't on Skin Deep, but their bodywash ranges from a rating of 1 to 5. Not terrible, but I would hope mine falls closer to the 1 end. I've also used their Wild Rose facial moisturizer and foundation, and I think both are 5s on Skin Deep. And, sometimes in the shower, I just use soap. We have been using plain old Ivory original soap for a long time, and it's ranked a 3. I find Korres products at and Sephora.

Deodorant - I've been buying whatever I can get for cheap with a coupon. I always try to get it fragrance free, but I can't always. Right now, I'm using Dove Invisible Solid Powder scent, and it's still only a 4 on Skin Deep. A few years back, there was some debate about whether deodorant was causing cancer, but it has since been laid to rest. Here's a link from the Mayo Clinic that addresses the popular myth (and incidently addresses types of plastic containers you should not use in the microwave). Personally, I'm not worried that something in basic fragrance-free deodorant is harmful, but some of the products on the market could be cause for concern.

Moisturizer - I LOVE Aveeno Active Naturals Daily Moisturizer. I didn't use it until I began looking for a moisturizer that met Skin Deep's muster. It's a 2, by the way. It's nice and thick and fragrance free. I have tried Dr. Bronner's Magic Organic Lotion, which I still use from time on my hands, but Aveeno is better and cheaper. You can find Aveeno at your local drug store.

Make-up - I use almost exclusively Bare Essenctuals bareMinerals mineral make up for foundation, blush, and eyeshadow. All the products I use range from 2 to 4 on the Skin Deep site. I also use the Foundation Primer, too, which is a 2. I don't know if it's because I'm getting older, but I do seem less prone to break outs since I started using it, too. Occassionally, I use Boots No. 7 Stay Perfect Eyeshadow. It's a cream shadow and it literally stays on all day long. Skin Deep gives it a 4. I use Boots No. 7 Stay perfect liquid eyeliner, and black isn't in the Skin Deep database, but other colors are ranked a 2. Boots is a British company, and I think that Europe has tighter regulations on what types of chemicals can be used in (both foods and) beauty products, which is nice. Boots is sold at Target and CVS, too. I am a big mascara person, and I haven't found any brand that I like as well as Bare Essenctuals Buxom. Believe me, I've tried, since it runs me over $25 a tube. It. Is. The. Best. (disclaimer--I haven't tried Dior Show, and I've heard it's even better). But this mascara is a 5 on the database. I'm hoping that I'm not absorbing as much of those chemicals through my eyelashes... I buy all my make up at either Sephora or

Make up remover/face wash - the best eye make-up remover I've ever tried is good ol' Vaseline. I used to use Almay, but I'd still wake up in the mornings with raccoon eyes, no matter how much I scrubbed. Vaseline is crazy cheap, gets every bit of eye make up off, and even makes the skin around your eyes softer!!! Score. And, if you get the original it's a 0 on the database, but if you get the "baby" formula, it's a 3. I'm sure it's because of the fragrance. So, mine, shown above, is probably the same case, although it's not in the database. At night, I wash my face with Boscia Make Up Break Up, and oil based cleanser. It's not in the database, but all of Boscia's products are under 4. Boscia, like Korres, is a company known for natural, safe ingredients. Boscia seems to be a little safer, however, since none of it's products are over 4. However, Boscia is expensive. But a little of this face wash goes a long way. And I'm a recent convert to oil cleansers. It seems counterintuitive, since I'm someone who previously had occassional break outs and a shiny t-zone, I was skeptical. But it works. Something about oil attracting other oil, so it pulls it off your skin or something? In the shower I use either Johnson & Johnson Purpose, which is a 4, or Kiss My Face Start Up Exfoliating Face Wash, which is a 1. I buy both of those at and the Boscia at Sephora.

Facial Moisturizer - I haven't found one I'm totally in love with yet. Right now, I use Ole Henriksen Truth Serum, which is a 1. It's okay. Kinda slimy, even after you put it on. I bought it at Sephora. I used to use Korres Wild Rose 24-hour Moisturizer, which was a 5. I think it did a better job. I've also tried the Korres Quercetin and Oak Antiageing Night Cream, but I didn't like it, and it was exceptionally expensive. And it's a 6. I've used Boots No. 7 Rebalancing Gel, but it's also a 6.

Other - Nail polish is generally a no-no if you don't want some seriously nasty chemicals in your proximity, but I still use it from time to time. Butter London brand has a line called "3 Free" that is supposedly free of some of the nastiest chemicals, but it's still ranked a 6, and it stays on approximately 4 hours. Seriously, this stuff will not last more than a day without chipping. I have some, and it's not worth the big price tag, either. Sunscreen is also tricky because some of the very chemicals that make it effective are harmful. As far as safety goes, your best bet is the opaque zinc stuff that was popular about the time I was 8 years old. Right now, I have Kiss My Face, both a body and a face formula. The face formula is only a 3, but the body isn't in the data base.  

Also, you can bet if it's safe enough to eat, it's safe to put on your body. There are a number of foods that can double as beauty products. Everyone has heard of putting oatmeal on a rash, or just to improve your complexion. I've heard avocado is also great for your face, but I've never tried it. I did recently read that olive oil is great as an eye make-up remover. I do know people who use it as a body moisturizer. In high school a girl I knew used it for sun tan oil, and she had the most envious tan, but I wouldn't recommend that. I can attest to coconut oil as a moisturizer. I bought it to replace canola oil in cooking because it can withstand high heat. I actually also ordered it from It looks a lot like Crisco. It is great for smearing on the inside of bread loaf pans and cake pans to keep them from sticking, and the label also says it can be used as a moisturizer. So the last time I put it in loaf pans, I didn't wash my hands, but I just rubbed it in. Very nice for dry skin, and smells amazing without added "fragrance." Maybe it's my new Island Coconut-scented moisturizer...

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