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My interests include veganism and vegetarianism, health, ethics, politics and culture, media, and the environment. I have three kids; I teach college part-time, study piano and attempt to garden. I knit. I blog on just about anything, but many posts are related to my somewhat pathetic quest to eat better, be more mindful of the environment, and be a more responsible news consumer. Sometimes I write about parenting, but, like so many Mommy bloggers, my kids have recently told me not to. :) Thanks for reading.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Beauty or Health?

I read, on a Twitter post, that every morning, the average woman uses 12 different products, containing 126 different chemicals or substances, before she has her first cup of coffee.

Being the skeptic/curious mind that I am, I went over to the blog where this tweet originated ("feelgoodguru.com") to check out the source of this info (a book called, Slow Death by Rubber Duck). Since I haven't read the book, I cannot comment as to its content or accuracy, but feelgoodguru's tweet about the book got me thinking about my own beauty routine (or lack thereof).

Could it be possible, I wondered, that somebody as low-maintenance as me could use that many different products before having a cup of morning coffee (which, by the way, I never skip)? Just how many different ingredients are in the products I *do* use?

First, to define "low-maintenance." Providing that no child interrupts me, I can be ready to leave the house in under 30 minutes. I rarely wear makeup. I don't bother with hairdryers unless it's *really* cold outside, or I'm having a picture taken (like that happens so often...), or I'm due for a job interview. I do not own a curling or straight iron. I rarely wear fingernail polish, though I do polish the toes during sandal season. I generally don't use hair care products beyond shampoo and conditioner. I do color my hair a few times a year and I regularly have my eyebrows and lip waxed. (If you're a brunette woman over 30 who doesn't need to do this, I'm insanely jealous of you.) All in all, it seems to me that by modern beauty standards, I'm pretty much a low-maintenance woman. So, how many products could I possibly use?

Well, I surprised myself. On a daily basis, I use the following six products (number of ingredients in each follows): Trader Joe's non-aluminum deodorant (19), hotel soap (estimated 13), Market of Choise bulk shampoo (estimated 18), Market of Choice bulk conditioner (estimated 17), Tom's of Maine Fennel toothpaste (11), and Eucerin facial moisturizer with sunscreen (25). Some days I also use generic contact solution (7), generic flouride rinse (18), Suave body lotion (28), Crest whitening strips (8), Aveeno regular sunscreen (5), Off! bug spray (4), Opi nail polish (estimated 13), generic nail polish remover (9), Clinique mascara (5), Clinique eye liner (13), and L'Oreal lipstick (27). On REALLY RARE occasions, I might use Tea Tree hair gel (17) or Unite's straightening product (23). On the most DESPERATE of days, I might also wear L'Oreal True Match foundation (25). Occasionally, I'll spray on a little perfume, however, since Chanel #5 is such a closely guarded secret, I have NO idea what it contains or how many ingredients it has. Perhaps fortunately, wearing perfume is a rare event for me.

So...on a typical day, I use six products containing a total of 103 ingredients. On my most high-maintenance day (a true rarity), I might use as many as 20 products containing a total of 307 ingredients.

Full disclosure: since this is a thought piece, and not meant as a source of scientific information, I cheated a little in my calculations. For instance, some of these products have similar ingredients, so to be *completely* accurate I should have made sure I didn't double- (or triple- or quadruple-) count any one ingredient. I wasn't that careful, so these estimates might be a little high. Also, I had to look up ingredients for some things on the internet, since I no longer have the original packaging for my makeup or my shampoo and conditioner (I buy them in reusable containers). I'm relying sources of info that sometimes aren't so trustworthy.

I'm pretty sure I don't need to worry about "purified water" as a lead ingredient; in fact, I am qutie sure there are many ingredients that are relatively harmless. But the point here is (hopefully) obvious: whether the number is 80, or 103, or 126 or 307 -- that is a HELL of a lot of ingredients to be putting on or in one's body.

If I remember middle school biology correctly, skin is the body's largest organ. So applying all these ingredients to that organ allows the body to absorb a whole lot of things that may not be good for it. (Indeed, one of the main points of the Slow Death by Rubber Duck is that we need to detox ourselves. According to what I've read about the book, the authors sequestered themselves in a room, subjected themselves to all sorts of common household products -- not just beauty products -- and then had their blood and urine drawn, with some alarming findings. That's as much as I know about the book.)

Armed with only this minimal information, I have to ask myself: What part of my "beauty" routine am I willing to give up (in the name of health, of course)?

Toothpaste might be the first to go. As I recall, you can brush your teeth with baking soda. It's cheap, "natural," and (I believe) fairly effective. That would shave 10 ingredients from my beauty routine, though I have to say I don't actually suspect my Tom's of Maine toothpaste to be a prime suspect in the crime of poisoning bodies.

Next to go might be deodorant. I mean -- really -- if you shower every day (and particularly following exercise), do you NEED deodorant? I'm thinking probably not. That would delete an additional 19 ingredients. However, as with the toothpaste, I don't actually suspect my Trader Joe's deodorant to be one of the leading offenders of toxicity.

Obviously, since I don't generally wear make-up, most days I've already deleted 70 ingredients.

I can also toss the hair gel/mousse and the straightening product. They only minimally improve the 'do. So that deletes another 40 ingredients.

I'm NOT willing to give up sunscreen, for reasons that I hope are obvious to anybody who has read the health news in the past twenty years. And for the half-dozen times I hike during a year, I think I can still use the bug spray. Last year, I witnessed my sister's summer of migraines following a mosquito bite; West Nile virus is worthy of avoidance, believe me.

I'm also not willing to forgo soap, shampoo, or conditioner. Civilization does, in my opinion, start with a basic level of cleanliness. I am, however, on the lookout for products that aren't tested on animals, work well, are healthy for you, and are environmentally safe. I found a cosmetic safety database called "Skindeep;" I'm going to start looking up my beauty/hygiene products on it and choosing the ones deemed "safer."

But I'm not giving up toenail polish because, well, I'm shallow and I have ugly feet. Polish marginally improves their appearance. And if I'm going to allow myself to color the hair and wax the lip, I might as well allow the polish.

Low-maintenance might be overrated, anyway. But health is not.

1 comment:

  1. thanks for that, laney!

    i consider myself to be super low-maintenance as well. but i still found a few products in my daily routine that contain unnecessary and toxic chemicals. pretty impossible to avoid in this world but after reading "slow death" i'm trying even harder.

    there's a funny (scary) bit in the book where the author looks down to regard his garden hose - yes, his garden hose, and discovers that it's injected with microban - an antibacterial product that contains triclosan, which has been linked to health problems in people and also is evidenced to be contributing to bacterial resistance or the rise of "superbugs".

    i just discovered this site, with some good resources for safe beauty products: www.safemama.com

    i'm so glad info like this is getting out there. we should be outraged.

    in health and beauty~ moira


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