Have Fun Being a Chemical Detective

See Natalie’s new post today titled “Natalie Teaches Us How to Make Deodorant.”

In 90 seconds, you can learn how to make your own deodorant.  In just a few minutes, you can stir up your own little container of effective & natural deodorant.  You can use the essential oil of your choice to scent it, or leave it out if you prefer unscented.

October is breast cancer awareness month. During our two-year home school adventure, we ended up learning more than we ever expected to learn about breast cancer due to my diagnosis in August 2009.  Since then, my goal is to help girls and women learn ways in which they can reduce their exposure to chemicals, which are linked not just to breast cancer, but other diseases. Learning about these toxins doesn’t have to be scary or overwhelming.  Natalie and I actually had fun being “chemical detectives” as we analyzed ads, read ingredient labels, and tested safer products for effectiveness.

Here are some helpful tips from the Breast Cancer Fund ( to reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals in cosmetics and personal care products:

Use Fewer Products with Simpler Ingredients

Some beauty products contain carcinogens and endocrine-disrupting chemicals that increase breast cancer risk. Ask yourself which products you can do without; the best way to avoid chemicals is to use fewer products. Each product you cut from your beauty ritual decreases the number and quantity of chemicals to which you’re exposed.

Avoid “Fragrance”

Although it’s just one little word on the ingredient label, “fragrance” can contain dozens, even hundreds, of chemicals—including hormone-disrupting phthalates, synthetic musks, and ethylene oxide. Fragrance manufacturers claim the formulas are confidential business information. So, until we change the law so consumers have the right to know what’s in our products, it’s best to avoid synthetic fragrance and opt for products that are fragrance-free or that contain natural fragrances like essential oils.

Beware of Empty Organic and Natural Claims

Read labels for specific information on a product’s ingredients, rather than relying on claims like “organic” or “natural.” A USDA-certified organic seal means 95% or more organic ingredients. But a claim of “made with organic ingredients” or “made with natural ingredients” still leaves plenty of room for harmful synthetics.

Read the Label to Avoid Synthetic Ingredients

Good: words that you’ve heard before, like aloe or lavender. Bad: words you can’t even pronounce. Chemicals sound like chemicals. Avoid products with DMDM hydantoin and imidazolidinyl urea; parabens or any word ending in “-paraben”; “PEG” compounds and words ending in “-eth”; triclosan and triclocarban; triethanolamine (TEA); hydroquinone and oxybenzone. You also want to avoid synthetic fragrance, which can contain hundreds of chemicals, including toxic phthalates.

Follow Your Nose When Choosing a Nail Salon

If you go for a mani-pedi, select a nail salon that stocks only nail polishes free of the toxic trio (formaldehyde, toluene—which can be contaminated with benzene —and dibutyl phthalate). Also look for a nail salon that has good ventilation for the entire shop. Choosing a nail salon that engages in these safety practices can help protect your health and the health of the workers who are there every day.

Get the Information You Need to Choose Wisely

We all have our favorite makeup and toiletries. To find out whether your go-to products are safe or not, try Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep cosmetics safety database. This easy-to-use resource ranks the safety of specific brand names on a scale from one to ten. This is an easy way to find out which products you can use guilt-free and which ones may need replacing.

Don’t Sweat Over Your Antiperspirant

A possible source of aluminum in breast tissue may be the use of underarm antiperspirants, so try to find an aluminum-free formula. Check for safer alternatives on Skin Deep, the cosmetics safety database, or try a home-made solution like diluted baking soda.

Avoid These Top Offenders

Individual brands aside, some products are just bad news. Things to avoid:

Anti-aging creams with lactic, glycolic, AHA and BHA acids

Hair dyes, especially dark permanent dyes

Liquid hand soaps with triclosan/triclocarban

Nail polish and removers with formaldehyde, DBP or toluene (which can be contaminated with benzene)

Skin lighteners with hydroquinone

Heavily scented products

Moisturizers, ointments and skin creams with petrolatum (which can be contaminated with PAHs)

Fungicides, shaving creams, hair gels and hair coloring containing nonylphenol

Hair spray, gel, mousse or shaving cream that contains isobutane, a propellant that can be contaminated with 1,3-butadiene

Sunscreens with UV filters that mimic estrogen



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