Monday, March 23, 2015

Learning to Live Toxic-Free: My Favorite Products

My quest to find, or make, my own beauty and home supplies stemmed first from a desire to avoid products tested on animals. In the early days (remember, I'm 44 years old), this was no easy task. But, over the years many companies have realized that this is important to their customers. They've also seemed to jump on the "Green" bandwagon which has lead to a lot of green-washing. Unsuspecting consumers flock to expensive natural food stores looking for labels emblazoned with words like "natural", "organic", "eco-friendly", "vegan" without a clue that none of this means a) that it's true and b) that it works. Trust me, I was one of those consumers.

Over the years a few other things became important to my health and well-being. I wanted products that were truly natural, vegan, eco-friendly and not tested on animals but I also wanted them to be simple, easy to find or make, effective and free of synthetic perfumes. After suffering from some female related health issues including heavy bleeding along with severe and debilitating cramps, which lead to a procedure called endometrial ablation, I found that the cramps were not subsiding. I have a pretty high threshold for pain but these bad boys had me in bed, or seeking the ER, on more than one occasion.

Some exhausting research lead me to several websites and studies that spoke about estrogen mimicing chemicals which are found in many of our everyday products. Seriously, these things can wreak havoc on both the female and male bodies...ladies and gentlemen of the jury I give you moobs (man-boobs)...not to mention plenty of other serous health issues. You can find xenoestrogen in everything from plastic food containers to sun screen to pesticides on our foods...even makeup, cleaning supplies, laundry detergent and anything with synthetic fragrance added.

So, how did I deal with it?

I read a lot and did even more research. I experimented on myself and succeeded and failed through trial and error. I compromised in some areas, and still keep an open mind as I continue to learn about ingredients, science and my own body's reactions to things. I also cross referenced products with the Environmental Working Groups website to ensure they are truly non-toxic and eco-friendly.

Eating Right: I'm not suggesting everyone eat like I do but I do think the easiest and most effective improvements to overall health comes directly from what we put in our mouths. I eat vegan at home and allow a little wiggle room when eating out with friends and family. I will always choose plant-based but, on occasion, well-meaning family members have inadvertently added butter or maybe even eggs to a dish they prepared specially for me. It happens. But the main point is, I eat clean (for the most part...I'm no saint) and that means whole foods, mostly organic, tons of fresh veggies, grains, home-cooked beans (not canned), sweet potatoes, fruits, etc. I eat what works for my body...instead of forcing it to accept foods my mind craves but might cause issues in my gut. I avoid canned foods of any kind, pre-packaged or convenience foods, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, animal products and by-products, etc. I've learned to enjoy making many things from scratch like kombucha, almond milk, coconut milk, salad dressing, almond milk kefir, almond meal flour, salsa, peanut sauce, jaggery syrup, and lots of different home cooked meals. And, it may sound like some new-age mumbo-jumbo but cooking with intention and with a heart full of gratitude and love makes a difference. If nothing else, it helps with attitude. =)

Adding flavor to my homemade kombucha (and repurposing an old store bought bottle).

Skin Care Cleaning and Moisturizing: I've tried a lot of different products and have settled on making my own facial cleanser. It's simply a 50/50 mix of Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild (no scent) Liquid Soap and distilled water. Every so often I will add a pinch of baking soda in my hand first, which acts as a mild scrub. And when needed, a little sesame oil is my chosen moisturizer (sesame oil is the preferred oil in Ayurveda and ranks low as a non-comedogenic at a 2 out of 5). For moisturizing the body I suggest my friend Ambika's line of ayurvedic oils which you can find here. I also recommend The Seaweed Bath Company brand  which offers fragrance free lotions, body wash and shampoo. I really don't believe the hype behind the ads that suggest we need multiple products (sometimes specific to a.m. and p.m. routines) to achieve healthy skin. It starts with what we eat and doesn't need to be complicated, or expensive. Be nice to your skin...very, very nice and it will soon glow.

Skin Care Dry Brushing: I'll admit it now...I do not shower daily. For those of you who aren't aware, my husband and I live in our 32 foot RV and have been traveling the country for the past 2 1/2 years. Showers are, at times, a luxury because we often go "off-the-grid" for long periods. This means we must ration our water usage. I've found that dry brushing helps keep my skin healthy between showering. But even if you do shower every day dry brushing has some excellent health benefits. Honestly, I don't believe all of the claims (read about the how to's and why's of dry brushing here) but it does feel really good and we can all use a little more self-care in our daily routines.

Deodorant: Like you I have tried everything under the sun, crystals, baking soda, expensive natural products like Jason's, Tom's and Primal Pit Paste and none work nearly as well as the chemical laden, *possibly* cancer causing products available at Target and Walmart. But dammit...I will not be deterred and I will not give in to Proctor & Gamble any longer. I've come to terms with this dilemma and have settled on a homemade concoction. There are tons recipes available online (Google is my friend) but I tend to keep it simple... 5 TBS melted coconut oil, 1/4 cup non-aluminum baking soda, a few drops of essential oil of your choice...mix it up and store in a small jar (a baby food jar works well). Many recipes call for cornstarch and/or arrowroot powder so you might have to experiment to find the perfect balance for you. Over the course of a month of exclusively using baking soda and coconut oil my body has adapted fairly well (combined with clean eating you'll find it pretty darn effective as a deodorant).

