You may have heard from your hairdresser that you should look for shampoo and conditioners without parabens, or maybe your neighbor got cancer and she now has all new personal care products in her bathroom cabinets. Maybe you’ve noticed the growing number of soaps, shaving creams and makeup available that are free of one ingredient or another.
There’s a major change happening in products for your skin and hair care regimen in reaction to growing consumer demand for products with fewer or no toxic substances. Health-conscious folks are looking for ways to cut the load of toxins that enter their bodies, and environmentalists are increasingly pointing at what they call “non-point sources” of pollution to our waterways. Unlike, say, a factory dumping waste into a river (which is a “point source,” a growing part of the chemicals that make their way into our waterways are coming from our own homes — working their way into the fish and other animals that share our ecosystem. And plenty of people are erring on the side of caution: The truth is that most chemicals in our personal care products are on the Food and Drug Administration’s GRAS list (Generally Recognized as Safe), which means that the chemicals haven’t necessarily been tested for safety — just that they haven’t been proven to cause health problems yet.
So now that you have the curiosity and the motivation, here’s how you can green your skin and hair care regimen.
Don’t try to do it all at once: We all have products we love and depend on, and the best way to stick with less-toxic versions of those products is to find a replacement that really works for you. The good news is that unlike old natural products, new formulations work just as well as chemically laden ones.
Choose two or three products to replace first. These should be the ones that you use the most often; usually, your body soap, hand soap, shampoo and moisturizer are the most regularly used products. After you have replaced those, move on to things you use less often, like face masks, shaving creams and hair treatments.
Do some research: With your favorite old products in hand, check out the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. You can enter the products’ names and find out how toxic they really are. The site provides a simple 1-10 rating system (with the higher number being most toxic). Sometimes what you are already using might score low on the toxicity scale, which might mean that you want to keep it around.
You will probably find that some or all of your existing products contain chemicals that are linked with health issues or negative health consequences (you can dig deep into the research on Skin Deep and see the chemicals' effects). This is where you have to make a decision for yourself, based on your life: Are some mildly toxic chemicals OK? Are you looking for completely chemical-free products? The Cosmetics Safety Database will explain the various levels and their potential impacts.
Start shopping: If you have a good local health food store or Whole Foods (which independently evaluates its bath and body products) near you, these stories are a great place to start. The experts there can help guide you to what’s popular, what works, and which products are the most natural and organic. Not all natural or organic products are completely chemical-free, so be sure to do your homework, even on products from health food stores. You can also find some natural brands at retailers like Target and Walmart.
Other places to find natural products for your skin and hair care regimen are online beauty stores that are kind of like Sephora, but with toxin-free products; each of the sites below vets all the products it sells and includes ingredients listings.
You also might consider trying a subscription natural beauty trial system, like Goodebox, which sends a curated box of trial-size natural beauty products each month, so you can decide what you like without making the commitment (or creating the waste) of full-sized products.
Try new products: Give some time to try out new natural and organic products; while most of them will work similarly to the conventional products you have been using, there might be some differences. For instance, most natural products foam or suds less — which doesn’t mean that they are cleaning less effectively. The high volumes of foam in conventional hand soaps and shampoos are the result of chemicals and are not indicative of cleaning power.
That being said, not all natural products will be right for you — just as with chemically laden drugstore brands, some will work with your skin and hair, and some won’t. Keep going if you end up with a product you don’t like.
If costs end up being a concern to you (most natural products do cost more than the cheapest drugstore brands, but about the same as mid-range conventional brands), consider investing in larger jugs or containers of products that work for you. Buying bulk online or in the store will save money and packaging too. You can always keep pretty jars or containers in the shower and refill them if you don’t want big jugs in your bathing area. Another way to save money is to make some of your own products; body scrubs and shaving creams are the easiest to whip up, and tend to be the most expensive to buy.