Buying organic produce and making DIY cleaners are often at the top of the priority list when cleaning up chemicals in the home. But an entire section of toxins is often overlooked in spite of being arguably one of the most dangerous sources of toxins: body care products. Take the time to learn which toxins should absolutely be avoided and just how easy it can be to replace them with DIY body care products..
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Do Body Care Companies Actually Care?
The irony of the term “body care” is not lost on the person looking to make better choices for their skin. With so many skin, cosmetic, and hygiene companies out there touting body care products, we want to believe they actually do care and have our skin’s best interests at heart.
A quick look at an ingredients list with an informed eye reveals the truth: convenience often overshadows quality.
One of my favorite resources for keeping chemical-slinging companies in check is the Environmental Working Group, and they have this to say about the priorities that body care companies hold:
As EWG has long known — and as leading medical specialists recently underscored — many cosmetics and personal care products contain potentially toxic ingredients. Major cosmetics companies have not publicly committed themselves to removing harmful ingredients. (1)
As long as production is simple and consumers are happy, business will continue as usual. Even some companies that pride themselves as organic or all-natural are not always reliably safe. (2) It’s up to us to learn the ropes and “vote with our dollars,” choosing (or making!) only safe, natural, truly non-toxic body care products.
Ingredients to Avoid in Body Care Products
Body care products such as cosmetics and beauty products are poured on, rubbed in, left to sit, and sometimes soaked onto and into our skin – the largest organ of the body!
If you’ve ever made natural topical remedies or if you are familiar with essential oils, you know that the skin is not only a living and complex organ, but that it is also our ally in absorbing and transporting substances. In the case of a good anti-inflammatory oil dilution, this is great! In the case of toxic, hormone-disrupting chemicals in body care products, this is horrible!
There’s so much to learn about the chemicals used in commercial body care products – the pronunciation alone could take a full article. Knowing that toxic ingredients are both dangerous and common can spark fear and anxiety – not Abundant Life giving traits!
Chemicals to Stay Away From
Instead of trying to become a full-blown chemist to weed through label nightmares, we can learn some basics to watch out for and resources to turn to when in doubt. Some quick ingredients to learn and avoid in body care products include (but are certainly not limited to):
- Parabens – spotted as a suffix (e.g., ethylparaben) and can indicate hormone disrupting effects linked with cancer and a shift in natural puberty patterns, among other issues. (3)
- Phthalates – used pervasively in body care ingredients and packaging, phthalates are a concern for allergies, asthma, reproductive health, and more. (4)
- Formaldehyde – used as a preservative but is a known carcinogen and neurotoxin. (5)
- Triclosan – an antibacterial staple, triclosan can affect the liver and thyroid, among other concerns. (6)
- Fragrance – a catch-all term that can hide dangerous toxins. (7) See how dangerous they can be in this report on artificial fragrances.
If you’ll take a peek at the resource list at the bottom of this article, you’ll see the Environmental Working Group as a reference point multiple times. Their Skin Deep Database is an easily searchable index for both products and ingredients. If you’re ever in doubt about a product or want to systematically educate yourself on the dangers of toxic additives, absolutely start there!
To really boil this down to the simplest of safety rules for body care products, remember that what goes on your skin often makes it into the body, especially if it’s a leave-on product. So, if you wouldn’t eat it, don’t apply it!
You might not want to chug a batch of a fully natural and safe massage oil, but this “rule” is still a good way to remember that skin care is far more than skin deep. If you are feeling adventurous – or simply distrustful of marketing tactics – give some DIY products a shot.
Why We Need to DIY Body Care Products
Just recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally issued a ruling that officially bans the use of triclocarban, triclosan, and 17 other dangerous chemicals in hand and body washes. These products have been marketed as being more effective than good ol’ fashioned soap and water and consumers have been mislead to purchasing them in their body care products!
“Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water,” Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) said. “In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term.”
Antibacterial product manufacturers have until 2017 to comply with the new law by removing all products from the market or that violate this ruling or remove antibacterial active ingredients. But this still isn’t enough to keep us safe. Triclosan is still in countless other products like deodorants, antiperspirants, body spray and toothpastes. For a list of products that include triclosan, click HERE.
Simply put: Antibacterial products can kill both the bad and good bacteria on your hands, which is not idea for healthy skin and a properly functioning immune system. In fact, they have been shown to weaken your immune system!
