The Hunt for Non-Toxic

A funny thing starts to happen after you decide to read a product label more carefully. Chances are, your deodorant or laundry detergent contains ammonium chloride or aluminum zirconium which, further investigation will reveal, can cause, “skin or sense organ toxicity,” among other terrifying conditions. All of the sudden, you hear glass shatter somewhere (like in the “Spoiler Alert” episode of How I Met Your Mother) as you begin to realize that these toxins and dozens more are laced within just about every soap, spray, mousse, gel, and smell-good under the bathroom and kitchen sinks.

For my family, label research began, of course, with food. Then, we moved onto plastics. We replaced every plastic water bottle and food storage container with glass or stainless steel. After that, we changed our cleaning products, and we tried an alternative laundry detergent. Our clothes stank like sour milk and sweat for a few weeks before we compromised on a dye-and-fragrance-free detergent, and a fabric softener that maybe isn’t so safe, but it smells like lilac. I do my best.

That is what I want my reader to take away from this post: it is easy to feel overwhelmed by product labels and hopeless about the impossibility of moving away from toxic household chemicals. Researching these chemicals, their effects, and alternative solutions seems difficult and time-consuming. But the most peaceful solution is to start small and do your best.

My label-scouring fizzled out after the Great Laundry Compromise. I assumed that I knew enough after that. But then two friends shared an article about tampon toxicity on Facebook, and I heard the glass shatter again. I couldn’t believe I never gave those little necessities a second glance! So, I found both an alternative and a renewed sense of humility in my knowledge of sneaky chemicals. Shout out to Ashley A. and Charity.

At the same time, Andrea, the inspiring and brilliant author of the For the Love of Honey blog, shared her story about a bad break-up she was going through with her seemingly glorious collection of make-up. Her relationship with these products was a toxic one, lo and behold: her mascara probably contained ethylparaben, her foundation, maybe octinoxate. Make-up? Why? And why haven’t I thought of this myself? Andrea offers:

“when it comes to make-up…there are no legal restrictions on what companies can put on their labels or in their products…When we put anything in or on our bodies there is a level of trust, and unfortunately these companies take advantage of that.”

That familiar unease began to creep up again– I eat clean, I feed my family healthy meals, but what is the point of that if I slather my skin and scalp with harmful chemicals every day? Am I telling my daughters to finish their vegetables, and then rubbing DMDM Hydantoin-laced “natural” lotions into their skin the next minute? Can I rid my home of carcinogens without going around in smelly laundry and visible dark circles under my eyes? I asked Andrea for a little input, and in return, she offered so many resources, affordable solutions, and most importantly, a calm tone of simplicity about it all. My principle about food carries over to care for the home and body; it is not difficult to live better. It could even be cheaper.

Her quest for cleaner make-up is going very well, she writes, and she has had luck finding affordable non-toxic brands like Root Pretty and W3LL through Instagram. (Honestly, Instagram is such an invaluable resource for finding the items you want. I can’t count how much I’ve found by an easy browse of the ‘grams.)

But what about other beauty products (though I have trouble believing that Andrea needs very many of those 😉 ) and what about cleaning products? Simply, she says, almost everything can be replaced by essential oils: “Besides smelling amazing, they have literally thousands of uses from supporting every bodily system to disinfecting the kitchen sink.”

Her sweet energetic little girl has hopped right on board the essential oil excitement, “I’ve been using Frankincense and Thieves on her to support her immune system and she loves to pick out her ‘colors’ and present the bottom of her feet to me to rub them on.” How cute! I’m crazy about this idea! My unease is melting into eagerness.

Think Dirty is an app Andrea regularly uses. It allows its users to scan products’ barcodes, and up pops a report card with a grade ranging from 0 (non-toxic and clean) to 10 (basically, stop using this item…never use it again). Like me, she has been surprised by the carcinogens contained within her level-10 hair product and, more shocking, the level-9 baby products labelled as “organic” and “paraben-free.”

I downloaded the app and immediately began scanning, and HEY LEVEL-10 MORROCAN OIL! I’m lookin’ right at you! Hey Dove Intense Moisture shampoo! You broke my heart!

Why? Why would the creators of these companies allow cancer-causing dyes and poisonous emulsifiers into their recipes for hair and skin care?

I’m guessing it is because these chemicals produce results. They make cover-up cover up, they make deodorants smell like cool cucumbers, and they’re easy and cheap to manufacture and ship. Perhaps the amount of toxin used to make the product isn’t large enough to hurt us, the companies may argue. But that’s not good enough for me, and even if I could settle, it isn’t good enough for my children.

As I mentioned, the tone of this post is not frantic paranoia. Re-read it in a soothing voice. The only sense I feel after searching for alternative trustworthy brands, and talking with Andrea, is a sense of the delight of being informed. Isn’t it wonderful that a few bottles of essential oils can be mixed and diluted into concoctions that can replace your entire under-the-sink arsenal of cleaning products? I, for one, am looking forward to revamping my own, and my collection of cosmetics. And every other product that may surprise me with its insidious ingredients.