Being Personally Green

A couple weeks ago I wrote a post about how we are switching to green cleaning in our home.  I have also been striving to go more natural with our personal body care products: make up,  shampoo, soap, you name it.  The amount of chemicals we are exposed to daily is astounding, and it is no surprise that cancer rates are on such an alarming increase. People underestimate just how much these chemicals are absorbed through the skin. Here’s food for thought:

“Remember your skin is your largest organ and what you put on it goes directly into the blood stream and travels through your entire body. I love the rule: IF YOU WOULDN’T EAT IT, DON’T PUT IT ON YOUR SKIN. Definitely something to think about, hey?”

An interesting article found here, gives just a small insight into how many chemicals we are exposing ourselves, and what’s worse – our babies and children, to. While at first I thought, “Oh sure, just another “green” company wanting to sell their products,” unfortunately, the facts are solid. A quick Google search confirms the accusations and statistics,  including an article on CBS News where Johnson & Johnson says they “hope” to have the chemicals removed or reduced in their products by 2015.  This statistic really stood out to me:

82 percent of children are exposed every week to one or more ingredients with the potential to harm the brain and nervous system.

82%. That is not acceptable. All these chemical-containing products, are shoved down our throats as necessities by billion dollar industries, who want to save a few dollars at our expense. Unfortunately, despite living in an age of “knowledge at our fingertips”, we tend to be hopelessly ignorant of the effect of all the chemicals we’re exposed to daily. We just ingest it and/or use it, never questioning. We accept the marketing myth that this “safe” product, is actually safe. I used to be one of those people.

However, no longer.

Now, we’re on the quest for a completely natural household (well, the children and I are, I’m still working on my husband with regards to his personal care products).  A wonderful website that can help with this is the EWG (Environmental Working Group) Consumer Guides. There you can click on links that will let you evaluate the health safety of thousands and thousands of products – food, personal care, cleaning etc… It will give you a safety rating, as well as a breakdown of what the hazards are.

For example, we were using Suave Kids 2-in-1 shampoo. It rates overall at a 5 (3-6 means the products has a moderate health hazard). It contains a total of 18 chemicals, 9 of which were listed as moderately to highly hazardous, including known carcinogens and a chemical that releases formaldehyde.  Just what we want to be scrubbing our children down with each night.

We now buy California Baby Shampoo & Bodywash (it might look expensive, but it lasts a long time),  which has an overall rating of 1, meaning no to low hazard. It contains only 1 ingredients that rated 3, the lowest end of the moderate risk, and it was not considered carcinogenic.

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I am still searching for a natural shampoo for Mark and myself. I tried the “Poo-Free” method. However, three weeks into it, I absolutely could not stand the feel of my hair any longer, so I caved. Now, in trying the “Poo-Free” method, I did at least reduce my hair’s natural oil production to the point that I now only have to shampoo my hair once or twice a week. So, it wasn’t all a lost cause.

I haven’t tried it yet, it’s in my shopping cart waiting for me to check out, but upon research, Beauty Without Cruelty’s Lavender Shampoo has a decent rating – overall a 2, with three ingredients that rated 3 or 4, none of which were carcinogenic. I’m still searching for something better though.

Next on the list is deodorant. Now, I have to admit, I rarely use anti-perspirant – I’m just not a person that sweats a lot. However, I do still occasionally need it. I found a great recipe online for homemade deodorant/anti-perspirant, that has good reviews. You can find it here. It’s cheap and easy to make.

homemade-deodorant-bar-recipe

As for body wash and bar soaps, well I’m lucky enough to have some homesteading friends who make their own soap.  I haven’t used a commercial bar of soap in probably over a year. However, if you have to use one – good ol’ plain Ivory soap, is about the safest mainstream soap you can buy, but even better would be a bar of Castile soap, such as Kirk’s Natural Soap. Want to make your own fancy scented soaps, oatmeal soaps etc…, without working with lye? There are some simple, creative ways to do it, and they really could make a fun project with the kids. Not to mention great gifts! I actually found the idea in a Farmer Boy unit study:

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Oatmeal Soap

Grind up 12 oz of basic soap (3 bars). Put 3/4 c of oatmeal in blender and whir until flakes are 1/5 their original size. Melt the soap and 9 oz of water in a double boiler. Add oatmeal and stir slowly until it is fairly thick. Lightly scent with cinnamon (or other natural essential oil if desired). Pour into molds and let set.

Wheat Germ and Honey Soap

Grind up 10 oz of basic soap. Melt in double boiler with 9 oz of water. Add 3/4 c wheat germ, 1/4 c honey and 2 tsp of coconut oil (or almond oil, other nourishing oil). Add in desired fragrance. Stir until fairly thick. Pour into molds and let set.