Demystifying Essential Oil DIYs
Don’t click away just yet – you can do this! DIY body care products aren’t just for the Pinterest-inclined among us. You don’t have to be a fancy blogger or experienced aromatherapist to make your own toiletries, sans nasty toxins!
Essential oils make the process even easier, preserving familiar scents and flavors with just a few drops added. As a bonus, they are loaded with health and beauty benefits that can change the way we look at hygiene and basic cosmetics of body care products.
Tips and tricks when working with essential oils to make body care products:
- Dilute appropriately, usually to around 3% of the total volume, in drops – less for the face, keeping to a maximum of 1.5%. (8)
- Keep blends to a few oils, usually sharing similar or complementary benefits
- Disperse essential oils into 190 proof alcohol or a lipid before adding water (oil and water don’t mix!)
- Store all products in sterilized glass containers
- Make small batches to tweak your formulas and use them before they go bad. For batches containing water-based ingredients (water, hydrosols, aloe vera gel, etc.), we recommend making batches weekly and keeping finished product in cold storage.
6 Body Care DIYs to Start With
Making your own body care products can be rewarding, empowering, and, dare I say, addictive. Try a few of these basic formulas first to get your feet wet and confidence built.
Hand washing was one of the first great improvements in the shift toward modern medicine. Imagine your doctor moving from a surgery to a birth to dressing your wound without ever washing their hands! Unfortunately, we quickly took things a tinge too far, with antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers coming on the scene in full force.
In normal life, when we aren’t surgeons or chefs, trying to sterilize our hands and bodies can actually be counterproductive. Our hands come in contact with the widest range of microbes, giving the immune system opportunity to stay “fit” and practiced against the threats in our environment.
Not only do we want to avoid stripping beneficial bacteria or removing the immune system’s proving ground, we also need to avoid the chemicals added to antibacterial soaps.
Triclosan is found in most commercial antibacterial soaps, an ingredient once glossed over by the FDA but now carrying mounting evidence that it’s a risk. What’s more, triclosan-laden and other antibacterial soaps are not likely any more effective than simple soap and water washes. (9)
Use essential oils in a homemade soap to fight dangerous microbes while preserving the balance that the body needs.
DIY Essential Oil Soap Recipe – A simple soap can be made by adding essential oils into a high-quality melt and pour soap base.
- Melt and Pour Soap Base
- Peppermint essential oil per base instructions
Oral health is much more than cosmetic. While whitening products are best-sellers in the commercial market, gingivitis remains a dangerous and widespread health risk. Varying levels of mouth disease are linked with diabetes, heart disease, and more. Cavities aren’t all we have to worry about!
What’s worse, is that conventional oral health treatments aren’t much better. Again, loaded with triclosan and other chemicals, antiseptic mouthwashes introduce chemicals while posing health risks of their own. One study, published in in 2012, connected certain kinds of mouthwash with heart disease and blood pressure increases. (10) Doesn’t that defeat some of the purpose?
Check your toothpaste and mouthwash for questionable ingredients like triclosan and controversial fluoride. Especially with children who will likely swallow some of the paste, it’s important to avoid toxins and potential risks as much as possible.
Homemade Essential Oil Toothpaste Recipe – Check out my article on essential oils for oral health if you are stumped on which oils to use, then add them to these ingredients:
- Equal parts baking soda and coconut oil (1/4 c each is good to start with)
- 1-2 tsp sea salt
- 5-7 drops essential oils
- optional: 1-2 tsp each stevia or bentonite clay
Mix and place in a small jar or a squeeze bottle. Use a spoon or disposable wooden scoop to get the paste out and avoid contamination.
While products that go in our bodies or soak onto the skin are more often the priority for shifting to natural ingredients, shampoo can’t be overlooked – especially since it’s so easy to make.
Hair care products are manufactured en masse, and so often that means corners are cut. The quickest, easiest chemical concoction to strip hair “clean” do the trick, not to mention all of that ambiguous fragrance added to it.
If toxic additives aren’t enough, most shampoos strip all of the oils from your hair and scalp, which then conveniently “requires” a conditioner. Meanwhile, your scalp compensates for the loss by creating even more oil, so you need to wash more frequently, which means you buy more shampoo! Tricky!
Homemade Essential Oil Shampoo Recipe – A tip from my friend Dr. Axe, this recipe uses the gentle base of castile soap and adds nourishing natural ingredients:
- 1 1/2 cups (1 can) coconut milk
- 1 1/2 cups liquid castile soap
- 40 drops lavender essential oil
Mix well (a blender might works best!) and add to a BPA-free squeeze bottle. Store no more than a week in the fridge before using or replacing. Shake before use.
