Ever thought about how many chemicals you sprayed, slathered, swallowed or sniffed even before you left the house this morning? Lisa Borden, marketer of holistic and eco-intelligent products (and a The Huffington Post Canada blogger), says we should all be concerned about the chemical-laden, toxic products we utilize on a daily basis without a second thought.
"People would make the right choice 90 per cent of the time if products could speak," she says. Her advice is to consider where what you're using comes from, what's in the product and where the packaging is going afterward. Some of the most toxic products you may be using include:
"Toothpaste is one of the least eco-friendly things in the world," says Borden. "Most of them contain triclosan, an anti-bacterial that the EPA classifies as a pesticide, and you shouldn't use it on your hands, let alone your teeth." Borden points out in studies, soap and water has been found to be just as effective at killing germs as triclosan. Her family uses something called tooth soap. It's made of olive oil, coconut oil and essential oils. Borden says since using it, her family has less plaque and excellent dental checkups. "A lot of people say, "Tooth soap -- it's like washing your mouth out with soap," but you get used to anything," she says.
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Like toothpaste, mouthwash can contain triclosan as well as parabens, preservatives, peroxide and alcohol (among other things). Borden notes the concern is not simply the safety of individual ingredients, but how they interact with each other in a product. "So if you're using a cocktail of triclosan and alcohol, what's that creating? Each thing is bad by itself, but how are they actually interacting?" Which brings us to Borden's next trouble zone.
"You're using one shampoo and a conditioner, your partner and kids are probably using different products, then you're getting out of the shower and spraying your hair with hairspray," says Borden. "Each of those products on their own has some kind of carcinogen or pesticide -- propelyne glycol, pthalates, sodium lauryl sulfate -- but nobody's studying how these things are interacting. I never signed up to let my body be a test tube -- the bathroom could potentially be yours." Borden's choice organic hair and beauty products? John Masters Organics.
Borden says unless it's an essential oil, fragrance is anything but sweet. "Fragrance is basically a euphemism for 4,000 to 5,000 ingredients that can found in all skin and body care products," she says. The Environmental Working Group tested 17 popular scents in 2010 (including Britney Spears Curious, Jennifer Lopez J. Lo Glow, Halle by Halle Berry and Giorgio Armani Acqua Di Gio) and found 38 "secret" chemicals that were not listed on labels, 12 hormone-disrupting chemicals and an average of 10 chemicals per fragrance that are classified as "sensitizers," substances that can cause asthma, wheezing, migraines or contact dermatitis.
Borden says chemical-laden moisturizers that promise anti-aging properties are a waste of money. "A lot of your skin's health comes from the inside out. So you can spend $100 on eye cream, but eating the right things and putting some very good virgin products -- organic, raw -- on your skin is probably much better for you," she says. "Using the leftover avocado after cutting it out is going to be more nourishing. Manuka honey, eating garlic, drinking water is better than expensive eye cream." Borden recommends products by Graydon Moffat, which are free of artificial ingredients. "It's not going to last three years, but there's a reason for that," she says.
When it comes to our daily armpit regimen, Borden says it's simply about common sense. "In our day it's considered disgusting to smell and get wet spots -- but that's your body functioning," she says. "By putting anti-antiperspirant on, you're stopping your body from functioning." Again, the concern is the chemical cocktail and the fact deodorants and anti-antiperspirants get slathered on your body every single day, often on newly-shaved skin (for women, at least). "If it's on you, it's in you," says Borden. Though she says it's possible to make an effective deodorant yourself, if you want to buy a product you can try salt sticks -- Dr. Mist or Weleda brands.
"If you're taking a vitamin or supplement, it's important to read your labels," says Borden. "Fish oil is this new hype, but what happens when you take concentrated fish oil and it has heavy metals in it? A great alternative is chia." Borden says chia provides the same omegas as fish oil, but it's raw, vegan and heavy metal-free. She recommends a company called Prana who makes a cold-pressed chia oil. "You can give it to your kids safely."
Borden is involved in the Just Beautiful campaign, a Canadian initiative to get cosmetic companies to state all their ingredients on their labels. "Because if you could read your mascara and it says what's in it, you wouldn't be using it," she says. Borden also recommends The Story of Cosmetics, a five-minute documentary put out by the U.S.-based Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. "Also, people will buy a lipstick with a pink ribbon thinking, "I'm getting beautiful and donating to a great cause," but the problem is the ingredients are actually carcinogenic and lead to breast cancer. Stop buying the stuff. Anything you are choosing to buy, you are saying, "Thank you, please make more."" The alternatives? Borden recommends Canadian companies like Lilou Organics and Pure and Simple.
Your Morning OJ
"Unless you've juiced it yourself, chances are it's got orange flavouring in it and it's been irradiated." Big companies irradiate fruit juices in order to kill any nasty E.coli or other bacteria during the processing and packaging stages, but critics have said it simply allows for less sanitary working conditions and that it's an unnecessary and potentially dangerous process. "And the pesticides or herbicides that were put onto the oranges, is somebody washing all those? If you're not juicing it yourself, don't bother," says Borden.
Really? Towels? "Cotton uses the most pesticides in the world and what do you wash and dry the towels in?" she says. From surfactants to napthas to phenols to bleach, the chemicals in detergents and fabric softeners are hazardous to your health -- and the environment, says Borden. "All these products have pictures of teddy bears or happy kids on them, but the ingredients are not so snuggly. We're overlooking the fine print telling us they contain toxic chemicals." As an alternative, Borden recommends using soapnuts, a natural soap that grows on trees that you can get in a concentrated liquid form Berry Plus. And for your fabric softener, Borden suggests a product she designed herself, BaaLLs. They're organic wool balls that soften clothes and reduce static cling, without the help of nasty chemicals.