Perfect health relies on a number of life-style factors, the base of which are nutrition, physical exercise and getting adequate sleep. On top of those I’d throw in regular sun exposure, stress-management, service, taking time to play, socialization, being out in nature and avoiding harmful toxins.

This post will address one aspect of the “avoiding toxins” part. In addition to unhealthy foods eaten on a regular basis (processed foods, GMO grains, industrial seed oils, refined sugars etc), there is something else that we are all exposed to on a (usually) daily basis, which can play a large part in our exposure to toxins if we are not careful. That is our personal hygiene products.

These can range from a perfunctory splash of soap and water in the shower, to extensive grooming regimens using the fanciest spa equipment and products. I probably fall somewhere in between those. In fact, a few years ago I was probably more towards the latter, with a cosmetics closet that could rival the inventory of the Estee Lauder flagship store. I had every lotion, serum, cleanser, body butter, exfoliator, cream, conditioner, mask and potion out there. Whatever the latest glossy magazine told me was the next “must-have cream”, I’d buy. It was ridiculous, not to mention expensive.

And then one day I was thinking about how careful I am with my food and with everything I put inside my body, and I started thinking about all the gazillion chemicals I was happily slathering ON my body and I realized that this was pretty hypocritical. Especially since the stuff we slather all over ourselves ultimately ends up inside us. And so it was at that moment that I decided to start the painful process of slowly detoxing my cosmetics closet and replacing the potions and lotions with stuff I’d be ok with having in my blood-stream.

I’m not going to lie, this was not easy for me. Like most girls, I want to look groomed and smell fragrant. I also did not want to suddenly wake up to a face full of premature wrinkles the morning after I ditched my favorite “miracle face serum”. And so I began with one small step at a time and slowly realized how incredibly duped I had been all those years by magazine ads and tv commercials.

My first big realization was that beauty (in terms of skin/hair/body composition etc) starts with nutrition. No topical cosmetic will ever be able to adequately mask or undo what poor nutrition will do to our outer appearance. With the right nutrition, most people will look their most beautiful and it won’t matter so much what you put ON your skin. Exercise also helps a ton. In fact it was recently linked to a slow down in the aging of skin. It balances the hormones and produces a very important one called Human Growth Hormone which is responsible for the regeneration of cells and thus keeps us young. Read more. And then there is sleep. The term “beauty sleep” is no joke. Sleep enough and your body will regenerate and keep your skin looking younger, not to mention slimmer. That “morning-after-dark-shadow-miracle-cream” is not actually fixing the problem. Sleep, however will.

So yes, before anything else, sleep 8-9 hours a night, eat a nutrient-dense, whole-food diet free from inflammatory foods, exercise plenty and get some sunshine every day.

Then go look around your bathroom and read the labels on the stuff you’re using in there and decide if those are ingredients you wouldn’t mind also having for dinner, since they will ultimately end up on the inside of your body. My philosophy now is that if it isn’t safe to eat then it’s probably not very safe to be using on your body. And I am not talking about giving way to your inner crunchy, granola eating, patchouli wafting hippie. I’m talking about having a healthy, clean, well-groomed Paleo body inside and out.

And just because a product states that it is “all-natural” or “organic, the regulations are so lax that it only has to contain CARBON to be technically be called “organic”. Never mind all the rest of the products that don’t even pretend to be organic.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has a database where you can evaluate how toxic a product is. Not perfect, but a good place to start. This is also a great site:

Here are just a few of the ingredients found in common cosmetics that you’d really want to avoid (there are far too many to list them all):

  • Coal Tar: A known carcinogen banned in the EU, but still used in North America. Used in dry skin treatments, anti-lice and anti-dandruff shampoos, also listed as a colour plus number, i.e. FD&C Red No. 6.
  • DEA/TEA/MEA: Suspected carcinogens used as emulsifiers and foaming agents for shampoos, body washes, soaps.
  • Ethoxylated surfactants and 1,4-dioxane: Never listed because it’s a by-product made from adding carcinogenic ethylene oxide to make other chemicals less harsh. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has found 1,4-dioxane in 57 percent of baby washes in the U.S. Avoid any ingredients containing the letters “eth.”
  • Formaldehyde: Probable carcinogen and irritant found in nail products, hair dye, fake eyelash adhesives, shampoos. Banned in the EU.
  • Fragrance/Parfum: A catchall for hidden chemicals, such as phthalates. Fragrance is connected to headaches, dizziness, asthma, and allergies.
  • Hydroquinone: Used for lightening skin. Banned in the UK, rated most toxic on the EWG’s Skin Deep database, and linked to cancer and reproductive toxicity.
  • Lead: Known carcinogen found in lipstick and hair dye, but never listed because it’s a contaminant, not an ingredient.
  • Mercury: Known allergen that impairs brain development. Found in mascara and some eyedrops.
  • Mineral oil: By-product of petroleum that’s used in baby oil, moisturizers, styling gels. It creates a film that impairs the skin’s ability to release toxins.
  • Oxybenzone: Active ingredient in chemical sunscreens that accumulates in fatty tissues and is linked to allergies, hormone disruption, cellular damage, low birth weight.
  • Parabens: Used as preservatives, found in many products. Linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, reproductive toxicity.
  • Paraphenylenediamine (PPD): Used in hair products and dyes, but toxic to skin and immune system.
  • Phthalates: Plasticizers banned in the EU and California in children’s toys, but present in many fragrances, perfumes, deodorants, lotions. Linked to endocrine disruption, liver/kidney/lung damage, cancer.
  • Placental extract: Used in some skin and hair products, but linked to endocrine disruption.
  • Polyethylene glycol (PEG): Penetration enhancer used in many products, it’s often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide, both known carcinogens.
  • Silicone-derived emollients: Used to make a product feel soft, these don’t biodegrade, and also prevent skin from breathing. Linked to tumour growth and skin irritation.
  • Sodium lauryl (ether) sulfate (SLS, SLES): A former industrial degreaser now used to make soap foamy, it’s absorbed into the body and irritates skin.
  • Talc: Similar to asbestos in composition, it’s found in baby powder, eye shadow, blush, deodorant. Linked to ovarian cancer and respiratory problems.
  • Toluene: Known to disrupt the immune and endocrine systems, and fetal development, it’s used in nail and hair products. Often hidden under fragrance.
  • Triclosan: Found in antibacterial products, hand sanitizers, and deodorants, it is linked to cancer and endocrine disruption. Avoid the brand Microban.
  • [SOURCE]

    So, what do we use instead?

    For those of you who are a little creative and industrious, most basic beauty products can quite easily be made at home in your kitchen. I currently make all of the following myself: deodorant, face balm, body butter, shampoo, body srub, body scent, face masks, facial cleanser etc.

    I can honestly say that (toxins aside) I prefer the results of my versions WAY over those of the off-the-shelf junk I was using before. Yes, it takes a little more effort, but it is SO worth it ultimately. I use this for most of my recipes:

    This site is also great for recipes of some fantastic products:

    But for those of you who would prefer to purchase ready-made non-toxic products, here are a few sites I would recommend. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it includes products I have used or would be comfortable using:

    So there’s no need to walk around looking like a caveman (unless you want to). You can still look well-groomed and have smooth, glowing skin whilst also taking care of your body from the inside. In fact, your skin is likely to glow far more once you make the transition – simply because you will no longer be overloading your skin with chemicals, and instead nourishing it with real, wholesome ingredients that work in harmony with our biology.