4. Skin Moisturizers
We all could stand a little more moisturizing to take care of the skin that works so hard for us. But products like lotions, creams, and body butters are not just applied to the skin. We rub it in and make sure it’s all absorbed well!
Water-based ingredients like lotions and creams are hard to duplicate in the home without more hard to come by ingredients, and what you can find in the story typically has mile-long lists of chemicals. As an alternative, we suggest and easy, in-home DIY, moisturizing body butter.
Look for all of the basic warning ingredients (parabens, fragrance, etc.) when replacing your standard lotion, but take a stab at making your own body butter, as well. Not only can you keep the ingredients reliably safe, but you can also choose essential oils for their health benefits as well.
Essential Oil Hand Cream Lotion Recipe – Lotion-making techniques vary from simple to complex. Here’s an excellent starter DIY recipe from my good friend Jill at The Prairie Homestead. Simply combine a few ingredients:
- 1/4 cup shea butter
- 1/8 cup sweet almond oil
- 1 tablespoon beeswax
Carefully melt, then add 20-30 drops essential oils. Stir, then pour into sterilized jars. Adjust the amount of beeswax for a firmer or softer body butter. Try nourishing oils like lavender, chamomile, citrus, and myrrh.
Women around the world apply toxic, synthetic ingredients to their face, including around mucous-membrane eyes and mouths, daily. The chemicals are blinked into eyes, seeped into pores, and accidentally licked into mouths daily, accumulating over a woman’s lifespan.
Don’t you want to know those ingredients are safe?
The first stop is the EWG database to identify products that are made without toxic chemicals, fragrances, and preservatives. Often, this is the only step someone will consider because it’s hard to believe cosmetics can be replicated at home. This simply isn’t the case – you can DIY cosmetics just like any other topical formulation!
DIY Essential Oil Lipstick Recipe – DIY lipstick is nothing more complicated than a jazzed up lip balm. Here are the main ingredients:
- 2 teaspoons sweet almond oil or coconut oil
- 1 teaspoon beeswax / beeswax beads
- 1 teaspoon cocoa or shea butter
Melted, then stir in optional coloring such as:
- beet powder
Finally, remove from heat and stir in a drop or two of essential oil for fragrance and nourishment, like peppermint, lavender, sweet orange, or lemongrass. See more information on how to make homemade lipstick here.
Citrus Oil Safety
Note (as a word of caution about citrus oils): most reports state that citrus oils are phototoxic (can cause excessive burning when exposed to the sun) to varying degrees. If you choose to use citrus in your lipstick, be careful to only use 1 drop and stick with the list that’s considered safe according to the classic text, Essential Oil Safety:
- Bergamot Oil (FCF) – Bergaptene/Furanocoumarins is removed
- Blood Orange Oil
- Lemon Oil (Steam Distilled)
- Lime Oil (Steam Distilled)
- Mandarin Oil
- Sweet Orange Oil
- Orange Leaf Oil
- Satsuma Oil (Cold/Expeller Pressed)
- Tangelo Oil
- Tangerine Oil
- Yuzu Oil
Download our free photosensitivity and essential oils guide for more information. Be sure to visit our Facebook page, and tell us how you like DIY lipstick!
Last but not least, we cannot forget the daily topical product that we rub thoroughly into the skin, right near lymph nodes! Deodorant is often made with the heavy metal aluminum, among other notable and questionable ingredients – fragrance is a given, right?
Deodorant is also a product we’re not easily convinced to eliminate. No one wants body odor to be the first thing that signals a natural lifestyle!
Instead of spending a fortune on safe products or foregoing the use of deodorant and losing friends, simply make your own homemade deodorant.
Essential Oil Deodorant Recipe – Another recipe formulated by my buddy Jill at The Prairie Homestead, this will keep you clean and fresh without the toxic overload.
- 1/3 cup coconut oil
- 1/4 cup baking soda
- 1/4 cup arrowroot powder
- 4 tablespoons cornstarch
- Essential oils-try tea tree, sweet orange, lavender, frankincense, etc.
Combine the dry ingredients first, then add coconut oil and up to 10-15 drops essential oils. Add more dry or wet ingredients as necessary for consistency; store in a jar or roll-up tube.
Which of the DIY body care products are you going to make first?