10.10.11

On Beauty. I'm detoxing my beauty act.

Image via Tree of Life

According to the Environmental Working Group women use an average of 12 personal care products every morning (men use six). Sounds like a lot doesn’t it? Let’s see: shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, toothpaste, face wash, antiperspirant, face cream, foundation, mascara, eyeliner, blush, lipstick (or lipgloss), perfume, body cream. About right? Not to mention hair dye, hairspray, hair gel, nail polish, sunscreen…

The scary thing is, through the average 12 personal care products used on a daily basis, women can ingest 168 toxins before they’ve even left the house. Men, through their average 6 products, ingest 85 toxins. Every day.

It’s an unfortunate fact that conventional (and many so-called “natural”) beauty and hygiene products are laden with toxins, many of which are derived from petroleum (propyl-, ethyl-, butyl-, PEG, DEA, etc). Manufacturers and the FDA maintain these chemicals are safe. The truth is that almost 90% have not been tested for human safety. Some have known dangers to the environment and to us yet continue to be used. Hundreds have been banned by the European Union. Australia is yet to follow suit.

One UK study found paraben, the most commonly used chemical in moisturisers, sunscreens and facial cleansers, in the breast tissue of 18 out of 20 women diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s also been implicated in the bleaching of our coral reefs. Another common ingredient, DEA is also considered a carcinogen and has been restricted in Europe. Phthalates are known nasties but are still used in perfumes. Sometimes labelled as “fragrance” in other products, they can mimic some of the body’s hormones and cause reproductive and neurological damage.

Short of having a chemistry degree, what can the average consumer do to limit their exposure to these chemicals? Buy products labelled “natural” or “organic”? Unfortunately for us, use of these terms is not regulated in Australia. Current labeling laws permit manufacturers to use the word “organic” even if the product contains only one organic or natural ingredient. As a result, many “organic” and “natural” products still contain a plethora of harsh synthetic chemicals.

Photo via eRegimens

Here’s one example. The last bottle of shampoo and conditioner I bought was by a 'natural skincare' company. Available from health shops, it claims to have no harsh chemicals. When I looked up it’s ingredients on the EWG’s database, this is what I found:

  • Cocoamidopropyl Betaine - can cause eye and skin irritation,
  • PEG-150 Pentaerythrityl Tetrastearate - has not been thoroughly tested and is suspected of having toxicity effects on sensory and skin organs. PEG compounds (polyethylene glycol) are potentially carcinogenic petroleum ingredients that can alter and reduce the skin's natural moisture factor. This could increase the appearance of aging and leave you more vulnerable to bacteria.
  • Phenoxyethanol - can depress the central nervous system and is classified as a skin irritant.
  • Benzyl alcohol - can cause contact allergy.

To avoid token organic products, you can look for the Australian Certified Organic logo, which to date is the only organic certification available for skincare in Australia and guarantees 95% of all ingredients other than water to be organically certified. This too is not without it’s own set of problems. The standards are so strict and some say “impractical for effective skin creams”, that Australian Certified Organic products are few and far between.

So what to buy? You can study this list of toxins, consult the EWG’s cosmetics database, which ranks 65,000 products, or use the Good Guide iphone app that reads barcodes and gives a rating.

But this is the thing - we can spend half our lives in the health shop reading labels and rating creams according to levels of potential harm, or we can take a step back and question whether we need them at all (and whether they really are more convenient). A little extreme this suggestion may be, but in all seriousness, what did women do before anti-ageing face creams and volumising shampoo? Cleopatra swore by milk and honey. Aztec women used avocado to nourish their skin. From ancient times to this day Indians have been using herbs such as neem, henna and fenugreek along with buttermilk, almond, sandalwood and jasmine to cleanse as well as nourish their hair and scalp. My mum still squishes the jelly from young almonds on her face every spring to cleanse and tone.

The simple fact is that we don’t need expensive moisturising creams to keep clean and beautiful. Personal care products form a highly profitable industry, let’s not forget. One that we’ve all bought into it. And it’s actually been at the expense of our health and that of the environment.

Now there’s a movement to go back to a more natural way of living, for the health of us and our planet. Makes perfect sense to me. So over the past two months I’ve ditched my “natural” moisturiser, facial cleanser, shampoo, conditioner, perfume and makeup. And I’ve got to say it – my skin hasn’t felt this good since before puberty, I don’t get that pungent acidic sweaty smell (that you’d usually cover up with more antiperspirant) from doing day-to-day activities, and my hair is feeling softer and stronger by the week. It’s been a long investigation and I’m still trying out different things. Here’s what I’ve been doing so far to detox my beauty act:

* For shampoo, I’ve been mixing 1 tablespoon of bicarb soda (baking soda) with a little water until I get a thick paste. All you do is rub it into your scalp (only), let it sit for 1 minute then rinse thoroughly. Bicarb soda has a similar pH to our scalp so it’s very gentle on our skin. At the same time it helps to dissolve all the guck that has accumulated on our hair from years of conventional shampoo use – things like silicone that cake onto the hair follicle and block your natural oils (which incidentally keep your hair cleaner and shinier naturally). It took about three weeks for my hair to adjust (during which time it was pretty oily, so be patient).


* For conditioner I use apple cider vinegar. Mix 2 tablespoons in a cup of water and pour over the ends of your hair. Let it soak in for 1 minute, then rinse thoroughly. It doesn’t smell at all once your hair has dried.

