Do you know what you are putting on (and in) your body?
The beauty business relies on cleverly crafted marketing campaigns that convince consumers that any problem can be fixed with the right product. Limp and fine hair can be voluminous, wrinkles can fade, lips are kissably soft and acne will forever disappear. As each product fails, consumers purchase others without question. Bathroom cabinets are often stocked full with the latest beauty products that are slathered onto the skin every day. However, consumers don't know that many chemicals found in these products can be readily absorbed by the skin, traveling in body through the bloodstream. In fact, US researchers report that one in eight of the 82,000 ingredients used in personal care products are industrial chemicals, including carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins and hormone disrupters. These chemicals are applied and absorbed by your skin every single day.
I would be lying if I said that my natural kick started because I was concerned about the chemicals that are found in the hundreds of beauty products I have used in my lifetime. That realization came afterwards. In truth, I was frustrated. For the better part of my life I was the victim of greasy fine hair and acne; after trying product after product with no results, I decided to try something different. I decided to go natural.
Going natural is a personal choice, but in my experience the process can be somewhat cathartic. I started to read and decided to throw away some of my products. The first thing I purged was my beloved fragrances, a large collection of designer perfumes that I had collected over the years. Did you know that synthetic fragrances and their formulas are considered trade secrets and manufacturers do not have to disclose their ingredients. A typical perfume contains a mixture of fragrance chemicals (often between 50 to 100) produced from coal tar and petroleum distillates or plants and herbs. The second thing I threw away was my deodorant. I replaced it with a natural deodorant in the form of a salt crystal primary due to the fact that aluminum has been linked to two serious diseases: breast cancer and Alzheimer's disease. My other products, like shampoo, make-up and/or moisturizers, were replaced with either greener products or natural substitutions.
Smart Green Beauty Shopping
In recent years there has been a surge of companies that have green-washed their products, promising a product, for example, without parabins and yet riddled with other harmful chemicals. Labeling laws surrounding cosmetics are incredibly lax and terminology has become meaningless. "Pure" "natural" and even "organic" have very little meaning when printed on the front of a bottle because there is no legal definition for these words. Furthermore, a product can still be labelled as "organic" if as little as one single ingredient was organically farmed.
When shopping for greener alternatives, it is best to do your research and make sure to scan the ingredients list before purchasing a product. The general rule of thumb is the higher amount of an ingredient the product contains, the higher position it will occupy in the ingredient list. So pay attention to which ingredients are listed first. Remember that more expensive does not readily transfer into "greener" or more eco-friendly. In the end, take control of your shopping choices; the internet is an amazing resource, so use it. Google information so that you can become an informed and ruthless shopper. Better yet, shop at natural or organic stores and ask the employees questions to better educate yourself on the topic.
In reality, there are so many green products out there waiting to be discovered. Some of my personal favorites include:
- Green Beaver: a Canadian company with certified organic products free from synthetic chemicals
- 100% Pure: a company whose products are 100% Pure, which means that their products have no synthetic chemicals, chemical preservatives, artificial fragrances, artificial colors, harsh detergents or any other unhealthy toxins.
- Pura Anada and Cheeky Cosmetics: natural make-up I use on a daily basis
Remember not to be fooled by witty marketing scams regularly employed by large cosmetic companies in an effort to follow the green trend without actual changing its ingredient list. Even though the Body Shop has taken steps to improve its energy efficiency by switching to green electricity, or Aveda has harnessed the wind as an alternative energy source for manufacturing, their products can still contain toxic chemicals.
Natural Solutions in your Kitchen
When traveling in South America, I started to add locally sourced food items into my beauty regime. In Chile, I would make different types of hair masks made out of honey and mashed bananas or avocados. I used coconut oil as a replacement for my skin moisturizer and I made a face toner out of boiled water and lemon juice. In Bocas del Toro (Panama) I was informed by a local that coconut oil would ward of insect bites and act as a natural (yet weak) sunscreen. The inclusion of natural food items into your beauty regime is not only good for your body but it is quick, easy and extremely cheap. Here are a couple of recipes that you make like:
Cinnamon and Honey Face Mask
Honey is a natural humectants, which means that it's a great moisturizer. It also has antibacterial properties that can help spot-treat annoying zits and pimples. Similar to honey, cinnamon has anti-microbial properties. As a result they make the perfect acne fighting team. All you need to do is mix two parts cinnamon to every one part honey and lather it on your skin or dap it onto your zits. I usually leave it one for about an hour. Cinnamon can occasionally be irritating if your skin is really sensitive, so you might want to do a patch test on the back of your hand first.
Natural Hair Masks
Go your fridge or cupboard and check it out! Mix and match different things depending on your needs:
- Honey (raw unfiltered) is a natural humectants and emollient, this basically means that it is a great natural moisturizer and conditioner because of its ability to attract and retain water molecules. Honey also makes you hair look shiny and feel soft while adding vitamins and minerals to your hair.
- Olive Oil nourishes, conditions and improves your hair’s strength and elasticity
- Avocado has antifungal and antibacterial properties perfect for treating dandruff, dermatitis and eczema. It also strengthens and fortifies your hair.
- Coconut Oil (unrefined) is rich in protein which has shown to promote hair growth and is a great conditioner.
- Greek Yogurt moisturizes, detangles and adds shine to your hair.
The list goes on and on. Individuals can add shea butter, bananas, eggs, almond oil, milk and even flat beer to their hair. Remember to choose organic, natural or locally sourced items and just go crazy.
If you are feeling a bit more creative than why not whip up some homemade concoctions in your very own kitchen. I recently started to make my body butters after purchasing a couple of products from a company located in Mississauga ON. For a total of 70 dollars I received over 6 different products including a jar of beeswax, shea butter and cocoa butter, a bottle tea tree oil, aloe vera juice, peppermint extract and jojoba oil. To date I have made a stellar handmade peppermint foot cream from a recipe I found on Frugally Sustainable.
Finally, I would like to note that if you choose to go natural, than please be patient as your body needs to readjust itself. Don't expect luscious soft hair after one hair mask and if you are trying out natural deodorant than give your body time to adapt itself. Remember, Rome was not built in a day!
Buenos Dias! I’m Yvonne Ivanescu and I am a travel writer by night and an unemployed graduate student by day. I hail from the largely unknown city of Mississauga [right next to Toronto] and was inspired to start Under the Yew Tree after spending one year living in Santiago de Chile. I dream of one day backpacking across South America but until then I plan on finishing my travel memoir, carry on travel writing and continue to experiment with social media here and there.