It’s time to re-appropriate the term body-conscious. Rather than focus on the state of our abs or inner thighs, it might be wiser to consider exactly what it is that we’re imposing on these precious body parts.
In her new book, Ecoholic Body, author and columnist Adria Vasil educates consumers on the worrying chemical composition of commercial personal care products, from toothpaste and shampoo to condoms and prescription medicines. She goes one step further, creating a handy consumer guide, vetting natural and organic options and offering up her take on the best of the healthier alternatives.
Here are six tips from Vasil on how to improve your body’s relationship to nature.
1. Give natural products a shot—again.
Vasil is the first to admit that there are a few prickly issues when it comes to switching from commercial personal care products to natural products. Issue number one: some natural products don’t work as well. But that’s not the case with many brands anymore, says the author. “They’ve come a long way,” says Vasil, particularly shampoos and deodorants. Two products Vasil gives the thumbs-up to in the book: Lavera Rose Milk shampoo and Weleda deodorant.
2. Don’t fall for the terms “organic” and “natural.”
Unfortunately, Health Canada doesn’t hold the beauty industry to a firm standard when it comes to the use of the terms natural and organic in their packaging. Fortunately, there are third-party certifying organizations that do (for example Natural Products Association Certified, EcoCert, USDA Organic), and Vasil says when in doubt, look for them. It’s a quick consumer shortcut that doesn’t necessitate memorizing Health Canada’s “List of Prohibited and Restricted Cosmetic Ingredients.”
3. Ditch the anti-bacterial soaps, washes, etc.
Think your doing yourself a favour when you rinse with anti-bacterial soaps and washes? Think again. Many contain the ingredient Triclosan, which is number 15 on Vasil’s “Mean 15: Top Body Care Ingredients to Shelve for Good.”
“Health Canada has just come out and announced that they’re in the middle of declaring [triclosan] toxic,” says Vasil. “In 2006, the Canadian Medical Association asked that it be banned from Canadian shelves because it contributes to superbugs and to antibiotic resistant germs.”
Triclosan is also in some dish soaps, toothpastes and deodorants, so if you see the ingredient triclosan or triclocarbon, don’t buy it or get rid of it, says Vasil.
4. Say bye-bye to this unregulated chemical trap: perfume.
Beauty companies aren’t required to list all of the chemicals that go into their signature scents. “They can just say ‘fragrance’ and not list what’s in it because the industry says ‘we don’t have enough room for it on the label,’” explains Vasil. In addition to the “mystery meat” factor with many colognes and perfumes, Vasil notes that many of the known ingredients are problematic.
Says Vasil: “Unfortunately people love their perfumes but unfortunately those are just dripping with a good dozen types of hormone disruptors as well as sensitizers, which increase your chemical sensitivity over time. There are up to a hundred chemicals in those perfumes or more.”
You don’t have to give up scent, just buy smarter. “Even at mainstream stores like Sephora there are all-natural scents made of vanilla bean or orange extract so you can still find a scent that is naturally sourced,” says Vasil.
5. Send a message to beauty companies.
If you’re angry that your pricey hair smoother contains an ingredient (siloxane) that is toxic to fish, voice your concern. Vasil suggests sending the products back to the company with a note that reads: “I was a fan of your product and I’d like to keep supporting your company but not if you’re using this ingredient. And I don’t know how to dispose of it, so here.” That last bit isn’t hyperbole. Some municipalities, Vasil learned, dispose of personal care products along with hazardous waste. So don’t toss them in the trash or down the drain, send them back or take them to a waste treatment site.
6. Want safe beauty treatments?
Raid the refrigerator. Use your old coffee grinds to make a fab body scrub, or make an egg yolk and honey anti-aging mask—you’ll not only save yourself money, you’ll avoid the toxic soup beauty companies have been serving consumers for more than six decades, says Vasil.
“There is a wall of toxic products that come between nature and ourselves that isn’t necessary at all,” says Vasil. “It wasn’t there over 60 years ago and it’s not needed now. We’ve been convinced that synthetic stuff just works better for everything and we’ve gotten away from the old recipes and the old ingredients that our great grandmothers used.”
This article was first published in 2012.