Just Short of Tree-Hugging

I’ve always been a big recycle-reduce-reuse nerd (I was born in the 80’s).  I’m always on the hunt for ways to repurpose, ways to save energy, and ways to be nicer to the planet in general.  However, until recently, I hadn’t really applied this line of thinking to myself.  Like, my own body.

Of course, I always try to eat healthier, and if I don’t recognize the majority of ingredients on the label, I tend to steer away from it and opt for fresher, less processed things.  (And of course, the unrecognizable things on the ingredients list are usually preservatives.)   But I hadn’t put a whole ton of thought into this being applied to some of the items I use topically… like shampoo, conditioner, lotion, make-up, et al.

Then I read somewhere that we absorb 60% of what goes on our skin!

Then I read somewhere else that that wasn’t necessarily true…

Then I read about the evils of parabens (a preservative found in many cosmetics and personal care products).  Then I read about how benzoyl peroxide has been restricted in Europe (this is my go to when I use a medicated face wash).  Then I read about sulfates (found in detergents and shampoos) and learned how they have a pretty bad rap, too.  Then I read… A LOT.

Then I read a few articles that “scoffed” at the natural community for getting their panties in a wad over the whole thing.

Then I thought…. and pondered… and considered.

And then I did what I do with politics: I didn’t lean to the right… or the left… but somewhere right in the middle.  A Moderate, if you will.  (Fence riding can be exhausting, but someone’s got to do it.)

And what it came down to was this: Applying the same line of thinking that I use for choosing food options, I decided if I didn’t understand — or couldn’t pronounce — the majority of the ingredients on a label, then it wasn’t for me.  I don’t necessarily rule out any and all other products that I may have used before, I just use carefully and/or sparingly.  Because while there is some bad press for the movement towards all all-natural, there’s an overwhelming amount of bad press for continuing to use the products we’ve all been using (but no one can make me give up my Loreal Voluminous mascara, not even the dumb girl who told me when I was thirteen years old that mascara was made out of bat poop — and I believed her for a good five minutes).

And this resolve was further justified when I stopped and made a list of all of the cosmetic and personal care products I use.  Are you ready?  For someone who can get ready in  fifteen minutes, this is quite a list:

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Hairspray (flyaways, y’all!)
  • Bodywash
  • Facewash
  • Hand Soap
  • Body Lotion
  • Facial Moisturizer
  • Toothpaste
  • Dental Floss (EVERY DAY)
  • Fluoride rinse (I have a tiny, cavity-prone mouth)
  • Nail polish
  • Nail Polish Remover
  • Deodorant
  • Lip Balm
  • Lip Gloss
  • Lipstick
  • Foundation (like, the makeup kind)
  • Powder
  • Eyeshadow (three different colors for contrast and definition)
  • Eyeliner
  • Mascara
  • Perfume
  • Vaseline (for really dry skin)

Yeah, quite a list.  (But unlike a lot of ladies I know, I don’t use concealer, hair dye, tanners/bronzers, and a slew of other topical products, so I consider my crazy long list not so long by comparison.)   However, when I first created the list, I found it daunting; I was at a loss for how to choose which new natural product to use and how I would afford to switch over ALL of these different products (this is the Ginger Penny Pincher, after all).  Overwhelmed, Party of One.

So I laid a few ground rules for myself:

  1. I could only switch over to a new, natural product when I was about to run out of an older, slightly more harmful one (I mean, I made it this far).
  2. I couldn’t buy a product if it was significantly more expensive than my previous one (like twice as much = no bueno).
  3. I could only buy a product (or keep using one) if it made a 3 or better on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database.  This AMAZING resource breaks down everything that is found in common cosmetics and personal care items — you can even send off for a handy pocket guide for when you go shopping:

(I totally squealed when it came in the mail.)

So those are my three criteria.  This resolve began March 1st, and since then I’ve switched over about half of my products.  I’m pretty happy with my choices so far, but I’m open to other options as well; in other words, I’m not married to any particular brand.  I browsed the personal care products section of my local natural foods stores, Flatbush Food Coop and Natural Frontier Market (this was before I discovered the even more fabulous natural care section of my beloved Fairway).  Keeping a mental note of what brands they had, I sort of reverse looked up everything in the EWG database to figure out, of all of the easily accessible brands, which were best).  The sky’s the limit when you order from great sites like Vita Cost or Drugstore.com, but I wanted to be able to walk a few blocks or drive a few miles and get whatever I needed, rather than have to wait on the delivery man (who can be a little unreliable in my area).  So choosing commonly found brands like Desert Essence, Tom’s, Jason, Avalon Organics, Kiss My Face, Nature’s Gate, and Dr. Bronner’s just makes more sense (and some of these are even available at drugstores and Target).