* As a facewash I’ve been using yoghurt. Yep, plain old yoghurt. It works a treat. Yoghurt (and milk) has enzymes that naturally exfoliate dead skin cells. Of course make sure it’s natural yoghurt.

* I use jojoba oil, coconut oil or sweet almond oil as a face and body moisturiser. Plant oils have replaced all my moisturising creams and lotions. They are very nourishing and super conditioning. I even use them to condition my hair. Just make sure whichever plant oil you use is cold-pressed. Extraction processes using heat destroy all nutrients, essential fatty acids and vitamins and turn oils rancid, causing them to form free-radicals which damage and age your skin.

* Conventional toothpaste contains triclosan, a chemical preservative and antibacterial agent with well known nasties. It’s the stuff found in antibacterial hand gel (please please don’t use that stuff). Toothpaste also contains fluoride which has been implicated in health issues such as kidney and brain damage, tooth decay, bone problems and cancer. I use Phytoshield, made completely from natural plant ingredients and not containing any fluoride, artificial sweetener or sodium lauryl sulphate (the stuff that makes things foam up, and is a known irritant).

* I’ve switched to a natural deodorant (Biologika). Natural deodorants don’t stop you from sweating (because they allow your pores to breath). Make sure it doesn’t contain any nasties; even some “natural” ones can contain chemical preservatives. And absolutely make sure it doesn’t contain aluminium.

* Makeup? I have completely ditched it. No makeup. I dab a little powder and mascara on for very special occasions, but during the day, nadah. It took a little getting use to, but honestly now I feel completely liberated.


* Likewise for perfume. Just say no to perfume. Believe it or not, a loophole in legislation allows manufacturers to list only a few of the many chemicals they may be using in perfumes, the formula protected as a ‘trade secret’. What we do know is that fragrances contain phthalates, which have nasty effects on our bodies as mentioned above. You can always dab a little pure essential oil on your skin to smell sweet.

If you have a spare 8 minutes, Annie Leonard, creator of The Story of Stuff, developed this short video on the safety of cosmetic and personal care products. It's definitely worth a look.

I’ll be posting lots of ideas for natural beauty products over the coming weeks, so stay tuned. And if ditching all your beauty products is too much too soon, simplify. Use less. Read the labels. Buy plant-based products. The fewer ingredients, the better.

In the meantime, have you got any neat natural beauty tricks to share?

15 comments :

  1. great post. I've been dabbling in natural products for the past few years, one toe in and one toe out. I stopped dying my hair about three years ago and only use organic shampoos and conditioners and the grey hair coming through is so soft. Thanks for the info and the ideas this information is really valuable.

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  2. Fantastic article Maria; a great reference for why NOT to use conventional cosmetics and personal care products. I've been using a natural spray for deodorant and I don't "smell" the way I used to when using regular deodorant - it's great. Considering that our skin is the largest organ on our bodies - it makes sense to use only the purest of products.

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  3. I use the Wen hair cleansing system , it is supposed to be all natural & it really is great on my fine hair, no detergents at all. My hair has grown as it no longer become dried out by shampoo. I am really happy with it.

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  4. I am new to the econest but I really love it, even tho it is saddening that so many products are so very WRONG!

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  5. Hi Jeanie, welcome! I'm investigating some safe shampoo options, so I'll check that one out.

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  6. Thanks. I have only just discovered econest and this was really helpful. It seems like I find a new use for Bi-carb every day!

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  7. Excellent info. I am going to try the bicarb shampoo as I am already on the apple cider vinegar rinse and love it! Miessence make beautiful deo and make up. I don't sell their products but I do love them! I am going to sign up to your blog as what I have read is excellent. Thank you for so much for sharing!

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  8. Nice posted blog, really worth to read. Great!

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  9. My big issue with toothpaste is the tubes are mostly non-recyclable, meaning they're destined for landfill. Where does Phytoshield fit in with this? I've just bought some toothpaste in glass jars, from America - Uncle Harrys: http://www.uncleharrys.com/store/index.php/cPath/48_83, as it seemed to much to ask the whole family to accept my home-made tooth powder. Hopefully it's a good choice.

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    1. Hi Kathy, you're right, it is an issue and unfortunately as far as I can tell, Phytoshield tubes aren't recyclable - although it depends on your council and it's worth checking it out as some councils do recycle soft plastics like this. It's a real compromise. I haven't been able to find an alternative here in Melbourne, but I'll take a look at the Uncle Harrys one - good option for those in the US. It's from the US I presume?

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  10. This is a great article! I tried to use baking powder for a while but gave up after about a week and a half since it was so greasy - thanks for letting me know that it eventually gets better! I'll have to give in another try. In the mean time, I've been using Dr. Bronner's shampoo, and also the soap. It's a crazy-looking bottle but good, ethical stuff.

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  11. Thank you for your post Maria. How often do you wash your hair with bicarb soda? I'm in the middle of the hairdetox process and wash my hair two times a week. It's very greasy at the moment, but I will continue :)

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    1. Hi, sorry for the late reply! I wash with bicarb soda once or twice a week. I use a natural castile soap otherwise. Keep an eye out for my natural beauty guide, coming soon, as I'll have some info on natural shampoo options in that. It's free, you just need to make sure you've signed up to my weekly e-newsletter. Cheers.

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  12. I am in the process of questioning the safety of all the products I put onto and into my body, with the aim of living a more natural life. Thank you for your blog. Yours is a voice I trust amidst all the chaos.

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