Guides

Personal Care Products: A Guide

Written by Nick Andre

Trying to pick body products with chemical ingredients, the environment, and fair trade in mind can be a daunting task, even in a place like Whole Foods. When there are so many ingredients you cannot pronounce,

This is a working guide, it is periodically updated as new products and information become available. Last updated 3/25/2011.

Trying to pick body products with chemical ingredients, the environment, and fair trade in mind can be a daunting task, even in a place like Whole Foods. When there are so many ingredients you cannot pronounce, a vast variety of choices, and sly marketing that many times bends reality, it can get frustrating fast. There have been many times we have found ourselves indecisive about what we should purchase, and about just as many times disappointed with the quality or effectiveness of what we thought would be a sure thing. If you have had the same problems, don’t fret, below we have compiled a list of cosmetics that meet the toughest safety, trade, and environmental considerations coupled with being great products that just plain work (many times better than their conventional counterparts). They can be found at your local natural food store or ordered online from the links provided.

Why choose natural body products?
The cosmetics and body products we use on our bodies everyday are many times laden with chemicals that have never undergone any independent, serious, and long term safety testing (for both humans and the environment). Doesn’t the government ban toxic chemicals you may ask? Not exactly (if you live in the US), The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, gave the US power to regulate chemicals, however, the law does not require a company to prove its chemical is safe before its use in products. It states that regulators must prove a substance is harmful before they can take action on it, and even if they can prove it they are many times unsuccessful in restricting use except in the extreme cases. Today there are over 80,000 chemicals in use, 20% of which are secret (the law also allows companies to not disclose certain ingredients). Out of those 80,000 there have only been a few hundred that have undergone extensive study. Therefore harmful chemicals are used in products long before we know they are dangerous. Furthermore, The President’s Cancer Panel, a bi-partisan group charged with studying how to reduce cancer in the US, was formed by President Obama and in a 2008 published report explained that exposure to commonly used chemicals was a major driving factor behind cancer. Many of the known carcinogens are used routinely in body products and are absorbed into the body by their use, and their production in the first place produces harmful environmental waste.

Fortunately, organizations such as the Environmental Working Group have databases of products and safety breakdowns of their ingredients. Go to their site and look up the products you use everyday, most people are surprised. There are also many companies who have signed a pledge to use less harmful ingredients and fully disclose all of them to consumers, a list of them can be found here. Also for more information on the use of chemicals in consumer products, check out Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a non-profit dedicated to lobbying for chemical reform laws.

A few notes before we go on. “EWG Skin Deep rating” refers to the Environmental Working Group’s database of cosmetic safety. They are a non-profit research organization that tests consumer products for safety, among other endeavors.

Shampoo

Hugo Naturals – Vanilla & Sweet Orange Shampoo

This shampoo has an EWG Skin Deep rating of 1. It lathers does not later as well as a conventional shampoo, however it does better than average for a natural product. It also smells nice, does not contain animal fats, and has no harsh chemicals (including petrochemicals and sulfites). There are also no artificial colors or preservatives and the company does not perform testing on animals. Hugo also claims to produce their products with materials from sustainable sources. You can finds it easily at Whole Foods or many other natural food stores for about $12.99 for a 16 oz bottle. Website.


Simply Organic – Everyday Shampoo
This shampoo has an EWG Skin Deep rating of 2 and cleans and suds well. The only downside is it runs $28 for a 8.5 oz bottle and may be hard to find in stores. Website.







Liquid Soap

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps – Almond Pure-Castile Soap (or Unscented Baby-Mild)

This is the only liquid soap we have ever found to absolutely great. It works better than any conventional liquid soap and does not contain triclosan. Made of gentle oils, it has a very mild scent that is not noticeable after rinsing and suds better than average. We were skeptical at first because of the packaging but the first time we used it we were shocked. It is certified USDA organic (meaning all the oils used are derived from plants grown organically), certified fair trade, and not tested on animals (certified by the Coalition for Consumer information on Cosmetics). In additon the company caps executive pay at five times the lowest-paid position, and give all profits not re-invested in the business to charity. EWG Skin Deep rating of 2. You would be hard pressed to find anything better than this. Dr. Bonner’s is one of the top selling natural soap brands in the US and can be found at nearly all natural food stores and many conventional personal care stores. Also available in the number of additional scents. Website.

Bar Soap

Sappo Hills – Unscented

This is soap made the old fashion way. Sappo Hills has been making soap for 35 years and they still use only gentle vegetable oils. Their ingredients list is literally two items long (fully vegan), and the end product is great. They also sell a popular line of oatmeal soaps which we recommend as well. Sappo Hills also claims to be a cruelty free company. Their products can be found at Whole Foods and other natural product stores. Website.


Vermont Soap – Unscented Oats ‘N Aloe

Like Sappo Hills, this is a small, old-fashion soap making company that uses only gentle vegetable oils. They are USDA Certified Organic and free of artificial colors and fragrances. They also contain no animal products (or bi-products) and are not tested on animals. The Unscented Oats ‘N Aloe line suds and morturizes well. Website.


Deodorant

Burt’s Bees – Natural Men’s Deodorant

Deodorant is the most difficult product to find in a natural form that works well. Burt’s Bees has done a good job with this product and it works well as long as your not doing intense physical activity. It does have a relatively strong scent that some people may not like, however if the scent appeals to you this is a good alternative. EWG Skin Deep rating of 2. Website. If you are unable to find a natural deodorant that you like, try the conventional Mitchum Solid Unscented deodorant. It is not ideal, however it has an EWG Skin deep rating of only 2.




