ECOfreak: Smells Like Trouble

June 29th, 2010 by Kim Lenz

Let’s talk about a dirty secret: What’s in your hygiene products that makes them smell good that might be doing your body harm.

Before I jump in here, let me admit to you that I have been reading about the dangers of some ingredients in various products for a long time, and I’ve altered my habits quite a bit, but I still use some things that aren’t good for me. Why? Because I’m not ready to give them up yet. I’ve really only got one foot on my soap box here.

On the other hand, I feel like the more knowledge you have about the things you pour, spray or wipe on your body the better prepared you’ll be to notice any bad effects they might have on your health. Some chemicals used in these products can hamper your ability to conceive kids (which seems like it’s a growing problem in this country) and it can cause inflammatory responses that can lead to health problems (my husband is very allergic to fragrance, for example, and his condition has just gotten worse over the years). They can even cause behavioral problems, so when you start paying attention to additives (in all foods and products), you’ll likely start shopping smarter.

And don’t forget this part: Manufacturing chemicals is bad for the environment. To produce chemicals costs energy, creates waste, and ultimately they’re washed off our bodies and eventually find their way into the water supply. This is true for almost every product you use or touch or see, and I try to keep that in mind.

Here’s the one thing I think is pretty easy to cut down on (or cut out), and there’s good reason for it: the mysterious ingredient in nearly everything, “fragrance.” Companies aren’t required to reveal what chemicals make up their “fragrance” because the government lets them consider this information proprietary.

My favorite watchdog group, the Environmental Working Group, has a cosmetics safety page with tons of information on what to look out for in all your daily hygiene products. They recently released results of a study on fragrances (you should read the link, very interesting), and found that in some of the most popular fragrances on the market today, each had more than a dozen chemicals (some hidden, some on the label) that ranged from hormone disruptors (which can cause a variety of health problems) to sensitizing chemicals (that can trigger allergic reactions) to chemicals not yet assessed for safety by the government.

We all like to smell good. I would totally put myself in that category. But think about all the things you use that have fragrance chemicals in them: laundry detergent, body soap, shampoo and conditioner, lotion, makeup, deodorant, hair styling products, shave gels, and perfumes and colognes. Maybe a little bit isn’t so bad for you, but multiply a little bit from all these sources and if fragrance were Kryptonite, you’d be able to kill Superman.

Here’s what I decided to do to cut down substantially on my fragrance intake.

I switched to fragrance free laundry detergent, which is easy to find (go with the new eco-brands and you get rid of even more bad stuff). I try to use lotion with naturally sourced fragrance, or where fragrance is one of the last things listed in the ingredients (they’re listed by amount within the product, as I understand). I use natural, organic soap (you can look on the label to be sure there’s no fragrance that’s not plant-based). I use deodorant with no scent (though deodorant itself is horrible, but that’s another story).

I have trouble finding shampoo and conditioner I like that has no fragrance – I’ve tried tons, and the fewer the chemicals, the less I like it for my hair, sadly.

I also have trouble finding makeup without fragrance, but usually if it’s for sensitive skin it’s okay.

I do occasionally use perfume still, but I use only one spray, and I use it on the outside of my clothes instead of directly on my skin.

Tomorrow morning as you’re going through your daily routine to get ready for work, take a second to look at the labels on all your personal care products. Would you eat all those chemicals for breakfast? If they’re not good for you on the inside, chances are they’re not that great on the outside, either. Just food for thought.

Website for the week
Check out the EWG’s cosmetic safety site and read up on safer products. They have a huge database of products they’ve tested, and good shopping tips, too.

Tip for the week
Try out some natural alternatives for some the products you use every day – you might be surprised how many you like. Most grocery stores and drug stores now carry a decent selection of products with fewer chemicals (just don’t be fooled by phrases like “dermatologist approved” or “natural,” read the label for yourself).

6 Responses to ECOfreak: Smells Like Trouble

  1. Anonymous

    June 29, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    I had to address an overgrown mint patch in the garden with a weed wacker. By the time I cleared the area, I smelled fantastic!

  2. Anonymous

    June 29, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    products with lavender have an estrogenic effect to the point that it causes enlarged breasts in prepubescent boys. This was discovered at Research Triangle a few years ago. Now, that same product might be good for menopausal women, but it’s something to consider in other cases.

  3. Anonymous

    June 29, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    Aubrey Organics make good shampoos and conditioners. Try their GPB shampoo and conditioner.

  4. Anonymous

    June 30, 2010 at 2:14 am

    CitiZen, I recommend a rosemary bush, too. I had one next to an A/C unit once–when I needed a repair, the technician came in smelling good enough to roast.

  5. Anonymous

    June 30, 2010 at 11:21 am

    to CitiZen: might want to reconsider whacking mint–planted around the base of your house, it will keep ants out!

  6. Anonymous

    June 30, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    Go back to our grandparents, and beyond, and ask, or research, those very old “remedies” for everyday life! Time tested, many of those OLD “remedies” have proven to be highly successful…do your, our, homework. And get the family involved! Once again, you go Desiree!

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