Our path into minimalism has led us down many unexpected avenues and has caused us to reconsider many aspects of our lives–our diets, cleaning habits, shopping habits, financials, self-care, even our cat’s lifestyle–that I had not anticipated. However, I like how we now analyze our choices that were previously second nature; now we consider the consequences of our choices on ourselves and nature, both in how a product is made or delivered to us and in how we use it. A lot of our lifestyle changes over the past six months are connected through a web of intentionality, and one that my partner has delved into with me is what I would term grooming products: soaps, lotions, lip balms, hair products, shaving creams, and other products that we use on our bodies.
I actually didn’t see this one coming. Plastics and disposables I knew would eventually get nixed to be replaced with resuable items with more preferable structures like metal or glass. Even composting food scraps, which I am still trying to sort out in apartment living, was on my radar along with searching for the best route to focus on organic produce, but I simply had never considered the impact of what I put in my body by way of my skin and hair. I had only thought about what we ingested.
Several months ago, while reading on what non-organic and GMO foods introduce into our bodies, an article on the significance of commercial soaps caught my eye. I began reading about the chemicals that are used to create most shampoos, soaps, hair products, and makeup to ensure they do what we expect of them: lather, leave behind floral and “clean” smells, moisturize, stiffen hair, hold strands in place, darken our eyelashes, and even hide our blemishes. And after a while, I had scared myself into not wanting to shower. Just in looking at commercial body gels, I was overwhelmed to see the chemicals used to make them lather, turn them more pleasing colors, and give them a more preferred scent that lasts on our skin. Because those chemicals could be so harsh on our skin, more were added to counteract them, promising a moisturizing experience. I began to quickly realize why my skin was so dry and itchy all the time.
Around this same time, I experienced a skin irritation that caused my face to break out in small bumps along my hairline along with small red and dry patches. My scalp also began to break out, tingle and itch throughout the day, and even have a burning sensation at times. I switched hairsprays and found a little relief, but it was short-lived. After trying several different brands, I cut my hair to a more manageable length and dropped aerosol products altogether. Imagine my relief when all of those issues disappeared; for a reason I didn’t understand at the time, my body had reacted negatively to a product I had used my entire life and a brand I had been using for over two years.
This led me to research the contents of hair products as well, which are a plethora of chemicals that, when you consider what they do, should never be near your body. These products–soaps, shampoos, conditioners, hair gels, spray-on products, and hair sprays included–use small amounts chemicals that are approved for human use. However, many of these chemicals are only approved at small doses. The argument that companies make is that being exposed to a small amount of a chemical, such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) which is added to make soaps and shampoos foam, does not cause any adverse effects. The issue, however, is that companies have not done enough testing to prove that consistent exposure over long periods of time do not cause adverse effects as well.
Consider how much shampoo you use each day. It is unlikely that your body will flush itself entirely of the amount of SLS that it has absorbed before your next shower, meaning that the chemical can build up in your system. Over time that buildup can begin to cause reactions or create allergies. Add to it that many of the chemicals in self-care products are used in several products, increasing the amount you are exposed to throughout the day, and your exposure rate jumps even further. SLS, for example, is also found in Anti-Bacterial Kleenex. Again, it’s a small percent, but when combined with the SLS in the shampoo from your shower and the soap you used to wash your hands four times today, your exposure rate is much higher than what the government approved as a “safe” level of exposure to SLS. This constant exposure and buildup of chemicals in our bodies can have any form of adverse effects, including development of allergies or sudden reactions like mine.
Think of that the next time you grab for a tissue.
Once I had read up on the ingredients in our self-care routines, we began the search for replacement products without these chemicals. It’s not simple to find such products, especially on a budget and with particular features in mind. For example, my partner and I have very different types of hair. Mine is fine, thin, and a blondish brown with absolutely no natural body to it; it’s straight and dries out easily. Her hair is thick, slightly wavy, and red with the perfect natural body to pull off short hair. Mine needs assistance every single day and rarely goes where I want it; hers can pull off styled or bed head with a little touch of product and stays wherever she leaves it. Finding one product that would work for both of us–one of our goals for using safer products on a budget–was a challenge.
The same can be said of soaps and shampoos. One has a drier scalp and the other has dryer skin. Our faces react differently to products, we prefer different smells, and our preferred texture in lip balm has us using different brands at night. Not to mention, once we found products, we had to try them and see if our bodies even liked them. Our goals were lofty considering our consumerist society and commercial advantages of some brands, but we outlined what we were looking for as we went–finding safer products that:
— used ingredients we understood and could trace to their origins;
— were affordable, which had to include shipping costs if they couldn’t be found locally;
— met our other standards such as using only sustainable palm oil (if it was an ingredient) and coming as close to zero waste as possible; and
— accomplished the self-care we were wanting (i.e. styled our hair the way we wanted, gave us clearer skin).
It was a lot to shoot for, but I’m happy to say that thus far our efforts have been productive. In a few upcoming blog posts, I’ll highlight some of the products that we found work for us and that we continue to use. Not all of the products we have tried have worked as well as we had hoped, but honest reviews are the best way to help others make similar transitions. I hope our experiences will point some readers in the right direction if they, too, are looking for safer alternatives to the popular commercial brands.
Watch for more posts in the coming weeks and be sure to let me know if you have preferred brands that you think we might enjoy! If you don’t, fret not–you’ll have some recommendations coming your way soon. And if you are not quite on the more natural product train yet, you might find the articles interesting nonetheless, especially if you read the ingredient list on your shampoo the next time you shower.
Do you use more natural products? What led or is leading you to look for safer alternatives to commercial brands?