Around the time I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2004, I was beginning to realize the connection between how the foods that enter our body contribute to how we feel and possibly even to the diseases that our bodies take on. I began searching for food choices that eliminated artificial food colorings and preservatives, hormones, and other undesirable ingredients. I wanted to make choices for my family and myself that not only nourished us, but also kept us as far from disease as possible. Researching food choices eventually lead me to researching safer personal products for my family and me.
I remember reading that our skin is our largest organ and what we put on it works its way into our body. At the time I began making changes in the food I ate and the products I put on my body, many friends my age and news articles I was reading talked frequently about breast cancer. By the time I was in my mid-30's it seemed that most of us had known one or more friends who had been impacted by breast cancer. It became a personal goal of mine to not add breast cancer to my profile. As I read and talked with others, I felt good about the lifestyle choices I was making and felt I was doing all the right things: I was at a healthy weight, I exercised regularly, and I had breast fed my kids for many years. I was doing all the right things, but I still felt there was more to do. The next logical step to preventing breast cancer in my life was to reduce as many of chemicals that were entering my body as I had control over.
My first attempt at reducing chemicals in my body was to start purchasing personal care products at health food stores. I remember bringing the bottles of shampoo, hair spray, lotion and deodorant home and feeling so proud of myself for providing safe choices for my family. Soon after, I learned about the EWG's Skin Deep Cosmetic Database and boy was I disappointed in my "healthy" choices. I found that many of the products I had purchased with high price tags at the health food store didn't rate any better for potential cancerous chemicals than products that could be cheaply bought at my regular grocery store.
So, the search continued. I spent many years frustrated by my options. However, my belief in clearing the body of as many chemicals as possible became stronger and stronger. I felt this was my best way of preventing not only breast cancer but a number of other diseases.
First, I stopped coloring my hair. In all honesty, coloring my hair never felt quite like me anyhow. I understand why women color their hair and believe it looks beautiful. It just didn't feel right to me. Each time I had it colored I could smell all the chemicals entering my body and it didn't feel right. I searched for coloring products with fewer chemicals, but in the end just decided to accept my hair color as it is and since 2008, I have been happy with my natural look. I realize it is not a choice that most women want to make, but for me it feels right. Best of all, I don't have the anxiety that comes with the strong chemicals I smelled each time.
Next in line was to find a line of make-up with few ingredients and chemicals. My skin has always been sensitive so I needed to take that into consideration. Also, I wanted to find something gluten free since I am gluten intolerant. My first step was to search EWG's Skin Deep Cosmetic Database. I experimented with several lines of makeup and finally chose one that I have been using for a few years. Before I order replacements however, I will go back to EWG's Skin Deep Cosmetic Database and verify that this makeup still has a good standing.
Deodorant has been a tricky one that has involved a lot of experimentation. Unfortunately this experimentation hasn't always been to the benefit of those around me. I tried several deodorants from health food stores that looked promising, but didn't hold up well for my body. I decided then to go with a concept I had read that we should not put anything on our body that we wouldn't put into our mouth. Several of my friends were trying baking soda (yeah, I have friends like that!) as their deodorant and I decided to give that a try. It actually works pretty well at absorbing the smell. Unfortunately, it also leaves my armpits red. For a while, I experimented with apple cider vinegar. It smells like apple cider vinegar when you first put it on, which isn't that appealing, but once it absorbs in your body it works pretty well. Currently what I am using and "think" works well for me is a combo of baking soda and coconut oil. The coconut oil seems to balance out the baking soda and I don't have the irritated skin. So far I haven't had any complaints!
Hair products have become my newest obsession. Well, perhaps I should say, "lack of hair products" has become my newest obsession. My first step was to find a hair spray that EWG's Skin Deep Cosmetic Database showed as being "low" for potential risk of cancer and then to use this hair spray minimally. I began experimenting with different shampoos, never feeling completely happy with the outcome. Then I discovered the "no poo" method. Basically this method is using a baking soda paste to wash your hair and then apple cider vinegar to rinse out hair and replace the ph balance. I love it! I am putting minimal products on my hair and best of all, everything that goes on my hair can also go in my mouth. I have been using this method for almost a year now.
What I have discovered over the years is that the products I feel really help keep my family and me safe and healthy are not coming from items purchased at grocery stores with pink ribbons. In fact, by avoiding the pink ribbon we are often avoiding extra sugar, artificial colors, preservatives, chemicals, and other ingredients. I often wonder how buying a bag of mini chocolate bars or make-up with a high number of chemicals is helping me to avoid breast cancer. I think research is very important, don't get me wrong. I just feel frustrated when I go to EWG's Skin Deep Cosmetic Database in search of healthy personal products and find that many of the companies that are promoting breast cancer awareness also have personal care products that have ingredients that are shown to be at a higher risk of causing cancer.
One thing that my search for cleaner food and less polluted personal products has lead me to believe is that we can empower ourselves to make choices that affect our lives. We are strong and we do have choices. I am choosing to listen to experts when it comes to exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol, and doing monthly breast exams to reduce my risk of breast cancer. However, I am not willing to listen to advertisers that create an image that I am helping myself and others by buying products that I believe are actually adding to the very problems we are trying to eliminate. When it comes to reducing my intake of chemicals, which is also recommended by the experts, I am choosing to dig a little deeper and look for sources and ingredients that not only reduce my chemical load but also nourish my very being. I am already bombarded with chemicals from cleaning supplies when I go to work, the library, or even the grocery store. I am possibly filling my body with hormones and fertilizers when I decide to eat out. There are definitely things in this life I can take control of and personally, I find the experimentation with personal care products to be fun!
Are there any alternative personal care methods or recipes you use?
Cathy can also be found writing at her personal blog The Life and Adventures of Cateepoo.
Published On: October 24, 2011