Makeup: Truthfully, I use very little makeup these days but when I do, I tend to chose T.W.I.N.K. products (available here on Etsy) which are hand made, inexpensive and offers minimal packaging options. I use their mineral foundation and eyeliner and love them. In a pinch I will opt for certain e.l.f.. products which are available at many drug stores and even the dreaded megastore, Walmart and are very inexpensive (their studio mineral infused mascara scored a 2 on the EWG website). Boots and Physicians Formula products also rank fairly low on the EWG site (the lower the better) but are not vegan.

Hair Care: Traveling in the RV and staying in remote, wild places has many of them being that I rarely have to "do" my hair. It lives in a ponytail...a lot. It gets washed maybe 2-3 times a week. I know, some of you may be appalled! But hey, I'm saving a ton of money in salon fees, straighteners, curling irons, magic products and rejuventation treatments I would need to combat the torture all of those things put my hair through. For you "all-natural purists",  I've never, ever been able to go poo-free. I tried, believe me...I tried. For 4 months I did the ol' baking soda and apple cider vinegar thing only to have my hair turn to straw and my head smell like a salad gone bad (or Easter eggs being dyed). It just does not work for me. After getting about 5 inches of damaged hair cut from my head I vowed to go back to "traditional" shampoo and conditioner to avoid having to shave my head completely. But I still knew there were better choices out there. After using myself as a guinea pig and spending who knows how much on this product and that product I finally found one I love...Everyone Hair Shampoos and Conditioner. I use the Nourish version personally and my scalp feels very healthy. My runner-up choices would be The Seaweed Company and Free and Clear. All are available on Amazon. Oh, the only other thing I use in my hair is argon or jojoba oil if necessary.

Hair Dye (TBD): I've been battling this issue for 2 years. Part of me wants to just let my hair grow out naturally and the other part, which is bigger, meaner and much more vain, refuses to give in too long. I'm *only* 44 yet I'd venture to say I am half grey. It seems like a lot of grey for age and I'm just not ready to come to terms with it all. However, hair dye, even at studio, can be one of the most toxic and damaging things you can do to your head. When the time comes I will be experimenting with T.W.I.N.K.S. herbal hair dyes and I promise to report back with the results.

For the T.W.I.N.K. website.
Laundry Detergent: The biggest eye-opener for me came when I switched to dye- and fragrance-free laundry detergent and eliminated the dryer sheets. Even in my late 3's I was getting breakouts, especially along my jawline, back and chest. Nothing worked...not Proactive, not acne battling body washes...nothing...until I changed my detergent. And then, like magic, my skin became clear within days. Be sure to wash everything including towels, bedding, and everything that touches your skin). I'm not joking. My mom, who is in her 60's, recently switched to fragrance- and dye-free detergent and experienced the same results. I wish I had known this trick back in my high school days! My suds of choice is now Ecover or Seventh Generation Free and Clear (depends on price and availability).

Dish Washing Soap: We don't have a dishwasher in our home (the RV)...unless you count me. I've tried many types of soaps, most of which made my hands extremely dry and itchy and some which seemed to add a greasy feel to the dishes rather than remove it. I've settled on Method brand (found at Targets across the country). While it does have fragrances added it seems to be the one that reacts less to my skin. I should probably invest in some pretty rubber gloves regardless.

General House Cleaning: I pretty much make all of my own cleaning products. Google it and you will find pages and pages of recipes to tackle all of your problem areas. I keep it pretty simple and generally clean everything with the same concoction: water, white vinegar, Dr. Bronners and sometimes a little baking soda. Adding a few drops of you favorite essential oil is a nice touch too. But by far, my very favorite thing to clean with are my Norwex Clothes. They are amazing and use only water...plain old water...for cleaning and disinfecting. You read that right...and I encourage you to do some research, watch some videos and find out for yourself how great these clothes are. They seem a little expensive up front but think of all of the money you'll save not buying 10 different cleaners at the store. And lets not forget the chemicals that you'll be avoiding! This is an added benefit for anyone with kids or pets who might get curious about what's stored under the sink. P.S. Norwex has saved my glass shower doors...they always look brand new now!

Air Fresheners: Sorry to say but all of those "plug-ins" and sprays and carpet fresheners (just save an old Parmesan cheese container or buy a nice glass one and fill with baking soda, add a few drops of essential oils for a nice scent) are polluting your home and might be messing with your hormones. They're toxic buggers that trick you into thinking their good because they smell like pumpkin pie or the beach or snickerdoodles. Do not be fooled! An easy spray freshener anyone can make is one cup of water, 1/4 vodka (it's okay to use the cheap stuff for this recipes) and 20+/- drops of essential oils of your choice in a spray bottle, voila. The vodka acts as a disinfectant and helps the water and oil blend. Another option, which I love, love , love is a diffuser. There are tons of them on the market but since I'm very new to all of this essential oil stuff I chose an inexpensive, but highly rated, diffuser and a few essential oils from a well-respected company. Since our home is only about 300 square feet in total one diffuser is perfect. Add a little water and just a couple of drops of EO and you have a fun and great smelling abode.


These are just a few changes we've made and I can honestly vouch for how well they've worked for us, including pretty much getting rid of my allergies. I encourage you all to read up how everyday, seemingly ordinary products, are screwing up our hormones and, quite possibly, causing (or at least exacerbating) issues such as depression, allergies, acne, insomnia, thinning hair, man boobs, middle-age "spread, early childhood breast development and menses, restless leg syndrome and a myriad of other problems.

Please do your own research...I'm only sharing what has worked for me. This post is not intended to offer any type of medical advise.

Further reading:

You can also read my original post on our travel blog at Tales From the Mutiny which offers additional insight into the products we feel are safe and non-toxic and that we actually use

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