Going the Natural Way: Choosing Safer Personal Care and Household Products

Published on: November 10, 2016

Are you aware of the possible side effects of your daily hygiene and household products? Maybe it’s time to find out and consider swapping them for simpler and more natural alternatives.  By Emilie Usai   Nowadays, shopping for our children isn’t that easy. From different formulas of shampoo to laundry detergent, these products have a long list of chemical ingredients on their label even though they are advertised as being gentle, delicate or allergy-free.

Behind the labels

According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (www.safecosmetics.org), children are now exposed to a range of toxic chemicals through the use of personal care products. Can we really trust the product manufacturers and their tag lines saying “clinically proven”, “improved formula” or “number-one choice of hospitals”? 
…it’s time we start learning how to read and detect toxic chemicals on the product label
Recently, Johnson & Johnson got sued for $72 million for producing baby powder containing talc, which has been linked to the long-term development of cancer. As this controversial case shows, it appears that trusting big-name companies and their reassuring taglines for the safety of your children may no longer be a given.

Chemicals in household products 

Personal care products are, unfortunately, not the only source of toxic chemical exposure. Household products are also a great concern as our modern houses are loaded with possibly toxic and polluting substances which aim to make our life easier. We spend more than half of our time at home eating, sleeping and doing family activities. We are literally surrounded by products we use to clean furniture, floor, dishes, clothes, bathrooms, and so on.  According to Ineris, a research center for sustainable development (www.ineris.fr), 91 percent of our household products produce carcinogenic emissions, particularly with the release of formaldehyde, an organic volatile compound and a known carcinogen. We have to take into account the ‘cocktail effect’ of using plenty of household products just as it is the case for cosmetics.

Environmental and health effects 

Apart from the effect on our health, most conventional house-cleansing products have a very heavy environmental impact. Many cleaners have been proven to create stronger and more resistant bacteria called super-bugs (e.g., McCay et al., 2010).
Can we really trust the product manufacturers and their tag lines saying “clinically proven”, “improved formula” or “number-one choice of hospitals”?
Our body needs to be building immunity to common germs, but by raising our kids in germ-free environments, we obstruct their ability to create natural resistance and immunity. It is not by accident that kids who are raised in cities develop more allergies than kids who are raised in the countryside (Gupta et al., 2012). Treatment for allergies, asthma, sinusitis or bronchitis should also include looking into the load of synthetic chemicals in the patient’s home. Replacing chemical-based house cleaning products by natural and/or gentle ones may not allow you to kill 99.9% of bacteria–as many households ads are claiming–but hey, do you really need to? 

So how then can parents make better choices for their children?

When it comes to choosing the best products for our babies and kids, perhaps it’s time we start learning how to read and detect toxic chemicals on the product label. Check that the ingredients are not on the list of dangerous substances (see below section), and choose a fragrance-free product.  For cleaning products, better invest in one, gentle multi-purpose cleaner to clean the whole house than go for many cleaning products (i.e., special bathroom, special floor, special kitchen…) that are unnecessary repackaging of the same product in a new bottle. Natural alternatives for many commercial skin-care and household products exist. For example: 
  • If you need baby oil for massages, simply go for a nice vegetable oil (apricot, sweet almond, etc.) and avoid any baby oil made with mineral oil, which is a cheap byproduct of petroleum processing and acts as a plastic wrap on your baby skin. How to choose a good vegetable oil? It’s just like choosing the best olive oil for your salad! It should be virgin first cold-pressed. 
  • You can easily replace your ‘full of chemicals’ softener with 3 spoons of white vinegar and a few drops of fine lavender essential oil.
  • Deodorize your fridge by placing a small cup of baking soda with a few drops of lemon essential oil inside.
It is not as complicated as we may think to change our habits and switch to more gentle products both for skincare and household products. I personally think it worth it to give our babies the best chances to live a happy and healthy life.   

Decoding the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients list

Decoding an INCI list (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients) might seem a bit difficult at the beginning, but it is the only way to know what you are really putting on your baby’s skin.   Here are the main ingredients to avoid in your childcare products:
  • Paraben, Methylisothiazolinone & Triclosan: Preservatives to prevent growth of microbes. They are linked to development of cancer and endocrine disruption. 
  • Fragrance (synthetic): A secret code name in the cosmetic industry use to hide a range of unidentified chemicals in personal care products.
  • SLS/SLES: Cheap surfactants (cleansing and foaming agents) commonly used in your baby shower gel, shampoo, bubble bath and toothpaste. They are irritants.
  • Mineral oils & waxes: Can block pores and prevent skin-breathing process. They accumulate in fat tissue and are linked to 23 different diseases.
  • Phenoxyethanol: This preservative is commonly used in baby wipes and other baby products but it has been proven to be harmful for the blood, liver and reproductive system of babies.

To find out more about the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’ ‘RED List’ of chemicals to avoid in shampoos, lotions, and more, visit  www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/whats-in-my-products/products/.     References
  • McCay PH, Ocampo-Sosa AA, Fleming GT (2010). Effect of subinhibitory concentrations of benzalkonium chloride on the competitiveness of Pseudomonas aeruginosa grown in continuous culture. Microbiology. Read about it in: ‘Common Disinfectants Create Mutant Superbugs’ on Treehugger.com (www.treehugger.com/clean-technology/common-disinfectants-create-mutant-superbugs.html).
  • Gupta RS, Springston EE, Smith B, Warrier MR, Pongracic J, Holl JL (2012). Geographic variability of childhood food allergy in the United States. Journal of Clinical Pediatrics. Read about it in: ‘Food Allergies More Common in City Youngsters Than in Country Kids’ on Live Science (www.livescience.com/20857-food-allergies-city-kids-rural.html). 

About the Author

Emilie is a French mother-of-two with a passion for healthier and natural products. She trained in aromatherapy and natural cosmetics in France and founded Novessence, a company that provides everyone with a more health-conscious approach to cosmetics and well-being products. Novessence boutique comprises a tailor-made lab to host DIY natural cosmetic workshops for adults and kids. The workshops program is available on Facebook.com/novessence and on www.novessence.com.
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