Here’s my updated list, with the new products (and my brief review) in boldface.  Again, I haven’t switched over everything, but I’m getting there…

  • Shampoo — Nature’s Gate: no problems yet!
  • Conditioner — Nature’s Gate: Sulfate-free and complaint free!
  • Hairspray (soon)
  • Bodywash — Dr. Bronner’s: If you can get past the trippy labeling, you’re set.
  • Facewash — Desert Essence with Tea Tree Oil, and then I use straight up tea tree oil applied with a Q-tip for problem areas.
  • Hand Soap — Dr. Bronner’s 
  • Body Lotion — Coconut oil (like the stuff for cooking!)
  • Facial Moisturizer — Again, coconut oil.  It has many uses.
  • Toothpaste — Tom’s of Maine, Cavity Protection: No problems so far!
  • Dental Floss (soon)
  • Fluoride rinse — The Natural Dentist, fluoride-free, made of leprecaun magic and pixie dust.  It is some GREAT stuff.
  • Nail polish (this is going to be a hard one)
  • Nail Polish Remover (yep)
  • Deodorant — Tom’s of Maine: It’s been great during the winter; we’ll see how it holds up in the warmer months :)
  • Lip Balm — Burt’s Bees, of course
  • Lip Gloss
  • Lipstick
  • Foundation
  • Powder —  I found something new at Target called Boots Botanics — made in the UK.  Loving it so far.
  • Eyeshadow (three different colors for contrast and definition)
  • Eyeliner
  • Mascara
  • Perfume
  • Vaseline — Back to the coconut oil

For the items I haven’t switched, I have Pinned on my appropriately themed Pinterest board (check it out!) —  in hopes of going back to them when it is time to switch over.

Here’s where the cool community part of this blog comes in handy:  Has anyone else switched over recently?  Or do you have any natural products that you swear by?   A natural deodorant that really works? A cavity ridden horror story about using natural toothpaste?  Please share any and all suggestions.  I’d love more feedback as I go through this transition!  I’ll try most anything, short of scraping tree bark against my elbows.  Or using bat poop as mascara.

 Or giving up Diet Coke.

I mean, I do have some standards.

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6 thoughts on “Just Short of Tree-Hugging

  1. Ooo, how did you know I’ve totally been dodging the ‘issue’ of personal care products!? I find Dr Bronner’s a bit harsh/drying, but maybe I just picked the wrong stuff for me — which products are you using?

  2. I like Dr. Bronner’s as a body cleanser alone, but I know some people cut in half with water because it’s too strong for them. I also use straight up coconut oil as a moisturizer/lotion, so maybe that’s why I don’t notice the drying effects? As for the items, I’ve listed them above in the post (though I haven’t found a new product for everything). It’s a adventure!

  3. I started using the oil cleansing method as a facewash about three years ago, and I never looked back. My face loves the oils. I’ll have to try coconut oil for the rest of my body – that sounds heavenly.

    I haven’t had success with organic deodorants, though – Tom’s failed me in the summer, and so did combinations of cornstarch, baby powder, baking soda, etc. They were all fine antiperspirants, but I smelled like a teenage boy. I’d rather have pit stains that reach to my hips than be a nose-sore.

  4. I stopped using shampoo and conditioner altogether, and my hair feels soft and nice. I do the baking soda and water for shampoo and a diluted apple cider vinegar for conditioner. I have a few flyaways, but aside from that, my hair is really soft and shiny.

    Also, I made my own deodorant using coconut oil, baking soda, cornstarch and some essential oils. The first batch stung my armpits a bit, but I dialed back the amount of baking soda plus bought a higher-quality brand (Bob’s Red Mill), and it’s working great.

  5. I went through the change (menopause joke intended) about a month ago, and my skin has never been clearer and my hair has never been softer. I put coconut oil in my hair after showering to encourage my curl and occasionally on my skin. I just so happen to be blessed with very naturally moisturized skin so I rarely use lotion. Tom’s just doesn’t cut it for me in terms of deodorant. Being the only man who has commented on this particular blog post, let it be known that it is not just you, ladies. I felt really really smelly after using it for a week and noticed unpleasant body odor after just a few days. I am back to my old deodorant and still searching for a great alternative for the excessively sweaty man. Mine is a constant journey, one that I’m sure i will finish eventually. A major priority of mine was that none of my products were tested on animals, and that has been accomplished!

    GOOD LUCK & LOVE YOU GPP!

  6. Coconut oil is miraculous. And I’m having the same experience with Tom’s. I think if I had a more sedentary lifestyle, it’d be fine — but as I mentioned in a recent post, 70% of what I do here is walking. I’ve switched back to my less-good-for-me-but less-offensive-to-others deodorant, in hopes I’ll find something better really soon!

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