I first posted this in January of 2014. Thought it was worth updating.
A couple years ago I went a little berserk, dragged all our health and beauty products out of every crevice of the house, and ran them through the Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetics Database. The EWG analyzed the ingredients of over 74,000 beauty products, from mouthwash to hair relaxers to spider vein treatments. They developed a simple rating scale:
0-2: low hazard
3-6: moderate hazard
7-10: high hazard
The EWG explains how they collect data, weigh various factors, and develop hazard scores in excruciating detail here.
Why should we care about this? Because the US government doesn’t regulate the safety of beauty products. Grab any smelly lotion off the shelf at Target and look at the ingredient list. I guarantee you will find “fragrance”. What the heck does that mean? Did the manufacturer crush up lemons or did they use paint stripper for their signature scent? No one monitors the ingredients for safety.
After I trashed our deodorant, toothpaste, feminine hygiene products, makeup ($ouch$), shampoo, lip balm, etc etc etc, I spent days combing through the EWG’s product lists looking for SAFE and AFFORDABLE options.
Yes, I’m a family doctor. But I’m not YOUR family doctor. So I can’t tell you what to do. If you are having a medical issue, talk to your health care provider. Please. If you are currently experiencing a medical emergency, stop reading and call 911. Now. Stop reading. (That’s the only time I’ll give you medical advice.)
I can’t tell you what to do. However, I can tell you what I do. I’m an excellent guinea pig with super sensitive skin. Most makeup gives me a vicious combination of rash, zits, and allergic conjunctivitis. Here’s the list of relatively nontoxic and inexpensive products that we use in our household. The list takes a top-down approach, generally going from the head down to the feet.
Shampoo: Burt’s Bees Grapefruit and Sugar Beet; Everyday Shea Vanilla Mint Moisturizing Shampoo; Everyday Shea UNSCENTED shampoo; Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Tingle
Kids’ Shampoo and Conditioner: Nature’s Baby Organics Vanilla Tangerine; Everyday Shea unscented
Doggie Shampoo and Conditioner: My new favorite – Everyday Shea unscented shampoo & conditioner
Conditioner: Beauty Without Cruelty Rosemary Mint Conditioner; Nature’s Gate Jojoba or Chamomile Conditioner; Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Tingle; Everyday Shea unscented
Deep Conditioner: Burt’s Bees Hair Repair Shea and Grapefruit
Dandruff Shampoo: Neutragena T-gel (NOT Target generic – the ingredients are NOT identical)
Mousse Substitute: Alaffia Beautiful Curls Shea Butter Curl Activating Cream (it’s okay); Shea Moisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie (leaves things a bit sticky); Andalou Naturals BB Styling Cream Argan & Sweet Orange (love this); Alaffia Beautiful Curls Shea Butter Curl Reviving Tonic (works to an extent)
tried and didn’t like: Shea Moisture Three Butters Styling Pomade (I guess I should’ve know by the way it’s called “pomade” that I’d wind up looking like Prince in the late ’80s); Eco Freako Cherry Almond Texturizer (oh so sticky)
Hairspray: Beauty Without Cruelty Hairspray
Body Oil: Alba Kukui Nut Organic Body Oil
Toothpaste: regular Colgate; Tom’s of Maine Spearmint (for my husband, this actually irritates my skin); Tom’s of Maine kids’ Silly Strawberry & Outrageous Orange Mango
Mouthwash: Tom’s of Maine Natural Baking Soda Mouthwash
Makeup: Honeybee Gardens eyeshadow, eyeliner, mascara, lipstick; Organic Wear Physician’s Formula pressed powder; Cover Girl concealer; bareMinerals blush
Face Astringent: Andalou Naturals Aloe + Willow Bark Pore Minimizer (still love this)
“Anti-Aging” Face Products: I experimented with Andalou Naturals. Deep Wrinkle Dermal Filler: spend your money on something worthwhile, like chocolate. Night Repair Cream: it’s fine and it doesn’t make me break out in hives. Not sure if it’s worth the money, or if I should just stick to my generic Aveeno lotion that I buy at Target (see below) – yes, I use hand lotion on my face. Lemon Sugar Facial Scrub: refreshing. I like it. Luminous Eye Serum: if “luminous” means puffy and itchy, then by all means this product made me “luminous.” My new go-to eyelid/undereye raccoon situation fix is generic 1% hydrocortisone ointment at bedtime.
Please recall that the Fountain of Youth is filled with sunscreen… An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of Botox.
Lip Balm: Badger organic lip balm; Essence of Lanesboro chapsticks
Body and Face Lotion: Target’s Daily Moisturizing Lotion (generic Aveeno)
Intensive Hand/Skin Moisturizer: Badger Healing Balm; Essence of Lanesboro unscented products
Deodorant/Antiperspirant: Sure unscented
Nail Polish: Acquarella (not cheap); am planning to experiment with Zoya; the Honeybee Gardens nail polish chips off IMMEDIATELY
Nail Polish Remover: Honeybee Gardens
Tampons/Pads/Pantyliners: Natracare (made from organic cotton)
Lubricant: KY Ultragel (old name KY Sensual Silk); If I were in the market for condoms I’d buy NON-LUBRICATED condoms and then use the KY Ultragel as needed.
Shaving Cream: Dr. Bronner’s Magic Shaving Gel
Soap: unscented White Dove
Sunscreen: Vanicream spf 35; Oh boy – Target has had supply issues with Vanicream sunscreen and we’re just hanging on over here. I tried some other stuff. California Baby mineral products are SUPER WHITE OPAQUE but eventually they sink in. Hello expensive. I tried Honest Sunscreen (cheap, found a two-pack at Costco) – NOT GOOD. It slides on like an oilslick ’cause it’s made from oil of coconut, sunflower seed, hydrogenated veggies, olive, apricot, and jojoba seed. And guess what? All that oil stains clothing and acne-ifies faces!
Face Sunscreen: Andalou Naturals Oil Control Beauty Balm Un-Tinted SPF 30 – love this, but I need to re-apply frequently.
Perfume: Aura Cacia Organics essential oils; Aura Cacia Aromatherapy Mist; Essence of Lanesboro cologne sprays
1) I buy the above products at Target, my local co-op, and www.luckyvitamin.com.
2) “Natural” can still be toxic. Crude oil is natural.
3) A generic product might contain different ingredients from the brand name.
4) Don’t assume that a particular company makes all nontoxic products. Two different hair conditioners from the same brand might have different EWG hazard scores.
5) Co-ops carry a wide variety of toxic and nontoxic products.
6) The US government doesn’t regulate the safety of beauty products.
7) “Hypoallergenic” products are not necessarily nontoxic. (Sorry about that double negative.)
8) If I could only make ONE CHANGE, I would spend the money on organic cotton feminine hygiene products, particularly if I had daughters. Here’s a suitably scary summary article. *** I feel even more strongly about this one now. The end of this story has yet to be written.
10) Musical Moment