How to choose eco-friendly cosmetics and toiletries

With a little knowledge and a bit of patience, your grooming needn't have consequences for the earth — or your health. Here's what to look for when choosing personal care products.

How to choose eco-friendly cosmetics and toiletries

Choosing a deodorant

  • Most antiperspirants and deodorants contain aluminium salts to shrink sweat glands. A link between aluminium and illness has long been a topic of debate — experts recommend avoiding its use.
  • Choose an aluminium-free deodorant, or make your own.

Choosing hair care products

  • Shampoo and conditioner: Look for shampoos and conditioners made from organic ingredients, which are available at health food shops and some grocery stores. Choose fragrance-free items, or ones scented with essential oils. The safest preservatives are grapefruit seed extract and vitamins A, C and E.
  • Hairspray, hair mousse and hair gel: Many mousses, hair sprays and hair gels contain phthalates. These are often listed as "fragrance."
  • Hair dye: Permanent and semi-permanent hair dyes may contain potentially carcinogenic aromatic amines. Their use has been linked with an increased risk of some cancers. Rinses and temporary dyes are safer choice. Alternatively, ask your hairdresser for recommendations on less toxic dyes that may be newly on the market. Highlights or "foils" added to your natural colour are a safer option than dying all of your hair, since the hair dye doesn't saturate the scalp.

Choosing nail-care items

Nail polish and nail polish remover are both solvent-based products, likely to contain formaldehyde, toluene and phthalates, as well as acetone, which, if breathed in large quantities, can cause eye and respiratory system irritation, nausea and headaches.

  • Nail polish: It is safer to buff your nails to a natural shine than to use polish. If you want to use polish, look for products that contain as few of the toxic chemicals listed above as possible.
  • Nail polish remover: Choose acetone-free nail polish remover.

Choosing shaving products

  • Shaving cream: Look for non-aerosol, fragrance-free, soap-based shaving creams.
  • Aftershave and toner: Look for plant-based products containing witch hazel, rosewater, lemon grass, chamomile and/or cucumber. Peppermint is effective for oily skin and is also anti-inflammatory and mildly antiseptic. Try to use products that do not contain isopropyl alcohol

Choosing soap

  • Choose a vegetable-based pure soap that is either fragrance-free or has an essential oil fragrance.
  • Try to avoid soaps sold as "antibacterial" or "deodorant" soap, as they are likely to contain triclosan. Implicated in the growth of antibiotic-resistant "superbugs," it can also react with chlorine in water to create chloroform, which may be inhaled, and is not readily biodegradable.

Choosing sunscreen

  • A sunscreen should protect you against both types of ultraviolet light — UVA and UVB. It should be labelled "broad spectrum."
  • Although the para-benzioic acid (PABA) that used to be contained in sunscreen has now been eliminated from most sunscreens, almost all sunscreens still contain potentially harmful chemicals, including diethanolamine, triethanolamine, parabens and benzophenone, which can interfere with reproductive cycles and is thought to increase the risk of certain cancers.
  • The safest alternatives are the physical UV-blockers zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, and, of course, a hat and protective clothing.

Choosing dental hygiene products

Some toothpastes and over-the-counter mouthwashes may contain triclosan. Triclosan reacts with chlorine in water to form chloroform and is not readily biodegradable.

  • Toothpaste: Check your local health food shop for toothpaste that is made from natural ingredients, or simply use baking soda on a soft toothbrush.
  • Mouth wash: For a mouth wash, try rinsing with water and a few drops of clove or peppermint essential oil.
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