Why Should You Create a Natural and Eco-Friendly Personal Care Routine?
Moment after moment, beauty unfolds through and for every single one of us in a myriad of ways. Sometimes, we find it in spontaneous occurrences; other times, we create it through elaborate means or rituals.
One such ritual that is basic and universal is personal care.
By cleaning and grooming, we start each day anew, we rebalance our minds and bodies, and we bring our unique beauty into the world. But however intimate these actions may be, they are not limited to oneself, especially when it comes to the products we use. Most of them contain ingredients that not only impact the way we look and feel but also our air, land, and waterways.
Therefore, in honour of International Day of Forests and World Water Day, I’ve put together a few tips that will hopefully guide you towards a healthier, more natural approach to beauty and personal care.
For a Healthier You
Our appearance is more than a facade: it’s part of our identity and a way of communicating who we are and how we feel. We’re taught how to nurture it since we are young and, as we grow older, we develop our own personal care rituals, investing a lot of time, effort and money in the process. So the question is, wouldn’t it make sense to do it more thoughtfully, making better choices for ourselves and for the environment?
But where do we begin?
Educating ourselves helps tremendously, yet the subject of “personal care” seems to be stuck in two conflicting extremes: there’s a side which constantly promotes and glorifies products designed to make us look younger, thinner and prettier. And then there’s a side that every once in a while comes forth to warn us about the harmful effects of such products. So which side is the good side?
The good side are the facts. And here’s what we know so far:
- Out of more than 10,000 ingredients used in cosmetics and other personal care products, only 11% have been publicly assessed for safety (in the US);
- Many of the personal care products available on the market contain ingredients known to be harmful to us and to the environment, such as Hydroquinone, Oxybenzone, Parabens, Phthalates, Triclosan, and many others;
- Full ingredient disclosure is not mandatory, which means even known carcinogens, neurotoxins, endocrine disruptors, or allergens can legally be hidden from view or collectively listed as fragrance;
- The term “natural” can be used by anyone on anything without any restrictions;
- The term “organic” it’s only supposed to be used if all ingredients are certified organic, however, manufacturers are allowed to label a product as “made with organic” if it contains a minimum of 70% certified-organic ingredients;
- Unless a substance used in beauty products is proven to be toxic, it is classified as GRAS, or “generally recognized as safe.” In other words, we only learn that a particular ingredient or product is harmful when the damage is already done. Considering the effects of chemical exposure stack up and manifest in time, at this moment we simply don’t know which or if any of the personal care products available on the market are truly safe.
Thankfully, there are plenty of things you can do to protect your health and your radiance. Here are the main ones:
- Learn which ingredients you should definitely avoid and make a habit out of checking the products’ labels (see the “25 Cosmetic Ingredients to Avoid” at the bottom of the page);
- Choose organic makeup & skincare products; the genuine ones should have the Eco-Cert label or the USDA Organic seal on the packaging;
- Use organic cotton tampons and pads. Conventional feminine hygiene products are usually made of synthetic fibres, bleached to appear whiter, and laced with chemicals such as pesticides, odor neutralizers and artificial fragrances. All these can lead to bacterial infections, endocrine disruption, cancer and TSS, a shocking outlook considering that a woman uses up to 17,000 tampons or pads during her lifetime.
For the Water
Every day, we turn to water to wash away all traces of dullness and fatigue. But those are not the only things going down the drain. Each product we use, from moisturizer and makeup to soap, toothpaste and shampoo, ends up in our waterways, polluting the streams and lakes that we rely on for water, food and recreation.
If you also want to preserve the beauty of our planet and the health of our water supplies, here’s what you can do:
- Avoid using antibacterial products that contain Triclosan or Triclocarban. These two antimicrobial agents are usually found in soaps, deodorants and toothpaste. But guess what: contrary to manufacturers’ claims, research has shown that antibacterial cleansers are “no more effective than plain soap and water” and that the only thing they provide is “a false sense of security”. Effectiveness aside, it’s their long term health and environmental effects that truly worry scientists. In addition to being linked to thyroid dysfunction, allergies and heart disease, they’re also highly toxic to aquatic life and contribute to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria;
- Skip the microbeads (labeled as microbeads, microabrasives, Polyethylene and Polypropylene). These tiny plastic spheres found in shower gels, facial cleansers, toothpaste and even anti-aging products are now considered one of the most serious environmental dangers. Too small to be filtered out during sewage treatment, they make their way to rivers and oceans, where they’re eaten by fish and other marine life, eventually causing their death. Ironically, a small percentage of these microbeads ends up on our plates, affecting our health and contributing to a never-ending cycle of microplastic pollution.
- Wear mineral sunblock instead of chemical sunscreen. According to a 2008 study, four common ingredients in chemical sunscreens (paraben, cinnamate, oxybenzone and camphor derivatives) contribute to coral bleaching, leaving it vulnerable to viral infections, disease and death. Mineral sunblocks (often called physical sunscreens), are not only kinder to marine life but also safer for us, since they’re hypoallergenic and more effective at blocking UVA rays.
For the Land
All the products we use have a story of their own: they begin as raw materials sourced from all over the planet, which are then processed and combined into formulas. Packaged and styled with attractive labels, they eventually settle on our bathroom shelves, from where they start their post-consumer journey.
As a consumer, you have the power to make this journey less wasteful and damaging for the environment. Here’s how:
- Avoid disposable items such as disposable razors, wet wipes and conventional sanitary pads. Although cheap and convenient, these single-use products are not at all efficient and sustainable, especially when we look at the bigger picture. Billions of them end up in landfills each year, and some will remain there forever without ever beginning to biodegrade. Instead, invest in a good quality epilator or safety razor and opt for hygiene products made of biodegradable materials.
- Choose products with recyclable packaging. Every year, more than 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced for containers, bags, household goods and even clothing, with just 5% of it recycled effectively. The rest ends up in landfills and in fragile ecosystems such as the world’s oceans, with serious consequences for the entire planet and all its life forms. But you can make a difference and reduce waste by choosing products with minimal packaging and recyclable containers.
- Consider ingredients sourcing. Just because something is natural doesn’t necessarily make it harmless or eco-friendly, and while it’s easier to blame it all on chemicals, a lot of natural ingredients aren’t all they’re cracked up to be either. For example, sugar cane juice, a natural source of skin-improving glycolic acid, frequently results in over-exploitation of local water sources for irrigation. Palm oil, a highly popular ingredient found in almost everything we use and consume, is obtained through unsustainable practices that lead to deforestation, reduction of native biodiversity and worker exploitation. And these are not the only raw materials under scrutiny. Your bit? You could contact your favourite brands and ask for information about their supply chain. Or you could search for manufacturers that have an official fair trade policy and use sustainably sourced ingredients.
For the Animals
I think we all agree that animal testing unnecessary and unethical, especially when it comes to beauty & personal care products. In Europe, the sale of cosmetics tested on animals (both finished products and ingredients) is banned since 2013 but sadly, this is not the case for the rest of the world (yet!).
The best thing you can do for animals is to switch to a cruelty-free personal care routine. When buying new products, look for the Leaping Bunny or PETA’s logo on the packaging – these are the only two official certifications that back up manufacturers’ claims. If you don’t know where to start, you can check our cruelty-free brand directory here.
A closing thought: remember, beauty never stands alone. There’s the one who reveals it and the one who beholds. There’s the one who inspires it and the one who creates. Where it appears, there’s grace and playfulness. Where it’s shown, there’s courage and love. And when we seek it, it’s thoughtfulness that brings it forth.