Natural body care products are more accessible than ever. Now, they’re affordable and easily found at local grocery stores. But why switch to a natural product? When the product you’ve used for years works and might cost less? Well, there are a few reasons.
To start, in the United States, cosmetics as a whole have been left unregulated since 1938. That was the last time Congress passed any regulation regarding cosmetics. What’s more is all that did was ban any “poisonous or deleterious substance,” or any “filthy, putrid, or decomposed substance.”
In 82 years, the Food and Drug Administration has only banned nine ingredients from cosmetics products for safety reasons. In that same amount of time, the European Union has banned over 1,300 chemicals. How is this possible? Well, the EU approaches the regulation of chemicals differently than the US. In the EU, chemicals must be proven safe for human use before being used in cosmetics. In the US, chemicals must be proven dangerous in order to be banned, meaning there is no way to know if the cosmetics are truly safe.
One of the biggest points of contention surrounding deodorant is aluminum. It is the only proven antiperspirant on the market that will prevent sweat. While there is no evidence that aluminum-based antiperspirants cause cancer in humans, it is proven that aluminum can damage DNA which eventually leads to cancer.
Additionally, a mice trial showed that mice exposed to aluminum chloride in their breast tissue grew metastatic tumors, and another study showed women with higher levels of aluminum in their breasts were at higher risk for breast cancer. We’ll have to wait for more studies to be done before we have conclusive evidence, but for something we put on our bodies daily, it’s up to the individual to decide if daily exposure to aluminum is worth the potential risk.
Other ingredients to avoid include triclosan, an antibacterial the FDA has banned in hand soaps as it is not proven safe for use over a long period of time, phthalates, parabens, fragrance, diethanolamine, butane and isobutane. These are filler ingredients that have different purposes such as prolonging shelf-life or aerosol propellants and may have side effects such as hormone disruption or cancer.
Natural deodorants, on the other hand, generally avoid these ingredients. They use things like essential oils to reduce bacteria in the underarm or clay to absorb sweat. Instead of parabens, baking soda and vitamin E are sometimes used as natural preservative such as in Native Deodorant.
However, keep in mind that natural deodorant isn’t right for everyone. Some people are sensitive to essential oils or baking soda, especially after shaving, and may develop a rash. But there is a variety of natural deodorant on the market with varying ingredients. Newer deodorants, such as Nécessaire or Drunk Elephant’s Sweet Pitti, are addressing these problems by using different ingredients such as mandelic acid to kill bacteria and arrowroot powder to absorb sweat.
Fluoride is not quite as controversial as aluminum and fluoride is proven to be good for teeth. Once absorbed into the tooth enamel, it attracts minerals to strengthen the teeth and prevent decay and cavities. In fact, it’s even added to most municipal water supplies for oral health.
It is, however, dangerous if exposed to high quantities or ingested. The most common occurrence of fluoride toxicity is through ingestion of toothpaste. This is most notable in children under the age of six who tend to swallow toothpaste.
An alternative to fluoride used by some toothpastes is xylitol. It’s a sweetener derived from corn, which prevents bacteria from sticking to the teeth. This may be a good option if the fluoride levels in the local water supply are high.
Some natural toothpastes utilize aloe leaf juice to prevent bacteria, calcium carbonate or sodium bicarbonate to whiten teeth, peppermint oil to freshen breath and coconut oil to simulate oil pulling and extract bacteria. Many are free of fluoride, pesticides, GMOs, saccharin, SLS, SLES, carrageenan, parabens, triclosan, propylene glycol and detergents which may not have noticeable side effects but could just as easily cause irritation with prolonged exposure.
Hand soaps are used more frequently than just about any other body care product, so it’s important that we’re able to make informed decisions regarding it.
In 2016, the FDA implemented a ban on 19 ingredients commonly found in antibacterial hand soap, including triclosan and triclocarban. They had to be off the shelves by 2017 which wasn’t too long ago. If you find a product in your cabinet that you bought before then, it’s best to toss it.
Now, the things to look out for on labels in hand soap include fragrance, parabens, sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate, methylisothiazolinone, methylchloroisothiazolinone and cocamidopropyl betaine. Why? Well for fragrance, it’s a completely unregulated as a category. Still, companies aren’t required to disclose the ingredients in their fragrances. Parabens mimic estrogen and may be linked to endocrine disruption and cancer. Then with SLS, SLES, methylisothiazolinone, methylchloroisothiazolinone and cocamidopropyl betaine, they all can cause irritation but may also be toxic in the body.
What’s more, hand soaps are washed back into the water we consume. So, chances are the better it is for your health, the better it is for the environment, too. Hand soaps, like Mrs. Meyer’s, that use plant-derived ingredients and essential oils instead of chemical fragrances, can be found at grocery stores for affordable prices. Castile soap is another good option, often sold in bulk with no other added ingredients.
Switching to natural products may take a little research and possibly some trial-and-error, but it’s worth considering. We use deodorant, toothpaste and hand soap every day, multiple times a day. The toxic load built up in our bodies over the years could affect our health in the long run, and it might just take that long for the science to catch up. If a simple switch such as buying a different brand of toothpaste every few months could improve a person’s health and not empty hazardous chemicals into the environment, it might just be worth doing.
In the meantime, check out organizations like The Environmental Working Group have composited lists on their website of the safest products to use, their ingredients and information regarding any potential toxins they might contain. They have done all the work for you, so all you have to do is have fun trying out a new brand of toothpaste.