Note: Pour soap into your mold and tap mold gently to release any air bubbles, and place in the refrigerator to set. After it is set enough to release it from the mold you can remove it and place it on a rack to dry fully (for at least 3 weeks to fully cure). Molds can be fancy molds bought from a store, cupcake/muffin tins, or even a Pringles can or ice cream box (smeared with petroleum jelly so it will release, or better yet a water-based lubricant, since petroleum jelly can also contain carcinogens). You can then cut the soap into desired pieces.

For skin cleansing, I use regular water and a wash cloth. For toning, apple cider vinegar is an excellent choice. Mix a 1:1 ratio of ACV with distilled water. Using a cotton ball, pat it over your face as a toner. Need to exfoliate? Scrub your face with some sugar.

As for skin moisturizers, coconut oil is an excellent choice. It’s perfectly natural, and has many benefits including the fact that it boasts anti-fungal, anti-microbial and anti-bacterial properties. You can read about more of the benefits,  here (not to mention a quick Google search will produce many, many pages with the proven benefits of coconut oil. And not just for skin, but for hair, food etc…).

I am still on the search for “green” make up.  I rarely wear make up, so I admit it hasn’t been high on my priority list, when compared to the products we use every day. Ecco Bella has been rumored to be a good company, and Earth Lab Cosmetics (Canadian company!) was on David Suzuki’s recommended list of companies.

Oh, and how about our teeth? Colgate Total, our usual toothpaste, rates overall not horribly, at a 4, however it contains far more chemical ingredients than necessary (there’s a reason why they don’t let children use toothpaste!), including SLS. Another ingredient, Triclosan, is known to alter hormone regulation. Want some natural remedies? Brush your teeth with baking soda. Add enough soda and water to make a paste, and brush away. You can also use Castile soap (such as Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap). Want something a little tastier? Green Beaver (another Canadian company recommended by David Suzuki) offers much safer, more natural toothpastes, in a variety of flavors.

frosty

Last but not least for today, is diapers. Now, I realize they’re not specifically a personal care product, however, they are something that all parents have to use, and they do involve the skin of our children.  Now, I’m a huge advocate for cloth diapers. There are just countless reasons why they are better – better for the baby and better for our environment. Feel free to Google them. However, no, they’re not as convenient, which is why disposable diapers are so popular today. Yet again – convenience wins over health in today’s society.

We recently switched our daughter to cloth diapers. So recently, in fact that I’m still tracking their progress across Canada via the UPS website! I’ll be posting pictures when they arrive. Why did I change over so late in the game? Because of the fact that no matter what brand we try, she gets rashes with any disposable diaper – even worse with the pull-ups. But no small wonder. All that dye that changes the pull up color to let the child know when they’ve wet? It can leech back onto the baby’s skin. Not to mention all the other chemicals that are found in diapers: petroleum, dioxin, styrene (a known neurotoxin and is also linked to cancer) and others.

However, since I realize the majority of people do not desire to switch to cloth diapers, at least take care to ensure that your disposable diapers meet the following criteria:

  • Chlorine-free
  • Fragrance-free
  • Phthalate-free preferred
  • Dye-free (or at least pigments without heavy metals)
  • A high level of biodegradability

Earth’s Best was one of the top brands for meeting these requirements. Seventh Generation is also another good brand. And don’t forget to rethink the baby wipes.  Most wipes include many harmful chemicals, including one called methylisothiazolinone (listed as a high skin toxin), which can cause severe rashes. Our own daughter complains of pain when we wipe her with baby wipes. They often leave me with a slight burning feeling as well. Solution: make your own. Get some soft flannel, and cut it into squares. Then mix up the following solution: 

1 tablespoon almond, apricot, olive, or other oil
1 tablespoon Dr Bronner’s Liquid Castile Soap
2 drops tea tree oil
1 drop lavender oil
1 cup water

Mix it, and store it in a spray bottle. Spray onto your wipe and away you go.

You can also try this recipe, if you don’t like the idea of having to wash dirty wipes, and want a throw-away version.

And there are some of the ways that we’re trying to personally go green as well. This isn’t about fear-mongering, or being scared that we’re going to develop some horrible disease. Yet, in a sense, it is.  The chemicals that we bombard our body with day in and day out, do put us at an increased risk for multiple health issues, including cancer. So, when there are perfectly safe and natural alternatives out there, why wouldn’t you want to use them? In my opinion – convenience and saving a few dollars, is not worth filling our bodies with toxins.

 

**I revisited this blog post, to add these thoughts: being “green” isn’t just about being chemical free, it can also apply to reducing and recycling waste. Buying used items is a great way of doing this – there are many great quality used items out there, from electronics to furniture to clothing. All of this helps reduce the amount of trash going to landfill, and also puts some money in local pockets instead of more money into billionaire corporations. We recycle as well – newspapers are saved for starting fires in our woodstove, for covering the table for art projects, or for paper mache. Popcans and bottles are all saved and taken to the bottle depot – not only are we reducing garbage, we’re saving dollars as well. Food waste goes into our compost for our garden. These are just a few more ways to live a greener life.

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