Naturally Fresh – Unscented Roll On

This spray deodorant works great and is our top pick for effectiveness. However, be sure to look for the spray because there is some discrepancy with the ingredients depending on the type of applicator. The roll-on version contains an additional ingredient, phenoxyethanol, that we try to avoid. EWG Skin Deep rates this product (the spray on version) a 0 (the best rating available). It’s overall a great product, it is unscented and works as well as a normal strength traditional deodorant. There is some debate over whether the ingredient potassium alum is as bad as a deodorant containing aluminum, however at this time there is no conclusive information available, and we are leaning toward it being safer. It sells for about $4 at natural food stores. Website.

Toothpaste

Burt’s Bees – Multicare Toothpaste (Contains Fluoride)

This is a relatively new product by Burt’s Bees and we have been very happy with it so far. It foams just enough and leaves your mouth feeling fresh and clean. The toothpaste contains cranberry extracts which is claimed to help prevent plague buildup and gingivitis. It is also free of artificial colors and sweeteners, and is SLS free. The taste is also enjoyable so it may be good for kids as well as adults. The only odd thing we found is that occasionally it is difficult to squeeze out of the tube, enough so that it might give senior citizens some trouble. EWG Skin Deep rates this product a 4, slightly higher than we prefer, however we have been unable to find a good toothpaste that contains fluoride and is SLS-free under that rating. Website.


Tom’s of Maine Clean & Gentle Fluoride-Free Natural Toothpaste, Spearmint

For those who do not want fluoride in their toothpaste this is the best option we could find that was also SLS-free. It doesn’t foam well, but has a decent taste, and does a great job of making your mouth feel clean. Skin Deep rating of 2. Website.

Lotion

We are currently testing a variety of moisturizing lotions, our recommendation is coming soon. If you have a suggestion of a quality product post something about it in the comments.


Chapstick

MoistStic – Natural Lip Protection

MoistStic is a smooth lip balm with a gentle hint of mint. It will leave your lips with a slight tingling sensation depending on how chapped they are, however the intensity of the tingle is less than that of Burt’s Bees. The great thing about this lip balm is its simple coating of moisture, hence the name. Even after multiple applications, your lips will not feel as though something is being “caked on”. The natural ingredients are key in providing smoother, healthier lips. Website.




Burt’s Bees – Beeswax Lip Balm

For those of you who enjoy a lip balm that comes with a minty tingle, this one is for you. Naturally, the more chapped your lips, the more they will tingle when using this product. However, after continuous use, you lips should feel smooth and healthy. Unlike other brands of lip balm or ChapStick, this product is natural and does not contain chemicals that dry your lips out. Therefore, you will not need to be constantly re-applying it. Its long lasting stay will leave your lips feeling cool and refreshed. Skin Deep rating of 2Website.

Mousse / Tonic / Hair Product

Beautiful Curls – Shea Butter Curl Reviving Tonic

Everyone says curly hair is beautiful, and they are right, but for most of us it’s not as simple as brushing our hair and letting it air dry. If you are one of those people who struggle with the tangles and frizz from curly hair, this product will save you. It is especially good for those of you with thin, curly hair. Unlike gel, Shea Butter Curl Reviving Tonic is a light and non-sticky product. It allows for a more natural curl look while taming the frizz. After a few spritz and scrunches, let your hair air dry and the result will be that natural curly look without the frizz or out of control waves. This product is similar to that of mousse, however it is lighter on the curls and less prone to developing knots and snarls throughout its use. Beautiful Curls is a brand of the natural cosmetic company Alaffia. The product is certified fair trade, vegan, biodegradable, and is not tested on animals. There are no synthetic oils, fragrances, or preservtives. Currently no EWG Skin Deep data for this product.  Website.

Shaving Cream

Aubrey Organics – Men’s Stock Northwoods Shave Cream

This shave cream works great but does not lather well. That is something that gets sacrificed in natural shaving creams due to the absence of chemical foaming agents. This means that when used, it will require a larger amount per shave than a conventional shaving cream. Once you get use to that fact it is a great product that prevents knicks and irritation. This product also comes in a variety of scents for you personal taste. EWG Skin Deep rating of 2Website.

Aftershave

We are currently testing a variety of aftershaves, our recommendation is coming soon. If you have a suggestion of a quality product post something about it in the comments.

 

Mouth Wash

We are currently testing a variety of mouth washes, our recommendation is coming soon. If you have a suggestion of a quality product post something about it in the comments.

 

Sun Tan Lotion

Badger – SPF 30 Unscented Natural Sunscreen

This sunscreen shies away from the conventional and controversial UVA and UVB blockers. Don’t be fooled however, it works just as well as its competitors and is safe for young children. The Environmental Working Group has compiled an extensive sunscreen guide which is very helpful and can be found here. EWG rating of 1. Website.



After-Sun Lotion

We are currently testing a variety of after sun lotions, our recommendation is coming soon. If you have a suggestion of a quality product post something about it in the comments.




DISCLAIMER: We do NOT accept compensation for favorable or unfavorable reviews of any products. All reviews found on this site reflect the feelings of, and results of testing by, the author(s), that are independant of any manufacturers, retailers, or promoters. We may at times accept free trials or samples of products to review, however the receipt of those products does not guarentee a review nor does it influence the type of review (positive, negative, etc..).

About the author

Nick Andre

Nick is the Managing Editor of ModernSerenity.com and the Managing Director of Kumani Inc., a Certified Green web development and business consulting firm. A graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has deep passions for nutrition, organic agriculture, renewable energy, and the environment, which led him to found Modern Serenity in 2009. Nick is also a bit of a political junkie and is involved in environmental advocacy, land conservation efforts, and more.